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Nothing But the Ruth
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Nothing But the Ruth

Want to Be More Efficient? Unplug!

By Ruth Carter

Let me tell you a secret — the biggest distraction in my life is me. No, I’m not wasting time playing Angry Birds or watching Netflix. My challenge? I’m so well-trained to react the moment my laptop or phone lights up, chimes or rings that it’s become a time-suck.

Every time I look at my phone or check my email, those are seconds or minutes I’m not working on my current project. Then I have to use up more time refocusing on the task at hand. No, it’s not a lot of time in each instance, but in aggregate it adds up.

So here’s what I’ve done to be more efficient — and I encourage everyone in a similar boat to do it, too: When it’s time to work, turn everything off.

  • Turn off the volume on your cell phone — notifications and ringer. Put it somewhere you won’t hear or feel it if it vibrates.
  • Open your smartphone’s settings and turn off “background data” so it won’t even be checking your email and social media for you. (This is also a great way to extend your battery life.)
  • Close every window on your computer not related to the project you’re working on. This includes email. Put the text of any emails you need in a text document so you can refer to them without being distracted by the other emails in your box.
  • Turn off the ringer on your office phone. Cover the phone or put it out of your line of sight if it lights up when you have a voice mail.
  • If you have to, close your door so no one will stop in to chat.

The only exception is turning on an alarm if you need to stop working on a project by a particular time. You can use an online timer, but don’t use your phone’s alarm — because that’s just another excuse to look at the device.

It’s Only One Hour

Some of you may be thinking, “I can’t turn everything off. What if a partner, or client, or my child needs to reach me?”

Here’s what I’ve learned about that: There are very few things in life that can’t wait an hour. People will learn to respect that you’re not instantly available, and that you will get back to them in a reasonable amount of time.

If you’re waiting for an important call or email, then, of course, leave your devices on. Also, to ease your mind, make sure your emergency contact information is up to date with your child’s school and childcare providers — be sure to add your assistant, the firm’s main line or someone else in the building, too.

And don’t believe it when people say they can leave their devices on because they can multitask. Multitasking works when I’m playing solitaire while I’m on hold. It doesn’t work when I’m writing a contract for a client. I don’t even believe in taking client calls while driving.

Becoming dedicated to turning off my devices and closing my email and unnecessary web pages has had positive effects on my professional life:

  • My clients’ projects are completed more efficiently.
  • My clients and contacts know that when I’m working on their project or merely having a conversation with them, they have my undivided attention.
  • People have greater respect for my time and its limits.

I rarely go “off the grid” for more than an hour or two at a time, since I need to take breaks to clear my head and refocus between tasks. Also, I find it’s easier and faster to deal with my emails and voice mails in batches during these “breaktimes,” rather than reviewing and responding to each one as they come in.

Do you want to be more efficient? Try turning off everything you don’t absolutely need. See how much faster your work gets done.

Ruth Carter is a lawyer, writer and speaker. Her law practice, The Carter Law Firm, focuses on intellectual property, social media, First Amendment and flash mob law. Ruth is the author of the ABA book “The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers,” as well as “Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans.” In “Nothing But the Ruth,” she writes about the lessons she’s learning while building her new practice. Follow her on Twitter @rbcarter.


Categories: Daily Dispatch, Lawyer Productivity, Nothing But The Ruth!, You At Work
Originally published July 14, 2014
Last updated October 19, 2019
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Ruth Carter Ruth Carter

Ruth Carter — lawyer, writer and professional speaker — is Of Counsel with Venjuris, focusing on intellectual property, business, internet and flash mob law. Named an ABA Journal Legal Rebel, Ruth is the author of “The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers,” as well as “Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans.” Ruth blogs at and

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