I have found over my 23 years of law practice that, assuming I’ve consumed my usual copious amount of coffee, I can be quite productive and efficient when I get into a flow. When that flow is interrupted – by a phone call, someone popping into my office for a quick question, a car alarm going off, etc. – it can be difficult to get back into the groove. The good news is that a number of workplace trends in recent years have resulted in a general decline in interruptions, leading to more efficient work.
At least for me, the key development has been the advent of email. Everyone likes to complain about email – not me! As long as you don’t set your email system to notify you of every incoming email, which for me would be crazy-making, you are in control of when you look at it. Unlike someone making a phone call, the sender of an email is not expecting a literally immediate response. Of course, law is a service business and clients have reasonable expectations of a prompt reply, but the checking of the email can wait until you’ve finished reviewing that convoluted contractual provision.
So far in this post, I’ve likely come off as an anti-social hermit who probably wants you to leave me alone, dammit. Far from it. Calls and meetings (Zoom or otherwise) can be both pleasurable from a social perspective and helpful for the exchange of ideas. But the trend in recent years has been that calls and meetings are set up via email or text, so you know when they’re coming and the call doesn’t interrupt your flow.
The work-from-home trend, though unfortunately accelerated by the pandemic, has also helped to keep work interruption-free. Even before Covid, I often worked from home on Long Island in recent years, commuting into the city only if there were meetings, and communicating virtually with the other attorneys from my firm from their far-flung locations. Almost all lawyers that I knew worked in more traditional settings, and they would invariably say “I could never concentrate at home.” I never understood this, as it’s certainly possible to waste time in a non-home office: all it takes is an Internet connection. And while it’s possible for the other occupants of a home (human or canine) to interrupt your work, there are plenty of distractors if you work in an office with other people, especially if it’s an open office setting, which is just such a misguided concept.
Finally, I’m aware that I’m in a position of privilege, and that, for example, an executive assistant with a hovering boss is still feeling extremely interrupted. My hope for everyone is that the trend towards giving people the space to get their stuff done continues across a variety of job functions.