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Even before the Covid-19 crisis sent us all into lockdown and law firms became virtual overnight, studies showed that most people in the workplace spent 28% of their day dealing with unnecessary interruptions of all kinds.

Some were self-generated; some came from co-workers and some originated from a disruptive environment.

Now that many of us are working from home, the problem has become worse. Attorneys, paralegals, and team members of all kinds are faced with interruptions at a whole new level as they try to be productive from home. Spouses who are also working from home, kids that must be home-schooled, parents that must be cared for – the situation, especially for working parents, has become almost unmanageable.

Unfortunately, according to studies conducted before the lockdown, we like being interrupted on some level. In the busy law office, most people had gotten used to switching tasks every ten minutes or so and had begun to have an even-shorter attention span, trading efficiency, and focus for the thrills involved in juggling many things at once.

Now, at home and coping with new and competing responsibilities, many who are working virtually are under a great deal of stress.

There are a few techniques that can help. Many of the principles that we teach for use in the office can be repurposed to set up a home environment that allows for uninterrupted blocks of time. Admittedly, those with toddlers and young kids will face the biggest challenges as some of these techniques rely on being able to gain cooperation from family members, but see which ones you can adopt in your situation:

Set up a schedule that mimics your work routine as much as possible, but accommodates your family’s needs. If possible, schedule in a 15-minute huddle with everyone in the morning to align on the day’s activities.

Build into your schedule blocks of 30 to 45 minutes in which you can work uninterruptedly. Sit the family (older kids and adults) down and discuss why you need blocks of quiet uninterrupted work time and ask for their support.

Identify the sources of your distractions: your kids, your spouse, pets, the need to prepare food, the need to attend to elderly parents, your desire to get on Facebook.

Discuss with them what truly constitutes a valid interruption. Typically, eighty percent of our interruptions can wait and only twenty-percent are valid, drop everything interruptions.

Help kids and spouses create things they can do on their own. One attorney we know who has small kids uses an iPad and movies to buy herself time to work. There are many online resources to tap into as well, such as

Try to find or create a workspace that has a physical barrier such as a door, a curtain, or a partition of some kind and post your schedule on it. Ask the family to respect your boundaries and don’t give in when they push them. This is the time to introduce and reinforce a structure.

Ask older kids to be responsible for managing younger kids, help elderly parents, and tend to pets while you’re having “Quiet Time.” Reward them with something they like to reinforce their efforts.

Create outside activities or walks to do with kids when you take a break from Quiet Time.

The point of all this is to encourage those of you working virtually to take control and be proactive about setting up a schedule and a structure of accountability instead of being accommodating. Will it be perfect? No. But if you tolerate a chaotic home environment, you’ll end up working late at night to make up for what you couldn’t accomplish during the day — and that will wear you down even faster.

Just as you can train your co-workers to support your efforts in managing your time in the law office, you can also get the cooperation of the people in your life. After all, if you’re more productive during the day you’ll have more time to have fun with them in the evenings and on the weekends.

Additional tips to manage your work and family responsibilities: Read “Pandemic Parenting” by Carrie McFadden.

Looking for ways to manage the chaos? Download our infographic: Techniques to Manage Distraction at Home.

Shawn McNalis

Practice Advisor Trainer / Curriculum Director

Shawn McNalis is a former Imagineer with the Walt Disney Company and credits her 15-year career with Disney for her creative, collaborative approach to advising attorneys. In partnership with Mark Powers for 20 years, Shawn is a senior practice advisor, director of curriculum, and a trainer for Atticus.

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