The Real Energy Crisis: Staying Focused and Getting More Done With Your Days

If you could choose between working like a dog for mediocre results or having time for yourself and getting excellent results, which would you choose? Foolish question right? Of course all of us would choose to work less and get better results whether we’re lawyers, insurance brokers or dog catchers (maybe especially if we’re dog catchers). And yet day in and day out many of us choose just the opposite without knowing it according to productivity expert Tony Schwartz, author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working and founder of The Energy Project. These habits lead to fatigue, which leads to errors, which leads to legal malpractice suits, which leads to general unpleasantness.

Think of your typical day. Clients are waiting for contracts to get finished, you have a stack of mail to read, your email inbox goes on for screen after screen, you have a court appearance to prepare for, bills have to get paid, you have phone calls to return and tonight is your daughter’s play at school. You’re probably starting to feel stressed out just reading that and you may be starting to think “I have to gut it out. I don’t have time to take a break.” And that’s where we all tend to get into trouble, where the mountain of stressful details starts to take over and we spiral into a hole. In our practice, we try to play our small part by handling one source of stress in your life. Knowing that you have the right professional liability insurance covering your law practice should give you a little peace of mind, but that still leaves the other 1000 details competing for your attention.

Schwartz looks at this problem in a broad context for all types of workers from lawyers to writers to CEOs. He has been consulting and collecting research for years that essentially says that when it comes to intellectual work, humans are more sprinters than marathon runners. We do better if we work hard and stay focused for a short while, then take a break and recharge. And by “better” Schwartz means that we spend less time working, but we actually get more done and it is likely to be of higher quality.

grid showing the possible energy states

The Energy Grid: a simple tool to help recognize which quadrant you’re in at any moment (based on Schwartz, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working).

We spend our time bouncing between high and low energy and between positive and negative energy. When things aren’t going right we find ourselves in a “high negative” state, meaning we’re stressed out and overwhelmed and we start skipping breaks, meals and sleep to get “one more thing” done. After enough of this we’re exhausted and we crash into a “low negative” state where we don’t do much of anything useful at all. This leaves us running around always trying to get things done, but with our efficiency and productivity slowly slipping away. Schwartz says that what we need to do is alternate between “high positive” and “low positive” instead. So high positive is when we’re focused and engaged in our work. Low positive is when we’re genuinely relaxing and recharging so that we can focus again. We can’t have one without the other. If we try to stay in the high positive too long, we’ll crash.

We think, perhaps, that the goal is to keep the energy high, but it’s more important to stay in the positive column, moving between high and low energy. Schwartz gives some simple ideas for maximizing our time there.

  • Take breaks. As simple and as hard as that. Schwartz himself works 90 minutes on and thirty minutes off and found that when he worked this way, he actually worked faster than when he worked in large blocks of time.
  • Focus. Breaks are breaks, but work is work. No answering email (unless that’s the task you’ve set for that time slot), definitely no cruising Facebook or Amazon.
  • Exercise. People tend to be more productive if they are physically active. It’s easy to think we don’t have time to get some exercise, but in fact research on productivity shows that we don’t have to not to get exercise.
  • Vacation. This is like exercise. It’s easy to feel like we don’t have time for it, but the long-term productivity benefits typically outweigh the time spent on vacation.

Obviously, it’s not always easy to stay on track, but one of the keys is just knowing what track we’re trying to stay on. One way to see how well you’re doing is to head over to Tony Schwartz’s website and take his Energy Audit. This is a simple questionnaire that will help you see where you’re lacking and help put you on track to great productivity. In the meantime, if there’s anything we can do here at Nielsen & Geenty to help streamline your legal malpractice insurance or otherwise help with your legal insurance needs, please let us know.

Nielsen & Geenty Insurance Services Inc. is a boutique insurance brokerage that specializes in lawyers professional liability insurance. The firm offers legal malpractice insurance, errors and omissions insurance, workers compensation insurance and office package policies.

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