#009: Nora Bergman on “Why Needless Interruptions are Wreaking Havoc on Your Day” [Podcast]

Craig talks  with Nora Bergman about understanding needless interruptions and eliminating them.

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Nora on Twitter


Microsoft Study on Interruptions

Interruption Log

Total Workday Control book

Send book

SemiSilent app

Do Not Disturb Whitelist app

Contact Nora:

Phone: 866.662-0993


The Practice Builder workshop

Beta Testers Wanted blog post

Microsoft Word Transcript

Craig:              This
is Legal Leaders podcast episode 9 with Craig Huggart/Nora Bergamn on “Why
Needless Interruptions are Wreaking Havoc on Your Day.”

Craig:              Hello
everyone and welcome to Legal Leaders podcast. Today’s guest is Nora Bergman;
she is a law firm coach who helps attorneys achieve work – life balance. Wow,
what a great mission in life! I have met a bunch of attorneys and it is really
sad to see so many of them who are so stressed out. I consider Nora one of my
online buddies and love following her Twitter feed. I’m really excited to have
her on the show! So Nora how are you doing today?

Nora:               Hi
Craig. Thank you. I am doing great and thanks for having me here, I’m looking
forward to being with you this afternoon.

Craig:              Well
very good!. Well as usual folks, before we get into today’s topics I want to
remind you to stick around to the end because we have two short features after
the topic: “Law firm Laughs” and “Today’s Tech Tips.” Well Nora, as we get
started, why don’t you tell us more about yourself and the work you do?

Nora:               Thanks
Craig. I am a law firm coach as you mentioned, interestingly I’m also a lawyer.
I’ve been a licensed attorney here in the state of Florida since 1992 and
actually practice law for about seven years before I decided that I wanted to
make a career change. I enjoyed the intellectual side of the process but at the
time I was practicing employment law and I didn’t appreciate the acrimony in
it. So I left the practice to work as the executive director of a bar’s
association and while I was the executive director of the bar’s association, I
have the opportunity to meet Mark Powers, the president of the company called
Atticus and I became certified as a practice coach with Atticus and I have been
doing that ever since 2006. I really love what I do because I believe that
lawyers transform people’s lives. They don’t think of themselves that way very
often but they transform people’s lives and so my goal, the work that I do, is
to help lawyers transform their own lives to really help them live the kind of
life and have the kind of practice that dreamt throughout in law school and, as
you’ve just said Craig, lots of lawyers are not living that life.

Craig:              Yeah,
I have definitely – Could agree and really on both fronts I mean- Lawyers get a
bad rap but without lawyers and the rule of law in this country, we would be in
a world of hurt and lawyers do in fact transform people’s lives I mean – One
illustration of that is a firm that I formally work for – The part of the
practice there certainly was real estate and what had happened was in Florida –
Well actually the panhandle of Alabama. The property taxes for a particular
municipality down there quadrupled in a year and the firm I was working for
actually represented the property owners and got that changed a little bit but
that’s just a small thing in my world where I’ve seen where without that, the
property owners would have been out of luck.

Nora:               Yeah,
and those kinds of stories happen every day, all across the country, but the
thing is people don’t hear those stories typically about lawyers. As with
anything, we want to cure the bad things that folks are doing as opposed to the
good that they do.

Craig:              Yeah,
that’s true, as they say “If it bleeds, it leads.” Right?

Nora:               Yeah.
Yes, you’re absolutely right, you’re making me laugh here because my undergrad
degree was in journalism and I haven’t heard that phrase in a long time but

Craig:              Well
see, that just illustrates that I’m over fifty so –

Nora:               I’m
with you there.

Craig:              So
let’s talk about today’s topic, tell us a bit more about how we can maybe
overcome some of the interruptions or what it’s doing to us.

Nora:               Yeah,
this particular topic, the idea of managing needless interruptions is something
that I feel particularly passionate about because we talk a lot about the idea
of time management. That phrase “Time management” is in our vernacular, I use
it, even though I tell my clients that there really is no such thing as time
management. If you think about it, we cannot manage time, time is what it is.
We can however manage ourselves around the time that we’ve got, right? So I’d
like you to think in terms not of time management, but of self management. And
one of the keys to self management is to learn to take control and eliminate
the extent you can the needless interruptions that
you deal with during the day. There’s a wonderful quote from Johann Paul
Richter that says “Sleep, riches, and health, to be truly enjoyed, must be
interrupted.” I love that, it’s true. Those are the only things in life that
really must be interrupted to be enjoyed and our work day as lawyers is very
often just a long, string of interruptions and we’re losing a tremendous amount
of productivity, not to mention mental health and sanity sometimes to the
interruptions that we deal with on a daily basis.

Craig:              Yeah, that is definitely the case I mean – I see it all
the time I mean – People are just interrupted constantly. I guess the tension
though is, how do you allow the things that you need to interrupt to interrupt
you but keep those needless ones away? What do you suggest in that front?

Nora:               Okay.
Well that’s a great question because you really do need to make that
distinction between what is a valid interruption and what is what I would call
a “Needless Interruption.” How often do we come to work in the morning and say
“Okay today is the day that’s going to be different?” We work quite crazy all
day long and then when we’re getting ready to leave for the day, you stare at
your to-do-list – There’s very little checked off that to-do-list and you think
to yourself “What did I do today?” If you have more days like that than you
want to admit, then the likelihood is that you are dealing with too many
needless interruptions. Before I answer your questions about what do we do
about them, I want to just give a little bit of context with respect to what
kind of time we’re actually losing to these interruptions. Recent neuroscience,
when we scan our brains and really look at the kinds things that our brains are
doing together with studies – The most recent studies done by Microsoft, tells
us that it can take our brain to up to 20 minutes to recover from an
interruption. Now some of those interruptions might be less than 20 minutes,
some might actually be more than 20 minutes. But for our brains to reboot, it
typically takes our brains about 20 minutes to deal with the interruption and
recover and get back into what we were doing. So if you’re dealing with all
these – three, needless interruptions a day, it will take potentially an hour a
day and over the course of a year, that adds up to 240 hours or six 40 hour
week that are gone. If you go by the hour, do that math over the course of the
year and it will open your eyes. But even if you’re not [inaudible 00:08:34] I
mean just think about six weeks that you’re losing that you could be spending
with your loves ones, you could be golfing, you could be out in your boat, you
could be doing whatever you want to do. So that’s one component of the context
around the idea of interruptions and why it’s so important to eliminate, or the
very least, limit them. In other studies, I mentioned the studies by Microsoft,
very enlightening. Microsoft studied its programmers and developers and found
that the more complex or detailed or intense a project was that they were
working on, the greater the likelihood that when they were interrupted doing
that work, they would not go back to it. I think everybody had that sense of
when you’re really deep into a project or
deep into some serious thinking and you’re pulled out of that by an
interruption, it’s very hard to get your brain back again into it. I take so
much energy to get back into it that sometimes we just say “I’ll come back to
that.” and that project turns into the fire that you need to put out next week
or two weeks from now because you didn’t deal with it when you needed to. And
those kinds of constant interruptions really create what I call a “Time famine”
in us that that sense that we always have formal work to do than a time to it.
So let me briefly answer one thing that you can begin to do to limit those
needless interruptions – First let’s define what they are. A needless
interruption is an interruption that is not a crisis, it’s not something really
important, you know – The building is on fire, your hair is on fire, a family
emergency, a call from opposing council regarding a hearing that you have
tomorrow, those things are really important interruptions and merit
interrupting your perhaps. And an interruption is a needless interruption –
It’s not a crisis, something like I’ve just mentioned, and it’s not relevant to
what you’re working on at the time, okay? Needless interruptions truly are distractions;
they take you away from what you are working on. And you, the lawyer, you need
to determine for you, what is a needless interruption for you so that you can
begin to deal with them. Little bit more about the interruptions themselves,
we’ve said that a needless interruption is something that is not a crisis and
it is not relevant to whatever you’re working on that the time, so within that
realm, we deal with those external interruptions and internal interruptions and
when we talk to you about what I mean with respect to those different types of
interruptions. An external interruption is something that works on you, it
could be a ringing phone, it could be a dinging inbox of your email, and it
could be a staff person or an associate coming into your office to ask you a
question. So those are external interruptions and we deal with those all day
long but in addition to those external interruptions, we also have to face or I
refer to it internal interruptions. Internal interruptions are those times when
we interrupt ourselves, we get distracted. Maybe there’s a noise out at the
office that catches our attention and pulls us away from what we are doing.
Maybe we’re distracted by wanting to go check a sport score on the internet at
a particular time during the day. Those kinds of interruptions are internal to
us so the goal is to first identify what needless interruptions are for you and
then to notice where they are coming from – Are they external or are they
internal and to start creating a plan to eliminate those interruptions. I
actually have a tool that I’d like to make available to your listeners Craig,
called an interruption log. And what it asks you to do is just to take this
sheet, print off three copies of it, and then for three days, they don’t need
to be consecutive days but they do need to be days when you are in your office,
note the interruptions that you deal with, both external and internal, the type
of the interruption, whether it truly was a crisis or an emergency that you had
to deal with at that moment, or whether it was what I would call a needless
interruption, something that could wait until later time, something that could
wait until Q&A time or a huddle with your team later in to morning or in
the afternoon. And if you’re looking at internal interruptions, notice those as
well and I like to tell my clients to look for patterns in internal
interruptions because your body might be telling you something, if every day at
3 o’clock, you notice that you’re surfing the web or you’re getting up from
your desk, then maybe you need a break at that time, so rather than fighting
it, bill the break in for yourself, notice those things that interrupt you and
understand your own body when it comes to internal interruptions so that you
can  work with your own cycles rather
than trying to fight them all the time.

Craig:              Sounds
good! Boy it sounds like a great tool and could be certainly an eye opener for the
folks out there. I’d love to hear an example where one of your client has used
this tool or has used other things and have really turn things around because
hearing this, I’m thinking of some lawyers I know and thinking they maybe
saying “Well I just couldn’t do that and I can’t  really see any hope for me. It’s just always
going to be this way.” Can you share with us maybe a success story?

Nora:               Yes,
absolutely, and by the way one of the most important things we can do to begin
to take control of our time is to change that mindset, the mindset that you
just described lots of people have it. Lots of people have it but the more that
you think that you cannot take control of your time, the more that becomes a
self-fulfilling prophecy for you so I would say step one is to begin to change
that mindset, that attitude. You know the old saying “Attitude is everything.”
It truly is everything especially when it comes to controlling yourself and
controlling how you handle time in your life, so you really can make these
changes. One other suggestion that I would make – So I’ll tell a little story
about my client is that one of the reasons that lawyers are interrupted so
often during the day is because your staff doesn’t feel like they have time to
have access to you so whenever they see you, they feel like they got to grab
you. I’ve mention the idea of a huddle, one of the most effective things you
can do and just that every client that I work with uses this approach, is to
have a huddle with your team and your key people in the morning and in the
afternoon and by huddle I mean short meeting, no longer than 10 minutes to give
those folks access to you to ask you the questions that they would normally be
interrupting you, during the day, to ask. Put them all on one place and have
that huddle. Now there’s a client that I’ve worked with who did an interruption
log, realized that she was losing a tremendous amount of time to interruptions,
both internal and external. She put in place a morning huddle with her team and
she put in place a afternoon huddle with her team and she was very excited
about it. However, all the people on the team continue to interrupt her and she
wasn’t getting through them that she didn’t want to work that way anymore. She
got into the habit of closing her door during her focus time – Focus time is
time that you block for yourself to do that, to focus on particular work, where
you are not going to be interrupted unless, again, it’s a – Not a needless
interruption but truly a crisis that something that you designate is okay to
interrupt you for, so her team wasn’t really getting the message. So she
created something – She called it “Interruption Bingo”, I’m not sure why she
called it Bingo but this is how it worked. She had a staff of four people I
believe, she gave them all a hundred dollar bonus and said “Here’s your hundred
dollar bonus and every time you interrupt me, I will take 10 dollars out of
that bonus over the next 2 weeks.” And that really worked. She said that got
their attention, turned them around, it was a fun thing, it wasn’t a punishment
thing, and just adjusting their behavior over these couple of weeks made a
tremendous difference in getting through to them that she was furious about not
being interrupted throughout the day.

Craig:              Wow,
that is a great technique and I love what you said about the huddle because –
Oh I see it all the time, it’s like the attorney has their door closed, they
open the door and in rushes the secretary, “I need this, this, and this.” and
the attorney is going, “Whoa, wait a second I got to go to this meeting or I’ve
got to go to court.”

Nora:               Exactly.

Craig:              So
having those scheduled times where your staff can count on having your
undivided attention, I think that’s huge.

Nora:               Yeah,
it makes a tremendous difference and by the way, the idea of interruptions goes
both ways. There are lots of lawyers that are in the habit of walking out to
their paralegal’s desk, walking out to their assistants’ desk, their assistant
or paralegal is working on something else, interrupting them and saying, “I
need you to work on this. I need you to work on that.” When it truly is not an
emergency that they need to interrupt what they’re doing and drop everything to
do what the attorney wants. It’s a two-way street and as your team respects
your time, I tell my clients, you need to respect their time too.

Craig:              Well
that’s great, that’s music to my ears because I’ve always been on the staff side
of things so – Well that’s good. Well one other question I’d love to hear your
thoughts on, I think the biggest interrupter, by far these days, is email and
do you have strategies or suggestions that you could share for managing email
and cutting down on email interruption.

Nora:               Oh
my gosh. Well first of all you’re right, email is just the bane of our
existence, you can’t live with it, you can’t live without it, but there are a
couple of things that you can do that makes a tremendous difference. I think
the very first thing that you should do is to turn off all pop-up reminders,
pop-up notifications, audible notifications, anything like that that tells you
“You’ve got mail.” Those little things are distracting you and interrupting you
all day long even if you don’t realize that they’re interrupting you so turn
those things off. Do not – That’s number one – Number two, do not start your
day in your inbox, do not do it. If you’re working on Outlook, you can set your
Outlook homepage to whatever you want it to be, it does not need to be your
inbox and actually, I suggest that you set up Outlook to opening your calendar.
So when you turn on Outlook in the morning, you see your calendar, you can look
at the day, you can plan what you want to do. Those first 15 minutes in the
office up to as much as 30 minutes in the office, depending upon the lawyer,
depending upon the practice, should be focused on you planning your day, what
do you want to accomplish in that day, and getting centered before you open the
inbox which can turn into a vortex that just sucks you in and two hours later,
you come out and you don’t know where the morning went. So number 1 is turn off
reminders. Number two is to not start your day in your inbox but start your day
in your calendar. And then number three, schedule time to process email, this
is a hard one for folks, very hard, and you might want to try it incremental
bites, turn off your email for certain portions of the morning and certain
portions of the afternoon and schedule time to go in and process you email. If
you can do those three things, you begin to get a handle on it. As a matter of
fact, there are resources out there online – Craig I know you’ve written a book
about managing email and there are other resources out there to help you manage
your email. The thing about email is that it’s very, very personal – There is
no one size fits all – Do this and it’s going to work for you necessarily,
[inaubdile00:22:08] and some other strategies. People have to experiment with
what works for them and then find what works and make it a habit.

Craig:              Very
good, well let me mention, thinking of books, the books that is would recommend
and you may have a resource you want to recommend as well, I don’t know, but
the books that have been the most helpful to me is “Total Workday Control” by
Micheal Linenberger, and it’s a type of thing that takes a commitment but he
makes argument that the number one skill you need in today’s work world is
managing your email well and I think he mixed pretty good case and his work, to
me, is the best I’ve seen on email. Then the other thing I would say is, as you
are describing how you need to manage you email, one of the things that I’m
sure you would agree with is lean on you assistant, lean on your secretary to
help you with that as much as possible because if you’re going to be able to
truly rest and focus on a project, you need to know that that email that you’re
expecting form that top client, that may come while you’re in that hour that
your dedicated into that project, that you’re not going to miss that, and the
only way I see that you can really do that is to have a trusted assistant that
says, “Look, I know that from 9 to 10 or 9/10:30 is your project time but I
will be monitoring your inbox so that if that email comes in, I will interrupt

Nora:               Absolutely,
and you know you elude to another concept that wraps around all of this and
that is the idea of being surrounded by a team of people that work together to
deliver great service to the client, you’re absolutely right.

Craig:              Anything
else that you want to add on this topic?

Nora:               Well
I’ll recommend another book another book, Craig, actually it’s a book called
“SEND: Why People Email so Badly and How to Do it Better”, great, great book by
David Shipley and Will Schwalbe.

Craig:              Well
very good – Well I will make sure to put notes to all of these things in the
show notes as I typically do so we will have those in there and certainly we’ll
include a link to the tool that Nora mentioned and we’ll make that available to
you. So we’re going to transition and we’re going to talk about hopefully
something that will reduce your stress a little bit, not add to it. Nora you
have a funny story to tell us about for today’s law firm laugh.

Nora:               Well
actually, my law firm laugh was the interruption bingo story.

Craig:              Oh
okay, you know I already knew you were telling it, maybe that’s the one. Well
we’ll go with it for today which brings me to the point that I wanted to ask
our listeners, I have tried to bring you some funny stories from my time at law
firms and I’m running a little bit low so if you have stories you would like to
share, I would love to hear them and if I use it on the show, I will be happy
to give you credit, so please send in your stories and we will share them and
we will all be better for it. And now for today’s tech tip, we’ve been talking
about interruptions and I don’t know that we mentioned too much about phone
calls but certainly cell phones are a problem with interruptions, and cell
phones are the kind of things that now, your just expected in some place to
answer your phone, and I wanted to mention an app to you that is available on
android called “Semisilent”. I’ve been using it for years and I love it. The
principle is that you set up a list, a white list if you will, of the people
that you always wanted to be available for. There is only four people on my
white list and they know, don’t call me during these hours unless it’s an
emergency, everybody else rolls to voice-mail. Sorry for all those people out
there, they’re hearing this but if you’re not on that list, you’re going to
roll to voice-mail. And that for me has been huge in managing interruptions for
the cell phone. Now of your not an android user, there is an equivalent, I
believe, on i-phone. Now I can’t vouch for it but the app on i-phone is called
“Do Not Disturb White List” so if you look for that in the app store, you
should find it there. And again I will put links to those things in the show

Nora, how can people get in contact with you and is there anything that you
would like to promote?

Nora:               Well
the easiest way to get in contact with me Craig is to simply give me a call at
866-662-0993. You can also visit me online at my website which is
reallifepractice.com, if you Google my name you will find it. And I want to let
folks know that at the end of October, Atticus hosts a two day boot camp in
Orlando called the “Practice Builder”. Some of your listeners may have attended
the Practice Builder, it is a phenomenal practice – I hate people call it the
practice management seminar because it’s really so much more than that. As a
practicing attorney, it is unlike any other type of program I have ever
attended as a practicing attorney. Atticus will cover time management,
productivity, client development, all the things that lawyers need to know to
be able to run their firms effectively that they don’t teach us in law school.
I can provide you a link for folks to get more information about the Practice
Builder but something that I would really encourage them to think seriously
about attending.

Craig:              Well
great, sounds like something that folks should put on their calendars. So I
have a special announcement, I am working on a course for Udemy entitled “The
Lazy Lawyers One Hour Guide to Work 2010 Essentials” and don’t get upset with
me by lazy lawyer, I mean the one smart enough to leverage technology to become
more efficient, and with that disclaimer out of the way, I have a favor to ask.
I am looking for a select group of people who would be willing to beta test the
course for me. For details about the requirements and the reward of being a
beta tester for this, if you’ll see my post “Beta Testers Wanted” at my blog alawfirmtrainer.com.

                        So Nora, thanks so much
for taking the time and being on the show today.

Nora:               Thank
you Craig, I’ve enjoyed thoroughly.

Craig:              Well
very good. Well that’s a wrap for episode nine.


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