Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin: June 2013

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The working world has changed drastically over the last five years, with the great advancements allowed by smartphones, tablets, and WiFi. People are driven to distraction constantly – they rarely take a moment to consider that their multitasking is not as effective as they might think. There are a few reasons you need to unplug, and here are some tips and tricks to help you manage your digital distractions. Whether you are driving, working, or on vacation, maximize your time by cutting down on distractions.

While Driving

According to Time Magazine, texting while driving now kills more teenagers than drunk driving – but teens are not the only people who can be affected by this distraction. Adults text while driving even more than teens do. Also, in the state of Maryland, it is illegal to text, and you can make calls only with a hands-free device.

AT&T and T-Mobile offer free apps that allow you to turn off notifications while driving and set a response (similar to an out-of-office reply), but they rely on the user to turn them on. More reliable is a GPS-enabled or accelerometer-based app, which turns on as the device begins moving quickly. Sprint has an app called DriveFirst for $2 per month, which turns on as soon as your car is moving faster than 10 mph. This is a more restrictive app, probably more ideal for parents with driving teens. On Android, one app is called DeText, which locks out just the texting portion of the phone while the car is moving, based on a driver’s GPS speeds, and automatically responds with an away message.

Another multi-platform app is called DriveSafe.ly (www.drivesafe.ly). When activated, this app will read text messages and emails aloud while you are driving, and has the option to automatically respond with a busy message, completely hands-free. The “Pro” version, which is $13.95 a year, allows for up to 500 words read, voice responses to texts, different reading voices and talking speeds, and an ad-free auto-responder. While not restrictive enough for teens, this is a good compromise for adults who can be trusted to turn on the service when needed.

While Working

Nothing is worse than trying to get work done on a computer while getting distracted by the computer. Not to mention smartphones, telephones, and other miscellaneous workday interruptions. Corral the distractions you can manage with a few easy-to-install browser extensions to help you restrict time spent with time wasters like social media, news sites, and other media sites.

Set your phone to only accept email pushes every four hours and not at all during vacation. Turn of Facebook notifications and other social media attention-stealers. Focus on quality time, not digital time.

If you’re a Firefox user, go to your menu and select Tools > Add-ons. Here you can browse for any number of addons for your browser. Take a look at one called LeechBlock. You can use this extension to block out as many sites as you need, based on type of site, based on URL’s, and specify when they should be blocked so you can get your real work done. You can set up the extension to only allow access to those sites for a certain amount of time each day.

Another extension, in Firefox that may help you be more productive include Pocket, which allows you to save websites for later reading, and syncs to your phone, tablet, or computer, and is available without an internet connection. To help you stay on task, try Todoist, an online to-do list and task manager available in your Firefox web browser. Since I do so much Internet – based work, to-do lists are a great way to remind me to stay on task throughout the day.

If you use Google Chrome, check out an extension called StayFocused. This extension can also block sites by URL, or only allow a certain amount of activity at that site each day. Depending on how much you need to focus, there are light to strict control options.

For something more heavy-duty than a browser add-on, consider the multi-platform utility called RescueTime (www.rescuetime.com) . This utility is available both for free with limited features or full-featured for just $9 a month, on Windows, OS X, and Linus computer platforms, as well as Android devices. This utility helps you identify poorly used time in your day and monitor your time to ensure you are using your time the best way possible. This includes categorizing the sites you visit throughout the day (i.e., learning vs. social media.) There is also a focus timer that will block your most distracting websites for a period of time you decide. After all, the better you organize your work day, hopefully the less work you take with you when you’re not at the office.

While on Vacation

Occasionally, professionals work through vacation, remaining glued to devices while trying to refresh. There is no high-tech tool to help you learn to let go of work responsibilities when you should to make the most of time off; however there are a few recommendations that may help make it easier for you to balance professional demands if you must have any while on vacation.

  • Advice from David Mowry on www.AboveTheLaw.com: regardless of your practice environment, schedule the vacation time that you have been given. Really. If you need more convincing, try this article, also on Above The Law, How to Take Vacation Without Being Sent Packing.
  • Before you leave, share the load. Talk to coworkers about what duties can be shared and alert them of anything that may need attention while you are out. Don’t leave anything up in the air that will tempt you to leave behind the very important task of clearing your mind and gaining new perspectives so you can return refreshed.
  • Limit notification pushes on your phone. Set your phone to only accept email pushes every four hours and not at all during vacation-critical time. Turn off Facebook notifications and other social media attention-stealers. Focus on quality time, not digital time.
  • If possible, consider leaving the laptop at home. You will be less inclined to default to work mode during idle time.
  • If you must do some work while on vacation, schedule very specific time to accomplish tasks each day that won’t conflict with your vacation plans, such as the morning before others wake up, or a brief time before dinner, and so forth. But when time is up – walk away. Don’t forget to turn out-of-office notifications back on if necessary.

There are so many driving apps – have you found any that are indispensible? Email me at troberts@msba.org to tell me about your favorites. I tend to stick with the honor system and Google Maps, but plan to use DriveSafe.ly for some planned road trips this summer.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin : June 2013

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