Daily Practices for Lives That Are Anything But Routine (Part 2)

(This is the second in a three part series on the importance of morning ritual and routine)

dreamstime_m_29528819A couple of weeks ago, we talked about the importance of starting your day with a certain spaciousness—time and structure that enable you to start your day on your own terms, before the world begins hurling its demands at you. But once you have created some spaciousness in your morning, what can you do to establish a bit of control over how your day unfolds?

Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work, says that all of us engage in two different types of work—deep work and shallow work.  He points out that “shallow work” (emails, entering your time in the billing system, organizing your files) is what keeps you from getting fired, but “deep work” (the thoughtful analysis necessary for a coverage opinion or crafting a strong cross examination of an expert) is what gets you promoted.

As a part of your morning routine identify the work of your day that will produce the high value results, the work that will help improve your skills or that you find particularly meaningful.  What is that 20% of your work that yields 80% of your results?  Then once you’ve identified that work, decide how can you make that deep work a priority.

Making this happen is difficult for lawyers for several reasons.  First of all, most of us live in the billable hour world where we get paid the same for doing shallow work as we do for doing deep work.  20 minutes spent driving to a deposition has the same value as 20 minutes spent in oral argument before the Supreme Court.  In the billable hour world, there is no incentive to differentiate between deep work and shallow work.  Work is work.  Live in that world long enough, and you begin to believe that time has no value.  And when you stop valuing the qualitative differences in how you spend your time at work, life can get pretty miserable.

Secondly, most of us work in highly regimented work environments where we’re expected to be in the office by a certain time every morning and to stay until a certain time in the evening.  “Face time” is crucial.  Those who don’t adhere to the office schedule are considered slackers.

But here’s the problem—just as all tasks aren’t created equal, all hours aren’t created equal either.  There are ample studies that demonstrate that we all have a period of peak productivity everyday—2 to 3 hours when we can be as much as 30% more efficient than any other time of the day. For many of us, those peak hours are early in the morning.  For others, those hours may be in the evening.  The point is to know yourself well enough to know when your peak hours occur and do everything possible to make sure you spend those hours doing your deep work. The people I know who are capable of mind blowing productivity, are fanatics about protecting their “magic hours.”

This is one reason why a lot of firms are rethinking the idea of the highly regimented workplace.  If your peak hours of productivity are between 7:30 and 9:30 in the morning, in what universe does it make sense to spend 45 minutes of those peak hours sitting in rush hour?

There are plenty of people who will plan our day for us, if we let them.  And frequently we let them.  Our lives can become our own again when we start our day by being intentional about the work we will do and when we do it.  Are we going to get everything done?  No. Will there still be times when it feels as if our time is not our own?  Yes.  But if we can begin our day with some intention, and jealously guard the time when we do our best work, we can begin to take back some small part of our lives.

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