Fun + Lifestyle

In Praise of Distractions

  • Distractions can be productive and make you more mindful, connected, and creative
  • Explore the world around you with curiosity and let your mind wander
  • Good things happen when you linger over conversation or absorb yourself in a relaxing activity

Particularly in the legal field, “distraction” is often a dirty word. But distractions can actually help you be more focused and productive in the long run.

As an attorney, you have to keep focused, staying the course and maintaining your concentration even under extreme pressure. But applying intense pressure and focus all the time can get you stuck: stuck in your existing ways of thinking, stuck in your head, and stuck in stale routines. Breaking out of the mold and shifting your internal paradigm can lead to great changes in your career, health, and happiness.

So as a lawyer, it’s important to adjust your thinking and recognize that distractions provide some major benefits.. In some cases, it can even make you more mindful, more creative, and more connected to others. Here are some of the ways you can learn to see distraction in a new light.

Explore Your World

Too many of us go from home to office, office to home, and not many other places. Explore your world as a tourist, an outsider—someone who doesn’t see it as the “same old same old,” but through fresh eyes.

One way to do this is by getting out into nature, especially if you live in a city. Try a nearby hike or head out to a neighborhood river, pond, or lake you haven’t seen before.

You can also become an urban explorer, taking a mini “quest” in your own city. Head out with no set plan, timeline, or destination. Instead, let the sights, sounds, and impulses you encounter along the way guide your steps.

If you simply don’t have the time right now to take an afternoon to explore, try taking a different route to or from work or changing up your routine in some way. Grab coffee somewhere new, or take an evening walk around your block, noticing your surroundings more than you usually would. No matter which way you decide to “get distracted,” your brain will appreciate the new sensory input and the break from the usual.

Brainstorm the Possibilities

The long hours and intense pressure of a law career can leave you in a rut. Open up your world to new possibilities with some brainstorming sessions.

Break out a fresh sheet of paper and decide what you’d like to brainstorm. You can try stream-of-consciousness writing, where you do a “brain dump” and let the connections come as they may. This can be profoundly cathartic.

Otherwise, think about where you’d like to see some change in your life. Where would you like to be in five years? What new things would you like to start doing? Brainstorm a list of ideas, and don’t censor yourself or stop writing for at least five minutes. You might be surprised at what you end up with.

Let Your Mind Wander

A law career requires hyper-focus and can often be overstimulating. Staring at documents and always being “on” for clients can burn you out and rub your nerves raw.

When we allow our thoughts to travel during meditation, yoga, or simple rest, we can heal some of that damage and renew ourselves. Letting your mind wander can lead you to make novel connections, consider new ideas, or get inspired for the future.

Take 10 silent minutes in the morning or at night to meditate in total silence, enjoy the relief of a quiet savasana (this is a “corpse pose” for the uninitiated) after yoga class, or just sit quietly on your couch without the TV on or any music. Whatever you do, don’t try to control or guide your thoughts—if only for those 10 minutes! For once, instead, let them come to you.

Do you dedicate some time every workday to things other than the work in front of you? How does it impact your approach to your work?

Linger and Enjoy

Many attorneys don’t get enough of a lunch break, let alone social time. But there’s deep pleasure, and great possibility, in lingering over coffee or dinner and conversation. Carve out the time to turn off your phone and enjoy dinner, lunch, coffee, or drinks with a friend or partner. Yes, this is hard and maybe a leisurely meal during the week is out of the question during busy times. But even a quick break to meet someone for coffee near your office can give you that much-needed social connection to re-energize you. And here’s a word of advice: Don’t talk about work! Your work is important, but it can’t be your life. A few hours of deep conversation can remind you that you’re more than a lawyer.

Get Absorbed

When was the last time you were deeply, wholly engrossed in a pleasurable activity? Psychologists call that deep state of creativity and focus “flow.” Spending time in a flow state leads to radical changes in your mental health, leads to greater innovation and productivity, and improves your ability to stay mindful and aware in the present moment.

There are many ways to experience flow, from video games and adult coloring books to writing, cooking, reading, creative projects, home repairs, crafts, and even just being absorbed in a great movie. Choose something you genuinely find relaxing and enjoyable, and don’t peek at any technology. Let thoughts and ideas bubble up as they will, and turn on some music in the background to create the perfect atmosphere for productive distraction.

What's Next

Think about times when you feel you’re in the “flow” whether it’s at work or outside of the office. Can you identify what it is about the type of work or activity that helps you get lost in it?