The Incrementalist: A Simple Productivity System to Create Big Results in Small Steps (ebook is out!)

As we move ahead into Mother’s Day weekend, another month of the global pandemic, and the 6th week of a stay-at-home order in my home state, Minnesota, I’m glad to say I started and finished writing my book.

The Incrementalist: A Simple Productivity System to Create Big Results in Small Steps is now out in ebook format. This includes PDF (for computers), EPUB (for phones and tablets) and MOBI (for Kindle). You can take a look inside and read sample pages at https://leanpub.com/incrementalist

I wrote the book within a month by working incrementally on it sentence by sentence, page by page, and chapter by chapter, and building on pre-existing content in prior writings. I chipped away at it in limited but focused time blocks, on the edges of core work activities and daily responsibilities.

This creative project pulled me through feelings of stuckness during the last few weeks. As I made my way through it, I was constantly reminded there is healing in grief, possibility in uncertainty, and progress in chaos.

Even though my business and law practice continue to thrive, the world is different. The changes have required logistical shifts, a different mindset, acceptance of what is, and openness to whatever unfolds.

Even when little seems to be going according to plan and much is outside your control, it’s still essential to get your priorities straight, decide on next action steps, and correct course when you veer off track.

In the book, I explain how to become an INCREMENTALIST to create big results, in small steps, without pushing yourself too far beyond your comfort zone, burning out, and feeling inadequate. You can do great work and stretch your limits, gradually and slowly. Incremental progress helps you gain control, master your craft, and seamlessly integrate all that matters to you.

If you’re having trouble gaining traction on a major project or making a significant change in your life, consider reading The Incrementalist and practicing the 5 principles described in the book.

If you like the book or wish to recommend it to friends, family members, colleagues or anyone else who might find it helpful, please share the link at https://leanpub.com/incrementalist.

When you buy the book on Leanpub, you get free updates of any revised versions I publish on that platform. It doesn’t matter when you bought the book or how much you paid.

There is a 45-day 100% happiness guarantee. This means you can get a 100% refund within 45 days of purchase through Leanpub. I won’t know who buys my book or who requests refunds because purchases are made through the Leanpub platform. But if you’d like to send me questions and comments directly, you can do so!

Whether you’re a current client, a former client, a subscriber to one of my e-newsletters, or a reader of any of my blogs, I thank you for your support.

If you read The Incrementalist, let me know the top three things you found most useful and the top three things you’d like me to explain better in the book. I can’t promise I’ll address every question or comment, but I’ll aim to read each one.

In the midst of challenging and uncertain times, you can still create big results in small steps by becoming an Incrementalist!

To your ongoing progress,

Dyan Williams

Founder & Principal Attorney
Dyan Williams Law PLLC
(612) 225-9900
info@dyanwilliamslaw.com

“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”
 Abraham Lincoln

COVID-19 Update: Impact of Executive Order Temporarily Suspending Some U.S. Immigration for 60 Days, As of April 23

On April 22, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order titled Proclamation Suspending Entry of Immigrants Who Present Risk to the U.S. Labor Market During the Economic Recovery Following the COVID-19 Outbreak. The Order becomes effective on April 23 at 11:59 p.m. eastern daylight time and is set to expire within 60 days, with a possibility of an extension.

Who Does the Executive Order Affect?

For a 60-day period, the Executive Order suspends and limits the entry of persons as intended immigrants (Immigrant Visa applicants) who are:

(a) outside the United States on the effective date;

(b) do not have an immigrant visa that is valid on the effective date; and

(c) do not have an official travel document other than a visa (such as a transportation letter, a boarding foil, or an advance parole document) that is valid on the effective date or any date thereafter that permits a request for admission at a U.S. port of entry.

If you have an Immigrant Visa dated April 23, 2020 or later — and need to land in the United States to become a permanent resident — you will not be admitted into the country during the 60-day period (i.e. up to June 22, 2020). The exception is if you fall into one of the categories that are exempted from the Order.

Who is Exempted from the Executive Order?

The Order does not prevent the entry of lawful permanent residents who already hold green cards for admission to the United States.

The Order also exempts certain intended immigrants, such as:

(1) Physicians, nurses and other health care professionals seeking to perform medical research or other research intended to combat the spread of COVID-19, or to perform work essential to combating, recovering from, or otherwise alleviating the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak – as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their respective designess – plus their accompanying or following to join spouse and unmarried minor children

(2) Immigrant Investors in the EB5 immigrant visa category

(3) Spouses of U.S. citizens

(4) Minor children (under age 21) of U.S. citizens, or prospective adoptees seeking to enter the United States with an IR-4 or IH-4 visa

(5) Persons whose entry would further U.S. law enforcement objectives, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their designees, based on a recommendation of the Attorney General or his designee

(6) Members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their spouses and children

(7) Special Immigrant Visas in the SI or SQ classification (i.e. Iraqi and Afghan Translators/Interpreters and their spouses and unmarried minor children)

(8) Persons whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their respective designees

What is the Stated Purpose of the Executive Order?

Trump said the Executive Order was necessary to protect American workers in an economy severely affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Between March 1 and April 11, more than that 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment as a result of the global pandemic and related restrictions with behavioral shifts, including closures of “non-essential” businesses and “social distancing” (physical distancing).

The Executive Order states, “We must be mindful of the impact of foreign workers on the United States labor market, particularly in an environment of high domestic unemployment and depressed demand for labor.  We must also conserve critical State Department resources so that consular officers may continue to provide services to United States citizens abroad.”

The Order adds, “lawful permanent residents, once admitted, are granted ‘open-market’ employment authorization documents, allowing them immediate eligibility to compete for almost any job, in any sector of the economy.  There is no way to protect already disadvantaged and unemployed Americans from the threat of competition for scarce jobs from new lawful permanent residents by directing those new residents to particular economic sectors with a demonstrated need not met by the existing labor supply. ” 

What is the Impact of the Executive Order?

While the Executive Order temporarily suspends the entry of some persons who seek to enter the U.S. as immigrants, it exempts certain immigrant visa categories. It also does not prevent the filing of I-130 and I-140 petitions or the processing of such immigrant petitions by USCIS.

Furthermore, delays are already occurring due to global travel restrictions as well as cancellations and unavailability of visa interviews at U.S. Embassies and Consulates related to COVID-19.

The Executive Order will have little immediate impact on intended immigrants — unless U.S. Embassies and Consulates were to restart normal operations, such as scheduling visa interviews and issuing visas, within the next 60 days, or the Order is extended even further or indefinitely.

The text of the Order states: “Whenever appropriate, but no later than 50 days from the effective date of this proclamation, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Labor, recommend whether I should continue or modify this proclamation.”

The Order also notes that additional measures may be taken. It reads, “Within 30 days of the effective date of this proclamation, the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, shall review nonimmigrant programs and shall recommend to me other measures appropriate to stimulate the United States economy and ensure the prioritization, hiring, and employment of United States workers.”

If the suspension is extended beyond the 60-day period or widened to include nonimmigrant visa categories, this could slow down the restarting of routine in-person services at U.S. Embassies and Consulates. In the meantime, Trump has issued guidelines for Opening Up America Again to state and local officials when “reopening their economies, getting people back to work, and continuing to protect American lives.”

The situation remains fluid. Whether the Trump Administration will extend the suspension on U.S. immigration or begin a suspension in nonimmigrant visa cases is uncertain at this point.

Persons who are eligible for adjustment to permanent residence (green card) within the United States are not affected by the Executive Order. USCIS is performing mission critical duties that do not involve contact with the public.

For example, it continues to issue receipt notices, requests for evidence, decisions and other notices for petitions and applications. Although USCIS has suspended in-person services through at least May 3, it is still accepting petitions (e.g. I-130 and I-140 petitions) and applications for processing. The scheduling of interviews and biometrics appointments with applicants will restart after normal operations resume.

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This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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Maintaining Momentum During a Global Pandemic

The COVID-19 outbreak and restrictions have sparked major changes in just a few weeks. The United States is now deemed the epicenter of the pandemic. More people in my community are now wearing plastic gloves and face masks when they venture out to the grocery store. Daily life is being upended and more businesses have switched to remote work to protect public health and comply with government mandates.

On April 8, in the State of Minnesota, Governor Tim Waltz extended the stay-at-home order through May 4, which restricts people from leaving their homes except for essential activities. Other U.S. states and countries around the world have curfews, self-quarantining directives, and lockdowns of varying degrees. These measures aim to slow the spread of the virus, but they also bring logistical and economic consequences.

As the situation continues to unfold, remote work is being encouraged or required in both small businesses and large organizations. This is a viable alternative if you’re a knowledge worker who can effectively do tasks and complete projects from home. But if remote work amounts to a sudden shift brought on by forces beyond your control, you will likely struggle to stay focused and productive even if you’re otherwise a peak performer.

While I am not new to remote work because I’ve done it successfully for many years, the impact of the changes is not lost on me. At the most basic level, I’ve had to adjust to having my husband working from home and my older child being home-schooled while I continue to operate my business from my home office. There is more of a blending between work and home life, which calls for doubling down on routines, structures and boundaries.

Many of my clients in U.S. immigration and visa matters have been affected by the suspension of routine services at U.S. Embassies and USCIS offices, triggered by COVID-19. While some U.S. immigration agencies continue to function, the temporary closures and travel restrictions have a profound effect on my clientele.

Although I cannot say when exactly things will go back to or close to “normal,” we know these measures are temporary and will lift at some point in the future.

If you’re a client in my U.S. immigration practice, I thank you for your trust, patience and positivity. I’m behind on some target completion dates, and this is by no means due to procrastination or lack of diligence. But like many others, I’m making progress at a slower pace.

If you’re an attorney or other knowledge worker who can perform duties remotely, I assure you this setup has tremendous advantages. If you’re just starting out with remote work, it might be overwhelming for you, even after all your cybersecurity, document management, online communications, and other systems are installed.

For techniques on how to overcome the 3 big obstacles to thriving in remote work, I encourage you to read my newest articles on my productivity blog:

Overcoming Obstacles to Thriving in Remote Work: Part 1 – Asynchronous Communication

Overcoming Obstacles to Thriving in Remote Work: Part 2 – Blurred Lines

Overcoming Obstacles to Thriving in Remote Work: Part 3 – Competing Priorities

In the midst of a global pandemic that brings restlenesses and unpredictability, we can continue to set the wheels in motion, take steps forward, and maintain momentum to reach desired results. Look for the silver linings because they are there. You just need to notice them.

As with any other crisis, this too will pass and, in the meantime, you can turn this huge obstacle into a unique opportunity.

Stay well. Stay healthy. Stay connected.

Dyan Williams

Founder & Principal Attorney
Dyan Williams Law PLLC
(612) 225-9900
info@dyanwilliamslaw.com

Overcoming Obstacles to Thriving in Remote Work: Part 3 – Competing Priorities

When you’re working from home, there is no commute, no officemate and no dress code. Personal responsibilities are harder to put aside when you’re not in an office away from your home life. Without deliberate planning, remote work can make it difficult to distinguish between your personal to-dos and professional priorities. 

In parts 1 and 2 of this 3-part article, respectively, I discussed Asynchronous Communication as the first obstacle and Blurred Lines as the second obstacle to thriving in remote work. 

The third obstacle to overcome is Competing Priorities. Spending time with your family, playing with your children, getting groceries, walking the dog, and doing laundry are not really distractions. They are competing priorities.

Even if you’re lucky enough to work from home and get paid in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic or any other crisis, you need to be practical. Don’t expect to be on top of your game when there is much uncertainty and disruption. To set realistic expectations, you might need to inform your boss, colleagues and clients about the obstacles you face. Explain what you’re doing to still meet commitments, but perhaps at a slower pace.

As I write this article, schools remain closed across the United States and other parts of the world when summer break has yet to begin. Restless children who have no school, sports or extracurricular activities are relying more on their parents for ongoing education and entertainment.

In any remote work situation, you need to give yourself structure, but incorporate flexibility and margin. Instead of multitasking and doing busy work for 8 hours, shoot for 4 to 6 hours of focused work, which is a normal maximum for true productivity.

Track how you use your time and compare it with what you had planned to do. This will help you figure out how and when you veered off course and what you can do better the next time. Cut yourself some slack if you didn’t get to check off all your to-dos. Maybe your list was too long to begin with.

You might need to work in short bursts, like 15 to 30 minutes, on a daily basis over one week, when you don’t have a large chunk of time to complete the project in one day. For instance, I used the Pomodoro Technique — in which you break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks — to complete this 3-part article over a two-week period.

Designate time blocks to perform certain activities. In a normal work day from home, I use the mornings for focused work and scheduled calls, typically before the kids wake up. I spend my lunch break to eat and play with them. Then I use my younger kid’s naptime and my older kid’s solo activity time to complete a second round of focused work and scheduled calls.

There are no hard and fast rules to maximize personal productivity. Have you heard that many of the most successful people in the world wake up at 5 am? Before you join the club, consider your own circadian rhythm. This is an internal timing device that controls when you are most alert and when you are most tired. It is your brain’s sleep-wake cycle in a 24-hour period that determines your natural wake up time and bedtime. 

In his book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, author Daniel Pink notes there are three chronotype categories: Early-riser Lark; late-night Owl, and in-between Third Bird. If you’re naturally a night owl, don’t try to reset your circadian rhythm by forcing yourself to go to bed early so you can wake up at 5 am. An early wake-up time works well for natural early risers or for third birds who can more readily shift their sleep cycle through deliberate habits.

Work with your natural rhythm and synch the right tasks with your energy level and time of day. You also need to block time to stay focused on a single, high-cognitive task or to batch process similar, low-cognitive tasks to make progress and meet milestones.

Taking deliberate breaks is critical, particularly in remote work when there are no clear lines between work and the rest of your life. Your ultradian rhythm — which is the wake-rest-activity cycle that repeats throughout a 24-hour day — makes it counterproductive to work for hours on end.

Consider there are alternating periods of high-frequency brain activity (roughly 90 minutes) followed by lower-frequency brain activity (approximately 20 minutes). Take a 20-minute break for every 90 minutes of work to take advantage of the daily ultradian rhythm cycle.

For some, doing chores while working from home interferes with focus and productivity. But if you’re like me, mundane chores like folding clothes and doing the dishes can be a helpful respite from focused work. They can also foster mind-wandering for idea generation and mindfulness for stress relief.

Other ways to take a restful break include mediating, listening to music, observing nature, going for a walk, stretching, and soaking in sunlight.

Avoid time sucks like social media, emails and online news when your focus is at its peak and you have deep work to do. Turning off auto-alerts and notifications makes it easier to get real work done.

Practice morning rituals to jump start your day and evening rituals to wind down before bedtime. Have a start-up routine to begin work and a shut-down process to end work.

Before you begin, you could review your big three tasks or your single priority that must get your attention.

Track how you use your time and compare it with what you had planned to do. This will help you figure out how and when you veered off course and what you can do better the next time. Cut yourself some slack if you didn’t get to check off all your to-dos. Maybe your list was too long to begin with.

At the end of the day, review what you accomplished and celebrate the wins, no matter how small. Focus on the output, not on how many hours you spent at work. Four hours of solid deliverables is worth more than 8 hours of subpar work.

Share your schedule with your family or whoever lives with you. If you’re going to be on a telephone call for 15 minutes or an hour, tell your kids and let them know you’ll engage in a fun activity with them afterwards. A small reward for exercising patience goes a long way. And if you have a spouse, partner or other adult at home, enlist their help to divide and conquer competing priorities.

With remote work, you can integrate your work and life and design your day with autonomy. Whether you keep a strict schedule that mirrors traditional office hours really depends on what works for you. Your personal circumstances and preferences might lead you to design something different to thrive in remote work.

                                                               *  * *

For more information on overcoming obstacles to thriving in remote work, read part 1 (Asynchronous Communication) and part 2 (Blurred Lines) of this multipart article.

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Dyan Williams is a productivity coach who helps working parents, lawyers, small business owners and other busy people turn their ideas into action, reduce overwhelm, and make time for what truly matters. She is also a solo lawyer who practices U.S. immigration law and legal ethics at Dyan Williams Law PLLC from her home office. She is the author of The Incrementalist: A Simple Productivity System to Create Big Results in Small Steps, an e-book at http://leanpub.com/incrementalist.

Overcoming Obstacles to Thriving in Remote Work: Part 2 – Blurred Lines

To survive and thrive as a remote worker, you need to know how to overcome the obstacles and reframe them as benefits. When you are faced with a crisis — such as the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions — the ability to shift your mindset becomes even more critical.

As Ryan Holiday writes in his book, The Obstacle is the Way, an effective path to dealing with a crisis is to turn adversity into an advantage, a trial into a triumph, and an obstacle into an opportunity.

In part 1 of this 3-part article, I discussed Asynchronous Communication as the first obstacle to thriving in remote work.

The second obstacle to overcome is Blurred Lines. Commuting to and from an office provides transitions that you do not have with remote work. When the commute goes away, there is no physical switch to know when the work day starts and when it ends. You also might not have a dedicated room or separate space for work, which makes it harder to draw the line between personal stuff and professional obligations.

If you were thrust into remote work or didn’t plan for it, your kitchen, living room, or other personal space might now be your makeshift workplace. When you can’t physically leave the office, it’s harder to shut your computer off and call it a day. The work day doesn’t seem to end because your office is right inside your home.

On the flip side, the lack of clear lines between work and home makes it easier to succumb to distractions. There is the refrigerator in the kitchen and the TV in the living room calling for your attention. The computer you’re using to do work is probably the same tool you use to watch YouTube videos, hang out on social media, and binge watch Netflix shows.

If you’re new to remote work, you will need to start with physical boundaries. When I lived in a smaller home, I carved out a spot in the corner of the living room for my desk, chair and computer. I moved to this dedicated space to work. During my breaks, I went to the kitchen or on the back porch.

After I moved into my current and bigger home, I called dibs on a spare room with windows overlooking the backyard. This has served as my home office since I started my own business as a solo lawyer and productivity coach. I use it to do focused work on client matters. The closed door is a signal to my family that I’m at work and should not be disturbed. Although this doesn’t stop my two young children from calling out for my attention, I routinely go to this office when playtime or family time is over and work needs to begin.

For long-term remote work, it’s good to have a well-functioning desk and comfortable chair for ergonomics. A desk that allows you to easily adjust the height for typing, writing or reading, while standing or while seated in a chair can be pricey, but worth the benefits.

To create good feng shui and improve energy flow, you arrange your work equipment so you face into the room and have a wall or screen behind you. This gives you a clear field of vision and helps you feel protected from behind. This is known as the commanding position in that you have a view of the door or room when you’re at your desk.

Although it might be tempting to place your work surface facing a window, this can be quite distracting. Instead, place your workstation perpendicular to the window or opening so the view is within your scope of vision, but not directly in front of it. This gives you access to natural light but makes you less drawn to the outside world when you need to do focused work.

If you don’t have a spare room to serve as an office, you might need to place your work station against the wall so you have a visual separation from your home life. If you have to face a wall or expose your back to the entryway, you could hang a mirror to have a view of the room and see people coming into your space. You could place a small bookcase, table or file cabinet behind you to serve as a physical barrier. You could also partition your workspace from the rest of the room with a shoji screen or other moveable divider.

Your preference for silence or sounds in your background also affects your work-from-home productivity. The good news is you typically have more control over this in a home office. When you’re in a traditional office setting, you can’t keep telling your colleagues to stop talking in the hallway or to quit laughing in the lunchroom.

I know some people who actually work better with the TV on in the background because they find it comforting and less isolating. (I don’t know how they do this, but they do.) White noise machines or apps can also serve as audio signals for work mode.

Personally, I tend to go with silence when I’m doing high-cognitive work, such as writing a legal brief. But in some situations, I use apps like Brain.fm (to which I subscribe) and Focus at Will, which are designed to get you into focus mode, quiet the mind, and increase productivity.

I occasionally play tracks on Coffitivity and Hipstersound to recreate the sounds of a cafe in brainstorming and creative thinking sessions, or when it has just been too quiet for too long. Instrumental music like contemporary piano or the Monument Valley soundtrack are other favorites.

On the other hand, if you have unwanted sounds at home, you could use active noise-cancelling headphones or earphones. If you have small children around, you need to have another responsible adult around who can address their needs while you’re tuning them out.

If certain scents and aromas make you more productive or less stressed, then go ahead and burn that candle or use the essential oil that does the trick. There are no coworkers with allergies and fragrance sensitivities to worry about.

In remote work from home, you have more control in designing your workspace based on your physical, visual, audio and olfactory preferences. You can have your dog napping by your feet or kid doodling next to you while you answer emails. You don’t have colleagues and clients walking into your office and making judgments about what’s appropriate and what’s not.

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For more information on overcoming obstacles to thriving in remote work, read part 1 (Asynchronous Communication) and part 3 (Competing Priorities) of this multipart article.

# # #

Dyan Williams is a productivity coach who helps working parents, lawyers, small business owners and other busy people turn their ideas into action, reduce overwhelm, and make time for what truly matters. She is also a solo lawyer who practices U.S. immigration law and legal ethics at Dyan Williams Law PLLC from her home office. She is the author of The Incrementalist: A Simple Productivity System to Create Big Results in Small Steps, an e-book at http://leanpub.com/incrementalist.