Category Archives: The Ethical Lawyer – Legal Ethics Blog

Create Space to Think (part 2)

Making space between activities can be done solo, without allies. But industry norms and workplace culture might pull you back into chronic busyness.

Norms are standards or principles of action that apply to a group. A culture is made up of norms. Effective leadership from the top reduces the burden on individuals who seek to have more margin in their day.

In episode 35 of The Incrementalist, you will learn:

1) Creating space solo, without allies, is doable. But it’s easier to sustain when you have support. Interactions with others and not just your own actions lead to positive change. 

2) To shift mindset, you start with yourself. Cut down on unnecessary meetings, stop interrupting others, and keep your emails clear and brief. Avoid being redundant without being harsh and cold. 

3) How to check and process emails

a) Four points to consider when it comes to emails:

  • Is it mandatory or optional?
  • Could you reduce the time spent on this message? 
  • Could you opt out or leave others out of the thread?
  • Is it better to stay out of the email inbox and focus on the real task?

b) Why you need to watch out for the email shadow (the dark cloud of distraction that takes you out of the present moment) 

c) When you may declare email bankruptcy (hit delete and start from a clean slate)

d) The yellow list allows you to capture ideas and information for another person and reduces interruptions brought by sporadic messages

4) How to avoid overuse of digital devices, which lead to absent presence

  • Delete the apps from your phone
  • Reduce the just checks
  • Do phone narration to let the other person know what you’re doing when you pick up your digital device

5) The skill of saying no by sandwiching it between two yeses or using the hourglass method

6) When assigning tasks or delegating projects, spotlight what’s most important. (The to-do list can be confusing and overwhelming.) 

7) The 50/50 Rule: “Anything that bothers you at work is 50% your responsibility until you’ve asked for what you want.” 

8) A four-step approach to express your truth with less stress: vent, empathize, prepare, share

9) The importance of selecting the right medium for the message you want to share

a) The two types of communication

  • 2D communication involves simple issues, yes/no answers. 
  • 3D communication is more nuanced and complex. They benefit from verbal cues, tone of voice and eye contact. 

b) The two types of mediums

  • A 2D medium is static, like email, Slack, and instant messages.
  • A 3D medium is live, like telephone, video and face to face meetings.

c)  A 2D message is efficient in a 2D medium and wastes time in a 3D medium. A 3D message is effective in a 3D medium, and compromises richness in a 2D medium. 

10)  In meetings, the three key questions to ask yourself before you say something are: Is it kind? Is it honest? Is it necessary? 

  • Just because something is kind and honest doesn’t mean it needs to be said.
  • Just because something needs to be said doesn’t mean it needs to be said by you.
  • Just because something needs to be said by you doesn’t mean it needs to be said now. 

11) How to find out if you’re in an SBH (Shouldn’t Be Here) situation and negotiate your way out of it

12) Fix the road, not the car. Isolated Interventions are quick, short-sighted fixes to complicated issues. 

13) As a change catalyst and leader, you speak the language of the person you seek to engage. 

  • Making judgments and using force and commands don’t sit well and is bound to spark underground sabotage and outright resistance.
  • Knowing how to talk with Finance Folks, People People, and Idea Lovers is key

14) Making space is not just for the workplace, but also sparks high joy and deep joy at home. 

  • High joy is an experience that makes you gasp; it comes from surprise, risk and exertion. 
  • Deep joy is an experience that reaches down into your body and warms you; it comes from friendship, gratitude, giving, and peace.

Resources cited:

Music by:

To listen to episode 35,  Create Space to Think (part 2), click here. If you prefer to read the transcript, go here. Subscribe to The Incrementalist at Apple Podcasts or other apps.

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Dyan Williams is a solo lawyer who practices U.S. immigration law and legal ethics at Dyan Williams Law PLLC. She is also a productivity coach who helps working parents, lawyers, small business owners and other busy people turn their ideas into action, reduce overwhelm, and focus on what truly matters. She is the author of The Incrementalist: A Simple Productivity System to Create Big Results in Small Steps.

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Create Space to Think (part 1)

To do creative, high-leverage work, you need to step back and look at the big picture. But when there are fires to put out, demands to meet, and crises to solve, it’s hard to stop and think about what’s really important. 

When we zoom out though, we find that urgency doesn’t equal a true emergency.  Many of the things we did should have waited until another day, or maybe another week. Some required more thought before action. And maybe the problem would have resolved itself. 

We often confuse active busyness with true productivity, and favor the number of tasks over the value of tasks completed.

Take strategic pauses to avoid burning yourself out. A pause doesn’t have to be that long. 

In episode 34 of The Incrementalist, you will learn: 

1) There are four types of pauses

  • Recuperative
  • Reflective 
  • Constructive 
  • Reductive

2) White space is time without an assignment. It’s the free and open time on your calendar. Although it’s negative space, it still has a purpose and holds value. 

3) A wedge is bits of time between activities: between one meeting and the next, a request and a response, feedback and reply, an impulse and action, an idea and a plan, work and life, and want and get. With a wedge in the middle, you’re not jumping immediately from one thing to the next. 

4) Ten seconds is more than enough for a strategic pause

5) White space or a strategic pause is not the same as meditation, mind wandering or mindfulness

  • Meditation is like keeping your dog on the leash, and when it tries to pull away, you gently say, heal. 
  • Mind wandering is like your dog slipping out of the leash when you’re distracted. By the time you look up, your dog has run all the way across the other side of the park. 
  • Mindfulness is like your dog feeling the grass under his feet, listening to the birds chirping, and smelling the hot pretzel cart. It’s the closest to white space, but’s it’s different. 

6) Thieves of Time are overgrown assets that become risks

  • Drive becomes overdrive
  • Excellence becomes perfectionism
  • Informed becomes information overload
  • Activity becomes frenzy

7) Simplification questions to ask to disarm the thief

  • Overdrive: is there anything I can let go of?
  • Perfectionism: where is “good enough,” good enough?
  • Information overload: what do I truly need to know? 
  • Frenzy: What deserves my attention?

8) A task can be one of the following three: 

  • Not time sensitive – doesn’t deserve attention now
  • Tactically and strategically time sensitive – speedy or immediate action is important for good results
  • Emotionally time sensitive – desire or fear drives you do something or want to have something done even though there is no real urgency

9) Hallucinated Urgency is the Pavlovian pull to meet the expectation now. This builds the tendency to interrupt others to get our burning needs met while stealing time away from them. What goes around comes around. You get information overload and more interruptions when these become the norm.

10) How a strategic pause helps you to make a decision on what to do next

Resources cited:

Music by:

To listen to episode 34,  Create Space to Think, click here. If you prefer to read the transcript, go here. Subscribe to The Incrementalist at Apple Podcasts or other apps.

# # #

Dyan Williams is a solo lawyer who practices U.S. immigration law and legal ethics at Dyan Williams Law PLLC. She is also a productivity coach who helps working parents, lawyers, small business owners and other busy people turn their ideas into action, reduce overwhelm, and focus on what truly matters. She is the author of The Incrementalist: A Simple Productivity System to Create Big Results in Small Steps.

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The Neuroscience of Sleep and Why We Need It, AILA Video Roundtable on September 1 at 2 pm ET/ 1 pm CT

Sleep impairment impacts focus, decision-making, effective client communication, and making progress on cases. Sleep deprivation starves the lawyer mind of the fundamental ingredients it needs to strategically and logically analyze cases and write persuasively about them. Sleep deprivation will even predict lawyer misconduct.

AILA members may join the September 1, 2 pm ET/1 pm CT video roundtable to discuss the neuroscience of sleep with Joan Bibelhausen, Executive Director of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers and Robin M. Wolpert, Attorney, Sapientia Law Group, brought to you by the AILA Lawyer Well-Being Committee. I am scheduled to co-host the discussion as a member of the AILA Lawyer Well-Being Committee.

AILA University Video Roundtables are free learning opportunities for AILA members provided via a weekly schedule of live video programming for members to come together from across the country and world to discuss hot topics and network with colleagues in the field. Video Roundtables are part of AILA University programming and each session is hosted by faculty selected for their expertise.

Discussion Topics:

  • Learn How Sleep Deprivation Increases Anxiety, Interrupts Working Memory, and Impairs Executive Thinking
  • Hear The Latest Neuroscience Behind Sleep, and Its Impact On Mental Health, Substance Use, Ethical Behavior, and Performance
  • Get Guidance on How to Achieve Healthier Sleep

Discussion Leaders:

  • Dyan Williams, AILA Lawyer Well-Being Committee, Minneapolis, MN
  • Joan Bibelhausen, Executive Director, Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, St. Paul, MN
  • Robin M. Wolpert, Sapientia Law Group, Minneapolis, MN

If you’re an AILA member, click HERE to register for this live event and receive a free recording.

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Dyan Williams is a solo lawyer who practices U.S. immigration law and legal ethics at Dyan Williams Law PLLC. She is also a productivity coach who helps working parents, lawyers, small business owners and other busy people turn their ideas into action, reduce overwhelm, and focus on what truly matters. She is the author of The Incrementalist: A Simple Productivity System to Create Big Results in Small Steps.

Make Time Your Ally (not a thing to manage)

Do you struggle with time management?

Are you big on planning how you spend your hours?

Do you dread being idle and love being busy?

Industrialization created a clock time mentality. Time is now standardized, visible in the ticking minutes, and outside our existence. Time is a resource to make money, and a thing to be traded, maximized and optimized. So, you end up with busyness, overwhelm, and pressure. And you feel guilty when there’s margin.

This is where time management falls short. It doesn’t really answer the existential question of what really matters.

In episode 33 of The Incrementalist, you will learn: 

1) How idleness aversion and the desire to be productive can interfere with the present moment and the practice of being

2) You do not really control or manage time. The more you try to do this, the more time controls or manages you. Time just is. 

3) The best you can do is make time your ally. When time is on your side, you can fully attend to, actively engage in and fully experience the task at hand. Befriend time so it becomes your ally.  

4) Why it helps to embrace your human limitations and close off other options and possible alternatives

5) Principle 1 of the Incrementalist approach is to choose your top priorities and watch out for middling priorities

6) Principle 2 of the Incrementalist approach is to break down projects into manageable tasks or chunks

7) You become calmer, less stressed and more satisfied when you work within your limits and ground your expectations and goals in reality

8) How the efficiency trap or busyness trap makes you work harder and drive yourself harder, but never gives you enough time

Resources cited:

Music by:

To listen to episode 33,  Make Time Your Ally (not a thing to manage), click here. If you prefer to read the transcript, go here. Subscribe to The Incrementalist at Apple Podcasts or other apps.

# # #

Dyan Williams is a solo lawyer who practices U.S. immigration law and legal ethics at Dyan Williams Law PLLC. She is also a productivity coach who helps working parents, lawyers, small business owners and other busy people turn their ideas into action, reduce overwhelm, and focus on what truly matters. She is the author of The Incrementalist: A Simple Productivity System to Create Big Results in Small Steps.

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Patience is a Superpower

Are you constantly trying to do things faster?     

Do you get frustrated when things take longer than you expected?  

How do you feel when time runs out?  

We often get stressed and anxious when the thing we want done is not done. We want what we want now. We don’t like waiting. Patience is sometimes seen as an anti-skill that wastes time, or a sign of indecisiveness or lack of power and autonomy. But in today’s fast paced world where overwhelm is common and immediate gratification is expected, patience is a superpower.

In episode 32 of The Incrementalist, you will learn:

1) The more you exercise patience as a skill, the better you can focus, step up to challenges that require long-term commitment, and  most important, slow down as needed. 

2) Patience is an essential virtue for navigating uncertainty and embracing the unfinished. With the superpower of patience, we know when to keep going, when to pause, and when to quit. 

3) There’s no point in managing time enough to get everything done. 

  • You will not clear the decks no matter how diligent and deliberate you are.
  • You have real limits that are not easily overcome with automation, delegation, prioritization and optimization.

Music by:

To listen to episode 32,  Patience is a Superpower, click here. Subscribe to The Incrementalist at Apple Podcasts or other apps.

# # #

Dyan Williams is a solo lawyer who practices U.S. immigration law and legal ethics at Dyan Williams Law PLLC. She is also a productivity coach who helps working parents, lawyers, small business owners and other busy people turn their ideas into action, reduce overwhelm, and focus on what truly matters. She is the author of The Incrementalist: A Simple Productivity System to Create Big Results in Small Steps.

SUBSCRIBE           CONTACT