Category Archives: The Ethical Lawyer – Legal Ethics Blog

Make Time for Daily Highlights, The Incrementalist, Ep. 18

Do your big goals take the joy out of your daily life?

Do you feel like you’re wasting time if you’re not powering through your to-do list?

Are you distracted by streaming media, like Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter?

Are you postponing when to start because you don’t know where you’ll end up?

The space between the small tasks and the big goals is the sweet spot. It’s where you savor the moment (the now), while you say no to things that don’t matter and yes to the things that do.

To get off the Busyness Bandwagon, stay out of Infinity Pools, and make time for what matters, you choose your highlight for the day. Then apply laser focus, energize and reflect.

The Busyness Bandwagon is the culture of constant busyness. In the high tech, modern world, busyness is a status symbol – the busier you are, the more in demand you are, and the more successful you become. That’s the common belief.

Infinity Pools are apps, services and products that have infinite content and are always on.  There’s social media like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter; video streaming like YouTube, Netflix and Amazon Prime, and web browsers like Safari, Google Chrome, and Bing, which give you 24/7 access to information around the world. You can dip back into Infinity Pools at any time to find fresh content. There’s always more water in the pool.

In episode 18 of The Incrementalist podcast, you will learn:

1.  Why it’s important to get off the Busyness Bandwagon and avoid Infinity Pools

2.  Four steps to repeat daily to make time for what matters – 

  • Highlight – choose your highlight of the day (i.e. identify the one big thing to do today, which ideally will take 60 to 90 minutes)
  • Laser – beat distractions like social media, email and news feeds (i.e. find laser mode to focus on the big thing)
  • Energize – build energy in your body and brain (i.e. have the energy to do the big thing)
  • Reflect – decide which tactics you want to keep, drop or tweak (i.e. determine what worked and what didn’t work in making time for the big thing)

3. Three strategies to choose your highlight – 

  • Urgency – what’s the most pressing thing I have to do today? 
  • Satisfaction – which highlight will bring me the most satisfaction? 
  • Joy – when I reflect on today, what will bring me the most joy? 

4. Tactics to build laser focus, recharge your body and brain, and reflect on your day to decide on what to do tomorrow

Resources cited: 

  • Jake Knapp & John Zeratsky, Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day 
  • The Incrementalist podcast, Ep. 16, Hack Back Email

To listen to episode 18, Make Time for Daily Highlights, click 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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Smart Note-Taking for Productivity, The Incrementalist, Ep. 17

Are you skilled at remembering and retaining what you read?

Do you integrate key lessons into your life and work?  

If you’re tasked with a writing project, do you have a reliable system for organizing ideas and forming your own insights?

Are you starting from a blank slate or from a solid foundation when you write?

We all write on some level. We write research papers, articles, blog posts, essays, books, memos, reports and the daily, basic stuff.  Students, academic researchers, lawyers and content creators, for example, write a lot. Even if you don’t consider writing a part of your profession or vocation, your ability to take smart notes will carry you forward.

The main goal of smart note-taking is not to stay informed. It’s to increase understanding and build your knowledge base, which you can apply to your creative projects and productive work.

You learn best when you connect ideas and evaluate the information. Does this confirm, contradict, or add to your existing knowledge? Have you mastered the subject enough to explain it or teach it to others through a presentation, an article, or a paper? How will your knowledge hold up in a test or in a real-world situation?

In episode 17 of The Incrementalist podcast, you will learn:

1) The difference between being familiar with a subject and actually knowing it

2) Why writing is a core part of the thinking process, i.e. the medium in which you think and not the outcome of your thinking

3) The Zettelkasten slip box method for smart note-taking, which was invented by Niklas Lumaan – a German sociologist who published at least 58 books and nearly 400 scholarly articles on various topics

4) The three types of notes to make –

  • Fleeting notes, e.g. highlighting and underlining text; jotting down quick notes
  • Literature notes, e.g. writing notes in your own words for future projects
  • Permanent notes, e.g. storing notes in the Zettlekasten for long-term knowledge

5) The “reference slip box” is for source citations and brief notes while the “main slip box” is for permanent notes

6) The profound benefits of having an external system for note-taking and managing knowledge –

  • you have a standardized, process-oriented method for organizing ideas and retrieving them
  • you create bottom-up work so you’re not starting from scratch or with a blank slate
  • you avoid the linear path to writing and instead pull from existing notes and ideas
  • you learn more and apply more from your reading
  • you become a more critical and original thinker

Resources cited:

  • Sönke Ahrens, How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers

To listen to episode 17, Smart Note-Taking for Productive Work, click 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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Hack Back Email, The Incrementalist, Ep. 16

Do you get stressed out by the sheer number of emails in your inbox?

Are you checking and responding to emails when you really need to be doing your core work?

Do you get anxious if you don’t respond right away to customers, clients, colleagues, coworkers, friends?

Are you switching to emails when you feel bored, frustrated, or stuck on a project?


Email processing is a repeated behavior and repetitive action.

Email is a habit-forming tool. It’s a key method for communication, collaboration and information sharing. You need to know how to use it to make essential progress without getting sidetracked by other people’s agendas. 

When you’re being responsive and responsible, you can easily slip into reactive mode. You end up neglecting important work that is less urgent but brings more long-term value. 

With the rise in social media, texting, and messaging platforms like Slack, some might say email is dead. But email continues to be alive and well. 

In episode 16 of The Incrementalist podcast, you will learn:

1. Internal triggers (e.g. boredom, anxiety, frustration) and external triggers (e.g. pings and dings) lead to distraction

2. The critical question to ask in deciding whether an external trigger is helpful or not

3. The opposite of distraction is traction

4. Time spent on email = the number of messages received multiplied by the average time spent per message.  T = n x t

5. Seven tips to hack back email –

  • Stop the influx at its source.
  • Process your email, instead of just check, scan or read your email.
  • Block time for batch processing your email.
  • Close out or shut down email when you’re doing focused work. And switch off auto-alerts.
  • Take email off your phone or handheld device.
  • Use proper email etiquette. 
  •  Improve your workflow to reduce back and forth communication. 

6. A dysfunctional workplace – where you are always connected – is the real culprit. Tech overuse creates a vicious cycle of responsiveness, where you have less control over your time, think you need to be always available to get ahead, and set expectations to be always on.

At indistractable organizations, leaders set examples for doing focused work and acknowledge the problems of 24/7 access.

Resources cited: 

To listen to episode 16, Hack Back Email, click 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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AILA Members: Sign Up for Second Annual Lawyer Well-Being Week Events, May 3 to 7

The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the Institute for Well-Being in Law, and bar associations across the country are hosting the second annual Lawyer Well-Being Week, May 3 to 7.

During the week, AILA will provide daily meditations and three well-being programs for AILA members. There will be a different morning meditation every weekday, a roundtable on resilience on Monday, a CLE on dealing with difficult people on Tuesday, and a roundtable on mindfulness on Thursday. 

As a member of AILA’s Lawyer Well-Being Committee, I encourage you to learn more and register at https://info.aila.org/wellness2021.

I am scheduled to present one of the meditations on Wednesday, May 5:

  • 8:00 am (CT) / 9:00 am (ET) / 6:00 am (PT): Emotional Freedom Technique, or Tapping Meditation Involving Acupressure and Affirmations to Calm the Nervous System

AILA’s Lawyer Well-Being Committee has put together resources that can help you make quick improvements and long-team commitments to your well-being at the Lawyer Well-Being Center

Sign up for the free meditations and AILA will send out instructions. Other events must be registered for separately. 

Evening Routines and Rituals to End Your Day, The Incrementalist, Ep. 15

Do you wake up in the middle of the night stressing over what you didn’t get done or what you still have to do?

Are you checking your phone, scrolling through news feeds, and replying to emails as part of your bedtime rituals?

Do you wake up groggy and unrefreshed even if your bedtime began 7 to 8 hours ago?

The evening is your P.M. bookend to your day. Your evening routine is your “me time” at night that helps you to unwind, quiet the nervous system and prepare for sleep. How you end your day is essential to recharging from it.

Your shut-down sequence – before bedtime – creates the environment for you to rest, relax and sleep. Without a full rejuvenation overnight, it’s harder to take charge of your day.    

In episode 15 of The Incrementalist podcast, you will learn:

1. The importance of both productive tasks and restorative tasks in your evening routine. You need to review your day and plan for the next as well as relax and rest completely. If you wind down enough before your bedtime, you will have space for an effective evening routine. 

2. The value of sleep and how the sleep cycle works –

  • Stage 1 – alpha state
  • Stage 2 – theta state
  • Stages 3 and 4 – delta state
  • REM sleep 

3. Ways to create a sleep sanctuary to improve sleep quality and duration

4.  Key things to avoid in your evening routine – 

  • Screens (e.g. TV, computer, laptop, tablet, phone) in the 30 to 90-minute period before bedtime
  • Dinner in the 2 to 3-hour period before bedtime 
  • Vigorous exercise and full workout in the 4 to 6-hour period before bedtime
  • Caffeine intake after 2 to 3 p.m. or in the 5 to 8-hour period before bedtime
  • Alcohol consumption in the 3-hour period before bedtime

5. Key things to include in your evening routine – 

Productive tasks –

  • Review your day and preview the next day
  • Do prep work, e.g. pick out clothes and clean up your work space and living space
  • Learn new information or practice a hobby

Restorative tasks – 

  • Journal
  • Read fiction or other nonwork-related book
  • Enjoy a teatime ritual with noncaffeinated herbal tea (e.g. camomile or Valerian root) about an hour before you go to bed 
  • Do gentle movement or exercise
  • Practice relaxing breathwork
  • Pray or meditate or listen to mellow music

6. The advantage of a maintaining a consistent bedtime, synching with your circadian rhythm, and building good sleep habits

Resources cited: 

To listen to episode 15, Evening Routines and Rituals to End Your Day, click here. Subscribe to The Incrementalist at Apple Podcasts or other apps.

Cheers,
Dyan Williams

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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

SUBSCRIBE           CONTACT