August 01, 2017

Mindfulness 101: Lawyers and Environments: The Key to Productivity

Melanie Bragg

Are your current environments inspiring you or expiring you? — Jack Canfield

One aspect of mindfulness is to become aware of your surroundings and the effect they have on you in every way—physically, mentally, and spiritually. Your environments affect your productivity and your creativity. They can affect your health and longevity, too.

Your environments

Your environments are where you spend the bulk of your time. They are life-supporting and life-enhancing. They need to be places that you like, places you want to be a part of, places where you look forward to spending time.

Work, home, car, social situations

Our lives consist of many environments: our home, our office, our cars or transportation modes, our workout facilities, our churches, our favorite bars or restaurants—wherever we spend chunks of our time. Our environments have a profound influence on the quality of our lives. As you deepen your practice of mindfulness, you will notice things that you might have overlooked before.

Make a list of your different environments and rate them on a scale of 1 to 10. And when you come up with a 6 or a 7, ask yourself, “What would it take to make it a 10?”

The old Harris County Family Law Center here in Houston, Texas, is a great example of the effect a work environment can have on your life. A few years ago, after a big flood, the building became moldy. I think it fit the definition of a “sick building.” In one court I worked in regularly, most of us lawyers had the same cold/allergy symptoms all time. We just kept going, popping cold medicine and blowing our noses. After a few hours in the morning, I would walk out feeling so tired I could barely go on. Sometimes I even had to go home and take a nap I was so tired. I dubbed the place “Hell Court,” and my close friends told me the place was killing me. I did not stay there much longer. It wasn’t worth staying in an environment that wasn’t conducive to my feeling good and being healthy. The work was grueling enough in and of itself. The juvenile courts eventually moved to another building when they built the Juvenile Justice Center. And the family courts moved to the Civil Justice Center. Sometimes you need to change your environment to maintain your health and well-being. Are any of your environments making you sick?

Check your environments! Make changes you can—and for those you can’t, work on an exit strategy!

The idea to write about this subject came up this month when I realized the effect my recent office move has had on my productivity at work. In my April 2017 column, “Mindfulness and the Compound Effect,” I wrote about the experience of learning to let go and trust that things are going to work out during the experience of moving into my new office. Despite the obstacles I experienced, my intuition told me that it was worth fighting for.

Since I have been in the new space, an amazing thing has happened and is happening—my productivity level has gone through the roof! I am so happy there. I want to work and get things done like never before. Fortunately, business is very good right now, so there is lots to do, but I find myself not even wanting to leave at night and really getting so many things done in a new and better way. My clients who have been to both offices love the new office more, even though the old office was opulent. My new office is small—a reception area, a small but comfortable conference room, and my large office that faces big windows on a busy street. The noise of the street doesn’t bother me. In fact, I wonder if the energy from the busy street awakens me and gives me fuel.

The point is that I have a space that is perfect for me, where I want to be, where I feel comfortable, where I am supported in my total environment—from the people who work in the office, to the postman, the delivery folks, the cleaning crew, the many old friends from my previous office building who visit, and all my new friends. We are having a great time. It is very encouraging to know that this situation was so worth fighting for. The increase in my happiness level is energizing and motivating.

Take a look at your work environment—are you happy? What things could you change to get your work environment in order? Do you have plenty of light? Are things where you can find them?

Environment is not just all about the objects inside; it is also the atmosphere. When clients enter a clean, friendly place, it gives them a sense of confidence: confidence in you, confidence in your ability to get the job done. Is there a positive, upbeat vibe? Or are people tired and overworked? Are workers taking care of themselves with real breaks and opportunities to find joy during the day, or is it a sweat shop?

The concept of energy is a central topic of research and study when you practice mindfulness. Becoming aware of how you allow energy to enter your environments and what you do to release it—as we learned to do in July’s Brown Bag session with the grounding meditation—is very important. And what energy you allow in and what you emit is central to your success. If people meet you and find you calm and centered, they will be more likely to trust you. They will sense your grounded-ness and want to hire you to handle their problems. They will have more confidence in you as a result. The more grounded you are, the more able you will be to cope with difficult clients and situations you face as lawyers.

Incompletes and messes

Another important principle you will come up against in your quest to analyze your environments is your incompletes and messes. You know, those little things that you don’t seem to find time to do, like cleaning out those overstuffed cabinets and drawers that no longer hold anything new and contain things you haven’t looked at in years. Or the e-mails that need to be deleted. Or that stack of closed files that needs to go to off-site storage—or, better yet, the shredder. We often don’t realize what effect those undone tasks have on our current energy state and our ability to get things done.

We don’t realize that we are being dragged down by the “un-dones” in our lives.

You know that great feeling you get when you do clean out that closet and get rid of all the old stuff you don’t need anymore? Well, like our homes, our offices need to be streamlined and cleared so that the work and productivity can flow.

Feng shui is a Chinese philosophical system of harmonizing everyone with the surrounding environment. It concerns the flow of energy. In her book Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui: Free Yourself from Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Clutter Forever, author Karen Kingston emphasizes the importance of keeping your environments free of clutter, especially the principle of not having things on the floor because that stops the flow of energy. I am always conscious of not having things on the floor for that reason. You never want to block the flow of energy in your office with clutter or old files that are dead energy. Look around. What do you see? Would it be worthwhile to read up on this subject? To spend a Saturday morning rearranging things so that the flow of energy is not bottled up? To clear out any blockages?

Could you look at your process and figure out a way to reduce the clutter of paper and files in order to create a clearer flow of work that increases your productivity?

The importance of your environments as well as your incompletes and messes cannot be underestimated. I challenge you to review them and make a plan to really up your game in this area. If my recent experience is any evidence, your productivity will increase and your overall happiness and health will be enhanced by a thorough analysis and review of your top three environments: work, home, and play. Like Dennis Archer, former ABA President, told me: “Always be ethical, return phone calls the same day, and keep a clean desk.”

Until October . . . namaste. Please let me know if you have any tips, sources, or experiences with mindfulness at melanie@legalinsightinc.com.

You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour. — Zen proverb

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Melanie Bragg

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Melanie Bragg has long enjoyed a reputation as one of Houston’s fiercest attorneys in her representation of children, the elderly, and mentally disadvantaged people. Her firm, Bragg Law PC, is a general civil firm in Houston, Texas. She also writes and produces legal education programs through Legal Insight, Inc. (founded by Bragg in 1993). Her writing credits include Crosstown Park, an Alex Stockton legal thriller, HIPAA for the General Practitioner, chapters in How to Capture and Keep Clients, 2nd Edition; Effortless Marketing: Putting Your Unique Qualities to Work, 2nd Edition; and The Conscious Lawyer: How the Practice of Mindfulness Will Increase Your Bottom Line, as well as the upcoming book, Defining Moments: Insights into the Lawyer’s Soul, to be published by the American Bar Association (ABA) Flagship Division. When she is not writing, Melanie devotes her time to her work as Vice Chair of the Solo, Small Firm & General Practice (GPSolo) Division and to sharing ideas with fellow authors. She is interested in your feedback and ideas about how solos, small firms, military, and government lawyers can lead richer, happier lives and thereby improve the delivery of legal services to the public. Melanie can be reached at melanie@legalinsightinc.com.