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Gemma Nugent on Managing her Distractible Personality to Make Time for the Things that Matter

How this super-productive lawyer and mom got to grips with technology’s grip on her!

At Freedom, we love our users – not just because they use our product, but because they’re cool – cool people working on cool stuff. Academy Award-nominated screenwriters, bestselling authors, editors, journalists, developers, illustrators, designers, academics, coaches, podcast hosts, comic book writers, students, and entrepreneurs – the Freedom community is packed with curious, creative, and passionate go-getters. We love to share their stories, advice, and processes because how better to learn about productivity than from the productive?

Meet Gemma Nugent

Gemma is a lawyer in Perth, Western Australia where she runs her own practice, SoundLegal alongside raising her three children and completing her Master of Laws. She holds deputy chair positions of the board of the Australian Inclusion Group and the Fremantle Language Development Centre and has even found the time to lecture in corporate and commercial law at Curtin Law School… Talk about productive!

After finding out that Gemma uses Freedom as part of her productivity routine to ensure that she has enough time to focus on what matters most to her, we had to know more.

How did you know that you wanted to be a lawyer and what were your first steps in making this your career?

I studied psychology as an undergraduate and then joined the Western Australian state government where I was a policy advisor for a few years. In that role, I became interested in the legislative process and began to toy with the idea of studying law. At that time I was also working part-time as a drug and alcohol counselor and my clients’ challenges with the legal justice system made me even more interested in law.

My employer was supportive of me studying part-time, so I started my law degree when I was 26. I quickly realized I absolutely loved it – it felt like I had finally found what I was supposed to do. Funnily enough, while my return to uni had been motivated by my interest in public and criminal law, once I was at law school I found it was really commercial law that lit me up. 

What excites you most about your industry?

I enjoy being part of a process that is really integral to just about every aspect of commercial life. I’m a front-end construction lawyer and I am really passionate about the construction industry as well as the legal profession. I absolutely love being involved at the outset of projects that deliver a tangible, visible outcome, whether that is a building, a road, an airport, a bridge, or some other structure. 

I find I am far less likely to give in to the temptation to click on unproductive websites if they are blocked. Even when I know my blocks are active, I will often unconsciously type those sites into the address bar.

At what point did you realize that technology was taking a toll on your productivity and time?

I’ve always been the kind of person who is prone to falling down a black hole of internet links and developing unhealthy habits with distractions

After my kids were born I started to think really seriously about time management. I could no longer afford to squander time on non-work-related scrolling, as I had to leave work earlier so I could pick my kids up from daycare on time and be with them during the week. 

I started reading about productivity and habits. After some reflection, I became more conscious of the personality traits that were causing me to self-sabotage my work and home time. I began looking for effective ways to manage them.

With Freedom blocking your digital distractions, what is the biggest change you’ve seen in your day?

I find I am far less likely to give in to the temptation to click on unproductive websites if they are blocked. My blocks include social media and news websites. Even when I know my blocks are active, I will often unconsciously type those sites into the address bar. Rationally I know that I can turn the Freedom app off, but that extra step of having to do that is usually enough to remind me that I’m supposed to be doing productive work. 

When and where are you most or least productive, and how does this shape your daily working routine?

I’m most productive in the mornings, but only if I have planned what I’m going to do before I sit down, and when I sit down I have to get started straight away. If I open my emails or social media I find time just disappears. I have to be really strict with myself about this. I find morning rituals help – If I’ve planned every step (get a cup of tea, have the document I’m working on open when I log on, have my worst internet habits blocked, etc), I’m more likely to follow through without getting distracted. 

How do you find a balance between being connected and overwhelmed?

I have particular blocks scheduled for different times of the day, but I have no blocks between 7.30 pm and 9.30 pm. That’s the time when I give myself free rein to do what I want. 

I also use scheduling software to schedule social media posts, and I’ll give myself time to check the comments on the days when I post. 

I’ve turned all notifications off on my emails, and I try to schedule dedicated time to read and respond to emails in a batch rather than on an ad hoc basis throughout the day. 

As someone who wears multiple hats, how do you prioritize what tasks, activities, or people get your time each day?

I have daily, weekly, and quarterly “to do” lists that I try to monitor fairly regularly. On my daily list, I try to allocate a realistic amount of time to each task or activity (including some time to shift gears between tasks) and schedule it into my day. I also try to “eat the frog” and do the least fun tasks first (I don’t always succeed at this!). 

I try to batch at least some of my tasks together in time blocks, on particular days or at particular times. I find this reduces the mental energy required to switch from task to task. 

What do you do outside of work that helps you stay productive?

As I’ve grown older my life has settled into some fairly staid routines. I exercise every weekday morning and do a weekly meal plan that I and my family stick to pretty firmly. I don’t work on Thursdays so that I can spend time with my kids. I’m still not the greatest at going to bed early, but that’s something I’m keen to work on this year. 

In my 20s I would have found the idea of so many mundane habits really tedious… but now these are definitely the things that keep me happy and on an even keel. 

What resources or tools (other than Freedom) do you use daily and have found most beneficial to your productivity, health, or happiness?

The habits I mentioned above are probably the best things I’ve found for boosting happiness – exercise, spending time outside, reading widely, and listening to music while I’m working. 

I sometimes use Omm Writer when I’m writing, which I really enjoy. I also used the Moment app for a while to become much more mindful about how I use my phone. I now use my phone strictly for text messages and phone calls and nothing else. 

Their world is going to be filled with devices and electronics so I want to do what I can to help my kids develop a healthy relationship with tech rather than dependence. In line with this, I try to make sure I’m not on my phone or my computer around them so that I’m present with them and modeling mindful tech use. 

As a parent, how do you ensure that your children are developing healthy relationships around tech use?

My kids (aged 3, 5, and 7) enjoy watching TV for a little while in the mornings before breakfast and when we have family movie nights, but otherwise their screen time is very limited. They don’t have any devices yet, so we understand that we’ll have to re-evaluate our approach in the future. Their world is going to be filled with devices and electronics much more than mine was so I want to do what I can to help them develop a healthy relationship with tech rather than dependence. In line with this, I try to make sure I’m not on my phone or my computer around them so that I’m present with them and modeling mindful tech use. 

Gemma Nugent is a specialist contract lawyer based in Perth, Western Australia. In 2019, Gemma founded her own commercial and contract law practice SoundLegal. Through her practice, Gemma helps construction, engineering and consulting businesses to create and negotiate clear contracts so that they can achieve great project outcomes.