I enter my office and immediately receive a text. The voice-message icon signals messages waiting, several new emails are in my inbox, and my land line rings. This is the reality of today’s work life. As attorneys struggle with escalating demands and an ever-increasing pace, it’s worthwhile trying to find some work-life balance.
Daily stresses begin the minute the alarm clock rings. Immediately, work and family demands begin pulling lawyers in multiple directions. As a result, lawyers tend to organize life into manageable schedules. Sometimes this daily routine can make life too monotonous, even for workaholics. Finding extra time for new experiences can be challenging.
Additionally, some tools created to increase leisure time have made it harder to get away from work. There are many gadgets and gizmos to assist lawyers in their daily practices, and while technology has boosted efficiency, it has made lawyers more dependent and more accessible than ever before. Clients now expect attorneys to be available 24/7 and want immediate responses.
Despite these pressures, each lawyer has a choice about how to live life. Finding balance means becoming an active participant in life, not just letting it happen.
It can help to classify life into categories like work, family, socializing, spirituality, health and downtime. Then, it’s time to prioritize these categories and allocate suitable amounts of time to each — understanding that the reality for many professionals is that work requires a disproportionate share of time and energy.
Work-life balance may not be identical at every stage of life. Yesterday’s priorities dissipate as tomorrow’s priorities intensify. Balance for an attorney when single may mean something completely different after marriage, children or retirement. But, no matter the stage of life, establishing some type of balance will help lawyers feel good, remain productive and experience a sense of accomplishment.
Planning in advance, being spontaneous, setting limits and taking time for fun can help manage stress and maintain a reasonable work-life balance.
1. Advance planning: No matter how busy an attorney’s schedule, there are moments throughout each day when it’s possible to take breaks and make plans. Advance planning helps lawyers allocate time for themselves.
Any number of events occur daily or monthly here in Houston. I typically run a 5K or 10K once a month. I pay in advance, put it on my calendar and collect my packet when the reminder hits my inbox. I just show up on race day. There is no pressure and no stress, and I gain a sense of accomplishment.
2. Spontaneity: Despite the importance of advance planning, sometimes a lawyer needs to live in the moment. Spontaneity may work for those whose schedules don’t allow much wiggle room.
I recall one morning when I was rushing to get to work on time. Somewhere along that drive, I made a conscious, atypical decision to slow down and get breakfast at a bakery. I sat down, savored a simple but filling breakfast, and arrived at work a few minutes later than usual.
Although it was not glamorous or exciting, it was out of the ordinary and satisfying, and it made all the difference in the world. It also reminded me that it was OK to take time for myself.
While the average attorney work schedule is intense, it can lend itself to some flexibility. Most lawyers who need to leave work ahead of time occasionally can arrive earlier to put in the requisite hours. Another option may be to incorporate social events into the work day, like networking at an interesting legal function, which can energize an attorney growing tired of the routine.
The occasional day off during the week can be refreshing. Weekends often fill up with errands, work around the house and family time. An attorney who has a little time off for himself or herself generally is a better worker.
3. Limits. It’s also important to set limits with workplace demands. I have made it a practice never to bring my cell phone into my exercise classes. I don’t typically check my emails on the weekends, and I limit weekend work to a few hours at a time if necessary.
4. Novelty and fun: A weekly activity that’s satisfying, relaxing or new need not be expensive or exotic. It can be a walk around the neighborhood, a long-forgotten hobby or a weekend getaway. Whatever it is, it should be gratifying and not another "should" on the to-do list.
There are other ways to find time for more satisfying life experiences:
• Remove clutter. Get rid of unnecessary activities, and replace them with more fulfilling activities. Decrease time spent on the Internet and replace it with something fun or productive.
• Outsource chores. When working full time, it may not possible to complete all the household tasks. From cleaning to cooking to walking the dog, paying others to shoulder some of the burden can be worth the time gained.
• Streamline processes. Before leaving work for the evening, plan the next day’s to-do list. If organizing poses a challenge, hire someone to help. At home, plan meals for the week, make a grocery list and shop once for the week.
Each lawyer needs to find what works best. All of us can make better choices, including making more deliberate decisions about how we spend our time, managing our priorities, getting more organized, exercising or deciding to take a little downtime.
A life in the law is complicated and can completely envelop a lawyer, if he or she allows it to take over. It may take time to find the perfect work-life balance, but it is worth trying to find it.