Work/Life Balance: How to stay committed to the “life” part

How many years, days, and hours will we “work” in our lifetime?   

According to Distractify, the average American works for 40 hours per week from ages 20-65.  That adds up to a whopping 10.3 total years of your life.  

Work is an essential part of a person’s lifetime.  It is a piece of who you are, and makes up and key component of your personality.  One of the first questions a stranger asks another when first meeting is “what do you do” or some other way of inquiring about what the person does for his profession, career or job.  

However, if we are not careful, we can end up putting more energy and time into our work life that we become “work-a-holics” and sacrifice our home life.  This can jeopardize our relationship or marriage, our bond with our children, and our own mental health.   

Lawyering is one of the highest professions for “burn out” and depression.   According to an often cited Johns Hopkins University study of more than 100 occupations, researchers found that lawyers lead the nation with the highest incidence of depression.  Eaton, W.W. (1990). Occupations and the prevalence of major depressive disorder.Journal of Occupational Medicine, 32 (11), 1079-1087.

An American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division survey indicated that 41 percent of female attorneys were unhappy with their jobs.  That number is shocking.  I am happy to say that I am one of the 59% of female lawyers that loves my job and is happy to wake up and serve my clients every day.  But I also started my own practice so that I could have the freedom to set my own schedule.  I am able to leave early on days that I want to catch a 4:30 pm Bikram yoga class, and work later on days that I need to make sure my clients are well taken care of.  Having my own practice allows me to achieve the work/life balance I have always dreamed of having.

Here are my tips for achieving a good work/life balance:

1.     Set a specific time that you will leave your desk every day.  Do not allow yourself to say “I will stay here until it is finished.”  That way of thinking allows you to waste time and get distracted, instead of forcing yourself to work with the time allotted for completing the task.  This can be hard to sell to hard workers, but trust that you will get all of the tasks completed and you can always return to the task in the morning. 

2.     Learn to prioritize your life - focus and put your efforts into action items that are truly important.  Let go of those items that are either insignificant or not time-sensitive.  Know that work will ALWAYS be there.  Your son’s third birthday only comes once in a lifetime.

3.     Don’t waste time on obligations that are not serving you.  Ask yourself “do I need to do this?” and cut out plans or obligations that are not serving you.  Sure, we could fill our schedules with endless networking events.  But, every so often we should ask whether we are getting the referrals or connection we want at these events and whether we should spend more time on other efforts that achieve better results.  

4.     Recognize that "mistakes" are a part of life, essential, and often present the opportunity for important learning opportunities.  One of my favorite phrases is: “sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.”  

5.     Get active at least three times a week.  This could be yoga, or the gym, or a fitness class, or even a walk with your dog at night.  Getting your heart rate up and releasing some endorphins has a positive effect on your mood, stress level, and overall happiness.  

6.     Try meditation.  There are some amazing apps out there now, such as Headspace, that only ask 10 minutes of your time a day to check out and connect with the quiet space in your mind.  Not only does this help clear my head, but it also leaves me refreshed and full of ideas and energy when I’m finished.  I find that spending 10-30 minutes meditating per day actually gives me more motivation and efficiency throughout my day.  

7.     Seek balance in your life.  Make sure you are taking time to care for yourself so that you can care for your clients.  As with other high-pressure and demanding professions, attorneys who neglect their physical, psychological, spiritual, and interpersonal lives run the risk of making mistakes on the job.  If you are sleep-deprived, you will be doing your clients a disservice.  You may react with less patience toward a client that harms your relationship, or you may be less sharp and miss an important detail in their case.  Sleep and self-care will make you a better lawyer.  

8.     Accept that the practice of law is inherently stressful.  While it is important to accept this reality, it is not okay to succumb to it.  Know that your job is to advise your clients, not save them from every possibly bad scenario.  Sometimes you cannot be superwoman.  You can only do your best and say “I fought my hardest for you.”  One phrase I often tell myself is: “You can’t change the facts.”  We are given a set of facts and must do our best with those facts to advocate for our clients.  We can only do our best.  We cannot save the world.  

To close, I ask:  what do you want your loved ones to say at your eulogy?  “He was a really hard worker?”  Or would you like to know at the end of your life that you did not spend 90% of your time at your desk?  Hopefully these tools will help you to create a good work/life balance, ensuring that you spend the most time possible with your loved ones, restore your mental health and balance to ensure you are the best attorney you can be, and recharge your cup daily so that you can give your best 100% effort during your work day.