Work Life Balance For Attorneys – On Reworking the Seesaw

Unfortunately, work-life balance for attorneys can be compared to a seesaw, where all too often the work side of things is stuck hard and fast on the ground while the life side is stuck up in the air, helpless and at the mercy of its weightier counterpart. So how can you change the metaphor and get your professional and personal life on a more even keel?

A few simple time-management exercises can help significantly. Time, after all, is often portrayed as the antagonist to doing all that we wish, whether we want to ideally spend it prepping for a trial, learning to use a practice management program more efficiently, or watching a child’s volleyball game.

To begin righting your work life balance, first stop and listen to yourself. How many times a day do you find yourself saying that you don’t have enough time to do something? Do you not have the time, for example, to organize your office for an ideal work flow or to get home early enough for family dinners?

The notion of not having time, though, is fundamentally inaccurate. We’re all given an even playing field to our day: 24 hours or 1440 minutes to use however we see fit. It’s not that there isn’t enough time for a chosen task then, it’s that we’ve elected to spend that time elsewhere. Ask yourself, how have you elected to spend your day? Have you chosen to spend three hours on email ‘urgencies’ that aren’t actually important or on redoing an associate’s work when that person has been performing sub-par for months now?

While you are asking questions, it’s helpful to look at the bigger picture. What, quite simply, do you want the payoff to be for working as hard as you do? A tool to help answer this question is The Wheel of Life diagram. On a piece of paper, divide a circle into eight even sections. Label them Career, Money, Health, Friends, Family, Spirituality, Recreation, Environment. Ask yourself, how satisfied are you in each of these categories on a scale from 1 to 10? Where and how specifically would you like to see improvement?

Writing down these answers can be a powerful motivating tool for change. If a goal, for instance, is to make more money, you can start by devoting two hours a week on marketing and development. If it’s to take regular vacations, you can start by blocking off a week in your calendar six months in advance.

Next, write down how you’d like your practice to look one year from now. What types of matters and clients would you ideally like to have? Elevate the standards that you have for those clients; it’s not simply that you want them to pay on time. Perhaps you want them to better respect your boundaries or to be more actively involved in their cases. In this same vein, what do you want your typical work schedule to look like? Your staff configuration? Your take home revenue?

Keep the answers to these exercises in the top drawer of your desk and consult them regularly. Over time you’ll find they’ll motivate you to manage your time better. This may mean isolating the time in which you check your email. It may mean limiting your time at the water cooler if you know that a quick drink will turn into twenty-minute digression. Remember, the first step achieving work life balance for attorneys is to look honestly at how you’re spending your time now, how you want your practice and your life to be different, and how you’ll have to spend your time differently to realize that vision.

Nicole Thomas

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