As a lawyer to run a small law firm or a solo attorney, you may feel as if you never quite reach the finish line. You wear many hats and have a never-ending to-do list. You may even believe the lie that working hard is an attorney’s badge of honor. Or you may think that you can’t scale your business without putting in 50+ hours a week.
Don’t fall for it. The only thing you’ll be after burning your candle at both ends is burned out.
To be successful, you must have a solid lawyer work-life balance. While it may appear difficult to attain at first, there are things you can do to achieve balance in all aspects of life.
Can Lawyers Have Work-Life Balance?
Here at Sue Googe, we believe in healthy law firms. Balance is at the heart of it all. Without it, you risk your mental health and general wellbeing.
Around 54% of workers report that stress from work affects their life at home. Research also shows that stress and anxiety affect work productivity and co-worker relationships more than any other factor.
Stress, anxiety, and burnout are a good leader’s kryptonite—you must do what you can to prevent them.
Without balance, you’re likely to experience the following consequences:
- Fatigue. Productivity and clarity dwindle with a lack of proper sleep. As an attorney, those are two things you can’t stand to lose.
- Lost time. Time spent with loved ones is precious. So is time spent working on your novel, relaxing, traveling, or enjoying a good meal.
- Loss of boundaries. When you work at home in the evenings and through the weekends, you start to eliminate the invisible boundaries between work and personal life. Unfortunately, some clients will try to take advantage of this, calling you at all times, asking for unachievable deadlines, and more.
Lawyer Work-Life Balance Begins With Your Goals
The goals you set for yourself and your firm inform your perspective on work-life balance. Balance means different things for different people. You must decide what’s important before figuring out what balance means to you.
For instance, you might have a professional goal of helping a certain number of families through custody issues this year. You might also have a personal goal of putting together a gallery showing of your art downtown. The balance you create will need to make room for these goals, as they’re both critical to your wellbeing.
Building a Balanced Work Schedule and Working Healthy Hours
After thinking about what’s most important to you, the next step is to build a balanced work schedule with healthy working hours. We recommend setting aside a certain number of hours each day as dedicated work time.
You don’t have to stick to the typical 9 to 5 if that’s not what works best for you. For example, you may need to drop the kids at school in the mornings at 8, so it makes sense for you to start at 8:30. Or, you may have a Little League team to coach at five, so you’ll need to call it quits at 4:30.
Find what works best for you and stick to it. Change your working hours in Google Calendar. If you have a website, list your working hours for all to see. And no matter what, turn off your computer at quitting time and walk away. Don’t work outside your set hours.
Set Time for Singular Tasks
Does your day feel taken over by emails or document scanning? Schedule time for these tasks each day. For example, calendar your email time twice a day, once earlier in the day, and once again later in the afternoon. Do not look at it outside of that set schedule. You’ll be amazed at how much time you recoup in your days by making changes like this to your routine.
It’s critical to take breaks during your workday. The most productive people take a short break after every hour of in-depth work. If you can’t make that happen, do what makes sense for you. For example, take a five-minute stretch break every 30 minutes.
It’s also important to eat a proper lunch every day. Sit down and enjoy your food uninterrupted and away from your desk.
It’s no secret that palm trees and white sand (or snowy mountains or wooded paths or whatever else floats your boat) are good for the soul. Taking time away from work can have physical and psychological benefits such as lower stress and increased motivation.
When you do take a vacation, take it. Simply working at another location isn’t a vacation. Leave your computer at home. If a client desperately needs to reach you, they can do so via phone call. Enjoy your time away and decompress. Even if you can’t get away right now due to your schedule (or an ongoing worldwide pandemic…) look for opportunities to plan a picnic, a long walk with your family, or a weekend camping getaway. Even unplugging for a couple of days can do a world of good.
Build Balance When Working Remotely
As a solo attorney, you may have decided the best work location for you is your home office. Or, due to recent changes resulting from COVID-19, you may have moved your firm to a remote setting. How do you maintain balance when your home and work are intertwined?
- Claim a designated workspace. Draw a line between your workspace and living space. Don’t bring your laptop to the couch. Instead, set up a designated workspace you only use during your work hours. If you can, choose a space that has a door or other physical barrier that allows to you physically shut out work when it’s time to quit for the day. This will help you switch from work mode to home mode.
- Stick to your working hours. Working from home brings with it a great deal of flexibility. But remote work shouldn’t be an excuse to be less productive. Stick to the same working hours you would if you were in an office outside of your home.
- Don’t multi-task. Avoid throwing in that pile of laundry or replacing that light bulb, at least until after your working hours. You probably shouldn’t have Netflix running in the background either. Distractions result in productivity loss, which leads to additional stress.
Making Time for Family as a Lawyer
Checking your email quickly during family dinner may seem harmless. Unfortunately, these small tasks often turn into damaging habits that steal you away from precious family time. No matter how passionate you are about your career, your family should take precedence after hours.
Start making more time for yourself and your family by building balance into your home with these tips:
1. Turn off. At the end of your workday, mute your notifications and disconnect. Use this time to be present with your family and home life.
2. Take care of yourself. Health and happiness are the foundation for lawyer work-life balance. Make sure you’re eating well, exercising, relaxing, and having fun. Decompressing after a day of work is more important than you think.
3. Reach out to an “accountabilabuddy.” An accountability buddy at home, such as a spouse or friend, can help you with childcare, pet care, and chores. More importantly, they can remind you to stop checking your work email every five minutes.
4. Don’t over commit. Do you stress when glancing at your calendar? Don’t overschedule your activities. Instead, learn to say “no” and protect your personal and family time.
How to Manage Stress & Anxiety
Stress and anxiety are things to never take lightly. Stress is known to have a serious impact on your physical and emotional health. Creating a lawyer work-life balance that works for you is the first step towards better managing your stress. As you develop the right balance, remember to leave room for healthy sleep and calm downtime.
Healthy Sleep for Lawyers
Around 35% of adults in the US are getting less than 7 hours of sleep each night. Unfortunately, this can lead to a serious sleep deficit that results in physical and mental health concerns. For example, lack of sleep may cause negative mood, low energy, and an inability to function leading to additional stress.
Experts say adults aged 26-64 should sleep 7 to 9 hours each night for the best results. To make sure you get enough healthy rest, here are some tips:
1. Turn off electronics. Avoid using your phone or other electronics at least a half-hour before bed. The light of electronic devices can delay your body’s internal clock and suppress the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. So, turn it off.
2. Stick to a relaxing bedtime ritual. Take a shower, put on your favorite pajamas, and read a good book. Create a relaxing bedtime ritual that prepares your mind and body for sleep.
3. Ensure a comfortable sleep environment. Make sure your mattress and pillow are comfortable. A room temperature around 65 to 67 degrees is best for quality sleep.
4. Avoid caffeine before bed. Caffeine is a stimulant that can throw off your body’s internal clock and keep you from getting a good night’s sleep. Refrain from drinking caffeinated beverages a few hours before bedtime.
Meditation, Mindfulness & Calm in a Law Firm
Stressful work situations can lead to burnout. To avoid becoming overwhelmed and shutting down, it’s a great idea to add some mindfulness practices into your daily routine.
A Simple Meditation & Mindfulness Exercise
Take a moment to sit in a quiet place. Close your eyes and take deep breaths through your nose. Be present in the moment, listening to the sound around you. As you feel thoughts creep up, acknowledge them, and then let them pass, returning to the present moment. What you want to do is simply be present without distraction. Let your thoughts wander and then bring them back.
With practice, you’ll find it easier to control those stressful thoughts that often creep up when you least expect them.
How to Bring Calmness Into Your Firm
A calm office is a productive office. Whether you’re a solo attorney or the leader of a small firm, there are a few things you can do to inspires calmness within your surroundings.
1. Tidy up your space. A messy desk or office will surely trigger overwhelm and stress. Organize your space to make it a place you enjoy.
2. Keep what you love close. Photos of family, your favorite coffee mug, or even inspirational quotes do a lot for our mental health. Surround yourself with things that inspire you or make you happy.
3. Get comfortable. Don’t underestimate the power of a comfortable, ergonomic work chair. Being uncomfortable can trigger stress. Go ahead and splurge on a chair that fits you best; you’re going to spend a lot of time on it.
4. Add some green. Bring in plants to improve air quality and help alleviate anxiety. Plants such as aloe, cacti, and spider plants are great options for offices.
5. Use a diffuser. Scents are known to help improve mood and reduce stress. Diffuse a comforting scent such as lavender or chamomile.
Finding Lawyer Work-Life Balance Takes Time
Work-life balance doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a continuous process that will change as your priorities change. If you’re struggling with stress or anxiety regardless, we encourage you to speak with a professional. Find the help you need to take care of your heart, body, and mind.