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Six Steps for Creating Greater Work-Life Balance for Lawyers

Today an increasing number of lawyers are experiencing burnout, low productivity, insomnia, and stress related illnesses...undoubtedly due to a lack of balance between their work and personal lives. The ABA has reported that the desire for more time to meet personal and family needs is one of the major reasons lawyers consider leaving the legal profession. The most commonly reported obstacle to a balanced life is the sheer number of hours lawyers are required to work. Although many firms give lip service to promoting work and life balance their expectation that attorneys work long hours and meet increasing billable hours is clearly inconsistent.

What looks like balance to one person may differ for another because individuals have different goals, values and definitions of success. However there are some common definitions of balance that include:

  • Having a sense that there is enough time in the day to effectively accomplish work-related tasks

  • The ability to get through our daily work and family responsibilities without feeling drained

  • Having the ability to participate in activities we enjoy on a regular basis

  • At the heart of successful work-life balance is:

  • Accomplishment: getting the stuff we need to get done and

  • Enjoyment: having the time for loved ones, fun, rest, exercise and hobbies.

Although the concepts of achieving balance are simple, actually creating a balanced life isn't easy, but it is definitely worthwhile.

Here are some steps to help you on your journey toward life balance. It's a process so be patient with yourself.

  1. Begin your balance journey by figuring out what your values and priorities are. Yeah I know...feels like everything is a priority. Yet too often, our time and energy are spent on things that we don't really care about. Once you're clear about your values and priorities you can begin saying "no" to those things that move you further away from your values and priorities and "yes" to those things that are in alignment with your values. You can begin to structure your life in a way that supports the personal and professional goals you want to accomplish. Determining the goals you want to accomplish and the quality of life you want to live, will help guide you toward figuring out what balance looks life for you.

  2. Identify your balance "blockers". Balance blockers are those things that we either think or do that stands in the way of achieving balance. It's basically a perspective we hold about why we can't pursue balance-related goals. Some examples of blockers are:

    1. Living for the expectations of others at work and at home
    2. Consistently putting the needs of others before your own
    3. Fear of change
    4. Hung up on appearances
    5. Perfectionism

    Once you identify your blockers pay attention to when you use them as excuses to justify why you can't achieve balance in your life. Explore ways to accomplish your balance goals in spite of your particular balance blockers.

  3. Balance your mind. The key to balance is all in your head. Begin to think differently! So many attorneys feel guilty about focusing on work-life balance or they believe taking time out for themselves...away from work is an unproductive use of time. I'll tell you what I tell my clients GET OVER IT! Most times, we treat our cars better than we treat ourselves. What's the first thing we do when we notice our car is low on gas? We fill our tanks! Well, living a more balanced life is about filling your tank. Those initially cynical lawyers who reluctantly committed to living a more balanced lifestyle now report that they are more relaxed, have more time for themselves and haven't sacrificed their jobs or their level of professionalism in the process!

  4. Create "non-negotiable" time blocks in your schedule at least 2 times per week. Non-negotiable time is personal time that you set aside for yourself that you absolutely cannot and will not reschedule, cancel or postpone...it's simply non-negotiable. Devote at least 30 minutes to these time blocks. Write the non-negotiable appointment in your palm or day planner as you would for any other appointment. You can use the time for anything NON work related. This time is allocated so you can focus on you. Go workout, get a massage, take yourself to the park...or do nothing! Just pick something that you'll enjoy. It may feel strange at first but commit to do this for at least 6 weeks...and guess what? You'll get the hang of it.

  5. Consider hiring a Professional Coach. When you're trying to achieve a more balanced life and everyone around you is being rewarded for working round the clock, it's tough to stay focused. The truth is making change that will affect you personally and professionally can be challenging...even when the change will be positive. This is primarily because familiar patterns are hard to break. The bottom line is that lawyers need someone to talk to. Not a partner in the firm, significant other, colleague or friend, but someone whose only job is to help you plan your career, manage your life and set goals to keep you on track. That is the job of a Professional Coach.

  6. Create a Vision. Having a vision of what you want to accomplish is a powerful tool to help you achieve any goal. Write down your vision of a more balanced and fulfilling life style. In creating your vision consider: If your life was more balanced than it is today...what would you have time to do? What would you no longer do? How would your career improve? What impact would a more balanced life have on your relationships, your quality of life, and your clients?

About the Author: Jatrine Bentsi-Enchill, J.D., CPCC is an attorney and the founder and director of the Esq. Development Institute, an organization committed to helping lawyers excel personally and professionally. The Esq. Development Institute specializes in Executive and Personal Coaching for lawyers and training processes for law firms in the areas of leadership, communication, diversity and cultural competence, management development and work-life balance.