Within the practice of law, the idea of balancing work and personal life can be easily dismissed as unrealistic. Lawyers working for large firms, and for many medium-sized and smaller firms, must meet their target for billable hours. Small firm and solo practitioners must keep pace with the ebbs and flows of practice, which may be both unpredictable and at times impose herculean workloads.
How, within that context, can a lawyer find more time for a personal life and family?
Technology is a double-edged sword. While the use of the Internet, extranets, portable computers and electronic devices, and the like can free a lawyer from having to work in the office, they can also create a context in which the lawyer has no down time. Even when at home or on vacation, the computer and Internet are present, there's email to read, documents to review, phone calls to return....
Even with a high workload, a lawyer can use technology to get a bit of freedom from the office, and to work in a more casual manner or in the presence of family. If you're doing the same work, it can be a lot more satisfying to write a brief while enjoying a sunny day in your back yard, as opposed to doing the exact same work from the confines of an office. You can also use technology to make your hours more flexible. It may not be a joy to return to work after enjoying a family event, but the flexibility of being able to work from pretty much any location allows lawyers to take breaks during the workday in order to attend events that they might once have been forced to miss.
If possible within your practice, set boundaries on your availability while you are away from the office, with exceptions only for emergencies. It may be possible for you to define a time in the morning and a time in the afternoon when you will be reviewing your email and voice mail messages, rather than feeling compelled to keep checking and rechecking throughout the day.
Even when you are in the office, setting aside blocks of time for that type of task can reduce interruptions of other tasks and can potentially improve your efficiency.
You may be able to better exercise self-care by following a schedule for your activities. For example,
- If you are trying to get into better physical condition or stay in shape, you can schedule your exercise routine at the start of the day. Even if that means getting up a bit earlier in the morning, you will be able to complete your exercise before being pulled into your workday and won't spend the entire day worrying (or frustrated) about whether you will get a chance to exercise.
- It may be easier to block time in the morning to spend time with your kids, before they go to school, then to try to fit family time into your schedule later in the day when you have less control over your schedule.
- You can similarly block out periods of time during the day or week, even if short, when you will dedicate your time to taking care of yourself or your family. Even a half hour break can make a big difference.
Take a look at your typical day and week to try to identify mundane tasks and activities that eat up your time without improving your productivity, or while taking away from your productive time, and without improving your enjoyment of your life.
- Is there somebody within your office to whom some of those tasks can be delegated?
- For routine tasks around the home, such as cleaning and lawn care, would it make sense to hire a cleaning service or lawn care company rather than performing those tasks yourself?
- If it's in the budget, might it make sense to hire somebody to come into your home to provide after-school care for the kids, while preparing dinner and perhaps doing some light cleaning?
- Are you leaving your home or office to perform tasks that you could complete online, at little to no additional cost or with a significant savings of time?
Even if your first step is to carve out only one evening per week when you will leave the office at an earlier time than usual in order to spend time taking care of yourself or your family, do it. You don't have to reinvent your life in order to improve your satisfaction with your life. Small and incremental steps can make a huge difference.