Lawyer Work-Life Balance

This page is scheduled for a complete rewrite in 2020 to more directly align with the lawyer work-life balance strategies in our new bestselling book The Small Firm Roadmap and the coaching we offer in the Lawyerist Lab.

At Lawyerist, as lawyers think about their goals, we believe in the importance of lawyer work-life balance to help attorneys stay healthy and engaged with their work. We also understand that this balance means different things for different people. As Sly Stone once put it, “different strokes for different folks.”

For some, work is life. For others, work is great, but spending time with family is friends is just the bee’s knees. So figure out what’s important to you before you start to figure out what work-life balance means to you.

Why It’s Important

Isn’t work life? No. But the distinction is especially difficult to find as technology flattens the world and lets us bring our work home and our home to work. Achieving balance is hard, but important. If you’re teetering, consequences are sure to follow:

  • Fatigue. Productivity and clarity dwindle as sleep does. As a lawyer, you definitely need clarity, and productivity, and everything else that comes from a well-rested night.
  • Lost time. This post from Tim Urban’s WaitButWhy puts into visuals what we all already know: time with loved ones is precious. But time spent working on your novel, relaxing, playing with your dog, traveling or enjoying a good meal is also time lost when you’re struggling to find balance.
  • Increased expectations. When you convey that you have no boundaries, working at home in the evenings and working through the weekend, others will believe you. This means more responsibility, more aggressive deadlines, and more challenges finding balance in return.
  • Health risks. While stress alone may not kill us, the effects of it might. Stress increases the risk for anxiety, depression, substance abuse, cardiovascular disease, and it negatively impacts our immune system. No amount of Emergen-C can help us then.

Finding Balance

So how do you start figuring all this stuff out?

At Work

  • Create a routine. Set time limits for single tasks, like responding to email. Don’t do that task outside your set hours. Do the same for leisure activities or exercise. Routines and written schedules help you better manage stress, tasks, and time. If you’re having trouble scheduling a routine and setting tasks for yourself, your Lawyerist Productivity Journal could help.
  • Minimize interruptions. Research tells us that interruptions lead to higher workloads, more stress, higher frustration levels, and more time pressures. Find your distraction-free zone.
  • Set boundaries. This is difficult but crucial. If you don’t want to work after 5pm, say no to post-5pm meetings. Don’t slack off, of course, and step up when it’s go-time. But in the absence of a bona fide emergency or other pressing matter, stay strong. Say no.
  • Stick to it. Once you’ve set your routine and boundaries, take pride in sticking to it. Protect the time you’ve claimed for yourself.
  • Take advantage of benefits. If you’re a true solo practitioner, take control of your hours and be kind to yourself. If you’re with a firm, know your PTO options and explore whether telecommuting or flexible schedule options are available.

At Home

  • Turn off. When you leave work, mute your notifications or disconnect altogether. Unwinding from your day without worrying about your phone chirping about work is cathartic.
  • Change clothes. Changing out of your work clothes into something more comfortable helps take you out of the “work” mindset.
  • Take care of yourself. Be sure you’re eating well, exercising, relaxing, meditating, having fun, and getting enough sleep. Decompressing after a day of work is more important than you think. Health and happiness are the foundation for work-life balance.
  • Check email less. Check your email a few times per day, and don’t feel compelled to respond right away. Set a time to check and respond to email, and priorities on your needs first.
  • Accountabilabuddy. An accountability buddy at home—like a spouse or friend—can help with childcare, pet care, or chores when you need to put in more hours at the office. More importantly, though, they can remind you not to check your work email every 5 minutes and to catch up on Netflix instead. #bingewatchcatchup

Finding Balance Takes Time

Work-life balance doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a continuous process that will change as your priorities change. If you’ve been trying to find balance for a while and your life still feels chaotic, talk with a professional. It’s important to take care of your heart, body, and mind.