Life, to state the obvious, is full of distractions. Your alarm goes off in the morning and then you’ve got coffee to make and to-do lists to follow and email to read and write and deadlines to meet and people to talk to and cat videos to watch and maybe a family to spend time with and before you know it you are closing your eyes and you have not had one moment of peace and quiet to yourself.
Many of those distractions are good, worthwhile things to be distracted by. My three-year-old frequently sneaks into bed and wraps herself around my head before my alarm goes off, and I wouldn’t give that up for the world. My to-do lists are full of things that are definitely good things for me to be doing if I want to make a living. I’m happy to chat with Lawyerist’s writers and answer phone calls and emails — and so on. But all those distractions are exhausting. If you string too many days together without a break from all those distractions, you will burn out.
Burnout might just turn you into a sort of machine or zombie, going through the motions of working, of being a friend, of meeting your professional obligations. That’s no way to practice law — or to live.
So you have to find time to give yourself a little peace and quiet. You know how great you feel when you go on vacation? You need to do that more than once a year, and a little peace and quiet every day is all it takes.
Do something — or nothing at all — that allows your mind to wander.
At least once a day, block off an hour or as much time as you can, leave all the distraction-producing things at your desk, and go somewhere nobody will bother you. Bring a notepad if you want, but don’t sit there trying to distract yourself by writing or coming up with lists.
This time is not for reading or chatting or anything else that occupies your mind and results in distractions. Do something — or nothing at all — that allows your mind to wander.
I used to try to eat lunch on a park bench near my office as often as I could. I would leave my phone on my desk and eat lunch while I watched the Mississippi rush by. You can meditate, if mindfulness is your thing.
If sitting still for more than a minute makes you antsy, go for a long walk. Or excercise. Walking, running, cycling, or swimming don’t require you to think, as long as you omit the headphones. Long car rides on the highway work, too, if you leave the radio off. It is okay to be bored.
The idea is not to achieve enlightenment or some sort of spiritual awakening. I guess that could happen, but the idea is really just to give yourself some peace and quiet so you get an occasional rest from the relentless distraction of life. You will be a better lawyer and a better person if you hold the zombie version of yourself at bay.
It is easy to find reasons to skip your peace-and-quiet time. After all, lots of those distractions are worth being distracted by. But find time for peace and quiet. Once you do, block it off on your calendar and treat it as equally important as all your other distractions.
A little peace and quiet every day (or as often as you can) will keep you from turning into a zombie between vacations.