Getting to thriving from surviving

I recently shared my views on the complex dynamic known as “work life balance” with Beverley Smith of the Globe and Mail. Smith’s article spotlights the strategies employed by two Vancouver lawyers, Lisa Chamzuk with Lawson Lundell, and Richard Bereti of Harper Grey, as they juggle the daily priorities of career and family, while keeping their own personal objectives on health and fitness on track as well.

I’ve always had a problem with the expression “work life balance.” It seems to suggest it is possible to reach a state of steady balance between the various areas of our life. Leadership coach Troy King says he prefers to call it “dynamic balance” which seems to be a better way of putting it. Regardless of what we call it, the essential quest is to find a way to manage our fast-paced and multifaceted lives.

As I write this blog post I am engaged in my own quest. I had to shift my priorities today when my great aunt was admitted to hospital for emergency surgery. Meetings were rearranged and I am getting this blog post written in a short break while my auntie is having some testing done. Emergencies do have a way of clarifying what’s important.

How each of us find our way to mastering, or at least mustering through our busy lives, is personal. There is no one formula. However, there are many good ideas and tips for you to try out until you find what is effective for you. For the next few posts I am going to share what I have learned about this from my clients over the years in hopes that you find something that works for you:

1. Figure out what is most important to you: at home, at work, and for yourself. It might be being an engaged mentor to an associate, having supper with the kids every night, or keeping physically fit. Write down the list of these important things.

2. Figure out what is not as important. We all wrestle with feeling we should be doing more. We should be baking for the school bake sale. We should be attending the firm reception. We should be volunteering to write an article for the newsletter. What are your shoulds? These are the things that take away valuable time from your most important priorities. Which of your shoulds can you let go of? Where can you set some boundaries?

3. Closely aligned with the above tip is this one – let go of perfect. Save the drive for perfection for those very few activities that require it. Start to make a conscious decision to embrace “good enough.”

4. Even if you “aren’t a planner,” start planning. It can be on paper or digital. On a daily basis, plan for how you are going to invest time in your priorities.

5. Get your to do list out of your head and onto paper or a digital organizer. We quite literally have limited mental capacity and the to do list is taking up valuable space that could be better used for such activities as planning and scheduling.

6. Embrace the power of choice. All the above tips are designed to help you become aware of the choices you make each day on how to spend your time.

7. Take time to charge your batteries. That might mean prioritizing a personal exercise program. Or giving yourself permission to have a massage twice a month. Or even just a long hot bath once a week. Whatever helps you to relax and recuperate absolutely requires a place on your priority list.

8. Ask yourself “what is one thing that could make a difference?” That might be leaving work early once a week to have more time with your children. Or it might be having the flexibility to sometimes leave the office during the day to attend an event at school. Whatever it is, make it a priority and do what’s needed to make it happen.

9. See here and here  more of my tips for maximizing productivity.

The truth is that as our lives get richer, with children, important relationships, and challenging and intellectually stimulating professional work, we are naturally called to up our game. Old habits need to be abandoned in favour of new strategies. Choose something new to implement and give it a go!

About the author

Allison Wolf

I am the founder of AWAL and one of the most senior coaches for lawyers in North America. I have helped countless clients over the past fifteen years, develop thriving legal practices and before that served as director of marketing for award-winning law firms. My specialty is uncovering the thinking traps and gaps holding clients back and helping them acquire the mindsets, skills, and habits for growing successful and rewarding legal careers. After a career in legal marketing and business development with law firms in Beijing, New York, and Vancouver, I was trained as a coach in 2004 at Royal Roads University and now coach clients from across North America. You can reach me at or learn more about my coaching practice from the coaching section of the Attorney With A Life Website.