When I started The Joyful Lawyer, I thought about exactly what I wanted to do, and how I wanted to serve the legal community. I felt (and still feel) that there are many lawyers struggling to find their work-life balance (“am I in the right job?” “how can I get to spend more quality time with those I love?”).
We know what we want: working more reasonable hours; changing our job if the one we have isn’t working; making the time with our family sacrosanct. But the truth is, that unless we can take steps to make these changes, any modifications will only be temporary. The adjustments work for a time, but then we find our way back to our old ways and habits. It’s just like the diet that begins on New Year’s Day, and by the end of January, it’s dead in the water.
How do we make these changes stick? What’s the real key to making practical changes in our lives that make a difference? Several practices can really help to improve our work-life balance.
First, don’t overwhelm yourself. Any steps that you take should be done one at a time, and in a manner that feels comfortable for you. Often, when we want to make changes in our lives (any type of change), we are impatient to see the results, and so, we go full out until we drop. “I want to lose weight, so I’m giving up dairy, carbs, alcohol, sweets AND I’m going to exercise two hours a day.” How long is that going to last, realistically? For me, probably about a day or less!! Instead, look to make small changes over time. Let’s say you want to leave your office earlier than you currently do (perhaps an hour or two earlier every night). Start by saying: “I am going to leave fifteen minutes earlier every day this week.” Fifteen minutes is very manageable to most, and you won’t be discouraged by giving yourself a huge number (one hour, say) that won’t work right off the bat. After doing this for a couple of weeks, cut your schedule by another fifteen minutes, and so on, until you have revised your working hours into a timeframe that works best for you.
Second, be efficient about your time. We often waste a lot of time throughout our day, and that time is often made up at the end of the day when the office is quieter and we can work more effectively. This is unfortunate, as this is the time when we should be going home! So don’t be afraid to close your door during the day, and work uninterruptedly, holding phone calls and office meetings until the block of time you’ve designated is finished. Schedule a set time to check your emails instead of having them pop up on your computer while you’re working. End the distractions!
Another time management solution: some of the most successful business people schedule their calendar in 15-minute increments. This can be helpful, as we often lose small chunks of time throughout the day. By scheduling your tasks in 15 minute increments, we can often fit it more projects and work than we thought, and perhaps even shorten some meetings that don’t need that additional time. We are left with the same amount of time in our day, but we’re using it more effectively and getting more done!
Lastly, delegate! Often we are doing tasks that others could be doing for us. This works on both a personal and professional level. Can you ask someone else to do some additional research on a project, or can your babysitter pick up your dry cleaning or a few groceries? Try to take as much off your plate as you can. You do not have to do everything, even if it’s something you’re good at! Be open to any help that is being offered to you. We often don’t want to impose on others (“this is my job, and I should be doing it”), but the truth is, we often need help, and we have to get used to the idea that it’s okay to ask and okay to accept. Let go of the notion that you have to do everything yourself. This shift will give you time to work on more important projects and tasks, and do more of the stuff that you like to do.
When doing any of the above, if it feels a bit uncomfortable at first, remember the goal (achieving lasting work-life balance), and go for it! All of these shifts will become easier with practice.
Call to action: what one suggestion above can positively change your work-life balance? Let me know! Comment below on the small changes you made this week.