What did you do on your summer vacation? Were you able to fit in even a little R&R time? The answer may have more bearing than you think on the quality of your legal services, and how productive and satisfied you are at work each day.
The mere idea of summer seems to conjure up images of escape from humdrum daily activities. Our minds turn to a place where time stands still and life is fun, whether it’s something sedate like laying in a hammock with a good book or more exciting like surfing off an exotic beach. School children the world over wait fervidly for the freedom that summer heralds. And most of us long for the days when that same freedom was just around the corner for us, too.
The fall, on the other hand, signifies a return to normal activities—but ideally with the renewed energy that a break from the quotidian provides. If you’re like most lawyers, though, I know what you’re thinking: “I have too much to do to take time off to recharge my batteries!” But if you refuse to allow yourself some opportunities for rest and renewal, you may be doing yourself, and your work, more harm than good.
- Take time to eat some cake. Most successful people have developed the habit of putting work before play. It’s how they became successful, after all. And, just as we were taught that we had to eat all our dinner first if we wanted some dessert, successful lawyers have perfected the ability to delay gratification and keep their noses to the grindstone. But when you force yourself to work, or worry about work, during all your waking hours, the result will almost always be inefficiency, stress, depression and, eventually, burnout.
Conversely, taking time away from work can actually lead to greater productivity and greater satisfaction with the daily grind. So, in this one instance, you really can have your cake and eat it, too—but you’ll have to take the initiative to leave the office behind for a little while to seek out activities that replenish your energy and restore your soul.
- Find outlets to replenish yourself. In addition to regular vacation time, it’s important to find an outlet or two during the workweek. Even the most dedicated lawyers should be able to find something removed from daily practice that interests them. Adopting a hobby or, better yet, a sport—if only something as low impact as walking—helps to clear your mind and change your focus, and it can bring you into contact with people, places and ideas that are unrelated to your daily routines. Outside activities, pursued with passion, provide a release from workplace pressure and enable fresh perspectives that can recharge your mind.
- Pace yourself. Of course, it’s hard to set aside time for R&R when you feel that, day after day, the list of tasks to be accomplished at work is endless. But even an elephant can be eaten one small bite at a time. And just as a marathon runner doesn’t use all her reserves of energy in the first mile, you’ll be more productive in the long run if you learn to pace yourself.
So, to conquer that seemingly endless task list, break your work into manageable segments. Schedule reasonable blocks of uninterrupted time for working on each of them. That way, daunting jobs won’t seem so impossible. Then, set limits on how long you’ll work at a given stretch and, in turn, how long you’ll stay at the office each day. Giving the designated tasks your undivided attention will help you adhere to the boundaries you set for your workdays.
Knowing that you have only a limited amount of time to work, and having something fun to look forward to at the end of each day and week, will help you stay more focused and energized during the time you have allotted to work. You’ll be surprised at the great rewards you can reap from setting boundaries around your work.