Lawyers from the very start have been trained to view productivity as a metric of our self-worth. Our time is monetized, and the billable hour is the standard. With that backdrop, it is easy to believe that being “crazy busy” equals success.
However, being crazy busy has its draw backs. As noted by Professor Brené Brown in an interview for the Washington Post (Lillian Cunningham, “Exhaustion Is Not a Status Symbol,” Washington Post, October 3, 2012), being crazy busy has a numbing effect; it keeps us so busy that we cannot possibly see how we feel or know what we need. An alternative to crazy busy is to be mindful of what we are doing, to increase our productivity without increasing our hours worked.
When we are running around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off, we might be crazy busy, but we are not necessarily being productive. There is a difference. In the end, we lawyers need to be productive. We need to finish the brief or contract, we need to be responsive to our clients and our colleagues, and we need to “get it right,” whatever the “it” is. That is a lot of pressure; there are a lot of demands on our time.
So how do we shift from being crazy busy to being productive? Through mindfulness. Part of why we are crazy busy is because we are typically reacting mindlessly. We are reacting based on historical baggage and stories we have been telling ourselves for years, if not decades. A more productive way of responding to our pressures and demands is by doing so with some emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence gives us the ability to pause, reflect, and then choose the most appropriate response. It is truly liberating, to be faced with a problem and rather than simply reacting (and often regretting our actions or words), to have the gift of space—space to look at the problem with a clear, calm mind and choose the most appropriate response. By increasing our emotional intelligence, not only will we respond better and make better choices; we will also decrease our anxiety and overall stress, which will make us more productive!
So how do we become more mindful and increase our emotional intelligence? A daily meditation practice will help. Try this:
Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and for a minute or two gently allow your mind to rest on your breath, following the inflow and outflow through your nostrils. Then expand your awareness and notice your present-moment experience: tension in your neck, racing thoughts, sounds around you. When something comes up, a thought, a sensation, an emotion, name it without judging—“Irritation is happening,” “Thinking is happening,” “Worry is happening,” “Planning is happening”—and allow it to pass freely.
Try this practice for a few minutes each day for a few days in a row, and see if you can gradually expand the time you sit as you become more comfortable with the practice. Then notice if the space between stimulus and your reaction is growing just a bit, allowing you to reign in your “crazy busyness” and become more productive.