Recognize Signs of an Unhealthy Work-Life Balance
It is important to recognize symptoms of imbalance and find resources to address physical and emotional needs. Students cannot be successful in law school without taking care of their physical and mental health. In light of COVID-19, that sentiment rings true. Symptoms of imbalance range from physical disruptions (headaches, changes in sleep patterns, or fatigue) to emotional (depression, anxiety, or fear) to personal (missing time with loved ones).
To address those concerns, you should seek medical attention as needed and consult other avenues to counter any emotional or psychological symptoms stemming from the stress of navigating “virtual” law school. Specifically, you can take advantage of student assistance programs offered by your law school (i.e. student counseling). You should also reach out to friends and family to disconnect from the pressures of coursework and proactively set aside time to recharge and reflect on your hard work.
As they say in the airlines, “put your oxygen mask on first” before helping others. Law school demands so much of your time, energy, and focus that your needs often become overlooked. As a result, your health may suffer along with your relationships. Know when to take a breather. You should set aside a defined time each week for yourself. Whether it’s exercise, outdoor activities, or a regular “date night” with your significant other, friends, or family, be true to yourself. Don’t lose connections with the activities and people you love.
Law school is a breeding ground for competition. In an effort to develop an eye-catching resume, it’s easy to overwhelm yourself with multiple commitments. Special interest groups, law clinics, judicial observations, internships, Law Review and Moot Court create ample opportunity, but you are just one person! Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Hone your interests and skills to create a resume geared towards your dream job and stay the course. If you find yourself overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to say “no,” do not hesitate to take a task (or 2 or 3) off your plate, and if you need it, seek help. You are not the only one to struggle with self-induced anxiety. It is an occupational hazard in the legal community. Just know when to seek out professional help.
Establishing mentorships is a great way to develop new skills and competency. Rather than reinvent the wheel or continue to complete a task the way it has historically been done, a mentor may introduce an efficient method. Mentorships foster a new approach to lawyering. You will become more confident in your practice and notice that tasks once viewed as tedious, will become second nature. As you become more experienced, tasks will be completed at a faster pace. A mentor can also provide guidance and reassurance when you feel overwhelmed. Your mentor will likely have experienced similar angst and can provide accounts of their personal experience. It is a reminder that you are not alone. We all experience challenging days, but there are ways to manage it with a network of support.
Organization is key to a work-life balance. Utilize case management systems and calendars (physical, virtual, or both) to stay on track and aware of upcoming deadlines. Regularly review calendared events to prioritize upcoming tasks and allocate time to work on them. In addition to calendaring deadlines, also calendar personal goals and deadlines. For example, input in your calendar when you would like you complete your research or have a first draft written. Breaking down projects and setting smaller milestones will prevent you from feeling rushed or stressed.
It is crucial to establish boundaries and set client expectations. Your personal life and wellbeing are just as important as your professional life. It is important to carve out dedicated time for both and not blur the lines. Have a set schedule and do not work during non-work hours. Dedicate that time to your family, friends, and self-care. Do not become emotionally invested to the point where you allow your work life to interfere with your interactions with others or consume you when off the clock. Communicate to clients when you are available and set expectations for a reasonable response time to avoid feeling rushed or the need to respond right away. You can then tend to matters based on priority and not have to stop tasks to immediately respond to incoming messages.
Identify a Prospective Employer’s Work-Life Balance
There are questions you can ask an employer or coworker to identify the firm’s culture and stance on a work-life balance. By asking these questions, you can set expectations for what your experience may be like:
- What are the billable requirements?
- Have you missed a personal event because of work?
- How often do you take work home?
- Do you work after hours (evenings or weekends)?
- Can you delegate some of your tasks to other employees or take a collaborative approach?
- What are your views on goals, timelines, and measuring success?
- How do you measure productivity?
- Do employees have the ability to telecommute?
Do Not Feel Guilty
Maintaining a work-life balance is just as beneficial to employers as to employees. By focusing on your needs, you are doing a service to your employer as well. Do not feel guilty by putting yourself first. It is a win-win for everyone. When employees are in a good space mentally, physically, and emotionally, productivity and retention rates are high. There is increased morale and less call-outs due to a reduction in stress-induced illnesses. Take advantage of work benefits including vacation and time-off requests. It is important to rest, recharge, and find time to do the things that make you happy.