April 07, 2021 Mental Health & Wellness

Tips and Tricks for Managing Your Well-Being in a Virtual Environment

Our members put together this list of their favorite tips and tricks for managing technology and its inevitable creep into our personal lives.

By Charla Bizios Stevens and Julie K. Hannaford with the Assistance of the Section of Litigation Task Force on Mental Health and Wellness
You can and will survive!

You can and will survive!

Pexels | Edward Jenner

Who predicted in March 2020 that we would still be spending most of our work and personal time in a virtual world one year later? If we had, would we have done anything differently? How are we faring as virtual warriors battling Zoom, Teams, Slack, voicemail, and email all hours of the day and night?

Our Mental Health and Wellness Task Force members put together this list of their favorite tips and tricks for managing technology and its inevitable creep into our personal lives. 

  1. Just say no. Just say no to back-to-back Zoom meetings, conferences, teleconferences, “quick calls,” and meetings. In the “old days,” the drive or walk to or from court or between meetings, allowed us to take a breath, recharge, and have “time away.” We still need that, so go off screen. Have a coffee, talk to friends, take a shower, or just lie back. Be a slave to your own personal time and needs, not to your Outlook calendar.
  2. Communicate. Make sure those who schedule your day or access your calendar know your preferences for scheduling. Are you fine with early morning calls? Do you need a buffer between Zoom meetings? Do you take a regular lunch break? Perhaps schedule every call for an hour even though it is not likely to go that long. That gives you time to catch up on email, get a drink of water, or take a breather between calls.
  3. You look fine. You really do. Most people are more worried about how they look rather than how you look. So end the crazy-making loop and activate “hide self view” on your video calls. You will be better able to focus on others and to focus on the task at hand, which is why you are valued, after all. Constantly having to look at yourself on Zoom is distracting and tiring.
  4. Delay delivery of your emails. Attorneys are the worst at setting boundaries with clients and colleagues. By sending out emails late at night or on weekends, you signal to people that you are working outside of normal business hours. They might then take license to call you or text you then. Our work hours have become stranger than ever during this pandemic. Just because you need to work evenings because you are homeschooling your children during the day, doesn’t mean everyone should be able to get a hold of you. Absent an emergency or the need to get a critical response to someone, set up your emails to go out during the workday.
  5. Use “black-out zones.” Put black-out-zones In your calendar and stick to them. Schedule your yoga classes, tennis matches, therapy appointments, and family time in your calendar as “private meetings,” so others know you are unavailable. After all, if the time is blocked off in your calendar, it is more likely to be respected, by you and others.
  6. Use your out-of-office. To set expectations and to punt to others. If you aren’t available, people prefer to know that, and to know when you might be available to respond. It’s always helpful to let them know if there is someone who can cover for you in your absence. The reason almost doesn’t matter. Whether you are away from your desk, on vacation, or working on a deadline, you are not available; and letting others know that and when you might respond will give you, and them, peace of mind.
  7. Avoid distracting shiny objects. Turn off Outlook notifications that might send you down the rabbit hole of looking at new emails before you have answered the old ones. Set aside certain times of day to answer email or return phone calls. Plan your day around accomplishing certain tasks and avoid getting pulled away for anything less than a critical client or firm need.
  8. Take physical and mental health breaks throughout your workday. They will help to increase productivity, decrease mental fatigue, and increase overall wellbeing. Stretch, meditate, take a walk, have a snack. Have a start and stop time to your workday and schedule your day to resemble a day in the office to maintain a semblance of a schedule.
  9. How about a Zoom-free day? Try taking Zoom (or Teams or WebEx or Go To Meeting) out of commission one day a week. Don’t schedule any video meetings, greetings, or happy hours for a full day every week (unless the need is critical). Give your eyes and your brain a rest.
  10. Do one act of kindness. Ann Herbert wrote "practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty" on a placemat in Sausalito, California in 1982. In that moment, a movement was born. Very wise people in these pandemic days remind us about how gloom can be dispelled when we do a simple act of kindness for another. It doesn’t have to be expensive, or cost anything at all. It can be a random email to someone expressing gratitude. It can be a handwritten card sent in the mail. It can be a quick phone call. It can be a photo. Science tells us that doing that act of kindness rejiggers our neural pathways and boosts serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine levels—in other words, we get a jolt of joy.
  11. Record some gratitude. Kindness and gratitude are connected. Writing down, or saying, or focusing on what you are grateful for, even for one minute, even for one small thing, also improves your mental health. Early studies show that writing a gratitude journal at night improves sleep, that practising gratitude improves resilience, and seems to activate other parts of the brain in a good way. And for those of us who are relentless multi-taskers, consider this: Communicating gratitude to someone else is both an expression of gratitude and an act of kindness—two for one, and a double shot of the things that make us joyful.
  12. You can and will survive. Despite your best-laid plans and schedules, you may well find yourself in the weeds in this high-stakes, high-stress time. Too many tasks, too many emails, too many calls, anxious clients, overdue responses, briefs not done, promises made but not yet fulfilled. When you feel like your head is exploding, stop. Just take one deep breath, close your eyes, and remember this:  Your colleagues, friends, family, and yes, even clients, understand. They will forgive. They will support. Take a moment. Reach out. Talk. It will only take a few minutes. And that will make all the difference.

Charla Bizios Stevens is director of the Litigation Department at McLane Middleton in Manchester, New Hampshire. She is also a division director with the Section of Litigation.

Julie K. Hannaford is president of J K Hannaford Barristers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She is also a cochair of the 2021 ABA Annual Meeting Planning Committee.


Copyright © 2021, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).