Work-life balance: Sometimes it can seem like an achievable reality, other times like a myth. In this article, I summarize tips for achieving work-balance from attorneys at various stages in their careers: from junior associates through senior partners. These attorneys specialize in various areas of law and practice in both mid-size and large law firms. I chose to interview them because, in addition to their successful practices, they also lead busy, yet fulfilling, lives outside their firms. They were gracious enough to share tips on how to balance all of life's demands, which I summarized and condensed into five tips for achieving work-life balance.
1. Prioritize and Establish Boundaries
Prioritize the most important tasks each day. For work, prioritize what needs to be done each day and identify upcoming deadlines. Do the same for activities that you enjoy outside of work. Whether it's spending time with loved ones, traveling, cooking, or sports, be intentional about prioritizing those activities as well. Calendar those tasks the same way you calendar tasks for work, and try your best to keep those appointments.
And be present during each task. When you are at work, focus on work. When you are at home, focus on home. During your personal time, try to put the cell phone away and not to check your email, especially if you do not have a pressing work matter.
Similarly, you cannot be everywhere at once. Therefore, once you prioritize, you need to say "no" to activities that are not a priority. By saying "no" appropriately, you will create expectations with your clients, superiors, and families, and establish boundaries.
- If you scheduled a personal appointment, such as a doctor's appointment, and you are asked your availability for a standard meeting, don't volunteer that time unless it is absolutely necessary.
- If you are out of the office, even if it is for a one-day deposition or conference, don't forget to activate your out-of-office notice. In addition, talk to your assistant about screening and filtering your emails and calls so that when you do check your email, you review only the most pressing messages first.
2. Delegate and Outsource
To maximize your time, delegate and outsource tasks both at home and at the office. Take time to talk to your assistant to make sure you both have a clear understanding of duties and expectations. Similarly, explore the resources at your firm including the services that the library, word processing, and office services offer.
At home, delegate tasks, where appropriate, to your significant other and other family members or employees. From laundry to housekeeping to landscaping, outsource tasks that you do not enjoy doing but that are necessary and can be easily done by others. By delegating and outsourcing at work and at home, you will be able to efficiently prioritize and maximize the use of your time.
- Don't enjoy grocery shopping? Try a meal-delivery service. Many meal-delivery companies offer free trial periods, some as long as three months. Other options include supermarket delivery services that charge a small fee to gather and deliver your groceries.
- Not a fan of shopping for clothes? Try a service such as Rent the Runway, where you can rent women's clothing, including business casual clothes and even extravagant gowns for a special occasion. The clothes are delivered to your home (or work) and, once you've worn the item, you simply return it in the supplied pre-marked mailing parcel—no need to clean or dry clean.
- Prefer an in-person shopping experience? Many department stores such as Nordstrom offer personal shopper and stylist services. These services, which are often free, involve a personal shopper who will gather clothing according to your style and preference and work with you to achieve your desired wardrobe.
3. Learn How to Ask for Help
Whether it's a family member, friend, neighbor, or babysitter, it is imperative that you also develop a network of people you can depend on outside your office and home. For example, if the primary caretaker for your loved one is unavailable, who can you call as a backup? It is important to have a contingency plan and people you can call who are trustworthy and available to come to your aid at the last minute.
And when you ask for help, be open to making adjustments. You must understand and accept that you will not be able to micro-manage every single detail and that is OK. Sometimes you have to let go of control over the little things so that the big things take priority.
- Whether you are responsible for an elderly family member, children, or even pets, be sure that your loved one is comfortable with more than one person. That way, if your primary caretaker is sick or unexpectedly unavailable, your loved one is comfortable with the person who is a part of your contingency plan.
4. Engage in Efforts That Work Double-Time for You
Oftentimes business development is last on the list, but it is an integral part of an attorney's career. One way to maximize your efforts is to weave business development efforts into personal activities. At first blush, it may seem contrary to work-life balance, but there are opportunities to combine your business development efforts with personal activities.
For example, you can "build your brand" by speaking at conferences on a topic that is important to you. Not only will you present at the event, you will also have the opportunity to network, promote your practice and your firm, and at the same time, experience a sense of self-fulfillment.
In addition, when networking with a friend or acquaintance, invite the acquaintance to a charity event or an event that is hosted by an organization with which you volunteer or serve on a board. This way, you are not only attending an event that you already prioritized, you are also tacking on the added benefit of networking and business development.
- Many firms reimburse for business development expenses such as dinners and even events such as sports events and concerts. Find out your firm's policies and think of creative (and reimbursable) ways that you can combine your business development efforts with activities that you enjoy.
5. Take Time for Yourself
Finally, and most importantly, to preserve your sanity and overall happiness, you must make time for yourself. Whether it's carving out time to exercise during the week, scheduling a spa appointment, or taking vacations, it is imperative that you take care of your physical and mental well-being. In addition to taking vacations, try to set aside time each week (but at least once per month) for yourself, even if it's just an hour. Be sure to schedule and calendar personal time the same way you calendar work assignments, and ensure that it is prioritized as high as your work and other life responsibilities.
- Bring lunch to the office once a week so that you can use your lunch hour to exercise or go to the salon or read a few chapters of your favorite book.
- Maximize your time on vacation by working with a travel agent to arrange accommodations, excursions, etc. Many agencies provide services that are free or available at a small cost.
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