As attorneys, it’s expected for us to pour everything we have into our work. Pulling all-nighters to meet deadlines is normal, if not glorified. As young attorneys, we’re often the first ones to arrive to the office and the last ones to leave. Work phones keep us connected to our jobs 24/7. Good work is rewarded with more work—the cycle continues and only intensifies.
Life outside of work can be just as demanding. Obligations at home compete with our time and attention at work, pressures that still seem more prevalent for women.
When I first started my career, I heard so much about “work-life balance” that I naively imagined it was something that would eventually happen to me. Yet, I quickly found myself becoming overwhelmed and drowning in the responsibilities (both in and out of work), which took a toll on my health and happiness. As much as I love what I do, my job often keeps me occupied 110% of the time and can be an emotional drain. Commitments to volunteer work require me to attend meetings and events nearly every evening. This leaves little time to connect with family and friends, attend to my spiritual development, stay physically fit, and have fun.
I now recognize that achieving even a semblance of balance between my career and the lifestyle I want is not something that just happens, but requires an intentional effort for me to create and manage it for myself. I recognize that work-life balance doesn’t look the same for everyone. There’s an ebb and flow to everything in life and I don’t pretend to believe that a perfect 50/50 work-life balance is totally realistic. However, I’ve used the following strategies to allow me to be more productive and fully engaged in my work and personal life:
- Identify. The first thing I did was ask myself, ”what is important to me?” I identified the things that I value, even the little things. For example, I value quiet time alone, I love to watch movies, travel…and eat Swedish fish. Once I figured out those non-negotiable things I needed to recharge and feel centered, I made it a priority to incorporate them into my routine on a regular basis.
- Organize. It’s difficult for me to get started with any kind of work until my space is clean. The same is true with my mind – I can’t properly focus on any task until my mind is clear. Taking some extra time, either in the morning or at night, to jot down a to-do list and organize my plan for the day keeps me focused and helps me be more efficient with my time and energy. I traded my daily planner for electronic calendar items, reminders, and alarms to keep me on track. This use of technology is more effective for me and saves me a lot of time.
- Ask for help. A large part of my struggle to achieve work-life balance was of my own making – I insisted on doing everything on my own. Racing home between meetings to walk the dog. Cleaning the house at 1:00am. Squeezing in time to go to the grocery store and cook healthy meals. I’ve found that utilizing my resources to employ the talents of professionals or to have things delivered every now and then has helped me alleviate stress and free up time for me to meet deadlines or do things I enjoy. It’s been hard to admit that I can’t do it all, but it’s perfectly fine to ask for help.
- Say “no” without guilt. Like many people, I struggle with saying “no.” If I think I have the ability to help, especially if the person asking is a friend or someone I respect, my instinct is to say “of course!” Unfortunately, more often than not, this led to me overextending myself with tasks that didn’t necessarily align with my personal or professional goals. I’d find myself doing things to just fulfill an obligation, but sometimes not doing them to the best of my ability. It’s not always possible (especially in the work context), but I’ve learned to politely decline or negotiate requests without feeling the need to justify myself or feel guilty or selfish about putting my peace of mind first.
Finding a perfect work-life balance will always be a challenge as women continue to make strides in the profession. Things won’t always go according to plan. To-do lists may remain perpetually unfinished. There may even be the occasional all-nighter. And that’s OK.