♫ But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do
Once you find them… ♫
– Music, Lyrics and recorded by: Jim Croce
Photo by Jordan Benton from Pexels.
As lawyers we are accustomed to working long, hard hours. Indeed, some writers such as Jordan Furlong have stated there is no such thing as work-life balance as our lawyer work culture has changed over the last while from moderate to frenetic. As our clients’ demands and needs sped up, our pace increased to meet them. However, while our clients’ figured out how to increase efficiencies with technology and new ways of doing things, we as lawyers fell behind. Jordan’s suggestion is that we now need to learn to reshape the way we work to align better with what our clients want and what we need. In the process we can consider and address the toll that our current pace places on our lives and those close to us.
To start, we need to perform better client service in ways that reduce the time we spend on a matter. This leads to learning how to increase efficiencies and improve workflows to accomplish more in less time. There is a role for the increased use of technology here. Besides figuring out how to be more efficient in the office, we also need to turn our minds off when we are out of the office to get the rest and relaxation we need to continue to be on the top of our game and avoid burnout. We all know what we love to do outside of work to relax; the trick is finding or creating the time to do it.
So how do we do this? In January 2016, Inc.magazine published an article entitled “A Simple, Science-Backed Trick to Better Work-Life Balance.” All of us leave our desks each night with uncompleted goals and tasks. Brandon Smit of Ball State University found these uncompleted tasks are intrusive and interrupt our evening’s peace. He cited the Zeigarnik effect, wherein uncompleted tasks are more likely to be remembered and intrude on your non-work time, interrupting your ability to recharge.
But Smit found a way to neutralize these intrusive thoughts. Before leaving the office, not only make a list of your outstanding to-dos, but take the next step and clearly plan when, where and how you will tackle each one. He found that by specifying how you will deal with these as-yet uncompleted tasks, you can put these matters out of your mind and lessen their intrusion into your private time. You need not worry about unfinished business waiting for you back at the office. There were added benefits from adopting this approach. Smit found that by using this system, participants found it easier to let go of work. Your mind can relax as it “knows” that you have thought about how to accomplish the tasks that you need to get done.
By not only planning what you need to do but also when, where and how you will do it, you tell your mind in its restful time it can stop worrying. This way you can use your relaxation time to do the things you want to do, now that you have found them.
So how do you achieve a better work-life balance?
If getting more efficient and effective is part of the answer to achieving better work-life balance, then here are tips, apps and sites that can further you along in this journey.
This is a technique where you decide what to do with every email in your inbox immediately as you read it. File it, add it to a To-Do list, trash it – just don’t leave it in your inbox! Strive to empty your inbox daily. Also use SimplyFile which speeds up dealing with email by “guessing” which folder in Outlook an incoming and outgoing email belongs in. It is fast, accurate and amazing! I would recommend it for any PC (unfortunately only for Windows….not Mac).
This is sitting down and writing down as many ideas as you can generate to address a problem. Fortunately, mind-mapping software can help you organize and grow/group the ideas as they come to you. You can try: Mindjet, XMind, Coggle, Freemind or MindNode (the 5 best mind-mapping applications per Lifehacker.com).
Capture Your Ideas
Ideas come to you at all times in the day. Use Evernote, Microsoft’s OneNote or carry a paper notebook in your briefcase to capture those ideas before they slip away. Evernote and OneNote are also great ways of organizing digital information of all types, including web pages, video and audio. You can even dictate your notes into Evernote.
Many of us live by our To-Do lists. Time management experts tell us to have separate lists for work and for personal use. Apps such as Wunderlist allow you to keep these lists on your smartphone, PC, Mac, Android, iPhone, Watch and more and keep them all in sync.
Block off Time and Reduce Interruptions
Take your To-Do list and block off time in Outlook, or whatever calendar application you are using, to allocate time to tasks. Have a sign for your door that politely asks people to not interrupt your work time unless it is an emergency. RescueTime and similar applications will not only block Internet access for a set period (allowing you to concentrate on tasks at hand) but will provide you with a breakdown of how you spent your time during the day. Studies have shown that it takes time to spool up to really attack a task; if you are being constantly interrupted then you are not making the best use of your time and reducing your effectiveness.
Even if you don’t bill by the hour, it is a great idea to track your time to determine your effectiveness. This can also help you determine your effective hourly rate if you divide your collected fees on a matter by the actual (not just billable) time put into a matter. There are many time tracking and time and billing applications such as: PCLaw, Clio (goclio.com), Amicus Attorney (amicusattorney.com) and many others.
Learn to Say No
People will always request that you take on new commitments. While none of us wish to be curmudgeons who never help out others, you have to balance this time with the time spent on tasks that are important to you, and allow yourself the time to complete them. Accordingly, one important skill is to say no gracefully but firmly.
(originally published in BarTalk, a publication of the BC Branch of the Canadian Bar Association).