Koyaanisqatsi is a word in the Hopi Indian language which means “Life out of balance.” It is also the title of a 1982 movie with a soundtrack by Philip Glass exploring this theme. Being a lawyer can result in your life being out of balance. You probably know where I am going with this article, but please indulge me and keep reading.
I am very proud of the work life balance I have struck. I spend a lot of time doing legal work, especially when I am on trial. I spend a lot of time managing the firm and cultivating referral relationships. These things take up more time than I spend with my family. But my priority has always been my family. As some of you know, my wife and I are blessed with six beautiful children.
In the practice of law, you must make conscious decisions which affect the quality of your life. It is important to take stock periodically in your work life balance. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is every minute of every day always scheduled for something?
- When was the last time you took a day off to do something fun?
- Are you stressed out most of the time?
- When was the last time you read, and actually finished, a book you were reading for pleasure?
- Have you missed many of your family’s important events because of your practice?
I pose these questions not to make you feel guilty, but to make you realize where you are personally and professionally. I cut these questions out of an article I read many years ago and I reference them periodically. I just looked at them recently, which is giving rise to this month’s article. I am still doing pretty well with each of them, but they do help keep things in perspective.
What you can do
The sooner you recognize the need for a periodic assessment, the easier it will be. But let’s assume the worst. Your practice is all consuming and your personal life is non-existent. You need to start somewhere. Think back a long time ago. You once had a life beyond your clients and your office. It is not that you don’t have the time for yourself today; it is that your personal life is not your priority. You must get your life back into balance.
Take a break, a vacation or even a sabbatical
You must get off the treadmill of your practice for a break! Start easy and make a plan to leave work early or come to work late one day. Make sure everyone in your office knows and you stick to your plan no matter what. If your staff is shocked you are taking a morning or afternoon off, you should realize how important it is for you to carry through with your break. Don’t know what to do? Call me, seriously, we’ll go to a baseball game, meet for lunch or grab a beer. I now look forward to taking breaks in my practice.
Once you have taken an afternoon off, look a month ahead and plan a day off from the office. You can find a day a month from now where there is nothing currently scheduled. Block that day off. If you feel guilty, don’t call it a vacation day. Just block it off, and most importantly, keep to the plan. The office will not fall apart if you take a planned day off.
Before you know it, you’ll be planning a vacation. Now, don’t get carried away, but even a few consecutive days in a row constitutes a vacation. I have always dreamed of taking a sabbatical. I am confident that my office could run without me for an extended period of time. But even I am not there yet! Maybe some day.
Make some time for yourself
You need to remember the things you used to enjoy before you became so successful, I mean busy. Family should be easy. Plan to do something with your wife or husband (remember your spouse?) or your children. Call an old friend to get together for coffee, beer, golf or a movie. It is not hard to come up with something. The point is taking the first step. Get your life back in balance. Make gradual progress and continue to work toward your goal. Make a plan and stick to it no matter what. Do not treat this as just another New Year’s resolution, to be followed for a few weeks and disregarded. Don’t start out by joining a gym thinking you are going to work out three days a week. That is too optimistic. Start with much more sustainable goals.
I always work twice as hard to get ready to go on vacation. I always work twice as hard when I return to catch up after a vacation. But you will find returning to work after a break (no matter how long) helps rejuvenate you. Take responsibility for your personal happiness. Get your life back in balance. I know you have read articles like these in law publications in the past and thought, “that’s a good idea” and thrown away the magazine or newspaper and gone back to your old habits. I hope by reading this advice written by me, someone you know and respect enough to refer your clients to, that you may act upon it this time. Good luck finding your work life balance!