Women professionals are constantly bombarded with warnings of maintaining a healthy work/life balance, and I must admit that I’ve also pleaded for this on many occasions. However, for those of us who are the first in our families to enter professional careers, it can be difficult to determine what a healthy work/life balance even looks like. And while it’s hard for any profession, as attorneys we also get a lot of strong signals about what how important work should be above almost everything else. Like, if you’re trying to make partner you can guarantee that you’ll be putting in long hours with little down time; it’s the nature of firm work.
Does that mean the life part of the equation goes out the window? Not necessarily–at least not if you want a semblance of health in your life. We have to recognize that when it comes to building our career, our health can’t take a back seat. We can certainly recognize the importance of paying our dues and accept that long hours are part of the job, but we have to also be willing to take steps that help us de-stress both mentally and physically. Part of what that means is determining how you approach your time-management. Are you working at your peak hours and are you allowing yourself enough time to decompress? What does your balance look like in regards to how you manage your time?
What that balance looks is different for every person. On Instagram this week, I posted that I’ve been working over the weekends for the past two months. For some people, working everyday can impact their well-being. They need those days of complete detachment to feel alert and ready to work on Monday. I’m the opposite– I take a page from my law school days where I would study all day Saturday and Sunday (leaving my weeknights free). Now as a practicing attorney, I prefer to work a little on the weekend to help offset the work and deadlines that are looming in my week ahead. I feel more accomplished on Monday knowing I’ve already done xyz.
While that doesn’t work for everyone, the key step is understanding how you handle work stress (those deadlines, the long hours, etc) and figure out what’s your preferred way to manage your time. Once you know your preference, then you can make it a goal to try to follow the routine that best fits your need.
So for me, I may work on the weekends, but I know that I’ll have most of my weeknights free, which helps me feel less over-worked or stressed.
Additionally, if you’re a procrastinator (hello, guilty as charged), it’s important to break that habit. I know, I feel like I do better work under pressure (or at least that’s what I tell myself), but would you believe that when I meet projects well within the deadline I feel so much more content about the work I’ve done?The trick I used here was to have a desk calendar and write goals on post-its for each month (deadlines for filings that I created for myself). Seeing that I had deadlines, even if the “true” deadline was weeks away, motivated me to get the job done. Figure out what your motivations are to help you get things done in a timely manner. Trust, the further you get away from procrastination-mode, the better you’ll feel about work stress because, like magic, it will all seem so manageable.
Finally, it’s important to stop and reassess your routine. I know that eventually my life circumstances will change and I won’t always have a few hours every weekend to dedicate to work, so it’s important to be flexible so that you try new approaches when life responsibilities change. Ultimately, one of the most important factors in figuring out your work/life balance is determining how to prioritize your time so that you don’t always feel like you’re drowning. Seems simple enough, but a little hard to put in practice…
What methods have you used to help manage your time better that has resulted in a healthier work/life balance?