Work-life balance sounds like one of those goals that everybody strives for but nobody can achieve. The stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic have stretched us to the point where work-life balance seems like a pipe dream—or even a cruel joke. But what if you really can achieve it?
It seems impossible when you think about all of the hats that you have to wear each day: attorney, business owner, parent, spouse, friend, and community leader. You may even be caring for an elderly parent or other family member. The countless responsibilities can be overwhelming. Worse, they can lead you to feel that you are barely fulfilling your roles and not succeeding at any of them.
WealthCounsel understands that our members wear multiple hats, and we know how challenging that can be. To help you achieve work-life balance, we have a webinar on October 12 called Parenting, Partnering, and Practicing—taught by lawyer, dad, and shareholder Steve Riley, JD, of Atticus. Be sure to register for this event. In the meantime, read on for some helpful tips to achieve balance.
Control the Calendar
Ask yourself two questions: What matters most to me, and when am I most productive?
Working from home has allowed many of us to have flexible schedules, so perform your most challenging and important work when you are at your best. If you are a morning person, create a daily routine that plays off of that. Fire up a pot of coffee and knock out that pile of papers on your desk. The rest of the day will seem easier, and you can go into an afternoon of phone calls and meetings knowing that you have already accomplished something.
The best way to take care of your responsibilities and your loved ones is to take good care of yourself. Getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating healthily are smart, not selfish. This is why flight attendants tell you to secure your own oxygen mask before helping others. Letting your own health and well-being slide will lead to you getting sick, which will certainly set back your goals and productivity. You also cannot take care of others from a sickbed. Schedule weekly self-care on your calendar.
Family time is at the top of our priority lists, so why does it end up at the bottom of our to-do lists? The reason is because it is not scheduled like our other obligations. Solve the problem by sitting down with your family and mapping out the week. If you only have one day during the week to eat dinner together as a family, make it happen! Put it on everyone’s schedule, and you will all look forward to it.
The same concept works for family time on the weekends. Between chores, soccer games, and grocery shopping, the weekend can quickly get away from you before you have had a chance to spend quality time with your family. Even if everyone is free for only a few hours, be sure to do something meaningful with your family every weekend, such as going to the park or out for ice cream.
Believe it or not, securing this family time will make you happier and more productive at work. You will feel like your most important ducks are in a row. But the workday can still seem stuffed with more activities than you can handle. Resist the temptation to work ten- or twelve-hour days to stay caught up: your home life will suffer, leading to more anxiety.
Instead, maximize your productivity by breaking your workday into hour-long chunks. Which tasks can you accomplish before 10 a.m.? Before lunch? Checking items off of your to-do list in the morning will reduce your stress level and set you up for success after lunch.
Speaking of lunch, you can get some work done then, too. But don’t get crumbs on your keyboard—get out of the office and network with your clients, referral sources, or coworkers. They have to eat lunch, too! This will divide your day into two easily manageable halves, with a breather away from your desk in the middle.
Does a vacation also seem impossible when you look at your calendar? If so, then you need a vacation. Taking time off gives you something to look forward to, and you will return relaxed and refreshed in mind and body.
Shape Your Schedule
Some workers thrive with a traditional nine-to-five work schedule. The structure is predictable and comforting and has been the standard of practice in the legal industry. However, the pandemic turned this upside down, forcing many employees, including lawyers, to work from home. While some workers missed their colleagues and struggled to be productive, others loved the home environment and the money they saved on gas, dry cleaning, and coffee.
Now that the work-from-home cat is out of the bag in our industry, you have options that you never knew were possible. You could work from home a few days a week or even all the time. You could work a ten-hour day four days per week. Imagine having the day off every third day! That would open up a lot of possibilities.
Again, this all comes back to knowing yourself and how you work most productively. Working from home can save time and reduce stress by eliminating your commute, but you need a work environment at home that minimizes distractions. If everyone else in your household goes off to work and school in the morning, that should be easy (unless you have demanding pets). Also, make sure to leverage the power of virtual meetings. While in-person contact is always best, staying home and connecting virtually is now widely accepted and allows everyone to be more efficient.
How about the four-day work week: could you handle working ten hours on Mondays and Tuesdays knowing you had Wednesdays off? What could you accomplish away from the office on that day? Would you have a problem taking the day off because your work often spills over from one day to the next? Four-day workweeks have helped some workers become happier, healthier, and more efficient, but your schedule should reflect your reality and workflow.
You could use your day off during the week to exercise—and yes, that includes golf. Another option is a cardiovascular workout like running or walking. Do it again on the weekend, and you will have successfully added fitness to your weekly routine. Many attorneys find innovative ways to ensure that they stay fit.
You may be at the point in your career where flexible or even part-time hours would be the right choice. You can prioritize your health and family while still remaining efficient and productive.
Protect Your Boundaries
Your plans for work-life balance will only succeed if you enforce boundaries. Your family is most likely your biggest priority. You may be quick to respond to emails and text messages during the day, but that should change after hours. Even a “quick reply” to a colleague could lead to a thirty-minute phone call or worse, a trip back to the office. Never underestimate the importance of unplugging.
Enforce the rule of “no phones at the dinner table.” The outside world can wait while you spend an uninterrupted hour with your family. Kids will feel more connected when they know their parents are listening to them. We all say family is our top priority—unplugging when with them and giving them your full attention is the perfect way to show it.
Another way to set boundaries is to make family time off limits by scheduling family events in your calendar so that no other appointments can be scheduled. While meeting clients and networking are important, those appointments can be moved around easier than your child’s ballet recital.
Stick with the Process
Achieving work-life balance is not easy, but the tips provided can help you start working toward this goal today. You will slip up a few times, but controlling your calendar, shaping your schedule, and protecting your boundaries can help you stay on track. You can have a healthy body, happy family, manageable schedule, and thriving law practice.
Learn more by signing up for the WealthCounsel webinar Parenting, Practicing and Partnering on October 12 from 1–2 PM ET.