If you’re anything like me, over the course of your career you’ll have found yourself weighed down by excessive workloads, feeling like your path to self-fulfillment is an uphill climb. For me, maintaining a work-life balance has become as important as any one of my other career goals.
When you’re climbing the rungs of the legal ladder, figuring out how to have both a career and a social life can be tricky! Over the years I have set myself small targets for professional and private equilibrium, and here I share my tips for success. Treat these ideas as essentials, in order to keep yourself thriving both in and out of the office!
Make space for personal time
It’s no secret that lawyers work hard, but if you’re going to better maintain your work-life balance, it is essential that you make time for yourself. Consider joining a weekly yoga class, or if you don’t have time to physically go, download the Yoga Studio app, to give yourself a short at-home practice.
If this isn’t your thing, meet a friend for lunchtime coffee and make sure this time is blocked out in your calendar. If you have a family gathering, be sure you take the time to be there.
You can even manage everything from your kid’s birthday parties to all-important team meetings using life-organisation apps such as Trello.
Enjoy digital-free moments during every day
For me, the key to maintaining a work-life balance is to take moments to simply turn off my phone. When you get home, I advise that you switch your mobile to silent, to enjoy dinner in peace, or spend some quality time with your family without distraction.
Turn your commute into a no-work zone
A daily commute can seem like the perfect opportunity to check emails. We’ve all sat next to someone who’s frantically typing on their laptop on a busy train! Yet one of my best tips is to use this small window of time to relax.
How often in a day do we have an hour to ourselves? Seeing your commute as a no-work zone could greatly improve your career outlook and make the time you do spend at the office that little bit easier.
Instead of whipping out your paperwork, sit back and read a book (such as Get Your Sh*t Together by Sarah Knight), listen to a podcast (Blinklist is great for busy professionals), or play with a new-found app – Headspace is perfect for enjoying 10 minutes of guided meditation before a busy day.
Learn to delegate effectively
It’s all very well taking moments out of the working day, but if your diary is bursting at the seams, doing so will be impossible. Juggling a heavy workload is one of a lawyer’s greatest skills, but working at reducing that workload is just as important.
Accept that you are human and cannot do everything. Working in law practice, you should master this art form because otherwise, you are setting yourself up for failure.
Make an informed decision about what you should do yourself and what others can do instead. Consider the outcome you wish for a task and look at the knowledge and expertise of those around you in order to select the right person for the job. C
onsider whether they have the time to take on more work and remember that delegating this task to them may require you to rethink the duties of others.
Your team have strengths, so play to them - and if you need a little help, check out Asana app, which offers a collaborative environment where you can create, assign and organize tasks all in one place!
Research a company’s ethos before you accept a job
If you’re in the process of hunting down a new opportunity, it is important to know exactly what sort of environment you are walking into. Some firms will value personal time more than others and a company’s website is the key to understanding its approach to life in, and out, of the office.
Browse its values and read employee statements for mentions of personal hobbies and social time. If nothing is mentioned, the company may not be for you.
Glassdoor is also a fantastic tool for looking at company reviews, written by the people who actually work there!
Set yourself limits for working hours
One of my greatest tips for a better work-life balance is to keep track of the number of hours you spend working. You could consider how many hours you’re willing to work in a single day or week, and stick to it.
By asking yourself what amount of time you’d be happy to dedicate to work, you will know that anything above that will be detrimental to your personal life and happiness.
Perhaps try to be home by 6 pm at least twice a week, using this as a starting point to your new-found equilibrium. If you need guidance with time management, take a look at the Smarter Time app, a digital assistant that analyses and improves the way you use your time.
Opt for legal project management
To further reduce the pressure coming from your work, try adopting the Legal Project Management principles. This will allow you to minimize the amount of time you spend on each scheme and to increase the overall efficiency of your team.
By applying project management techniques to your legal workload, you will be able to set the limitations for each project before you begin, planning your course of action and evaluating how this path worked out upon completion.
We live in a digital age, so why not make the most of apps and tools that are there to ease our burdens?
Todoist is fantastic for managing all your tasks in one place, allowing you to mark their order of importance and keep personal and work tasks separated. As an alternative you can use Notion, the new and upcoming cloud-based app that is essentially a mix of Asana, Evernote and Google Docs.
For document automation, opt for Bigle Legal, where you can create and keep track of legal documents. It also offers an integrated digital signature to help you save time.
If you need to easily keep track of your spending look at Apperio, an app that enables lawyers to record and analyse their spend for each project, and across the whole legal firm.
SimpleLegal is another great choice, allowing you to simplify your daily operations thanks to its straight-forward management platform!
Corporate vs. boutique law firms
All companies are different, but corporate firms have a reputation for being high-pressure environments. Whether you’re a transactional and contentious lawyer, it is highly likely that you will put in long hours due to the serious and unpredictable nature of the work.
Some large firms offer gyms, catering and sleeping facilities on-site, which can lead to spending more time than necessary in the office. Consider whether working for a smaller firm, as a corporate in-house lawyer for example, may be a better option for you.
Plan time for a holiday or mini-break
We all need time away, not just from the office but from home too. Booking an annual holiday will not only give you something to look forward to, but will allow you to recharge your batteries. When you’re away, be away. Leave your laptop and paperwork at home.
Even a short weekend away can do wonders for the mind and soul – and don’t forget your new found apps and tools, that will help you manage your workload and delegate important tasks while you’re away.
Prioritize your workload
Learning to prioritize your workload is key. Ask yourself whether you need to respond to, or action, a request straight away. If you have a long list of tasks, spend time establishing their order of importance. Which are urgent and which are neither urgent nor important?
Consider contract lawyering
If you’re finding office life too difficult to manage, then perhaps contract lawyering is more for you. This career approach would mean taking on legal cases on a contract basis, usually for temporary periods of time.
This type of lawyering offers the freelance lifestyle, where you can select the jobs you want and say ‘no’ to the ones you don’t. It will also allow you more time at home and the flexibility of choosing your own working hours but remember it also comes with less job security.
Learn to say ‘no’
Another key factor in reducing your workload is to simply say ‘no’. Juggling too many projects can have a damaging effect on your health and competency. Saying ‘no’ will be difficult at first, as it forces you to accept your limitations. Although saying ‘no’ may feel like you’re letting others down or showing weakness, it is actually a sign of strength.
Beyond the To-Do List is a fantastic podcast aimed at helping you establish personal productivity by choosing the right projects, and saying no to others!
Establish boundaries with colleagues and clients
If your colleagues are used to calling you late at night, knowing full well that you will answer, then, of course, they will keep doing it. After all, they have deadlines too.
Set boundaries with your colleagues and clients, so they know when is appropriate (and not appropriate) to get in touch. If you establish parameters, people will respect them.
Love the work you do
There really is no point slogging away if you’re not enjoying the work. My best piece of advice for helping you maintain your work-life balance is to simply love what you to.
Find a firm or a sector that you have a passion for and you will quickly see a change in your positive mental attitude. Make the most of the time you spend at the office and know when it’s time to go home!