Everyone knows that work/life balance is important, but for young lawyers, it tends to fall by the wayside all too often. Your time is subject to a variety of demands, and you’ll feel pressured to perform above expectations so you can advance in your career. However, if you want to be able to handle the stress and demands of your new career and grow for years to come, you need to create a lifestyle you can maintain early on. And that’s where the work/life balance comes in.
Work/life balance defined
As a young lawyer, you probably already know that your personal and professional lives will never get equal weight. At least half of your waking hours will go toward your work, and what’s left over is where you have to stuff everything else. This can seem overwhelming sometimes, particularly when you’re facing a lengthy to-do list on a Monday morning.
Much like a gymnast performs small moves to help him or her regain balance and prevent falling before continuing to the next major move in a sequence, you need “balance checks” in your life that help you regain footing and move toward success. Incorporating these checks into your life is fundamentally what work/life balance is all about, so you’re able to regroup as needed and keep moving toward your goals instead of tumbling. Nobody sets out to live in their office, but it’s incredibly easy to become consumed by your career. There’s always another project or case to handle or paperwork to tackle. On the flip side, becoming completely consumed by your personal life wouldn’t be productive if you’ve got goals for your career. There will always be another class or trip to go on with people you enjoy spending time with.
Ultimately, work/life balance occurs when you are able to give more time to your personal life than your work life on certain days. It means you’re able to take time for your emotional, physical and mental health without losing sight of the important aspects of your job. Since this is something that is also specific to the individual, it also means your coworkers respect what you do outside of work. Another element is freedom–the freedom to, once you’ve earned it, leave your work early to go to a medical appointment or see your kids. You will have true work/life balance when you have all four elements: personal enjoyment, professional achievement, freedom and respect.
The necessity of balance
To truly commit yourself to gaining work/life balance, you need to know why it’s worth going after. It’s quite simple; you want to be happy, healthy and hopeful, three things that may be elusive if your work and personal lives aren’t as balanced as possible. Happy employees, for example, are more productive, and no one wants to be unhappy in their lives or at their jobs. Good health, of course, is a key element of any satisfying life. Hope is what you need to keep you going and reaching for the next rung on the ladder as you work through learning your practice area’s details.
Common sense supports the idea of work/life balance, so it’s vital you advocate for yourself in this area as you begin practicing. When you’re focused on your health, happiness and hope at the start of your career, you’ll generate a wonder domino effect that can take you through decades of legal practice and bring you personal and professional success.
Making work/life balance a reality
It’s best to start working on work/life balance from the very start of your career, so you become more adept at it as your professional life moves forward. If you can, evaluate the work/life balance-workplace connection at your prospective employers before taking a job offer. If you’ve already accepted one, speak to your manager early on about how that connection works.
From here, you can begin doing the three key elements of work/life balance achievement: boundary setting, communication and organization.
Set clear boundaries
As soon as you begin your new job, set your boundaries while letting your managers and coworkers know where you will put in more time to ensure any deadlines are met. Strive to go above and beyond whenever you can, but still account for your personal life. For example, if your Sundays are spent watching your son play football, make this clear from the start. In the same vein, if you spend your Saturdays sailing, try to avoid always responding to emails or taking meetings on that day. Mobile devices, in particular, can cause you to let people overstep your boundaries, so start disconnecting if you need to.
Your boundaries will become even more important over the workweek, so be completely clear about what times you’re not going to be available. If you spend 7 to 8 am hitting the gym, let people know that and stick to that schedules. This is, of course, a form of freedom, so be sure you show everyone you work with that you really appreciate it. Having boundaries also means putting your best foot forward at all times at the office so you can continue to earn freedom.
Finally, keep your boundaries as consistent as possible. When you’re consistent about your unavailable times, those around you will understand what you are doing and know that you will be available to them without fail at other times in the day. If your coworkers and clients feel that your boundaries constantly change, they will lose patience and become annoyed by your ever-changing schedule.
Be ready to communicate
Communication is closely related to setting boundaries. While it may feel odd to share your personal pursuits at your job, it will make your boundaries much more understandable to the people around you. People often enjoy supporting coworkers and may even support you outside of work. This can’t happen, however, unless you are clear about your needs and goals to your coworkers and your managers.
Be direct and clear when it comes to how important it is for you to be able to pursue a personal goal or two outside of work. If you are taking a dance class and need to leave early once a month for the next two months, be upfront about this commitment and offer alternate hours if necessary. If you are upfront and creative when it comes to solving any related problems, you will appear far more professional to others. Obviously, as a young attorney, you can’t just leave the office–acting as if your personal life is secret will make it seem as if something is off with you. By being direct and honest, you’ll find it’s much easier for other people to understand that you are both committed to the workplace and need to have a life outside of work.
Keep yourself organized
Organizing your personal and work lives does take effort, but the rewards are worth it. Take stock of all your obligations, work and personal, every week. Note your calendar and let your boss and assistant know if any of your personal commitments will interfere with work hours. With planning ahead, you won’t find yourself scrambling. If you know you need to leave earlier on a Friday, you can put the extra time in necessary during the week to have all the tasks that must be completed done.
There are always going to be times when work is overriding all other aspects of your life and work/life balance just isn’t possible. Use the guidelines provided above to keep your life as balanced as you can possibly make it as you go through your career. As with anything that spans time, there are always ups and downs in your professional life, so you will feel more balanced at some points than you will at others. What’s important to keep in mind is that work/life balance is always something you should be reaching for.