I remember sitting at the dining room table with my parents as a child. The phone would often ring during dinner. It was frequently a client named “Sam” calling for my father.
Sam seemed to develop a legal problem every time my mother finished cooking dinner.
Sam was important to my father, so it was always tough for my dad to decide how to deal with the ringing phone.
I get constant email from lawyers looking for advice on achieving work-life balance. It's harder than ever to carve out time for yourself and your family. Work gets better and better at permeating every moment of our lives.
My dad had to deal with an old wall phone in the kitchen with a long cord. You've got a telephone plus a mobile phone, an iPad, and a laptop. They're all ringing, beeping, and buzzing all the time. The clients at the other end have problems, and they're important to you.
Finding time for yourself and your family involves discipline. I can't claim to be particularly adept at achieving work-life balance (I'm writing this on a Sunday morning), but I've observed some others who seem to have found a balance between work, family, and play. It can be done: I've witnessed it personally.
I think the lawyers who balance their lives do it by making commitments and sticking to them. They schedule their personal lives just like they schedule their work lives. Once they schedule something, they stick to it without fail.
These lawyers create their schedules well in advance before the pressure of the pressing activity takes on a life of its own. Scheduling in advance is the trick.
These lawyers book family vacations six months out. They go ahead and pay for the plane tickets or the cruise fare.
These lawyers schedule their work hours so that they start at a certain time in the morning and finish at a certain time at the end of the day. They walk away from work when the designated time comes. I think, knowing in advance that they're wrapping up at a certain time, they exert tremendous effort during the designated work hours. Because of their commitment to their schedule, they know that they don't have time to keep working after the “end” of the day. They feel forced to finish by finishing time.
These same lawyers decide in advance what their rules are for answering the cell phone at night or over the weekend. They accept that there will be consequences when they make these decisions, but they are consequences they accept.
The lawyers who achieve work-life balance have rules and schedules they live by. They didn't make the rules when they were freaking out about a deadline. They made the rules when they had time to calmly consider their priorities.
These lawyers are people who recognize that they made good decisions in a calm state of mind and that they should live by those decisions regardless of the pressures of the moment. They created a schedule, and they stick to it.
Do they get to the end of the day with the pressure of projects unfinished? Sure they do, but they walk away because they made that commitment. Of course, knowing they have a hard deadline makes it more likely that they'll finish.
Do they get stressed when they know a vacation is approaching and they have a bunch of client commitments? Absolutely, but they stick to the schedule.
There is only so much time. For some of us, the deadline is the deadline imposed by others. For others, the deadline is the commitment we made to ourselves and our families. We all get it done by the deadline: the decision we have to make is which deadline we choose to observe.
There aren't many lawyers like these people. There aren't many lawyers who achieve a healthy work-life balance. It's challenging, but it can be done. I've seen it firsthand.