Working Less Gets You More

Running a law firm means hard days, long nights, and unexpected bursts of adrenalin and cortisol. Sleep is often elusive.

It’s a mix of ups, downs, and lots of sideways. Vacation time is rare.

When I started my law firm in 1990, my free time was sporadic. Some of it happened accidentally when I failed to wake up after working through the night. I would sleep right through the alarm.

These goofs were as close as I got to vacation days.

We took our first big vacation after the practice turned four years old. Prior to that, our trips had all been work-related and typically involved networking at an American Bar Association meeting.

Those meetings were held at nice resorts, but they weren’t relaxing.

My vacation moved me from in to on the business

We spent a month on Grand Cayman in 1994.

Looking back, that was a pivotal moment.

That’s when I switched my focus to working on the business instead of in it.

At that point, I’d been a lawyer for seven years. It was hard to imagine a happy ending. My father (a lawyer) had died of a heart attack on a client trip.

Our month on Grand Cayman was good. Time away gives one time to reflect.

You need to reflect if you want to change your relationship with your practice. You need clarity of vision if you seek change.

So here we are in January. I’m supposed to pump you up so you get focused, energized, and head into the New Year with a head of steam.

Instead, I’m going in the opposite direction, as I often do. (Some call it “oppositional defiance disorder.” I like to call it “thinking differently.”)

Instead of encouraging you to do more, I’m going to slow you down and encourage you to do less.

You look like you need a vacation too

I suggest you take a few minutes today to schedule a vacation. Make a plan, discuss it with the decision maker, and book it. There is no time like the present for some downtime.

Go. Leave the office. Take a holiday.

Why should you go away?


You deserve it. You work hard.

It killed my father (well, stress coupled with smoking, eating ribs, and genetics). Being a lawyer is a hard job. We lift the problems off the shoulders of others and drop them firmly onto our own. That’s tough.

Plus, you need it.

The stress eats at you. Anyone who tells you they’re great at stress management is probably being eaten alive. Downtime lets you hit the reset button and start fresh. You need to clear your field of vision and come back with a new perspective.

You’ll think on instead of in

It’s difficult – impossible, really – to look at your business systematically when you’re taking client calls and answering emails.

Even locking yourself in the conference room for “thinking time” doesn’t separate you from the chaos. You need to get to a quiet place in order to reimagine your practice.

Work is not the only part of your life that will benefit, either. You’ll also renew your relationships.

If you don’t spend time with your spouse and children, you’ll eventually lose them. Less family time may be good for your revenue, but it’s not good for your life.

Time away from work lets you focus on family and reinforce those connections.

Furthermore, time away makes you twice as productive when you return. We have these weird bursts of productivity right before we leave, and we think far more clearly after we return.

In terms of productivity, I’d argue that vacation time costs you little (if anything). You come back fired up and ready to go, more efficient because of the good ideas and rest you had while you were away.

I rest my case

At this point, I hope you’re booking your trip. Do it today, because you already know that procrastinating will just result in more procrastinating.

If you book it now, the rest of your calendar and commitments will shift. Booking a trip is like dropping a big rock in a river. The water flows around it while the rock sits still.

Let your business figure out how to flow around your vacation-rock.

Here’s my travel advice:

You already know that my wife and I travel full-time. We have no home. We just drift.

My style of travel isn’t for everyone. I’m not encouraging you to sell your house, give away your possessions, and live in hotels. But I do spend a lot of time observing and talking to vacationers. I have some tips.

1. Pick one place and stay a while

We have a tendency to do too many things on a vacation.

We have nine free days, so we cram in as much as possible – like three days in London, a train ride and three days in Paris, and maybe a few days in Brussels.

That’s too much. There’s no time to think between all the packing, unpacking, checking-in, checking-out, and navigating transportation.

Slow down. Pick a spot. Arrive, unpack, settle down, and take it all in.

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You’ll get more from a slower trip to one place than you will from a longer trip to two places (or more).

Take a deeper dive into a single place so you have some time to enjoy it. Doing too much is our modus operandi. Slow down, so you can get the maximum benefit of your time off.

2. Stay longer

I don’t need to tell Australians to stay longer. They take long trips. It’s part of their culture.

But Americans go fast and leave faster. Our trips usually last a week.

Stay longer, because the hard part of taking a vacation is leaving for it. You have a hundred logistical issues to overcome (like who will handle emergencies, the phones, and the office?). Resolving those issues is no more complicated if you leave for one week, two weeks, or a month.

So why not stay longer? Once you’re away, you’re away. Staying away for a few more days doesn’t have much impact.

3. Don’t go that far

Stay closer to home to reduce travel time and hassle. Maybe it should be less about getting to somewhere exotic and more about giving you time to recharge your batteries.

A 12-day trip to the other side of the planet is far less relaxing than a 9 day trip to the beach two hours from home.

Getting to the airport early, making connections, dealing with foreign languages and currency, etc., can wreck your downtime.

Do whatever makes you happy, but consider the reality of travel when you make your decisions.

Obviously, I’m a huge fan of long distance travel to interesting places. I’m writing this as I look out of the window at the Arabian Sea in Mumbai. It’s a great place to visit, but this might be the least relaxing place on the planet.

And “interesting” isn’t always what we need out of a vacation. Sometimes exotic is a euphemism for exhausting.

4. Bring the babysitter

We took a babysitter with us on a vacation to San Francisco, then again to Chicago. It worked well both times.

We paid for the teenager’s expenses and she got a nice trip out of the deal. Everybody came out a winner. Having some time alone with your spouse is valuable and completely justifies the expense.

If you have kids who need looking after, give this option some thought. Back when we did it, we had to rent two hotel rooms, which doubled our expense. Today, with Airbnb, you can easily rent a large house or apartment at the same cost as many hotel rooms.

5. Eat sandwiches sometimes

Not every vacation meal needs to involve an amazing restaurant in the perfect location with a breathtaking view.

Let the Michelin Star chef serve someone else while you eat takeout pizza on the balcony of your hotel room.

Meals often become too much work when you’re in a new environment. Take it easy. Take some downtime while you enjoy your downtime.

For many of us (myself included), hitting the “best” restaurants is just another activity that takes away from the real relaxation.

6. Plan less

I met a woman in Ireland in a rental car line. She showed me her agenda notebook for her trip. It had eight days of moment-by-moment plans.

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She was upset because Avis was taking too long to rent us our cars and it was throwing off her schedule. Planning is good, but too much planning kills the fun. Not knowing what’s going to happen makes the vacation more of an adventure, in some ways.

Planning is about preventing the waste of time, but your time away should be more about wasting time than optimizing it.

7. Skip things

There will be another vacation. You can always come back. Don’t try to squeeze it all in.

It’s okay to sit in the room and watch the $15 movie channel. You aren’t required to post a selfie from every tourist attraction. Yes, you rode the Jet Ski and the glass bottom boat. No, you didn’t go snorkeling. It’s okay. You can skip things.

You’re seeing the theme here, right? We tend to come to our vacations with the same mindset we bring to the practice of law. Type “A” is a characteristic that doesn’t change just because you’re out of town.

8. Eat in the same places/Go to the same coffee shop

Part of the exhaustion of vacationing, for some people, is that everything is new every single day.

If you get worn out by constant change, don’t be afraid to go to the same places repeatedly on a vacation.

You don’t need to explore every food venue in the area. Plus, the restaurant will be pleased you returned and you’ll get to know the people.

9. Just sit

Too many people return from vacation saying “I need a vacation from my vacation” because they spent so much energy traveling.

While you’re away, find some time to escape to a neutral space, alone. Shut down your brain, relax, and just sit. Stare at the ocean, or the mountains, or the building at the edge of the park.

You’ll be tempted to use those moments to check voicemails, emails and messages. Resist the temptation to work. Even though checking your messages only takes two minutes, doing so changes your mood for two hours.

10. Write it all down

While you’re away on vacation, you’re likely to have some good ideas. Your brain gets refreshed, you see the world differently, and your synapses start firing.

Write everything down.

Take notes for yourself. It’s easy for all those good ideas to disappear the instant you return to the office.

Having good ideas is useful. Remembering them is even better.

Book your trip now

I hope I’ve made the case that taking time off is important to the success of your business. I hope you’re ready to book a trip. It’s truly that valuable and important.

Managing yourself is as important as managing your business.

It’s way too easy to work 24/7/365 in our current economy and environment. But that schedule doesn’t give you time to find balance and sustain yourself. You need to refuel in every way.

Time away from work is a big part of how that happens.

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