We’ve all been there. We’re on vacation with our family, but we constantly check our email— nervous that something back at the office might need our immediate attention. Or we’re having dinner with friends. We sneak a look at our iPhone and see we’ve missed a call from a client. We walk out of the restaurant to return the call. When we come back to the table 25 minutes later, dinner is over.
Lawyers are notorious for having no personal boundaries and for convincing themselves that they are not only indispensable, but also have to be available at a moment’s notice. While this is nothing new, technology has made this spectacularly worse. The average lawyer spends 50-80 hours a week “at work,” be that in the office, in the car, on vacation or in the middle of their daughter’s softball game.
I am embarrassed by the number of times I’ve allowed myself to be distracted by a vibrating cellphone or failed to be present to someone I love while on vacation because I’m worrying if a client or someone at the office might be looking for me.
When it comes to distractions, we aren’t any better at work than we are at home. Most lawyers can’t go for more than 5 minutes at work without being interrupted by an email or a phone call, their staff, or their own thoughts. We are interrupted because we tell people to interrupt us. We are always available, because we tell our clients (or our firms) that we will always be available. Or worse, we don’t say anything—to our clients or those with whom we work—-about how we will protect our time. So others make the rules, and we become no-boundary victims.
That is an absurd way to work and a crazier way to live. When we fail to manage interruptions at work, our efficiency and productivity drop and our ability to deliver quality work is compromised. To allow ourselves to be constantly distracted or pulled away by some work “emergency” affects not only our ability to connect with those we love, it also keeps us from producing the kind of work we’re capable of. And, in an ironic twist, this decreased efficiency and quality of work will cause us to lose the clients we try to hard to keep by being constantly “available.”
Those in your life—be it family, friends, clients or colleagues—deserve the best of who you are…your love, your generosity, your intellect, your good judgment and the wisdom born of experience. You are unable to bring your best when you are depleted or distracted. Yes, there are emergencies. Yes, responding to clients promptly is critical in our line of work. But there is a lot that can be done. You can put supports in place that will allow you to go on vacation without having to work in the hotel room while the kids are at Disney World. You can condition your clients to speak with your associates, staff or other partners. You can carve out blocks of time when you allow yourself to work without interruption.
I have a friend who is one of the most well respected litigators in this state. He works in the world of insurance defense where he has to bill hours, keep carriers updated on cases and where competition for clients is fierce. Yet, when his kids were growing up he left work early twice every week to coach his children’s soccer team. I asked him once how he did it. His response? “It’s easy. I just turn off the computer. Pick up my keys. And walk out the door.”
Your time is your treasure. If you don’t control it, someone else is going to control it for you.