Blog/Podcast: Feeling Burned Out as a Lawyer? Here Are 5 Tips to Get You Back on Track
You’re a practicing attorney; you’re doing well. You have a great client list, are making good money and are on track for partnership (or already there). Shouldn’t you feel happy?
If you don’t, you’re not alone. Dissatisfaction among lawyers is more prevalent than you might think. In fact, Judith Gordon, attorney coach, lecturer at UCLA School of Law and founder of LeaderEsQ experienced the same realization after reading an article in The National Law Journal in which the author cited research on lawyer dissatisfaction in the profession.
Judith was a recent guest on the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast. Here are her five tips to get you on the road to becoming a happier, more satisfied lawyer.
Legal education focuses almost exclusively on legal thinking, to the exclusion of the emotional intelligence required. For three years, law students are immersed in case analysis, but other skills that are necessary to not only being great lawyers, but also happy lawyers, are excluded from legal training.
Here are 5 tips to help you be less stressed, more productive and get back on track:
- TIP #1: FOCUS
We tend to multitask instead of monotasking, but the truth is, the human brain doesn’t multitask; it switches tasks – going back and forth between them. This creates a drain on the brain so that neither task actually gets our full attention, which is why many lawyers feel exhausted at the end of the day. Going back and forth between emails, phone calls, drafting documents and engaging with lawyers, all without giving our brains a rest, is exhausting.
The human brain is really designed to focus on what’s happening in the present moment. When we become distracted by multitasking, we create a brain drain, which is not only exhausting, but also negatively impacts our work product.
What we need to do to focus on a task is take a break, maybe five or ten minutes, where we’re not focused on anything, where we’re just allowing our mind to wander – and then come back to the next task. And it’s important to note, surfing the internet does not count as a break.
- TIP #2: MINDSET
Research shows that our mindset impacts our productivity, and what’s even more interesting is that how we start our morning impacts our productivity for the entire day. Think about what you have ahead for the day and then choose the appropriate mindset.
For example, if you’re going into court to argue a motion for a summary judgment that has potentially huge consequences for your client, then you need to be in a mindset that is more focused and perhaps aggressive or passionate than if you’re going into a mediation where you want to be in a calmer, more attentive mindset. We need to align our energy with the task at hand and think about what frame of mind we need to be in for the work we need to do.
- TIP #3: MANAGE YOUR ENERGY AND YOU’LL MASTER YOUR TIME
Know your own biorhythms. For example, if you’re not a morning person, you’re not going to be as effective in a morning meeting as you would be in the afternoon. Common sense dictates then that you schedule high-value tasks, such as meetings, conference calls and drafting documents at the time of day when you know you are at your best.
What are high-value tasks? These are the tasks that move your purpose, or your firm’s purpose, forward. Checking email is not a high-value task, so you should stay away from that when you’re at your best. Check email when you need a break or are tired. Writing an email, however, can be construed as a high-value task depending on the content, so you do need to be at your best for that.
It’s important to understand which tasks are high-value and low-value, because we can waste our high-energy time and then get to the end of the day exhausted or having barely gotten anything done.
Being mindful of the connection between our energy levels, our biorhythms and the work that needs to happen, can be very effective in creating a more productive day.
- TIP #4: NUTRITION FUELS COGNITION; HYDRATE AND AVOID SUGAR
What we eat impacts our performance, and sugar, in particular refined sugar, actually puts a drag on performance. There’s a myth that sugar gives us energy. Sure, it will give us a spike, but only a momentary spike. The downside is that it actually increases stress for up to five hours. So, it is really important, for example, before you have a day in court, to eat the right foods and to make sure you’re hydrated. Our brains need water to conduct the electrical energy that creates our thoughts. Without water, we’re unable to think clearly and rapidly. As little as 1% dehydration creates a 5% decrease in cognition and 2% dehydration creates fatigue, mood disorders, irritability and headaches.
- TIP #5: RESPIRATION REGULATES STRESS AND IMPROVES PERFORMANCE
Physiologically, our respiration controls most of our human operating system, so we can, in fact, manage stress using our breath.
What happens is that most of the oxygen receptors we have are in the lower lobes of our lungs. When we’re stressed, we’re breathing into our upper chest and not getting the oxygen to the lower lobes of our lungs, which gives our brain a message that we’re in danger (stressed). So just by breathing into the lower lobes — it doesn’t have to be long or deep breaths; it can just be slow, even breaths — will oxygenate our bloodstream, sending oxygen to the brain, giving it the message that everything is okay. The brain then releases a whole cascade of calming chemicals.
The other benefit, besides calming the body, is that breathing into the lower lobes makes the brain more alert, because what happens when we’re stressed is that the thinking part of our brain (the executive function) shuts down. If you’re in court and you’re stressed, and you need to be able to think on your feet, the last thing you want is to be unable to find the words that you need.