ILNews

Spring Break?

March 31, 2010
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Many of you reading this will have just come back from a much-needed and muchdeserved "getaway" during the busy season of "Spring Break." This season comes with crowded airports, shoeless and beltless security lines, packed planes, and beaches busting with sunbathers. It has all the fun of children off, BlackBerries off, and time off from the office. For those of you who braved travel during this period, you have come back either really refreshed or needing a real vacation. For those of you who opted to stay behind, you deserve a break. As the trees bud and the nights stay lighter longer, now is a good time to refresh yourself in the practice of law and give yourself a "break" that doesn't come with sun or sand.

A good lawyer is a happy lawyer. Sounds corny, but it's true. Long hours, heavy workloads, increased pressures from emails and other instant-reply expectations, not to mention the current economic climate, these all play a factor in attorney burnout. There are tips out there to help de-stress your day, streamline your work, ease your mind, increase focus, and give you something concrete to combat lawyer lethargy. From other bar associations grappling with this issue, to professional firms and motivational sites, the Internet has a plethora of information on this subject. As I prepared to write this article, I "surfed" for information on increasing attorney satisfaction and found some quick and easy tips that are worth sharing.

Controlling certain workplace factors can help to minimize the risk of burnout. In an article published in the Minnesota Bench and Bar, six key controllable factors were identified to help curb attorney dissatisfaction, including: workload/demands; control over work; rewards; community/culture; fairness; and firm values. These probably come as no surprise to many, but addressing these in a meaningful way is likely on a long list of things to do in your spare time. The article has concrete suggestions, such as focusing on rewards and positive feedback (send public praise as routinely as you do reports of hours worked), something easy to do and "psychologically powerful"; creating a team environment and unity of purpose (is everyone "rowing in the same direction?"); and establishing and communicating core values to eliminate internal conflicts with competing interests such as billable hours and pro bono service.

Practical, technical advice included creating email filters to sort urgent matters from those that can wait. If you are like most and have fallen prey to the never-ending email in-box, filters can help. They allow you to break down and sort unmanageable amounts of unread messages into smaller folders categorized by project, priority and context. A few wellspent minutes with your computer tool bar can be a quick solution to email madness. Another time-management tip is to avoid checking personal emails in the morning. Rather, focus your morning and quite possibly your most productive time on the more challenging or difficult matters you don't want to tackle. Getting those out of the way first creates a sense of satisfaction that carries through the day.

Motivational sites had catchier titles such as: "Get Smart!," highlighting the need to create your own self-fulfillment by examining, prioritizing, and re-visiting your personal and professional goals; and "Make Slack!," emphasizing the importance of fostering creative thinking by putting some slack and down time into your schedule. I have often read that a mid-day break is essential to a sharp mind and maintaining focus.

As would be expected, one of my favorite "burnout cures" was as simple as they come: change your mindset and make work fun. While many things are beyond our control, our perception of work is not one of them. We often worry about taking too long socializing in the hallway, sharing a funny story when the work is piled high, or "wasting" time on light-hearted matters that don't require the seriousness that our profession demands. Perception is reality. A positive outlook and some good old-fashioned humor goes a long way toward increasing satisfaction in our practice.

Whether just back from a quick trip or desperately needing one, now is a good time to take a break from your daily routine to make one positive change for you and those around you. The effects of this will last longer than a tan, and you don't even need to take your shoes and belt off.
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