As attorneys, our number one enemy tends to be the potential to burn out. The hours that are required to be a successful attorney are intense. So, I want to talk about how I’ve avoided burnout over the last 12 years of owning and operating my own law firm.
Burn out is one of the biggest pitfalls attorneys have to be careful about because we have to work so many hours while sitting down in front of a computer. It’s not healthy. One would think that an office job doesn’t come with a lot of health complications, but it really can.
It’s something that I am keenly aware about because since I opened my law firm in 2008, I really haven’t had the opportunity to walk away for any extended period of time. And by that, I mean more than a day.
As any attorney that gets into the higher levels of practice knows, it’s rare that we are truly able to shut things down and take a week off.
Likewise, if you’re playing 51 weeks a year to get to that 1 week vacation, that’s not a way to live either. We really have to enjoy and live every day, even when we’re super busy as attorneys. So how do we keep our energy up and not burn out?
Strategies for Avoiding Burn-Out as an Attorney
Here are two strategies that I’ve developed to ensure that I keep my health and my mind in the proper place.
1. You need to stay active.
You need to take care of your body by getting exercise. I think this can be one of the hardest things to get right for attorneys. There are so many demands on our time. It is incredibly easy to say, “I’m going to go to the gym today,” and then a call or an email comes in from a client that totally throws your day off and you don’t get there. If you let that happen and you let a single call or an email all of a sudden change your , then you’re never going to get to the gym.
This is how I used to view the relationship between my work and my health. I would get up in the morning, I’d start work early and I’d say, “I’m going to find the time today to get to the gym.” And as I’d start working, more emails would come in, more calls would come in and by the time I got back to everybody, it would be 6:00 or 7:00 at night. By that point, I was exhausted and there was no going to the gym then either.
So, what I started doing is creating an unnegotiable hour every day. It doesn’t matter what’s going on. I take an hour every day and go to the gym. And that hour for me is 11:00 to 12:00. I find it’s an incredibly effective hour for a couple of reasons.
One, I can get up and get right into work in the morning around 7:00, which for me is important because that’s when my mind is really sharp. I have a chance to get all the overnight email taken care of. I can kind of start working through a few things, maybe even take a few client calls.
So, by 11:00, I’ve now worked four hours and I’m ready for a break. So, I go to the gym for an hour. Now, I’m not lifting huge, heavy weights. I’m not running five miles. I’m doing a lot of stretching, lightweight lifting, and light aerobics. I’ve got some back issues, so I have to be careful about not hurting myself, but still make sure I get the blood flowing.
Whatever your personal fitness goals would be, you should handle in that one hour a day. Now, once I finish that hour, the next thing I do is I go back to my day, but I’m thinking about physical fitness all day long.
I say this because I have a standing desk at work. You’re not just sitting down all day, you’re taking breaks to stand and then you’re taking breaks to sit. So, if you have a standing desk or you think about getting one, the idea is not you stand the whole day, because that’s also is not healthy. You need to get up and get down and that really helps your body regulate things. I find when I am more productive in the hour that I’m standing because I’m fully engaged in what I’m doing as opposed to sitting down and being able to kind of have my mind wander and be more relaxed. A standing desk throughout the day coupled with the workout ends up keeping things really good.
Then, if you want to add another layer on it, a lot of us as lawyers are on the phone all day long. You need to get a really good noise-canceling headphone. I use one that truckers use because it’s so good that you can’t hear anything else. When I get on a conference call or a call with a client where I don’t need anything in front of me, I will literally walk out the door and do laps around the office. Just a light walk. But A, I get outside, I get sun on my face and B, again, I’m getting that light aerobic workout that’s so important and so healthy for anybody.
As a final note on fitness, what I do at the end of the day is I do a light, 20-minute workout- like shooting hoops or walking.
These small little breaks can make a big, big difference in your productivity.
2. You eat to eat healthy.
Now, the second part of avoiding burnout is making sure you’re eating right.
I know this goes probably without saying, but it is so hard to eat right in today’s world with all the options that are out there. How do you possibly get to a place where you’re doing the right thing? I’m not a dietician or a nutritionist, but I personally just try to cut back on foods that slow me down.
For example, for breakfast and lunch I will eat the same thing every day. Doing this leaves me no choice but to eat whatever predetermined meal I had prepared earlier. It also saves me a lot of time, because I’m, not trying to come up with my next meal. I know what I’m going to eat.
For breakfast, and this is where I could probably do a little bit better, I’m typically having some dry cheerios and cereal. I don’t put milk on it or anything like that. And I’ll couple that with berries that are typically blended into some kind of non-fat Greek yogurt for protein, and then also banana. So, I have a lot of fruit, cheerios, some water and coffee. That is the jet fuel that gets me going in the morning. By the time I get to lunch, I’m having a salad with a lot of greens and peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat for the protein. Those two things are surprisingly very filling.
One side note, though I’m not a vegetarian, I recommend avoiding meat as much as possible. If you watch any of the nutritional studies that are being put out today, meat itself, whether it’s white or red, is just not the healthiest thing for the human body. So, the more you can avoid that, the better. I certainly would avoid that in the front end of your day, where you need to be productive because it actually will slow you down by eating that.
Finally, for dinner, I typically have tons of vegetables and some whole grain pasta. Maybe we will have chicken or steak every once in a while. Sometimes I’ll even have eggs and veggies. But again, I’m trying to keep it very healthy by cooking at home.
Again, this is not easy to do. I run a business, I have three kids, and I don’t have much time. But, I’m able to figure out how to do it because I plan and I make it a priority.
Overall, I’m telling you this whole story for one reason only. I think that if you eat right and you exercise frequently, you’ll be a much happier and healthier person, which will in turn make you a more productive person.
You’ll avoid burnout because you’re taking the appropriate breaks and you’re doing it day-to-day. It’s not like, “I’m going to work a month and take three days off.” You will burn out doing that. You have to day-to-day get yourself right and enjoy your day.