Stress Awareness Month

What’s the one thing that stresses more lawyers out more than anything else?

Here’s a clue – it’s not what you might think!

This April is Stress Awareness Month. This got me thinking about the things that we find at TCC stress most lawyers out.

The issue that immediately came to mind is not what you might expect.

It’s *not* being busy.

It’s the fallow periods. The times when you are (shock, horror) able to leave the office at 5pm.

Whaaaaat? I hear you cry.

Aren’t lawyers chronically overworked? Aren’t those quiet times the ones we all long for?

Well yes, but the problem is that (due to the chargeable time system), lawyers’ sense of self-worth is inextricably bound up with productivity. So, during the busy periods, even if we’re exhausted after a long day, we still get a nice little buzz out of seeing those chargeable hours clocked up. That little hit can make all the slog worth it.

And it’s nice to be in the flow of things. The days pass quicker. We feel useful.

Over time, our brains become hardwired to associate satisfaction with attaining targets and tangible metrics. Anything else just isn’t good enough.

It’s during the quiet times when we’re not in the flow of things that we start to feel directionless. Our self-esteem starts to dribble away. We get paranoid about whether we’re about to get a tap on the shoulder and asked to leave, especially if colleagues are still busy.

At TCC, we talk with a lot of lawyers in therapy and coaching about what they can do during these quieter times to keep their spirits up, stay buoyant, and find some focus.

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Sorry, it’s structure…

I know it sounds boring but most people really do thrive with structure and deadlines. Without that, everything goes a bit wibbly wobbly. So, during quiet times, and in the absence of external deadlines and structure, we have to create them ourselves.

It’s worth trying the Pomodoro technique or a variation of the same during these periods – It’s a way of structuring time to achieve the most amount of focus. Breaking down tasks into bitesize chunks and being disciplined about taking breaks. It’s a good discipline to get into when things are quiet.

  1. Look in the mirror…

Not literally. If you do, with the extra time you have, you’ll find yourself focusing on all your perceived imperfections and blemishes…

No, what I mean is these are the times to reflect on where you’re at. Lawyers never normally have time to do that. So we end up making the same mistakes/falling into the same traps again and again and never taking stock or learning from them. This is the time to think about that tricky client who you often repeat unhelpful dynamics with, such as avoiding their calls or getting into antagonistic conversations with. What is the pattern you keep repeating? What could you try that’s different? Think about a matter you’ve worked on recently. Consider: ‘what lessons have I learnt from this case?’, ‘what did I do well?’, ‘what training do I need to get to help me with this’?

  1. Celebrate the mini-wins

This is the time to tick off some of those annoying life admin things that always get shoved to the bottom of the to do list. And, as cheesy as it sounds, you need to create a sense of accomplishment and achievement around these (usually thankless) tasks. This is the time to attempt to sort out that home insurance you’ve been putting off for ages. And we all know how annoying it is to have to call customer service lines. So make yourself a nice cup of coffee. Get a notepad and colouring pencils and do some drawing as you make the call. Then, you’ll have something pleasurable associated with it.

Break your to do lists down into small chunks so you can derive as much satisfaction as possible from ticking things off. So, after you’ve made the call, even if you didn’t manage to sign up to the damn thing, give yourself a pat on the back for making the call. Give yourself a tick on the list.

  1. Think strategy

This is the time to think strategically about your career and your social media presence (if you’re into that sort of thing). Again, lawyers usually have no time to do this.

So identify three people whose careers you admire who you’re going to make contact with and suggest a coffee or a chat.

Revamp your Linked In or Twitter profile.

Explore the possibilities in your workplace that aren’t all about chargeable time. Have a chat with someone in the marketing team about the plans for your team and what you can get involved in.

See what pro bono opportunities are available.

  1. You are more than a lawyer

Finally, and at the risk of sounding like a robot, this is also the time to think about your personal life in a more structured way. I love the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen Covey. It includes a to-do list where you identify and list tasks for the week that relate to all the different roles in your life, not just work-related. So, it includes ‘brother’, ‘mum’, ‘daughter’, ‘sister’ as well as ‘employee’. Use this time to weed your mum’s garden for her, buy your sister’s birthday present, and have a look online for resources to help your kid with his phonics homework. Tick these off your to-do list. The beauty of this weekly to-do list is it reminds you of your values and priorities that are about more than the demon chargeable time clock.

And finally…

The world of law is a reactive one in which we become accustomed to firefighting. These quieter periods of time allow you to bring a bit of planning and strategy into the mix. If you can bring yourself to try any of these suggestions, you’ll start to feel a lot more in control when things get crazy again (as they always do).

If you’d like to chat more about managing stress, get in touch with us on

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