Dear LiL: I am single, without kids and am often asked to take on additional work resulting in excessive time demands. Any suggestions on how I can better manage this? Signed ~ Trying to Change
Dear Trying to Change:
I am married with twins but I struggle with the same issue.
I planned to start this blog response at 8 am this morning when I got to the office. It is now 10:23 pm and I am writing this from home in my pj’s.
Between now and then, I responded to numerous “urgent” and non-urgent emails, had a meeting with an expert, spoke to multiple associates about various file issues, signed letters and drafted a mediation brief. I also set rates for a new hire, made arrangements for an upcoming marketing trip, liased with a partner about articled student hires and took a client out for lunch. I rushed out of the office to hit the gym, picked up my kids from the grandparents, bathed and put them to bed, did some banking, then ordered groceries online only for my computer to crash. A typical Thursday.
I think many women who end up in law are similarly “Type A” personalities who take on too much. However, recognizing that you need to take proactive steps to correct the trend is the first step towards fixing it.
Stand up for yourself and don’t be afraid to say no. Volunteering for every committee, working on every important file and exhausting yourself when you leave the office does not win you any special prize in the long run.
As a lawyer who assigns work, I would rather be told that someone is too busy or needs a different deadline than receive something late or of poor quality.
What are you spending your time doing at the office? Are there tasks that do not require your personal attention? Can they be done by your assistant, your paralegal or another lawyer? If so, delegate, delegate, delegate.
If the tasks do require your attention, what is the real deadline? Tackle what is most urgent but plan ahead so you have sufficient time to get things done in the future. Be realistic about how long tasks will take so you are not setting yourself up for failure.
Keep an eye on your targets and how much time you spend on billable and non-billable tasks each month. If you get to the end of the month and see you are way over your targets, think about why this is and if something can be done differently in the next month.
It is your job alone to set boundaries for yourself and think strategically about what is the best use of your time. Even if you don’t “technically” have to leave the office by 6 pm, try to keep a regular schedule. Being single without kids doesn’t make your time any less valuable than the time of others.
Law is not an easy career. It can be demanding and frustrating but is also challenging and rewarding. Hopefully you will be in it for the long run.