If you’re reading this on your phone or tablet while in line somewhere, I want you to stop. Right now. Disconnect from your digital pacifier, look up, look around, and notice the world you’re in at this very moment. Try to connect with it, by making a conversation, noticing something interesting, or discovering an enticing smell or texture. Do it now, I’ll wait.
That’s the simple, condensed version of how to make your life richer and more fulfilling. But I know, you’re lawyers, and you need more, much more than that!
So the expanded version goes like this:
Even as I sat writing this, I really, really wanted to check out Facebook, or answer an email, or knit, or basically do anything besides listen to my own voice. Part of that is simply one of my inner critic’s many tricks. (There are so very many, and all quite clever!)
When Pacifiers Become the Problem
But part of it is the conditioning of modern life. We walk around with this notion that we must be productive, or at least doing something, every waking second, or we have failed. At what, I’m not sure. At being a good cog in the corporate wheel, maybe. Or a good consumer. Or being on top of things, whatever that means.
Our electronic pacifiers certainly feed this behavior. With our smartphone appendage, we don’t have to be with our thoughts while standing in line, let alone observe our surroundings. We certainly don’t have to interact with people on the way to the office restroom; we can check email or Facebook, or get in a couple texts! Whoo hoo!
Yet one of the biggest complaints my clients have is that they don’t even have time to think, they’re so busy and overworked. Hmmm, really? It’s a great hairshirt to moan about. Occasionally, it’s even the reality of the situation.
But often, when I probe, I find electronic pacifiers attached to the problem. Though Facebook and other social media can create connections when used wisely, I find that for many folks, our pacifiers end up making us feel overwhelmed and alone. We stop connecting with other people, and with ourselves, when we insist on filling every 10 seconds of available time with buttons, beeps and bright shiny screens that tell you how awesome you’re not.
Down time is not wasted time. It’s necessary time that your brain needs to calm down, sort things out, rest, and renew. If you don’t have these things in your life regularly, you instead get high levels of anxiety, and usually insomnia problems, too. Both of those can trigger depression, which is so rampant among lawyers. Your brain races at night because you don’t give it a chance to find some calm during the day.
You need to process your life, to make sense of it. This is a basic human requirement, and no, even though you’re a lawyer, you’re not exempt. For extraverts, this processing comes through conversations, But most lawyers fall on the introvert side of the Meyers-Briggs, and need quiet time to be in their heads to process their lives. If you don’t get enough processing time, you start to be irritable, tense, snappy, inflexible, or impatient. Or all of them. Oh wait, didn’t I just describe 80% of all lawyers?
Processing Time: Tips for Introverts and Extraverts
Of course, lack of processing time isn’t the only cause of these behaviors, but in our mania to always be on, it’s a prime suspect until proven otherwise.
For introverts, some ways to create processing time are things like:
- Set your email refresh tone to no less than 20 minutes. Really. You don’t have to respond to an email while you’re going potty. If some jackass insists you do, call him or her back, and make sure they get the full panoply of sound effects. Voila, problem solved!
- Stop regularly checking email no later than 9pm. If you’re in the throes of a TRO or on some ginormous deal deadline, I suppose you’re going to have to bend this one. But as a daily practice, you simply cannot calm down enough to get restful sleep if you are constantly responding to 2 a.m. emails. And if you’re not rested, you’re going to do crap work.
- Use your commute time simply to think, and observe what’s going on around you. One of the prime reasons we feel so disconnected is because we are. We don’t smile at people on the train or the street. We get so wrapped up in talk radio we fail to notice the lovely little pockets of scenery along our route. Try to notice 5 new things along your commute every day.
For extraverts, I’d suggest the same strategies for email management. Also:
- Instead of texting or emailing, call a friend or loved one. Even a five-minute chat can be wonderfully renewing.
- Make sure you eat lunch away from your desk, with other people, at least twice a week. Alternatively, have a standing coffee date a couple times a week with actual humans.
- Join some kind of committee that genuinely interests you. Firm, bar, hobby, it doesn’t matter. Having regular meeting and conversation time will really help your outlook.
I actually think all of these suggestions work for introverts and extraverts, but for different reasons. They boil down to the need for processing, connection, and most of all, boundaries.
No one can set these boundaries for you. And initially, ruthlessly adhering to your new boundaries can be excrutiating. It’s like retraining a poorly trained dog; you’re going to get a lot of testing and push-back to see if you really, really mean it.
You need to mean it. This is your life and health we’re talking about here, and it doesn’t serve you even in the short run to sacrifice it on the altar of productivity. Unless your purpose in life is to be the best cog in the wheel you can be.
Somehow, I kinda doubt it.
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who helps unhappy attorneys connect with what’s important in their lives, to create happier careers and lives. Need help with that? Schedule a discounted sample session to see how coaching with Jennifer can help. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.