Work-Life Balance: Time Matters
“We can make up for lost money, but we can’t make up for lost time.” – Simon Sinek
When did the phrase: “I just don’t have time” last slip out of your mouth? And what did you sacrifice as a result?
- a call with your mum?
- personal time with your partner?
- dinner with your friends?
- a yoga class?
- the kids’ school play?
- a visit to the doctor?
- a date?
It’s a reality: as lawyers, our lives are busy. With billable hour targets set at up to 2,000 hours a year and lawyers regularly working 50 to 80-hour weeks, it is no surprise that time feels scarce. Let’s be honest though: yes, work is demanding, but there are successful lawyers, with the same number of hours in the day, who manage to have a happy and fulfilling life outside of the office. What secret to life do they have that you don’t?
They make a choice.
Losing control of my time and my priorities
I want to tell you about one of the best pieces of advice I ever received.
Back in December 2007, I was a junior associate working for one of the big international law firms. My transaction was completing on 31 December and I was in charge of finalising the documentation and making sure the bank transfers ran smoothly. Needless to say, they did not. An exchange rate fluctuation kicked out the calculations and money went into the wrong accounts! It was a complete catastrophe: my Partner was yelling at me from their holiday home blaming me for the mess, the poor lady in charge of the physical transfers quit and I was the only person in the office trying to manage the fall out.
Around midday, mum called me to ask what time I’d be home for the New Year Celebrations. The conversation went something like this:
“Mum, there has been a disaster at work. I’m stressed and I just don’t have the time to talk.” “Ok love. Just let me know what time you will be at the station and we’ll come and collect you. Your grandmother is so excited to see you.” “Mum – You don’t understand. I’m the only person here. I can’t just leave. This is really important. I don’t even know if I can make it home for New Year.” “Oh, OK darling. Well, just keep us in the loop.”
I put down the phone and felt a pang of guilt soar through my veins. I could hear the disappointment in mum’s voice and I knew how upset my grandmother would be too. I really wanted to go home, but what could I do?! I didn’t have a choice.
By 4pm, the banks were closed and it was evident that the matter was not going to get resolved that day. I’d missed my train home, but managed to catch the overnight bus. I would miss the evening celebrations, but at least I would be home for New Year’s Day and the long weekend.
It was my step-father who picked me up from the bus depot. I burst into tears the minute I saw him and he gave me a big hug and listened as I recounted the story. Once I’d finished, he said:
“I’m glad you made it home, but your mum and your grandmother were really disappointed you missed last night.”
I could feel the annoyance growing inside me. “Did you not hear what I just said? I didn’t choose to miss it. I was really busy. I didn’t have the time to make my train. I couldn’t just leave!”
His response was short and simple and has remained with me ever since:
Your time matters: You always have a choice
It took me many years before I put my step-father’s advice into practice. Back then, I never really felt like I had a choice. How could I explain that dinner with my friends was more important than work? The reality was though that, back then, it wasn’t. Work was always the most important thing to me. Whether consciously or subconsciously, I chose work.
I always chose work.
It was only as I got older that I realised the negative impact that my constant choice was having on other areas of my life: poor health, insomnia, a confusing romantic life etc. Check out the article: 10 tips for lawyers who want to improve their mental health for some helpful tips to counter the negative impact of over working.
So, next time you hear yourself saying: “I’m too busy” or “I just don’t have the time”, I invite you to consciously stop and ask yourself these three questions:
“What am I prioritising here?”
“What am I sacrificing?”
“Is this the option I want to choose?”
If you are looking to re-prioritise your time, but are struggling with implementing the change, then that’s where I come in. I know how hard it is to change habitual behaviour. Amongst, other things, it triggers feelings of guilt, disloyalty and selfishness and forces you out of your comfort zone. But once you take the initial steps, the benefits of nurturing other aspects of your life become evident.