Achieving Work-Life Balance As A Lawyer

by Marketing May 23, 2022 ,

The legal profession is notorious for long hours and poor work-life balance – many firms bill by the hour, so it’s easy to see how balance becomes less of a priority when you’re trying to reach business goals.

But over the last two years, the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic have given many people a new perspective on life and priorities, and improving work-life balance has become more important.

Of course, sometimes it seems like it’s impossible to achieve work-life balance. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development categorises working more than 50 hours a week as “very long hours” – a working schedule that wouldn’t be uncommon for many lawyers.

If you’re looking to make some changes to improve your work-life balance, it’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as “perfect” work-life balance. It’s an ongoing process that you’ll need to continue working towards, not something you can do once and tick off the to-do list.

Understanding Stress and Imbalance

Everyone experiences stress from time to time – the key is to have the tools in place to manage it so you can minimise its impact on your life. In high pressure roles, this is especially important.

Poor work-life balance can increase the risk of mental health challenges, and stress is a natural response that many people struggle with. Small business owners may be particularly susceptible as they often carry out multiple work functions. Finding the right work-life balance can also be harder for women, as they are still more likely to be responsible for more unpaid activities outside of work, such as housework or childcare.

Symptoms of stress at work might include difficulty concentrating, missed deadlines, feeling irritable, low in energy or withdrawn, or not working to your usual standard. It’s important to pay attention to these warning signs, as chronic stress can lead to emotional and physical exhaustion, also known as burnout.

Although it may seem counterintuitive when you’re busy, prioritising your work-life balance will help improve your productivity and increase your job satisfaction. That’s why it’s becoming more common for businesses to implement policies that encourage hybrid working, unlimited leave or a four day work week. If you lead a small firm or are a sole practitioner, unlimited leave or a four day work week might not be feasible, but using a cloud-based practice management software like mattero is a simple way to make hybrid working practical.

How to Effectively Set Goals

So what can you do to prevent or mitigate workplace stress and improve your work-life balance? Knowing what you want to change is a good place to start. Here are some tips on setting goals effectively so that you can implement real change in your life.

The first step is to think about your values – what is most important in your life? What makes you happy? What do you find rewarding? These should be relevant to both your personal and professional life. Write down your values or keep a note on your phone so you can refer back to them. As you start to set your goals, you’ll need to keep your values in mind.

Now start to think about what you want to achieve, both personally and professionally. What do you want to be different in two months’ time? What about in five years, or ten?
Once you’ve figured out what you want to change, think about how you’d like to get there, and you can start to set goals for improving your work-life balance.

Your goals should be specific, realistic and include a timeframe. You might find it useful to share them with someone else so you can talk about your progress, or even set up a rewards system to keep you motivated.

Make your changes one at a time and get the key pieces of the puzzle in place first. Making incremental changes allows you to adjust to your new expectations for yourself. It takes time to cultivate new habits, and changing too many things at once can foster all-or-nothing thinking – how many of us manage to stick to all our New Years’ resolutions for more than a few weeks?

Remember, if you make everything a priority, it means nothing really is – so focus on the goals that most reflect what’s important to you first. Start with a small change, like getting off the bus two stops early twice a week so you can fit a short walk into your evening or working from home two days this week so the time you’d normally spend commuting can be spent with your family.

Do you have the right practice management strategies in place to support these goals? Having the right tools for work is important for work-life balance. With mattero you can work from anywhere on any device, so you don’t need to worry about forgetting files at work or needing to carry them home from the bus stop.

If you find you’re not meeting your goals straight away, that’s ok! A goal is something to work towards, so keep track of your progress and celebrate improvements.

Building a Schedule That Truly Works For You 

Scheduling might seem like a boring administrative task that you avoid outside of the office, but it can actually be your secret weapon when you’re working towards a better work-life balance. Using a schedule can help you plan around your non-negotiables – saying “no” is much easier if you have a prior commitment in the calendar. Start with the essentials, things you absolutely need to find time for, like your child’s Saturday netball games, date night with your partner, or even a dedicated lunch break away from your desk.

Make sure you’re communicating changes that might be unexpected to the people around you. If your colleagues are used to getting immediate responses to out-of-hours emails, let them know that you’re trying stick to working hours and establish a process for emergencies or genuinely urgent situations. You could also include your working hours in your email signature.

Talk to your family and friends about how you’re feeling and enlist their help. Plan regular catchups with friends and make your time with them as much of a priority as any other appointment in your calendar. Schedule in family time and perhaps think about regular activities that you could do together. If you plan for Friday night pizza and a movie with the kids every week, it will soon become a habit.

Make the most of the tools available to you, like setting up your phone to turn on personal focus mode automatically outside of working hours so you don’t get distracted by work notifications and can be more present in your personal life.

Practising the Art of "Me Time"

If you’re reading this article, chances are you struggle to put your own needs first amongst competing priorities. It’s time to stop thinking of “me time” as a luxury and start thinking of it as a necessity – you matter, and your wellbeing matters.

You might have heard of the oxygen mask principle: if oxygen masks are needed on a flight, you fit your own mask first because if you don’t, you might run out of oxygen before you can help others. The same applies to other aspects of your life: if your own needs aren’t being met, it becomes difficult to meet others’ needs.

With this in mind, you should practice setting boundaries with yourself as much as with others. If you work from home, have a dedicated office space, even if it’s just a desk in the corner of the living room. Think about your screen time and consider setting a goal to minimise it before bedtime. Practice saying “no” and consider short scripts you can use to make it less uncomfortable.

Conversely, when something makes you feel fulfilled, refreshed, or energised, pay attention to that feeling and make sure the activity that inspired it is a part of your regular schedule.

In busier times when you’re finding it hard to make time for yourself, get creative. If you can’t find time for date night or to sit down with a book this week, instead try scheduling a phone date for the drive to work or listening to an audiobook while you cook the dinner. It’s ok to be flexible with how you meet your goals.

Saving Time With Legal Technology

Good work-life balance is easier said than done, so you want to make sure you have the right tools in place at work. Your goal might be to leave work on time every day this week, but if an urgent deadline pops up, sometimes you don’t have much choice.

mattero can help with that.

With mattero, document management is streamlined, your matter documents are all saved in one place, and forms and precedents are saved as templates with dynamic merge fields. You can record time easily and simplify billing by synching to Xero. Brief Templates have pre-configured structures and sections so preparing sets of documents is simple. Emails and attachments can be saved directly to your matter with Outlook integration, and you can simplify processes with automated tasks and reminders.

In short, mattero supports you to work smarter, not harder. You probably didn’t become a lawyer because you wanted to focus on administration work, so if you can spend more of your time focusing on the parts of your practice that you do find fulfilling, you’ll find your work becomes more rewarding.

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Work-life balance is an ongoing process, and your progress won’t always be linear. There will always be ups and downs, but you’ll be able to cope with the busy weeks better if you’ve got the right tools in place already.

Continue to prioritise your wellbeing in times of stress, thinking back to your values so you have a reminder of why. All any of us can do is our best, and it will never be perfect – despite what social media might show you! Your inbox or your laundry basket will never be empty for long – and that’s ok. 

If you need more support or help, please reach out to Beyond Blue online here or by phone on 1300 22 4636. Heads Up also offers support and resources for small businesses here.  


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