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How to Be Productive When You’re a Depressed Lawyer

By Dan Lukasik

Depression doesn’t want to do anything and never will. Dan Lukasik on the struggle to get things done when you’re a depressed lawyer.

depressed lawyer

Getting things done when you are depressed or have depression symptoms is tough. You have difficulty getting going in the morning. Your concentration is less than optimal. You may feel worn-out or be sleep-deprived. Your motivation is low.

Does this sound familiar? If you’re struggling with these symptoms, you’re not alone.

A 2016 study of nearly 13,000 currently practicing lawyers from 19 states found that approximately 28 percent struggle with some form of depression. This rate is several times higher than for the general population.

The Demands of Work Don’t Stop When You’re Depressed

So, how can you still be productive when depressed?

Because depression affects the brain, lawyers need to go about getting things done differently when slumping.

In the book “Get It Done When You’re Depressed,” the authors spell out the maladaptive things depressives tell themselves when trying to get things done — and how this actually leads to things not getting done:

  • You decide there’s no use in starting if you don’t have the desire for the project.
  • You search for the feeling of wanting to get something done even when you know that lack of motivation is a normal symptom of depression.
  • You wait so long to get a good feeling about what you need to do that you never even get started.

The takeaway is that you cannot wait around until you feel motivated enough to be productive.

How Other People Do It

Ideally, this is how things normally work: You are inspired, move forward, and get things done.

That is not how the mind of a depressed person works. And it’s even more so in the morning, the time when many depressed folks have difficulty with drive and focus.

So, after you get up and have your coffee, recognize that to get things done you will have to actually start doing things. Only then will the motivation follow.

To Get Things Done, You Can’t Wait Until You “Feel Like It”

Remember, depression doesn’t want to do anything and never will. It’s an inert illness, not an active illness. If you wait until you “feel like it” to start something, you’ll wait forever.

If your depression is mild to moderate, push until you feel even a small sense of accomplishment, and hold on to that. In the process, be practical and realistic about what you want to get done that day. Take it slow. Start with the “low-hanging fruit” — return some simple emails or clean and organize your desktop.

Build some momentum.

Keep Your Day in Perspective

Years ago, when I first started struggling with depression as a lawyer, I would wake up feeling depressed and conclude that the whole day was shot. “What’s the point?” I would tell myself. “I’m just going to feel like crap anyway.”

I have learned over the years that a better approach is to think of my depression as subject to change in intensity throughout the day. Just because I had a crummy morning does not mean the afternoon will play out that way.

If you pay attention, you’ll notice how your depression ebbs and flows.

Categories: Lawyer Anxiety and Depression, Lawyer Productivity, Well-Being
Originally published September 6, 2018
Last updated July 6, 2023
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Dan Lukasik Dan Lukasik

Dan Lukasik is Director of the Workplace Well-Being Program for the Mental Health Association in Buffalo, N.Y. He lectures on the topics of stress, anxiety and depression in the legal profession, and does on-site, CLE-accredited programs for law firms and bar associations. He is creator of the award-winning website and his work has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The National Law Journal, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, on CNN and other national and international publications. He has lectured at many law schools, including Harvard and Yale. Follow him @DanLukasik.

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