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Yep, that's stress

12 Ways to Get Your Head Straight

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

You know that feeling you get when, brilliant as you almost always are, the words refuse to organize themselves into anything more than just ordinary? When the to-do list on your desk threatens to rise up and take over? When it seems that, in trying to please too many, you have pleased absolutely no one?

Yep, that’s stress.

Maybe It’s Time for Fine-tuning

Here’s something that might help. This is a list of 12 steps — both mighty and mini — that you can take to shake off the crazies and get yourself back to a balanced way of being.

1. Align the work you do with your personal values and career goals. Too often we fail to notice that the psychic pain we feel relates to the fact that we don’t enjoy the work we do. Spend time examining when you have fun at work and when you don’t. Get more of the type of work you enjoy into your life. This could mean delegating work to others, changing your practice focus or even moving out of the practice of law.

2. Lead a balanced life. A burned-out lawyer is no help to anyone. Make sure your life includes the appropriate (for you) equation of self-care, family, work, community and spiritual time.

3. Manage yourself and your commitments. Exercise your “no” muscles. Just because someone wants your time and involvement doesn’t mean you must sacrifice to deliver it. Choose to do things you want to do.

4. Value relationships. Surveys have repeatedly shown that one of the greatest sources of lawyers’ stress is a feeling of isolation. Don’t put racquetball with a friend or a conversation with a troubled peer at the bottom of your priority list. Positive human interaction feeds the soul, gives you perspective and reduces your stress indicators.

5. Be an advocate, not a critic. It is so important to be “for” something. Feel the power of making good things happen in the world. Serve your clients well by showing them how they can do something instead of focusing only on what they can’t do.

6. Mentor. Give back to the profession that called you. Spend time with less-experienced lawyers. Be a strong but kind coach for the newer members of the team. Teach a class. Tell stories. Share your insight. Be a role model.

7. Have a vision for your life. Once each year, take yourself on a daylong planning retreat. Examine your life ruthlessly. This is where it is at now. Is this how you wanted it to be? If not, what’s missing and how can you find it? What do you want more of? Less of? Develop a simple plan to move your life in your chosen direction. Share your plan with a spouse or loved one. Commit.

8. Be who you are everywhere you go. If you feel you must leave who you really are in the parking lot before entering the office or meeting with a client, that feeling is telling you something. Consciously donning a different persona means what you’re up to doesn’t fit comfortably. Something needs to change. It’s such a relief when you can just be you.

9. Do nice things for people. Surprise someone in your life with a gift. Go out of your way to make a special introduction for a client. Pay a compliment. Teach a child to ride a bike. Do it just because it feels good to see them smile.

10. Broaden your horizons. Allow your intelligence to wander — and play — beyond the borders of the profession. Read history. Write poetry. Learn about foreign cultures. Paint. Take a class in microbiology. Become expert in something fascinating. Apply your newfound perspective in the practice of law.

11. Do things because they’re the right things to do. Stressed within an inch of your sanity by “billable hours requirements”? Ask yourself whether “billing hours” really serves anyone well. Think about different ways to price your services. Reward yourself for quality, not quantity. Analyze your reasons for doing all sorts of things. Get comfortable with answers you can live with.

12. Laugh. Go on, lay back in your chair, open your mouth wide and luxuriate in a good old-fashioned belly laugh every once in awhile. It’s rejuvenating!

Illustration ©

Categories: Attorney Work-Life Balance, Daily Dispatch, Lawyer Health, You At Work
Originally published October 5, 2015
Last updated November 16, 2018
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Merrilyn Astin Tarlton Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Merrilyn is the author of “Getting Clients: For Lawyers Starting Out or Starting Over.” She has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She is a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, an LMA Hall of Fame inductee, and a past President of the College of Law Practice Management. Merrilyn was a founding partner of Attorney at Work. 

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