Finding the time for self-care amid your demanding career can seem like an impossible task.
We all know that the legal profession is notoriously tough. Most of us expect a legal professional to face long hours, complex issues, challenging personalities, and high-stakes responsibilities.
These factors can lead to severe consequences like chronic stress, burnout, and severe stress-related illnesses.
To combat that, you must make yourself a priority. You might worry that taking time for yourself will only lead to work piling up and causing even more stress, but there are ways to protect your health without neglecting work.
Let us give you some of our top tips for making this happen.
#1. Reevaluate your boundaries
Setting boundaries is important in all aspects of life, but it can be exceptionally crucial when your workload seems endless.
Although many of us have been conditioned to think of boundaries as some dramatic assertion of self, they don’t have to be. Boundaries are just places where you say “no,” even if you say it quietly.
Work boundaries can be as simple as turning off email notifications after 7 PM, or setting aside your weekends for personal pursuits. It can also mean that you don’t volunteer to take on someone else’s workload when they’re busy, even though it feels like the “nice” thing to do.
Establishing boundaries doesn’t mean sacrificing commitment to your job.
To the contrary, boundaries are all about sustaining your mental and physical health so you can be a more dedicated legal professional over the long haul.
Reflect on your last couple of months and remember times when you felt like work was overwhelming. What boundaries can you set that might have prevented those situations?
#2. Master the art of time management
Law school teaches young professionals a lot of things, but it rarely teaches them the essential skill of managing time effectively.
That’s too bad, because confident time management can be a game-changer for your career.
Many of us have a plethora of useful tools built into our existing phones and computers. Things like calendars, to-do lists, reminders, and time-tracking apps allow us to delineate specific slots for different tasks.
As long as you stick to the schedule you set for yourself, you’ll likely find a lot of stress relief as a result of your efforts. Imagine how much better you’ll feel when you can get the same amount of work done with less time and mental effort.
Don’t forget, however, that your highly organized calendar should absolutely include things like self-care and time away from the office. Making room in your work day doesn’t mean there’s space for more work — you’re using efficiency techniques to make room for yourself.
#3. Take advantage of your commute
Nobody likes being stuck in the car in the middle of rush hour. Nonetheless, long commutes can be turned into meaningful self-care opportunities.
With your collection of mobile devices, your opportunities are endless:
- Listen to an uplifting podcast
- Absorb a guided meditation (probably best when you don’t have to drive as part of your commute)
- Take in an audiobook
- Take some time to breathe and plan your day
Whatever you do, just make sure that you spend this captured time on your wellness as opposed to things like stressful phone calls, dwelling on workplace disputes, or lamenting the infuriating driving habits of those sharing the freeway with you.
#4. Prioritize physical activity
We all know that exercise is important, so why is it so hard for many of us to make time for it?
Among other things, exercise releases endorphins which naturally elevate your mood and reduce stress. These effects are maximized when you get at least 30 minutes of moderate activity (or 15 minutes of vigorous activity) for at least 5 days a week.
I know, I know…I can hear you now: “How am I supposed to make time to go to the gym? I’m reading this article because I DON’T have time!”
The good news is, you don’t have to.
Even a quick 15-minute walk each day can make a significantly positive impact on your mental health. Schedule yourself a break and get moving. Plus, it can buy you the critical alone time that so many of us crave when we work in a chaotic office environment.
You can also fit little bits of activity into your workday without leaving your desk.
Grab these free wellness cheat sheets that you can print and post as a reminder. They include exercises, meditation tips, and more to help you work a little more wellness into your day.
#5. Early to bed, early to rise
Allegedly, there are people in life who love to get up early. I’ve never been one of them, but I’m sure they exist.
Nonetheless, there are some true benefits to getting up early – even if you just shift your routine to wake up 30 minutes earlier than usual.
Once you commit to giving yourself these extra minutes, use them exclusively for non-work activities like eating a balanced breakfast, meditating, or taking your adorable dog for a walk.
The point is to start your day with something other than just getting ready for work so that work isn’t the reason you got out of bed. It’s a small shift, but that little bit of extra focus on yourself in the morning can help set the tone for your whole day.
#6. Make lunch sacred
Your lunch break should become a non-negotiable part of your day. Get away from your desk, eat a delicious meal that fuels your body, and if possible, take a quick walk to clear your mind.
Maybe you already feel guilty at the very idea of taking regular lunch breaks.
Respectfully, get over it.
The simple act of taking time out for lunch can boost your productivity. So, you see, you’re actually doing the firm a favor by taking this time. Also, depending on what state you live in, there’s a good chance that your employer is legally obligated to give you a lunch break.
If you need to schedule your lunch break and physically leave your workspace, do it. Turn off notifications. Set that boundary.
#7. Delegate when possible
You really don’t have to do everything yourself. In fact, trying to do everything yourself is hurting both you and your law firm.
There are things on your plate that only you can do, and there are a whole lot of things that just need to get done by anyone who has the time and some basic understanding. One of the best things you can do for your career (and your life) is learn to delegate tasks that don’t require your unique skills and expertise.
If you have trouble delegating, there’s a good chance that you struggle to let go of control. Work on recognizing that other people are capable, and it’s okay if people don’t accomplish tasks in the exact same way you do.
Once you do that, you may find you suddenly have time for activities that enhance your well-being.
That, in turn, might help you deal with some of the anxiety of letting go.
#8. Learn to say no gracefully
Even though many of us have been raised to do whatever we’re asked, saying no can be empowering.
If your plate is already full, it’s okay to decline additional responsibilities. In fact, saying yes to additional tasks you don’t have time for could actually harm your career.
Perhaps more importantly, saying no to extra work allows you to say yes to yourself.
This goes beyond requests to add items to your to-do list.
If an exhausting coworker invites you out to happy hour, you can politely decline. When your kid’s school asks you to make some homemade muffins for the bake sale fundraiser, you can offer to donate some cash instead. Any time someone asks for your time and attention, default to “no” unless it’s something you really want to do.
#9. Mindfulness matters
Mindfulness practices like meditation don’t require hours each day or a Ph.D. in spirituality.
All you need is five minutes and a commitment to clearing your mind.
Even if this is all you do to prioritize yourself during each work day, you’ll find that this simple practice will drastically reduce stress levels and improve mental clarity.
Maybe meditation isn’t your thing, and that’s okay. Consider starting a gratitude journal, learning mindful breathing, or taking up yoga instead. Devote five minutes here and there throughout your week or start a new hobby — just make sure that you find something to keep you centered.
#10. Celebrate small wins
Every accomplishment, no matter how small, deserves recognition – even if you’re the only one who recognizes it.
The truth is that practicing law is hard, but you’re doing it for the betterment of your clients, and each step along that journey is important. Every tiny milestone matters, and by noticing and celebrating your progress, you’ll actually feel like things are getting done.
You don’t need a parade or a three-layer cake every time you check something off your to-do list.
Still, celebrating small wins can boost your morale, keep you motivated, and help you see that what you do is actually important.
P.S. It’s still okay to work hard
We understand that your career is a significant part of your identity, and the hours and energy you invest there are deeply rewarding.
That’s perfectly fine.
No one is suggesting that you become anything other than the workhorse you pride yourself on being.
The key is to find a balance that allows for meaningful work productivity while also taking care of your mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing. The saying is true: you can’t pour from an empty cup. Take time away from work to fill yourself up so that you can truly be at your best when it counts.