One thing I didn’t consider when pursuing a career in law is whether I was prepared to sacrifice ‘me time’.
Working long hours, on weekends, bank holidays and lunch breaks can be the usual practice at a lot of law firms. When you’re a trainee or paralegal, you may feel pressured to prove yourself by putting in extra hours at the office and making yourself available for every event, networking or otherwise. Also, the nature of the job means you may need to be on call for an out-of-hours emergency.
Working through the pandemic, I have certainly struggled with balancing work with my general life. However, below are a few tips I have adopted to ensure I have a healthy work/life balance.
Office versus home
When given the option of working from home, I decided to return to the office full time. Shocking, I know, but I see my home as a place of rest and respite, and I didn’t want to turn my space into an office. I find that by separating the two worlds I’m less likely to take my work home with me and lose my balance.
Read my blog post for more: ‘Working from home – a blessing or a curse?’
Managing client’s expectations
I discovered the more I made myself available to my clients, the more I spoke to them during late evenings and on weekends. As a rule of thumb, I explain to clients that should they need to contact me out of office hours, I will return their call as soon as I am available to do so. To help me stick to this, I leave my work phone at work during the week and only take it home with me on the weekends.
Time is precious
Most days, it seems like there are never enough hours in the day and your to-do list doesn’t stop growing! In the past, I felt compelled to stay working into the evening. However, I noticed, after working late consistently, I felt burnt out, unmotivated and didn’t enjoy working anymore. I began to leave the office strictly at 5.30pm (or latest 6:00pm) and this made a massive difference to my wellbeing and general attitude towards work.
Take your leave
When work is busy, it can seem like there’s never a good time to take time off and the thought of returning from leave to hundreds of emails can be quite daunting! Please, don’t let this put you off, make the most of your annual leave allowance. You don’t always have to use your leave in bulk. Most places give you the option of taking a full day, half a day or even a quarter day of leave. Personally, if I have had a stressful few weeks at work, I like to take half a day’s leave in the afternoon so I can clock off early, have some fun and regroup.
Take regular breaks
Let’s be real, taking a full-hour lunch is a mythical concept. For me, it’s definitely a one-off rather than the norm. I have learned a simple yet effective way to find time for a break without blocking off a whole hour of the working day and that is by taking shorter, but regular breaks.
I usually take short breaks once I have finished a task and am about to start a new task. For example, after finishing task A in the morning, I might walk to the local coffee shop and get my morning coffee, walk back, and get started on task B. Later in the day, I might go for a short walk around the block, return, and leave again to eat my lunch outside and return to the office and get on with my remaining tasks. In doing this, I find a way to have time for myself during the working day on the days (90% of the days) that I can’t fit in a full lunch break.
A career in law is notorious for working hard and working long hours. If we are honest with ourselves, we sometimes overwork to the extent that we compromise our wellbeing.
The above are small, simple yet effective ways to improve your work/life balance and have certainly helped me to become a more balanced individual and enjoy my job even more.
I hope that they are useful to you too, as you embark on your journey into the law!
For more on how to achieve a work-life balance: