If there’s one thing we lawyers know how to do, it’s work. We worked twelve to sixteen hour days for three years in law school. We then often spent eighteen hour days practicing as new associates. Even today, most of us are used to working a standard ten-hour day. And that’s not time we spend at the water cooler or talking about sports. We know how to squeeze every drop of productivity juice out of every hour. That’s why I was routinely able to write 10,000 hours per week, and why I find one or more blog posts per day so doable.
Theoretically, I should be enjoying this time. I’ve worked hard for sixteen years and earned a lot. Now I’m in business for myself and I can work where I want, when I want. I can take an hour, or even a whole day, or several whole days off whenever I please. I really should stop and smell the roses, but I just can’t seem to break away from my sixteen year pattern of getting up, going to work, and going to bed. Why is that?
Too Much Time?
The problem we lawyers have, particularly when we leave the practice, is that we don’t know how to slow down. I know I don’t. I haven’t been practicing for at least four months, but I still work at least eight hours, at a minimum, every day. I spend about 70% of my time on loveafterlaw.com, and another 20% investing the money I earned from when I was a lawyer. I can’t not work at least an eight hour day. I don’t know how to stop!
Ten to one I’m not alone, though. It seems very jarring, but one of the things I’ve discovered since leaving my law practice is that normal people do not work ten, twelve, or eighteen hour days. Normal people do not work on weekends, or at least not every weekend. And non-lawyers find ways to productively use their time without pacing back and forth across the living room endlessly or going crazy with boredom. They have hobbies. They’re used to playing with their kids so they know how to do it.
But I need to learn how to do it. I am 41 years old with a whole life ahead of me, and suddenly there are all these hours in the day that never were there before. I need to connect with my kids. I need to find some hobbies. I need to make more time for T. But how do I break myself of my extreme working habits.
From Sun Tzu to the Seven Habits
Back in Air Force Officer Training School, I was introduced to The Art of War by Sun Tzu; a book I related to during my entire litigation career because, as we all know, litigation is like war, and I wanted to win. But now my priorities have changed and I’m reaching for a classic that I read in college but hadn’t picked up in awhile, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey. I had originally enjoyed this book, but as I started practicing law, I felt it did not apply to me because it makes a distinction between urgent tasks and non-urgent tasks. From my perspective everything was urgent. I think that’s why it’s resonating with me so much now—everything is not urgent.
So What are The Seven Habits?
The core of the Seven Habits is the quadrant system that Stephen Covey uses to classify the various tasks we all get approached with in life. As the diagram to the right illustrates, things get prioritized based on their urgency and on their importance. When I was practicing law, I found that a lot of what I focused on were tasks that would fit in quadrant 1, or the Crisis Quadrant, i.e. things that were urgent and important. Today, most of my life would fit into quadrant 2, things that are important but not urgent.
For example, writing this blog post is important to me, and I hope it’s important to you, but it’s certainly not urgent. For one thing, I’ve already written a blog post today. For another, nothing terrible is going to happen if I wait and finish this blog post tomorrow morning. I could get up now and watch some old reruns of MASH and I’m sure none of you would complain, or even notice the difference. But I want to finish a specific task I’m working on and writing this blog is part of that task and, by god, I hate leaving things unfinished.
I Need to Take a Breath
All the same, it would do me some good to take a step back, take a deep breath, and really think about the four quadrants and how my life really fits into them. Especially given this major life change, I should reassess that, and so should you. I need to consider where meditation fits in, where watching old reruns fits in, where playing catch with my kids fits in, where date night fits in. One thing I do know for certain, I’ve got my work cut out for me.