Stress-busting strategy: Allow Yourself to Be Human (i.e. acknowledge your limits)
I’ve always hated admitting that I have limits. Physical limits, mental limits, limits on what I can do, and how many people I can help. I would find it frustrating that I actually needed to do those human things like sleep, eat healthy, exercise, have hobbies, relax, and take care of myself when I’m sick. They just take up so much time! And how, I would ask myself, can I get done all the things I want to get done when I am spending 8 hours a day sleeping; 2 hours a day preparing, eating and cleaning up after meals; 1 hour a day on personal hygiene; 1 hour a day exercising; 1 hour a day pursuing other interests; 1 hour a day commuting; and 1 hour a day relaxing? I haven’t even added in spending time with friends and family and I’m already at 15 hours! And we only get 24 per day! So that leaves 9 left for being productive and spending time with the people that matter most to me. That hardly seems like enough time.
But all of those things are important, and what I've realised is that after a while, trying to pare them down or eliminate them altogether will inevitably take its toll.
Why? Because - as much as we lawyers hate to admit it - we are human. We just spend most of our time pretending not to be.
For example, think of the lawyer who spends 10 hours or more per day in the office (and this is not uncommon). Something is being cut. It is healthy eating? Family? Friends? Sleep? All of the above? It will likely depend on the lawyer - and I can't say I haven't been there so I’m not going to lecture you on it - but I will ask you to just stop for a second and take note of how you are spending your time. And I’m not talking about a crazy day or week here and there – but overall, big picture, are you consistently neglecting to be human?
Now you might say... I do allow myself to be human, I just don’t need as much sleep and personal time as some other humans might. I have hobbies you may argue - I keep on top of the new case law in my field, teach CLEs, take clients out golfing, and go to networking events. And I can function just fine with a 5 minute shower and a 10 minute lunch while sitting at my desk, thank you very much. Spending more time on those things might be “needs” for some humans, just not me.
Firstly, I know all of the excuses and rationalizations for deluding yourself into thinking you are superhuman because I’ve used them a million times. And that’s just it, if you have to rationalize it, it you have to convince yourself its ok, then there is a voice somewhere deep inside that is arguing the other side - a voice that is trying to tell you that you are ignoring your human limits.
So what I would say in response to the argument that you are somehow different – and I still have to say this to myself sometimes – is, you’re not listening. You’ve tuned yourself out. The voice that knows your limits is there. And if you ignore it long enough it will force you to listen to it by manifesting in some kind of illness or other negative circumstance in your life.
So listen to your inner voice. And not only because it will get you later if you don’t (and it will), but also because that voice knows better than you do what will make you more productive. And when you start listening, you will likely find that often what will make you more productive is simply doing less (for more on this see my previous post on how to get more done by sleeping).
So be human I say, its all we are in the end.