It will probably come as no surprise, but immigration attorneys report their practices are busy. Very busy. So, while our members are energized that their services are in demand and are pleased to be helping so many members of their community, things are hectic and balance is hard to come by. Longer days in the office and seven-day weeks take their toll. And let’s not even talk about the stress caused by the government’s seemingly constant changes to existing immigration policies. More time in the office means less time to spend with family or on your favorite activities and ‘rebalance’ your state of mind. Deadlines and demands are coming faster, causing an overload on staff and firm resources.
Welcome to the new normal.
What may be tolerated or welcomed in the short-term is a prescription for burnout in the long-term. Working under these conditions can surface or magnify existing problems including inefficient and ineffective workflow systems and processes, inadequate staff training, and failure to adopt automation and technology.
So, what can busy immigration lawyers do to avoid the almost inevitable burnout caused by working at 150% capacity? Experts recommend several strategies and tactics to help balance the workload.
Reduce Stress: Stress itself is not necessarily a bad thing; some people even thrive on stress. Our body’s reaction to stress helps us to meet the sudden demands and extra tasks that we face as busy lawyers. However, too much stress too often–chronic stress–takes its toll on our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The trick is to eliminate some of the stressors and one of the biggest stressors for solos and small firms is financial stress. Carefully evaluate the financial and ethical risks of each client matter. Make sure you are the one who decides which cases you will do pro bono, based on what you and your firm can do without sacrificing success. Secondly, focus on the process, not just the outcome. Many of us live for future moments or events, causing us to miss much of life. Consciously focus on the process of what you do, and be present, so you can enjoy each step along the way. You just might find that in some cases, the little things are the big things.
Build Resilience: We can build up our ability to handle stress and longer workweeks by doing three things: Eating right, exercising often, and getting enough sleep. You are the economic engine that powers your practice. A poorly running engine is slower and breaks down faster. If you cannot do these on your own, engage others in your office to join your healthy efforts. I know it is hard to say no to the donuts a staff member brings in or the free samples at your local bakery. But trust me, moderation now will pay off for your practice when you are resilient and healthy.
Know your Priorities: Have a list of the three things that you need or want to accomplish each day. Have a similar list for bigger items to accomplish each week. Know that despite other intrusions, those items need to be done. It is not always easy to identify the value in each task presented to you, but prioritizing so that truly important and urgent items get to the top of the list is key to success.
Reduce Distractions: Recent studies have shown that if you don’t regularly use your ability to focus and concentrate, you can actually start to lose that ability altogether. In today’s noisy, digital world, email and other device distractions often prevent us from concentrating time and mental energy on larger projects such as trial preparation or brief writing. Reverse this trend by practicing your focus and concentration. Try to build blocks of time into your workday to concentrate on getting one thing done without responding to any other requests, alerts, or distractions. Put them on that Outlook calendar so a reminder pops up for you to set aside what you’re doing and focus for a longer period on these key deliverables.
It’s great to be busy, but being too busy for too long can have adverse effects on everyone in the firm. Recognizing the issues, and addressing the root causes with proven solutions can help avoid the burnout that can damage a small law firm. Be proactive now to avoid paying a bigger price later.
There are even more ideas and solutions to be seen – in Warning: The New Normal Can Lead to Burnout. Try one or more and let us know what you think in the comments. Did one of them work for your office? Did one utterly fail or only cause you more stress? Share your insights!