The ever-elusive work/life balance—is it possible to have it all in the legal world: the suit, the family, the marathon-training and the social life? Or is work/life balance just lip-service that sounds great in marketing materials but falls with a thud in practice? I think we all struggle with balancing our work and social lives, and I believe a lot of that struggle has to do with the constant-connect.
The New York Times ran an article this weekend on work/life balance in this smart-phoning, social-networking age: Who’s the Boss, You or Your Gadget? The article features several executives who boast their abilities to balance work with their personal lives, whether that means doing business while in labor, at a concert or at a christening. While I think that always being able to connect with work and home is useful, I don’t know that I’d call it work/life balance as much as work/life merging.
As the NYT article notes, with greater connectivity we actually seem to have less concentration on our work and our personal lives. When the two merge, it becomes more difficult to separate our focus. So is this good or bad? I think it’s a little of both. As executive coach Peggy Klaus points out, “We’re in a technology tsunami . . . ultimately we have to figure out how to survive it and make it work for us.” I agree with Klaus—technology is overwhelming us and enveloping us, and we cannot run from it. It’s here.
So what does that mean for lawyers, whose days rarely end when they leave the office and who are generally on call 24/7 for their clients? I think we should embrace the work/life merge to an extent. As several of those featured in the NYT article note, being connected can allow us the freedom to unlock the work handcuffs and have a social life, while still being on top of important work matters. The merge provides convenience and an opportunity to be everywhere.
But we also need to cut-off the billables sometimes and truly balance life and work, which means reserving some time solely for clients and some time solely for family, friends, and (gasp) ourselves. The NYT article spotlights individuals who work towards balance by turning off their phones, waiting to check messages, and segregating work and life with separate email addresses and communication devices.
These options are starts. What it really comes down to for me is balancing your priorities and deciding which work matters are five-alarms (note to workaholics: you cannot pick every assignment) and when your personal life deserves 100% of your focus. Successfully prioritizing your work and personal lives equally and devoting yourself fully to each of these priorities build true work-life balance.
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