Take Control for the Holidays

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The stresses of the holiday season are well known. Whether self-induced or not, the pressures seem to affect everyone.

Lawyers are not immune. The end of the year is typically when firms of all sizes emphasize getting last payments in hand, a regular source of stress.

And even lawyers who are relatively secure in their practices feel stress from the fear of a major tax-law change, another market crash or other factors beyond their control.

Add the demands of finding time to meet regular client demands while still fulfilling personal and family obligations and the pressure can be paralyzing.

From the time they enter law school, attorneys are trained to think they always know what needs to be done, and that they can do it themselves if they just work hard enough and fast enough. Pushing yourself through the holidays on that maxim is simply asking too much.

Lawyers facing such an impasse can turn the unknown into the known simply by taking concrete steps to do it. Here are three examples.

  • Prioritize. Each night, create a list of priorities, just for tomorrow. In the morning, start at the top. At the end of the day, re-prioritize what is left for tomorrow. As part of this, set boundaries with clients for how much work you can do and when you can do it during the holidays. Such actions put you in control, reducing stress.

  • Relax. Remember that the billable hour is only a method of accounting; it's not the reason for practicing law. Utilize the holiday spirit to remind yourself that you work as a lawyer because you love helping people and want to take care of your family. You can do all three during the holidays without imposing a billable-hour target.

  • Communicate. Don't just worry about the status of your clients; call and ask if you can drop in for a friendly, no-cost visit just to convey the compliments of the season. Don't worry only about how your practice is doing; sit down and get an outside perspective from a coach or a colleague based on that person's viewpoint. By nature, we humans are a gregarious species and need to be connected with others. The holidays are the perfect time.

  • Plan. If you want to strengthen your practice for the coming year, assess what worked best in 2012, set goals for the upcoming year, plan how best to implement them, and decide how you will measure success.

Simply completing that process will pay dividends when the calendar turns to 2013 by allowing you to hit the ground running and begin the new year with positive momentum, instead of wallowing in the chaos of the post-vacation hangover.

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