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Is Your 40-Hour Work Week Killing You?

Every week I talk to elder law attorneys who tell me the same thing — they have absolutely no time during the workday. Whether it is working on a client’s case, managing an employee, or developing a legal marketing plan, each task remains only partially finished because they don’t have the time they need to follow through and complete anything. As a result, they spend each day rushing from one time-sensitive deadline to the next, and frequently feel they will never be able to catch up.

When are they getting their work done? During non-business hours. At night, once everyone’s gone home for the day, and on the weekends. It’s the 40-hour work week no one talks about.  Or worse yet, the one we wear as a badge of honor in elder law since it demonstrates just how important we are in our practices. This is the work week that starts around six at night and lasts until midnight during the week and incorporates at least one day on the weekend.

Burning the candle at both ends

I can't say it was different for me when I started in my elder law practice, especially early in my career. I loved the after-hours time and the weekends because this was when the magic happened. It was how I got things done. It didn’t matter if I was focused on client work, referral development or marketing campaigns, I completed my projects during non-business hours.

While I was obviously limiting interruptions, it was a disastrous business model for me. To coin an old phrase, I was burning the candle at both ends. In practicality, the type of energy required to work this 40-hour work week was not sustainable indefinitely. More and more studies come out each day telling us that the combination of a lack of sleep and remaining consistently overstressed not only diminishes our health but results in declined productivity. Still, many of us ignore the warnings that come from pushing ourselves too hard.

How do we fix this problem? Most of us shrug and simply aim to “do better” next week. What we need, however, is a plan we can follow to create real results. What does this plan look like? Below are 3 best practice tips to help you stop wasting your most valuable resource — time!

1. Take 3 Hours During a Workweek for You

Sounds simple, right? It’s anything but simple. For most of us, we are the person we put last at work. Everything and everyone else comes first. So start small. Reserve three hours for you on your calendar. Use this exercise to do two things. First, to determine if you can make this decision and stick to it. Second, to see just how much you can accomplish by setting aside just a little time for you to get work done.

2. Keep a Positive Attitude

When you are stressed out at work, it shows. The last thing you want to do is bring this pressure and dissatisfaction into your elder law practice on a daily basis. It doesn’t just impact you, but also your clients, referral partners and employees. Take the time to find an outlet that helps you manage your stress level and keep a positive attitude in the workplace.

3. Say No

Chances are you get multiple requests for things outside of what you need to do in any given day. Start saying no. One of the reasons so many of us work late and on weekends is to find the time to fit everything in. Imagine what would happen if you had fewer responsibilities? It doesn’t mean you say no to everything. This principle simply means you don’t have to be the chairperson of every social event or on the board of every non-profit organization in your community. Pick what interests you and protect your limited free time.

By adhering to these three rules, you’ll find yourself less stressed, calmer, and better able to serve your elder law practice in an effective and meaningful capacity.


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