Column

Getting From Surviving to Thriving

Ever feel like you were falling behind in all the important areas of your life? As the pace of work shifts into high gear in September it is all too easy to get trapped in survival mode – just working to make it through each day and pushing aside your own personal priorities and objectives. 

I have had many lawyers tell me they feel they are failing at both their jobs in life – as parents and as lawyers. These professionals are men and women from different firms and different parts of Canada. One thing I know for sure is that this feeling of falling behind and of failing at those things that are most important is shared by many professionals. This September my column is about how to turn failure to success and regain control of your life so that you feel like you are making a valued contribution in both the personal and professional realms.

There are three things to do that can help you get back on a path to success: First, put the oxygen mask on yourself. Second, take time for some reflection to connect your values with your actions. Third, automate and create processes to support you in making time for what is most important. 

Put the oxygen mask on yourself first

One of the frequent mistakes so many of us make is to put ourselves last. In our efforts to please clients, family and friends our own needs are frequently put aside. The first essential step to regaining control of your life is to put yourself back on the priority list and make sure that you are engaging in rejuvenating activities throughout the week. When we don’t take measures to reduce our stress the result is reduced performance, short temper at work and at home, and an inability to be present and focused either at home or at the office.

Many readers will think this is impossible, that there is no time in the day between meeting client demands and picking up the kids at daycare to take care of themselves. I can tell you from experience that it is possible and it takes making it a priority. Time is a far more flexible substance then you might imagine: when you make room in your life for an activity that rejuvenates you such as yoga, running, or walking the positive impact on your week is considerable.

The guiding question here is – what helps you to relax? What can you do to regain your balance? For me it is going for walks in nature. I have a dog, so taking her out twice a day helps me to reduce stress as well as getting healthy exercise. For my client Jennifer it is yoga. When she goes to yoga three or four times a week she is able to keep her stress levels down, accomplishes more at work, and is able to be more engaged and relaxed at home with her family. What is it for you? Whatever the answer, put it to the top of your priority list and make sure you get to it at least several times a week.

Take time for reflection

The next step is to engage in some reflection. Take a long walk, or sit back in an armchair and watch the fire to get yourself in whatever space will support you in doing your best thinking. Ask yourself this important question: What do I most value? What do I want to make happen with my life? The answers to your questions might be something like: “Have a long-term loving relationship with my spouse.” “Be a warm loving and supportive parent and help my children grow up in a safe, secure and loving family.” “I would like to have a core group of steady paying clients who appreciate me and who I enjoy working for.”

With these goals in mind ask yourself: What am I doing to support this goal? If my goal is to have a long term loving relationship with my spouse, how am I supporting that? How am I showing my loved ones I care? What time am I investing in that? 

There is a well known saying – what you can measure, you can achieve. The best way to set a path to success is to develop clear measurements for your actions. 

If you want to invest in your marriage you can determine to tell your spouse you love him/her everyday and back that up by doing one thing every day that demonstrates this in some small way. It might be to take on a chore. It might be to make him/her a hot beverage before bed. Whatever it is, find that one thing every day. 

If your goal is to maintain a core group of clients, then set some client service standards for yourself. Develop your list of top clients and determine to provide a value-added touch four times a year for each client.

Automate and set up processes to support your goals

The key is to make taking action for your goals easy. In some cases it is possible to even set the actions on automatic so that you don’t have to think about it. Financial goals are the easiest to support through automation. If you wish to put money towards and RRSP or travel goal then simply arrange to have a set amount automatically transferred from your bank account each month to your RRSP or travel savings account.

Develop your own personal ritual to keep yourself on track. At the beginning of each week review your schedule and set aside time for your most important investments in yourself, your family, your friends and your clients. One lawyer I know works one long day a week so that she can leave the office very early on Fridays to pick up her children and spend extra time with them. She has set up her schedule in a way to support both her family and professional goals. 

This September avoid the trap of working in survival mode. By putting self-care on the priority list, giving yourself time for reflection, setting personal and professional goals and committing to taking measurable action you are setting the stage for success. 

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