The holidays are a magical time of year. But they can also be a stressful time of year, especially for lawyers. Between work deadlines, family obligations, and social engagements, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
Depending on your practice area, the year end holiday season can also usher in the added stress of racing to close Q4 deals, collecting past due invoices from clients, finishing CLE courses, and logging the final billable hours of the year to meet your law firm requirement.
Whew, it’s exhausting just reading that.
But there are some things you can do to minimize the stress, avoid burnout and enjoy the holiday season. We’ve compiled a few tips to help you avoid holiday stress during the “most wonderful time of the year:
1. Make a List … And Check it Twice
If you’re anything like Santa, you probably have a long list of things to do during the holiday season. The first step to avoiding holiday stress is to make a list of all the things you need to do. This includes both work-related tasks and personal errands.
Start with your personal related tasks. List out everything you want to accomplish and then schedule time to make it happen. For example, plan to order holiday cards by certain date and then block out time to prepare them for mailing (or hire someone to help). If you want to host a holiday cookie party with your neighbors then schedule all related steps like setting the event date, sending invites, baking your own cookies and buying any other items you will need to host.
If like many people you put off holiday shopping to the last minute, plan a shopping day early in the month. This could be time for you to visit actual stores in person (people still do that!) or just to do knock out some power shopping online.
Be sure to delegate as many of the personal tasks to family, friends, or hire some help to get them done. If you have a teenage family member or neighbor, perhaps they would love to help wrap gifts for you and earn some extra spending money.
Now it’s time to tackle the year-end work related to-do’s. The stressors we face as legal professionals can be real bummers during the holiday season. That’s why having a clear plan of attack to get critical tasks done is absolutely necessary for your own well-being and stress management.
First, look at the big picture of the month ahead. What are key deadlines you are facing? Review tasks and deadlines for each of your cases and write them down.
Next, review the list to see if there is anyone at your law office who can help with any of the tasks. Can you delegate a large discovery project to a paralegal to get it started? Can you assign an upcoming motion to an associate to draft? If you are a true solo have no fear because help is still available for you. This is where outsourcing substantive legal work to freelance lawyers with LAWCLERK can be a real holiday miracle.
Once you have everything written down, you can start to prioritize and plan out your time. Remember, the key is to not only list out the tasks that need to be completed but to also plan and schedule time for when you will actually complete them. To avoid getting overwhelmed, time management will be critical.
2. Set Realistic Expectations
It’s important to set realistic expectations for yourself during the holiday season. If you try to do too much, you’re only setting yourself up for burnout and failure. Be realistic about what you can accomplish and don’t try to take on more than you can handle.
For example, if you make a goal to cross off all work related tasks on your to-do list this would be an unrealistic goal. A lawyer’s to-do list is constantly growing and changing. Make sure you are focusing on the top priority work to meet year-end deadlines and remind yourself you can and will get more work done after you take some time off to enjoy the holidays.
During the holidays, there’s bound to be some stressful situations – beyond the legal services you provide. Maybe your in-laws are coming to town and you’re not sure how it will go, or you’re worried about making everything perfect for your holiday party guests. Whatever it is, try not to sweat the small stuff. Remember that the holidays are supposed to be fun, so don’t let the little things ruin your good time.
3. Take Time for Yourself
Make sure to schedule some “me” time into your busy holiday schedule. This time of year is not the time to be working around the clock (unless perhaps you are closing a huge Q4 deal). Take some time each day to relax and rejuvenate, even if it’s just for a few minutes listening to a podcast or taking a walk (or nap). You’ll be glad you did when you’re feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
Many of us focus on giving to others during this time of year. It’s ok to treat yourself too. Block off time on your calendar for a spa day or even a movie marathon on your couch. Whatever it is that helps you relax and recharge to preserve your mental health is time well spent.
When you’re feeling stressed, it’s easy to let your healthy habits fall by the wayside and turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms. It’s no secret that many attorneys struggle with substance abuse problems and the holiday parties present many opportunities to over indulge. You don’t have to wait until January 1 to commit to your physical health and mental health. Be mindful to establish healthy boundaries and stick to them. This can be yet another gift to yourself.
4. Delegate, Delegate, Delegate
If you want to limit holiday stress, you need to learn how to delegate tasks – both personal and professional. This is especially important if you have a family or are hosting holiday gatherings. There’s no need for you to do everything yourself – delegate tasks to others and let them help out.
When it comes to personal tasks, consider delegating to your spouse, partner, children, siblings or even your parents. My father-in-law is retired and loves when I send him on shopping errands (seriously!). Also consider asking babysitters, dogsitters, and neighbor kids to help with tasks like preparing holiday cards, wrapping gifts, or shopping to save you time and help them earn some extra spending money.
It’s no fun to be drowning in work during the holidays and feel like you have no backup. If you’ve struggled to delegate at the office throughout the year, give it another try. If you have a team at your firm – whether in person or virtual – they want to support you and help conquer your work to-do list. If you don’t have another lawyer on your team, there are ways to get legal outsourcing help, either on a project basis or an ongoing subscription basis, thanks to the talented freelance lawyers at LAWCLERK.
If you’re not sure how to get started with legal outsourcing, have no fear. The LAWCLERK team has your back and we can help guide you through the process of posting your first Project or finding the talent you need via a Remote Associate.
5. Don’t Procrastinate
Procrastination will only make your holiday stress worse. If you have a lot of things to do, start early and work on one task at a time. Don’t wait until the last minute to get things done – that’s when the stress really starts to build up and can lead to lawyer burnout.
A great strategy to accomplish more, early in the month is to time block on your calendar. If you know you have a huge motion due the third week of December, then block off time during the first or second week of December to commit to drafting the motion. If you need to finish two hours of CLE, then register for those webinar courses now and get them on the calendar.
You can even block time on your calendar for “Focus Work” if you want to have a few uninterrupted hours to knock out several tasks. Use this strategy for personal tasks too such as blocking a Friday afternoon for holiday shopping.
6. Stay Organized
Another key to avoiding holiday stress is staying organized. This means keeping track of all your commitments and deadlines, as well as knowing what needs to be done and when. We’ve already discussed the strategy to make the to-do lists and plan time to get that work done.
It is just as important to review these tasks lists and your schedule regularly. You should be reviewing the plan for the month as a whole at least once a week. Be sure to review and revise your weekly and daily plan at least once a day.
If you struggle with organization, this can be a good time to ask someone to help keep you accountable. Share your plan with your legal assistant or paralegal and schedule quick, 15 minute status meetings to re-review the plan and the progress once a week. The same can be done at home by scheduling once a week family meetings to see what each family member has accomplished and what is coming up in the week ahead.
A little bit of organization can go a long way in helping you stay calm and stress-free during the holidays.
7. Simplify where you can.
Repeat after me: The holidays don’t have to be complicated. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the planning and preparation, simplify where you can. You don’t have to be Martha Stewart to make special memories and enjoy this time of year.
For example, host a potluck dinner instead of a formal sit-down meal or send e-cards instead of traditional cards by mail. Focus on spending time with family and friends, and don’t worry about getting them the latest and greatest gadgets. Only spend time and energy on holiday activities and traditions that you truly enjoy.
So often it is the simple things in life that we enjoy the most. So keep it as simple as possible this holiday season to maximize the time and minimize your stressors.
‘Tis the Season
The holidays are a wonderful time of year but they can also be quite stressful. As a lawyer, you’re especially vulnerable to holiday stress because of work deadlines, family obligations, and social engagements. But there are some things you can do to minimize the stress and enjoy the season leading into the new year. By delegating work, taking some time for yourself, setting realistic expectations, and simplifying where you can, you’ll be on your way to a stress-free holiday season!