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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Do you use being Busy as a Status Symbol?

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Do you wear your tired and your busy as badges of honour?  Have you ever thought about how stupid that is?

On the one hand, we cry out for work/life balance, and we moan and groan about how busy we are, how many clients are “bothering” us, and how little spare time with have for recreation/kids/family/charity/whatever.

On the other hand, we in fact compete with each other about how busy we are.

What Happens if you Don’t Seem Busy?

If someone asks you “are things busy at the office” what do you say?  I’ll bet you have never said “actually I had a nice relaxed morning with my family, a casual but refreshing walk to the office, and I’m steadily working through a well organised list of things to do that I know I’ll probably complete before the end of the day”.

If you did say that, what would the perception be?  Among your colleagues I can only imagine.

You could be perceived as lazy.  Perhaps there would be a view that you don’t work hard enough, or that you’re not pulling your weight.

Certainly you’d be concerned about your promotion prospects.

And therein lies the problem.

So We Get Busy… and Tired

What happens next is both natural competition and unnatural stupidity.

We start trying to act busy, or be busy.

Isn’t that great of us?  I mean, we’re so clever that instead of rewarding ourselves for having disciplined, controlled and focused accomplishment of necessary tasks – we’d rather drive ourselves into a world of crazy, just so that tomorrow morning over coffee we can proudly announce “I was in the office until 10pm last night” or “I came in at 4 this morning”.

Damage Gets Done

By positioning ourselves so that “busy” and “tired” are status symbols, the long term damage can be devastating.

Firstly – it’s a trap.  I know so many young lawyers that intend to “put in the hard yards” when they are green, and then gradually reduce their hours and workload as they become more senior.  Here’s a newsflash: it doesn’t work that way.

Take an example: you do volunteer work for a charity.  The charity, each month, shares a few drinks among the volunteers to say thank you.  Then, one month, they stop. How do you feel?  You feel like something you had come to expect was taken away.  You feel annoyed, and you feel like you’re not getting what you deserve.  It’s because they have created a perception of what “should” be in your head, and changing that disrupts your sense of entitlement.

Law firms are no different – if you are present in the office at 6am every morning, then guess what? That will become what people expect, and changing it is very hard to do without negative backlash.  The same goes for hours, files, and hustle.  So while I’m a big fan of hustling hard to get things done, you need to remember that you’re in a marathon, not a sprint.  If you can’t last the distance then you need to adjust your technique, not come out of the gate hard with an expectation you can slow down later – it just doesn’t happen.

Second, this approach stuffs our priorities up.  Defining ourselves around these negative experiences is just foolhardy, because they become ingrained in us as part of what we think a legal career needs to offer.

Time to Change your View

If you find yourself talking with your colleagues each day about how busy, tired, and hardworking you are (it’s easy to spot) how about a new approach?  How about starting to think about the value of things that don’t position you in that way?

Perhaps you can focus on family.

Perhaps you can focus on efficiently finishing your work.

Perhaps you can think more about your inherent character, than about what you do.

Whatever approach you want to use, a shift in mindset is called for if you are going to last the distance.  Defining yourself by busyness is not going to work, and it’s self-destructive.

In all it comes down to evaluating this question: what do you really value?

Happy Lawyering!

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