When you run into a colleague at a conference or networking event, how does the chit-chat generally go? Typically, it follows this basic pattern:
“How are you doing?”
“Super busy. You?”
It’s not a myth. As the Chicago Tribune notes, the median work week for a lawyer is 50 hours, but over 40 percent of corporate attorneys work 60 hours a week or more. Many lawyers brag about how overworked they are as a sort of badge of honor. After all, a busy lawyer is a successful lawyer is a happy lawyer. Right?
Not so fast. (Seriously, slow down, Tiger.)
Busier Isn’t Happier
If 50- to 60-hour weeks made attorneys happy, we’d pretty much be the happiest profession on earth—but in fact, the opposite is true. The Chicago Tribune makes the point that, by many markers, lawyers are among the least happy workers in America. Huffington Post agrees, long hours and constant availability as the main reasons why lawyers don’t like their jobs.
Obviously, we’ve missed something here. So why do we brag about how hard we’re working, if it actually makes us less happy?
Perhaps misery loves company.
Don’t misunderstand—I’m all about having a strong work ethic, and if we’re truly passionate about what we’re doing, we’ll put in plenty of effort and be willing to make a few sacrifices. But when being an attorney becomes all about the work, where is the work-life balance? What happens to things and people we say we’re working for (e.g., family, standard of living) when we leave ourselves no time to enjoy them?
Here’s the good news: It’s possible to enjoy a good work-life balance as an attorney while still making the money you want. One of the reasons I focus on helping lawyers build their own firms is that when you run a business well, it begins to run itself, leaving you more time for the things you enjoy—and more energy to enjoy them.
The process starts, however, by breaking the mindset that busy equals more productive. In fact, as we’ll see shortly, the most productive nations in the world have some of the shortest work weeks. We can glean some insight from the science behind this phenomenon.
But first, we must get the priority straight. Stop bragging about how much you’re working—it’s not really giving you the life you want.