This may cause some consternation among my clients and colleagues, but after seven and a half years of owning and operating this solo practice, I’m having to learn the virtues of unplugging. When you’re the boss, the sole employee, and all bucks stop with you, establishing boundaries between personal life and work life can be daunting.
As an attorney, especially one that owns a practice and does not work for someone else, I feel a deep seriousness and responsibility to shepherd my clients through difficult problems. Part of providing exceptional service to clients and colleagues is being accessible, promptly returning calls and emails, and making myself available to answer questions as they arise in order to handle urgent situations. However, I’ve also had enough experience to learn the distinction between what truly constitutes an “emergency” and what is in actuality a situation that a client considers urgent, but is really just causing them anxiety and can be dealt with at a later date.
When I started by practice in 2009, my cell phone was my primary point of contact. Everyone called the cell phone. When I got an office number, it took about six months for everyone to use that as my primary number. However, there were still some clients and colleagues that treated the old cell number as the primary form of contact, and I would get texts, emails, calls, and voicemails after hours, on weekends, and even holidays. The cell phone became an incessant electronic leash I was tethered to 24/7. And my toddler took notice.
Recently, NPR did an article on how children emulate their parents’ screen time habits. The article really gave me pause. If I am always staring at my phone, I am not being present to those I am physically spending time with. I do not want my child to grow up thinking it is acceptable to be in a room filled with people staring at a screen. Its rude; we need to be present for those people we can look in the eyes over a cup of tea, at meal times, or during an in-person conversation rather than struggling to express ourselves through emoji’s.
Aside from the example we set for the younger generations, being bombarded with constant electronic communication, social media, and other electronic media can take a serious toll on our health and wellbeing, especially in highly stressful professions, such as law. Being able to “unplug” is another way to cultivate a healthy level of detachment from social media, where research has indicated that a third of Facebook users actually felt worse after visiting Facebook – which is completely relatable after the nastiness of the election year. What are we really missing out on when we don’t check out devices every five minutes? Is an endless avalanche of junk emails, listserve nonsense, and status updates really more important than the person sitting across from you at the dinner table? In a world of constant “connectivity” how do we truly find the alone time necessary to engage in important self-reflection or even meditation? Are we consuming information, or are we taking the time to create something, like art, baking, writing our own articles, or play time with our kids?
One of my colleagues was upset when I unplugged over Thanksgiving week. He argued that he didn’t have the “luxury” to unplug. I found his choice of word – “luxury” – interesting. I don’t see it as a luxury so much as a necessity. If we are overconnected, there is a very real risk that we are not taking the time to recharge, which in turn could lead to a decrease in productivity and creativity. I think there is an extremely valid argument – based on my personal experience alone – that unplugging is necessary if only to prevent the sort of burn out that leads to decreased productivity. I would often laugh when someone used the clichéd phrase “work-life-balance” because I would take a “vacation” but still be checking my email. In other words, vacation was just a superficial term placed on going through the physical motion of removing myself from a work environment only to continue to mentally subject myself to work. We need to give ourselves permission to make a clean unplugging and stick to it by creating and enforcing those boundaries both mentally and physically.
There’s a National Unplugging coming up in March 2017. If you can’t swing it, figure out times to unplug. Then shut off your devices, put your devices away, and focus on what’s right in front of you. Take time to relax and be creative. We will all benefit.
(And if you cannot get a hold of me as instanteously as you would like, remember that my ability to do great work depends on my ability to de-stress so that I can be more creative and productive when it comes time for me to help you!).