Taking a working or a real vacation this summer?

Shawn Healy
The Daily Record Newswire

In the busy world of law firms and intimidating goals for billable hours, the time spent at the firm can grow, and the time spent outside of work can diminish. Most associates feel pressure, either internal or external, to impress, meet their billing goals, be the reliable associate who always comes through for a partner, and be the one who arrives early and stays the latest.

Often the strong internal work ethic that motivates you to put in extra hours and sacrifice a portion of your personal life can slowly morph into bad habits that impede your performance and productivity. After all, too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing.

Whether it is the ability to problem-solve, concentrate or maintain emotional stability in the face of stress, the importance of rest and taking a break cannot be understated. If you have any doubts about the necessity of rest, just try going a few days without sleep and notice how productive you are at work.

I’ll save you the time: It does not work out well.

While sleep deprivation is a more extreme example, similar effects occur when lawyers do not take time off. Whether it is working over the weekend, being available whenever needed, taking “working vacations,” or simply never “shutting off” work from your thoughts, working constantly actually impedes productivity.

If you haven’t picked up my ever-so-subtle tone thus far, I am in favor of real vacations, not working vacations.

Vacations offer the opportunity to rest, relax, engage in creative activities, and create new memories.

A quality vacation can improve your sleep (which will help your mood, energy levels, concentration, memory and general physical health), can encourage creative problem-solving (changing your surroundings and mental tasks can give you a new perspective from which to solve problems that previously seemed insurmountable), and can restore motivation (feeling recharged will provide inspiration to keep making progress).

In essence, taking time off regularly and enjoying occasional vacations can help you work more productively. Work smarter, not harder.

Many of us have an implicit idea that having a strong work ethic is the same as being a hard worker. According to that thought, taking time off is the opposite of having a strong work ethic. Vacations and time off are like technology. Using them effectively makes you more productive, not less.

If you have a strong work ethic, fully enjoying time off and taking vacations will not turn you into a slacker. You will be a harder worker when you return to the office. You’ll also be a more productive employee and probably more pleasant to be around. Let’s face it: You probably get less pleasant when you are in need of a break.

If you feel inspired to take advantage of the many benefits of a real vacation, here are a few suggestions:

As obvious as it sounds, don’t do work while you are on vacation. Do something else. Do something enjoyable or rewarding.

Whether you travel or have “a staycation,” engage in activities that are unusual for you. Eat new food, visit new places, meet new people, and try new hobbies. Engaging in unique experiences can help you to create memories, learn more about yourself and gain a new perspective on life and problems that you face.

Rest. Despite the desire to use every moment of time to its maximum potential, be sure to prioritize sleep. Sleep is really important. Really important.

Don’t wait until the summer to practice taking time off. Enjoying time off is often a skill that needs to be practiced. Use your weekends to practice throughout the year.

If you have trouble letting go of work during other activities or in your thoughts, you might have some deeper issues that need to be addressed.

Stress, anxiety, depression and vicarious trauma can often make it more difficult to let work go and enjoy other aspects of your life. If this is true for you, don’t wait to resolve those deeper issues. Talk to a professional to learn how to address them. A Lawyers Assistance Program — or LAP— is a good place to start.

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Shawn Healy is a licensed clinical psychologist on staff with Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers of Massachusetts. He also writes and presents on a variety of topics germane to the practice of law. He can be contacted at shawn@lclma.org.

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