The other day I was on a private forum for lawyers. A new associate at a large law firm came in complaining of burnout. They weren’t whining or whimpering over their life. They just felt like they had fallen out of the saddle and were looking for advice on how to get back on.
We’ve all been there. Any type of high pressure, high stakes job can take its toll on you if don’t let it. Remember this video of Dr. Anjali Ramkissoon from early 2016?
Dr. Ramkissoon was a 4th year resident. In case you’re not familiar with American medical school, residency sucks. Incredibly long hours, high stress work. But they make mad cash! Nope, the average salary of a resident is $53,000. That’s to say, Dr. Ramkissoon has (had) a stressful life, all before the above video made her infamous.
While it’s possible that Dr. Ramkissoon might just be a crazy party girl, it’s also likely that she wasn’t taking care of herself and burned out.
Too much stress? Not taking care of yourself? No healthy, productive outlets to release pent up stress? What do you do?
Dr. Ramkissoon’s solution was obviously “Let’s go out on the town and get blasted!!!” But in the age of constant surveillance and ubiquitous smartphones, that’s a really bad idea. Dr. Ramkissoon was reacting to her life and stress. She wasn’t being proactive. She wasn’t properly taking of herself and her life so that she could manage her workload. She was burning out and the above video is proof.
You don’t want this to happen to you.
8 Straightforward Rules For Avoiding Burnout
So here is an expanded version of the advice I gave to the lawyer. It’s nothing fancy. Just some simple, straightforward rules to follow that will help you retain control of your schedule and life:
- Sleep. 8 hours a night. It will markedly improve your day. This is non-negotiable. You can get by with less sleep, but you will not be as sharp. You might get away with little sleep for awhile, but it will eventually catch up to you. Your body and brain desperately need sleep to repair themselves.
- Stay hydrated. This seems dumb, but so many people walk around in a dehydrated state. It makes you slow and irritable. Take in water throughout your day. Not soda, caffeinated beverages, or sugary sports drinks. H2O or decaffeinated tea. Drinking water regularly will also force you to stand up and move around because you’ll need to go to the bathroom. This has the added benefit of making sure you aren’t hunched over your desk for hours without moving.
- Exercise. Do some type of physical activity on a regular basis. Lift weights, martial arts, dance classes, whatever. Not just something that gets your blood flowing, but an activity that requires your full concentration. Whatever the activity might be, it needs to force you to be in the moment. Strenuous physical activity, requiring your full attention, means you won’t have time to think about work. This provides a space for your brain to decompress.
- Relentlessly schedule your day. Make sure all your time is accounted for, not just billables. Don’t let the day get away from you with extraneous matters that aren’t important. When you don’t plan and account for your time, something is going to fill that emptiness. Don’t let fate or other people decide what it might be.
- Quantify your schedule. Make sure you know exactly what is important and how it provides utility for your success and (hopefully) happiness while at work and home. If you never take time to review your schedule, how can you know what is important and not?
- Remove things from schedule. If you just did the above, you should know that you’re doing things you can get rid of. Screwing around on social media. Going to superfluous meetings. Talking with people who bring you down, going certain places that encourage unhealthy behavior (see video above). To the extent that your job and life allow, get rid of stuff weighing you down. If you can’t quantity it, you can probably get rid of it.
- Develop a strong peer group. Make buddies, in your firm and other firms near you. Social media is nice to blow off steam, but it doesn’t take the place of people that you can actually reach out and touch. You need other people to commiserate with, be angry with, when days are bad. Others to praise and congratulate when days are good. A strong peer group can do wonders to help handle the stress load. If Dr. Ramkissoon had a strong peer group, do you think the above video would be making the rounds?
Those are the rules. They’re nothing revolutionary or secret. Just basics that have to be returned to again and again as responsibilities in life pile on top of you.
Beyond all that, if you’re a new lawyer, a first year associate…welcome to the grind.
You’re going to have little control over your schedule or work for some time. That lack of control can be off-putting for many people. You need to find some area of your life where you can establish control, and pour energy into that area. Start a garden, take up a hobby. Anything that provides a creative outlet that is for you, and no one else.
Being a new lawyer, no matter the size of firm or practice area, is tough. There’s no other way around it. But the above rules can help you stay firing on all cylinders and not flame out early.
Don’t let the grind of the job get you down, everyone has to deal with it. If you’ve made it this far, you’re an asskicker. Don’t forget that.
Reset, refocus, and take control.
8. Quit drinking. If the above video didn’t convince you, go watch it again. You don’t have to totally quit drinking, but don’t let the bottle become the only way you wind down from the day. And if you’re past college, past law school, and still getting blasted regularly, grow up. Avoid over-indulging in every way. Drinking, drugs, whatever. Bad stuff. Screws up the careers of way too many people. Don’t do it.
P.S. – But if something like the above does happen, or someone intentionally tries to ruin your reputation, what do you do? Watch this recorded webcast with details on how to manage your online reputation.