Are you busy or are you productive?

Laura LangeLaura Lange
Written by
Laura Lange
September 9, 2023
Have you ever found yourself caught in the cycle of constantly telling people how busy you are?

Does this conversation sound familiar?

*you waiting for your coffee to pour out of the coffee machine and a colleague walks up to you* 

Them: “Hey there, how are you?”

You: “Oh hello, I’m fine, just really busy at the moment, you know…” 

Them: “Right, me too, this past week has been absolute madness”

As this conversation plays out, you’re reminded that you are behind on your to-do list, your inbox is flooded and you’re wondering how you’ll get on top of it because your calendar is packed with back-to-back meetings throughout the week.

So what if there was a way to break free from this pattern and stop operating from that constant state of overdrive?

Let's dive in!

Often, we don't even realize that we're perpetuating the "busyness" culture. 

It has become second nature to wear our busyness as a badge of honor. 

And we think that by replying to every email and answering every call, we’re being of service, but actually we are doing a disservice to ourselves, our clients and our colleagues. 

Let me ask you this:

Are you busy or are you productive? 

When I first stepped my feet in the legal world, I observed the culture as an outsider and immediately wondered:

Why do I have to be available all the time? And why is everyone talking about how busy they are, how many hours they’ve billed and how long they stayed in the office last night instead of what they actually got done in that time? 

I wanted to operate from a place of “high-impact performers aren’t very available to whoever demands their attention”, but everyone around me seemed to operate from a place of “high-impact performers are available all the time”. 

So what’s going on? 

What I’ve observed in the legal profession is this: a tendency to deny the prevalence of burnout and mental health challenges. 

No doubt, as lawyers we are type A personalities, driven by a desire to achieve great things while helping others. But at what cost? Neglecting our own well-being?

Why are we so ashamed to confront the reality of our colleagues burning out left and right and recognizing that even though we are strong, capable and well-educated, we too can face burnout and mental health struggles.

We expect our clients to come and ask for our help. They do it every day as if it was the easiest thing in the world. And we don’t think that our clients are weak when they do so. 

So why is it so difficult for us to do the same? 

Seeking help is not a sign of weakness, but rather a demonstration of strength and self-awareness. 

Even though we love to believe it, just because we are lawyers doesn't mean we are invincible superheroes immune to the pressures of our profession. 

I’ve lost count of how many fellow lawyers I’ve seen take time away from work because of some level of burnout or mental health struggle. 

I’m personally done seeing people leave this industry because “they can’t keep up with the pressure”. 

What I’m seeing is a healthy human reaction to a sick work environment. 

And I don’t think anything is wrong with these people. I think there’s something wrong with how we treat each other. 

When you subscribe to the busyness culture and constantly tell others how busy you are, you reinforce the notion that being overwhelmed in our daily work is the norm.

So I’m going to ask you a favor. 

Do you want to contribute to a culture that normalizes discussions around burnout and mental health so we can take the first steps towards fostering a healthier legal community?

It’s time that we face the fact that success in the legal profession should not be solely defined by long working hours and constant busyness. 

I can’t change you. We can’t change the culture from one day to the next. But we can all do one thing to change the direction: We can check in with ourselves. 

So today I’m going to offer you a tool to perform a self-assessment on all things busyness and boundaries:

Before you go to bed tonight, I encourage you to take 5 minutes to reflect on this: 

  • How often do you find yourself responding with "busy" when someone asks about your workload? Is it really true, or has it become your default response?

  • Do you feel pressured to respond to emails or calls outside of regular working hours?

  • How often do you feel pressured to work longer than regular working hours? And do you sometimes feel guilty when you leave the office at 4 pm or after putting in 8 hours of work?

  • Do you find it challenging to relax and enjoy personal time without thoughts of work lingering in your mind?

  • Are you comfortable asking for more reasonable deadlines?

  • How often do you make time for activities that bring you joy and relaxation outside of work?

I get your world. 

I get that you’re already behind on your other tasks and commitments because you took time to read this article. 

I know that there’s a 97% probability that you’re going to skip these self-reflection questions. 

And honestly, there was a time when I would have disregarded them too. But I’ve come to realize that by doing this, I would only keep myself stuck. I knew that if I wanted to see some change, it had to come from me and not anyone else. 

So no matter what you choose to do with these questions, I hope that next time you hear yourself responding with “I’m so busy” at the coffee machine, that you return to this article in your mind.

That you start to wonder “how can I contribute to a healthier legal community for my own sake, for my colleagues’ sake and for the sake of the future generations entering this profession?”. 

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