Lawyers need to squeeze every drop of personal fulfilment they can out of their working day, says Simon Harper of Lawyers on Demand.
This week I was in a roomful of lawyers when we were asked when was the last time we’d got lost in the moment. When were we so absorbed in a task that we didn’t notice anything or anyone around us? Answers were fascinated and varied – playing football, sketching, building Lego and even contract drafting. (By the way the occasion was not just a spontaneous group overshare but the LOD-hosted Life With Law, the latest in a series of talks on how to live a more fulfilling life whilst practising law. This time the topic was mindfulness and flow.)
“Flow”, the speaker and flow expert Dr. Kate Hefferon advised, is the formal expression of what we might describe as being in “the zone”. We all seem to love being in the zone, when we are at our most focussed and at the top of our game. We like its aftermath too, when we feel fulfilled and happy The key to flow seems to be (sorry Kate for the layperson interpretation) balancing skill and challenge so that we are at once absorbed and stretched by a task at hand.
We’re apparently more likely to be “in flow” when we are doing sports or physical activity, studying, being creative and, yes, working too. The key steps for fostering flow at work, Kate explained, were providing autonomy, clear goals and feedback, as well as creating elements of challenge and using a variety of skills.
This got me thinking about how we lawyers can get more flow in our lives. After all we spend so much of our lives working we owe it to ourselves to squeeze every last drop of personal fulfilment out of our working day. lawySo, here goes:
1) Focus on one activity at a time: forget about multi-tasking, it’s a myth. “Continuous partial attention” (as multi-tasking has been described more accurately) is not aspirational. Allow yourself to be drawn into a particular task or project and immerse yourself completely without distraction (whilst writing this I’ve closed my inbox and it feels good).
2) Create challenge every day: one of the lawyers present at Life With Law spoke about how he set himself stretch goals and interesting work-arounds to help him get satisfaction from even the most mundane drafting. I sometimes set an imaginary word count on written documents to help me focus. The end result is more succinct and powerful and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of saying more with less.
3) Increase your autonomy (and that of your team): autonomy is frequently cited as a key factor in work satisfaction and it seems that it’s also integral to operating at your peak. Where you can, take ownership of how, when and where you work, and give the same privilege to others.
4) Set yourself clear goals: whether that’s what you want to achieve in the next 10 minutes, the next day or the next week. Don’t just look at what you think has to be done, think about what you want to do and how you want to get it done. I try to spend half an hour on a Monday morning mapping my week and always feel better for it.
5) Tap into a range of your skills: just because you are a lawyer doesn’t mean you have to stay chained to your Word documents. If you enjoy drawing, problem solve with a blank page and a marker pen instead of your keyboard. If you love running, think through a tricky issue when you are pounding the streets.
Hopefully by making these small “flow hacks” (as Buzzfeed might put it) we can be better lawyers too.
Simon Harper is Co-Founder of Lawyers On Demand, the UK’s original alternative legal service. For more information about Lawyers On Demand visit www.lod.co.uk.