I don’t know about you, but lately, I feel like I’ve been running around with my hair on fire.

Serving clients, running the biz, kids, parents, friends, household, volunteer activities, holidays…there is always SO. MUCH. TO. DO.

As someone who frequently works with lawyers to help them manage their time more effectively so they can free up space for their highest and best activities, you would have thought I would have it all figured out by now.

That I would glide gracefully through my day, working steadily but at a relaxing pace, with my schedule neatly mapped out so I can shut down my computer at a reasonable hour and spend every evening and weekend in blissful relaxation with my family.

There are certainly times where I feel that I’ve got it (mostly) under control, but at other times it can all feel – as one of my clients likes to say – like a dumpster fire.


Overcommitment is a Common Challenge for Lawyers

Overcommitment is a well-known pitfall for many attorneys.

Research on common personality types among lawyers demonstrates that most attorneys are hard-wired, at their core, to be reliable, responsible, and productive. Those 3 things are so baked into who they are that they will earnestly run themselves into the ground trying to prove to themselves and others just how reliable, responsible, and productive they really are.

For most lawyers, it often feels that the solution is doing more, more, more, faster, faster, faster.


Social Expectations Make it Even Harder for Women

Times are changing, but women are still expected to:

  • Say YES when people ask us to be helpful. We were trained at an early age that that’s what “nice girls” do
  • Do more when it comes to running a household and the social calendar
  • Take on the lion’s share of parenting responsibilities
  • Volunteer in the community and work to make a difference in the lives of others

Those expectations translate to the office environment, where many women wind up doing more “office work” then men. Extra office work — like administrative tasks, lifting morale, and organizing client meetings — is mission-critical to the health of a firm. However, these duties are often uncompensated, unrecognized, and fall on the shoulders of women lawyers, feeding into the “office mom” phenomenon. Even worse, those activities can gobble up time, leaving no space for important advancement initiatives such as business development.

At the same time, ambitious women in law are faced with a huge number of professional opportunities that CAN be enriching and career-boosting, but also highly demanding. From serving on internal and external committees, running client matters, chairing practice groups, mentoring others, and being an ambassador for the firm, the array of interesting possibilities can sometimes lead us to overcommit and spread ourselves too thin.


You’re Not Inadequate. You’re Human

As a direct result of the powerful messages we received as girls and continue to hear as women, there is an epidemic of women in law who, despite doing exceptional work for clients and their firms, feel inadequate and beat themselves up because they think they should have done more.

  • You should have billed more hours
  • You should have achieved more on that committee
  • You should have caught that typo
  • You should have brought in more business this year
  • You should have earned more compensation
  • You should have made it to more soccer games
  • You should have exercised more
  • You should have looked absolutely perfect while doing all of it

It needs to STOP. And you’re the only one who can stop it.

Intellectually, we know we simply can’t do it all and yet many of still try. Even if we stop trying to do it all in recognition of the physical reality that we CAN’T, many of us still berate ourselves for not being Superwoman (you know…the fictional, otherworldly character).


Start with Awareness

Sometimes, people simply ask too much of us.

Often, we simply expect too much of ourselves.

But facts are facts. You can’t do it all, despite your best efforts.

And when you keep saying yes to everyone else, you have no time to pursue your own goals, including things ike stepping into leadership roles and growing a book of business.

Even worse, continuing to pursue the impossible is a recipe for overwhelm, exhaustion, burnout, stress, and physical ailments. In short, your physical and mental health depend on slowing things down.


Say Yes and No Strategically

  • Align Activities with Your Goals: Evaluate each professional opportunity in light of your long-term goals. Prioritize those that support your goals and contribute meaningfully to your growth and say NO to the rest.
  • Remember that Saying No Doesn’t Mean Forever: Sometimes it’s just not the right time. You can say no and still add it to your wish list for another day.
  • Be Realistic: Small commitments add up fast, so map out your responsibilities and be realistic about how much one (already very busy) human being can do.
  • Delegate Responsibly: You can’t keep doing it all alone! Delegate personal and professional tasks when appropriate so you can free up valuable time.
  • Regularly Assess Priorities: Periodically review your commitments, recalibrate, and don’t hesitate to adjust as needed.


Do It Your Way

You can learn, grow, and excel without compromising your well-being. Remember, your journey is unique, and you have the power to shape it in a way that aligns with your aspirations AND the reality of what’s happening in your life right now.

Strategically saying NO to others will allow you to say YES to yourself!


Looking for More Ways to Support Your Women Lawyers?

Learn how to register your firm’s lawyers for the Ignite’s 2024 Women’s Business Development Accelerator Cohort. Early Bird pricing ends on December 31, 2023!