The month of March is a good time to stop and take a breather. The flurry of winter activities is slowing — attending receptions and dinners, counting billable hours for the year, finishing MCLE requirements, winter vacations, New Year’s Resolutions, a pause in El Niño. Yet, we all tell each other that we are too busy to [fill in the blank]. That is why the next approximately 600 words will give you the opportunity to think about ways to continue your personal development.
What can you do to keep your mind sharp among the daily cacophony of phone calls, e-mails, caselaw, and deadlines? Attorney-turned-Consultant Kate Mayer Mangan founded Donocle to help attorneys become more efficient through improved well-being. She says that “one simple thing you can do to reduce stress is to stop what you are doing and focus on your breath for a few minutes. What we know is that, when you inhale, your heart rate accelerates. When you exhale, your heart rate slows. So, first just focus your attention on your breath. Notice how it is: long, shallow, deep, short? Then, if you're trying to reduce stress, take a long deep breath in, trying to send the breath into your belly. Then exhale slowly. Try to make your exhale longer than your inhale. You can even try counting, say a count of ‘5’ on the inhale and ‘7 or 8’ on the exhale. You should start to feel less stressed.”
Mayer Mangan also recommends reading Debra Austin’s article, Killing Them Softly. The article discusses how stress impairs many of the cognitive activities lawyers need to be effective: if people are chronically stressed then our capacity to learn drops, our memories worsen, our language skills diminish, and more.
How do you keep your energy at a high level without ingesting large quantities of caffeine or energy drinks? The most common response given is regular exercise. But sleeping patterns are just as important. Last year, the NBA champion Golden State Warriors hired a sleep researcher consultant to improve their athletic performance.1 “We know that if guys get rest and they're sleeping well, their bodies are more prepared to perform at a high level,” [head coach Steve] Kerr said. The Warriors sleep researcher “suggests reading for 30 minutes before bed, stretch or practice yoga at the end of the night, and try to sleep 7-9 hours. Also, stay off your phone in bed and even charge it in another room if you can.” There are many more resources on the Internet that discuss effective sleeping patterns.
When was the last time you did a self-assessment? What are your strengths and what is your work style? Each assessment is a “snapshot in time” so doing one periodically is highly recommended. The purpose is not to radically change your personal style but to make your work day more efficient by understanding, recognizing, and utilizing your strengths. The assessment can be as simple as reflecting upon the nature of your work or workplace environment.
Alternatively you can turn to a “self-inventory” method. Dick Bolles’ What Color is my Parachute has been used by job seekers and career changers since 1970. The Myer-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is one that most people may be familiar with and measures how a person perceives a situation and makes decisions. Values in Action Inventory (VIA) is a tool which identifies a person’s “positive strengths” out of 24 possible character strengths. Gallup’s StrengthFinders also measures and ranks 34 strengths in order. I do recommend that a person review the results with someone who has been trained to assess the findings.
Hopefully, this brief pause in your day has given you some food for thought. For me, I am reminded of a song by the Foo Fighters — “It's times like these you learn to live again / It's times like these you give and give again / It's times like these you learn to love again.”