The Tyrannical King Urgency and How to Keep Him from Ruining Your Life

It’s never too late to shape the way being a lawyer ripples through the hours and days outside of my practice. If I keep my nose to the grindstone, working too many hours, banging out as much work as I can, I feel it when I’m at home. I’m too much in my head. I’m overly analytical and critical. I’m disconnected from other important aspects of who I am.  

The price paid is unacceptable.

I’ve had weeks where being a lawyer seems to drive my entire existence. In fact, the week after writing the first draft of this post was one of “those” weeks.  

I came into the office each day with plans of projects I was going to complete, the problems I’d resolve, the clients I was going to talk to, and all the items on my to do list I was going to check off.

Not A Chance. I was flooded with emails, phone calls, and office issues that needed to be dealt with, and clients who were in crises.

For three days in a row I hardly took a break, even working through lunch. By the time I got home, I was exhausted, stressed out, and overwhelmed. The truth is I did a lousy job advocating for myself during that period. The not-so-good King Urgency was definitely in charge.   

The truth is it’s my responsibility to shape how I experience my work day. I’m not talking about ignoring the phone calls, answering fewer emails, being a less vigilant attorney, or not meeting any of the responsibilities I have to my clients and staff. I’m in charge of making sure I don’t allow the daily practice of law to ruin both my work and personal lives. 

Over the years, I’ve developed five simple daily steps that help create a positive impact on the quality of my life:

1: Take at least one (and optimally two) breaks a day where I don’t talk business. Working lunches and breaks don’t count.

It’s startling how hard it is to take a break when I’m too busy. I do have more work than I can get done. The greater truth is I can’t afford not to take breaks. I can get away with it for a day or two, but I still pay a price.  

2: Several times throughout the day I stop, close my eyes, and take several deep breaths to center myself. I even do this when I’m alone on the elevator or in the hallway.

It takes little to recenter myself and has ten times the benefit of calming and focusing myself then the literal 5-10 seconds I spend.

3: Focus on one thing at a time. Otherwise, I  become internally splintered.

When I’m talking to my legal assistant, I don’t look at unrelated papers on my desk — sometimes I move them out of my field of vision. While talking to a client on the phone, I’m not looking at my emails. I’ve been known to turn off my computer screen and/or turn off the sound so I don’t get distracted by notifications. 

4: Do what I can to make sure every phone call and meeting with a client leaves them knowing that I care for them.

If I’m not able to returns a client’s phone call the same day,  I have my legal assistant call and schedule a time for me to talk with them the next day.

5: Block off specific times during the day just to take care of what’s most important.

I typically block off time during days and weeks where King Urgency is beating down on me. I know all the important work I need to do that gives me that deeply satisfied feeling that I’ve done important work. It’s the counterbalance to the days that would otherwise be a urgency blurr.

I can tell when I’ve not taken care of myself throughout the work day, and so can my wife — just ask her. When I get home, she questions me: “Did you take any breaks today?” When I don’t, she experiences me as unfocused and disjointed in conversations. And that makes it difficult for me to interact from a more heartfelt and genuine place.  

Like the character Jack Nicholson said in The Shining when his wife saw all that he’d written, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” The same is true for me. I become less of a whole person.  

When my wife Jan calls me at the office, she’ll often ask me if I’ve taken a break or if I’m going to. As much as I know what’s best for me to do, I need reminding. It’s surprising how hard it is to do what I know is best for me when I have more work than time.   

Two years ago, Jan read to me out of book called the War of Art by Steven Pressfield. He talks about the battle between what’s urgent and what’s important.

“If we only focus on the urgent matters, we’ll never get to what’s important.” – Stephen Pressfield  

Taking care of myself and my law practice are not mutually exclusive — even though it sure can feel that way. They are in fact complementary to each other.  The more centered I am, the better attorney, husband, father, friend, and son I am.

It’s by knowing what helps me re-center and not simply be a working machine that allows me to keep fully connected to my life.

If I don’t take charge of my work life, who is going to? My clients, legal assistant, receptionist or the other attorneys in my office? Ha. Not a chance.

If you think you’re too busy to make changes in your work world, make one change for a week and see how it goes. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much easier it is to do — as long as you remember. I’ve been known to set the alarm on my cell phone as a reminder.

What practices do you implement each day to keep yourself centered and whole?

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