How to set boundaries around your time

By John Allison 

While the practice of law can be rewarding and personally fulfilling, it can also be very stressful. Since chronic stress can lead to burnout and serious health problems, it is important for lawyers to take meaningful and regular breaks from the intensity of the practice. 

Setting boundaries around your time is a useful technique for managing the stress associated with the practice of law and for enabling you to enjoy a reasonably balanced life. Boundaries will help you preserve time for vacations and activities other than practicing law that are meaningful for you. Time boundaries will also give you opportunities during the day to take breaks for reflection and rejuvenation.

These are some of the issues to consider when setting boundaries around your time:

- How much time do you want to set aside for vacations each year?

- Are you willing to have clients and colleagues contact you while you are on vacation? If so, under what circumstances?

- How often, and under what circumstances, will you bring work home with you at the end of the day?

- How often, and under what circumstances, will you work on weekends?

- How frequently will you check email during the week? Will you check email on weekends? Will you check email while on vacation?

- Will you answer the phone whenever it rings? Will incoming calls be screened, or will they be allowed to roll over to voicemail at least some of the time?

- Will you block out time on your calendar for important family events and religious holidays?

- Will you set aside time on your calendar during the week to think about ways you can improve your professional situation and take your law practice to the next level? 

- Will you give yourself permission to take breaks during the day for reflection and rejuvenation?

Once you set boundaries around your time, it will be important to manage the expectations of your clients and colleagues consistent with those boundaries. Unless you take affirmative steps to manage your time consistent with the boundaries you want to maintain, clients and colleagues will be more than happy to manage your time for you.

John Allison is a professional career coach backed by years of experience as a successful lawyer. He is the founder of The Coach for Lawyers and author of "The Art of Practicing Law: A Practical Guide for Lawyers."