I was having a conversation with an alumnus of my law school last weekend, and he mentioned that law associates who come in guns blazing, who charge the highest amount and work all hours of the week won’t [usually] last a year at his firm. Then he mentioned that it’s the same for law school – some students go in so hot that by the second semester, they cannot hang anymore. So, why is burnout such a real problem among young professionals and how do we prevent being one of the shooting stars (this is a How to Get Away With Murder reference, which if you aren’t watching, I recommend you start! So wickedly entertaining)? Well, a lot of not burning out is pacing yourself and preparing properly.
I watched a fellow law student my 1L year constantly stay up until the wee hours of the morning, only to get up early to be able to commute to school. This person worked constantly, rarely taking breaks and sort of overworking himself past the point of efficient studying. There were a few times I watched him fall asleep in class. I mean, if you’re sleeping through lecture, you cannot possibly be helping yourself. Also, if I noticed, there is a high probability the professor noticed considering we sat in the second row. At the time, I just kept feeling like that lifestyle just wasn’t sustainable. When I had my first day of property second semester, my professor, an older man who’s been teaching for years, said something about how last semester was over and the people who did well may do worse and the people who didn’t do well may do better.
Well, burnout was real, and a lot of those people who burned the midnight oil in the library looked so tired and worn out. A similar burnout occurs during finals. People don’t pace themselves, and by their last exam, their fingers flutter over their keyboard at a lag and their eyes don’t stay open without effort. Doing it all can be exhausting, but it doesn’t have to be. There are smart strategies for getting it all done without suffering from complete burnout. So, today I want to offer my guide to getting it all done and remaining intact in the process.
Going back to How to Get Away With Murder for a moment, the law students who are referred to as the “Keating five” seem to be doing it all. They seem to be the top of their class, assisting their professor in criminal case trials, having a personal life, and covering up murders. I mean, the five stars are busy people. One of the interesting things about TV that we all know? It’s scripted and only shows us the highlights. We obviously don’t need twenty minutes of footage where the law students are studying in the library. The fact they study is implied by their status as a law student. However, there could be twenty minutes of footage of someone studying or someone working and it wouldn’t be inaccurate, just boring. Still, those boring moments contribute to the person’s outward success (if the students don’t study, their grades suffer, and ultimately they may lose their status as one of the chosen criminal law students). The boring moments are part of the “doing it all.” The reason we don’t focus on them, however, is because we focus on people’s major moments even though we are well aware that there’s much more that goes into that moment.
ONE || Find something that releases stress. The quickest way to get it all done without killing yourself is having something that you love that doesn’t cause stress. In fact, it shouldn’t be a neutral activity, but an activity that actively releases your stress. If you do not have something that releases your stress, you’ll be too stressed out to get everything done well. Remember, a lot of people get everything done, but they cut corners and don’t always get it all done properly.
TWO || Stay aware of your limits. Become familiar with any limits you have, and stay aware of them. If you know you are not someone who can work on Sunday nights, build a schedule that excludes Sunday night working. If you know you’re not someone who works well with a certain personality type, figure out ways in which working with that personality becomes easier (or figure a way to work with them less). Knowing your limits allows you to better play to your strengths.
THREE || Do what makes you happy. This may seem like an odd tip, but I feel like doing it all doesn’t really mean anything if you aren’t doing what you love. It’s a lot easier to stay vigilant and motivated if you love what you do. If you don’t love what you do, chances are every step on your career road will feel like you’re weighted down.
FOUR || Be selective. You can do it all, but when I say all I mean you can do everything you want to do. If you don’t want to do something, you are wasting precious time. When I was in college, my friend proposed that I try to be Co-Editor-in-Chief with her for the school newspaper. I thought initially, yeah, that’d be a good resume builder. However, after more thought, I realized it wasn’t something I necessarily wanted to do and I knew my efforts would be better spent on the things I loved. So, be selective in what you want to do, then do it all!
FIVE || Stay organized. When you’re trying to do too many things at once, chances are something slips through the cracks. So, make sure you have a well-established system of staying on top of your tasks and commitments. For me, I make to-do lists. Loads of to-do lists. To-do lists help me track what needs to get done when. I put them in order of highest priority to lowest priority. I also have a section of things I should get done if I have a really productive day and finish my to-list early.
My final tip is this: doing it all is about preparation. You can do it all, but you want to be sure you’re prepared for what’s coming and that you remain in control of your schedule. If you become overwhelmed, you’ll probably start to let things slide, and your work product is diminished. Stay on top of your life and make strategic moves in your career. Look at things with the big picture in mind (aka do NOT get bogged down in too many details, but don’t lose sight of making sure the details are right). Life is about balance. If you are unbalanced, you cannot succeed because you will not know how to handle a heavier workload, a moved-up timeline, etc. Doing a lot of preparation on the front end will make the end result much better (and far more stress-free).
How do you do it all?