Last weekend, I went out for drinks with my friend Beth. Beth’s not an attorney, but she has a demanding job that takes as much of her time as she will give. At her husband’s insistence, Beth is now practicing “work abandonment” – leaving your work at work. Along those lines, she’s set a timer on her Blackberry, so that her work email doesn’t update between 6:00 p.m. Friday and 3:00 a.m. Monday. That way she doesn’t see any new work email on her phone over the weekend, but they’re all there for her when she gets up on Monday morning.
I excused myself briefly at one point. When I came back, Beth was responding to an email on her phone. “That’s not work, is it? I thought you turned off your work email on the weekends?” “I did,” she said, “but they figured out my gmail account.”
Despite all my best intentions, I also have real trouble with work abandonment. Some of this is the nature of the profession – being an attorney, especially in litigation, isn’t a 40-hour per week job. The courts routinely schedule hearings and set deadlines without checking with me first. (What nerve!) Some of this is also due to the fact that I’m fortunate enough to find my work truly interesting. Leaving the office doesn’t mean I stop thinking about my cases, considering different legal theories and strategies to reach the best outcome for my client.
Some of the inability to leave my work at work, though, is definitely due to technology. Like Beth, I constantly check my email via my phone. In many ways, it’s incredibly convenient – little issues can be dealt with as they arise, and don’t pile up while I’m out of the office. I can bring my laptop home with me, instead of hauling myself into the office over the weekend or staying late during the week. I love having the ability to leave the office in time to have dinner with my family and put my kids to bed, even though there’s work to be done before tomorrow.
But despite the benefits of being a mobile lawyer, I struggle with feeling like I’m never not at work. I read my work email as I drink my first cup of coffee in the morning. At night, after the kids are in bed, instead of relaxing with my husband, I often do more work. Sometimes it feels like all I do is work, work, work, with brief pauses to sleep, eat, and say hi to my family.
Would I rather give up my Blackberry and laptop, and spend those hours in the office? Absolutely not. As I said, I really do value the flexibility that the technology affords me. But I clearly need to do better with work abandonment. At least from time to time, I need to step away from the office, both physically and mentally. I’m interested in hearing others’ tips and tricks for separating work from personal time, so please share yours! In the mean time, I’ll be figuring out how to turn off my work email’s updates over the weekend – and keeping my gmail account to myself.