Barbara v. All-Consuming Stress
The time stamp on the email says 4:27 AM. The message says, “I’m sitting in my bathroom, checking email here so I won’t disturb my husband’s sleep. I’ve been here since 3:30, when I woke up in a panic. I am exhausted and I am overwhelmed. I need help with managing my time.”
Meeting with Barbara, a successful lawyer for 20 years, she described her days in a weary voice. She’d typically leave home by 6:00 AM. She typically wouldn’t get home until 9:00 PM. Tired, overwhelmed and angry, she was having relationship problems. Her husband had said, “Even when you’re home, on those rare occasions when you’re not working, it’s as if there’s just a shell there and the rest of you is somewhere else – and I don’t know where.”
Barbara felt unfocused and disorganized. Moreover, so did the support staff and the lawyers working with her. They were also frustrated with her constant activity because no one could get her full attention. “I love what I do. I’m good at it. My clients like me and I like my clients. But I can’t live like this. I can’t keep doing what I’m doing. Something has to change or I’m going to burn out. Who am I kidding? I’m already burned out. I’m going to burn out all the way.”
Working together on energy management, Barbara had to agree to “protect” her physical capacity. The first step was limiting early morning or evening meetings, and never scheduling them back-to-back. Then came limiting her working hours, blocking out time for physical exercise, and limiting work taken home.
It became necessary to work on focus and ignoring distractions. Barbara dramatically reduced her stress level by re-learning how to engage with the people, being emotionally positive about work and clients.
Barbara finally reconnected with her reason for being: she’d gone into law because she enjoyed the substantive work. She felt that she was doing good. Somewhere along the way, the volume of work began obscuring her motivations. Reconnecting with her motivations brought back Barbara’s joy and sense of service.
Verdict: More productivity, more referrals, and more quality time.
Barbara learned to get more done at work, and to enjoy her time away from the office. Her efforts made her staff more settled and focused. Her clients felt she was fully present at meetings. Her husband felt she was fully present at home, and their time together was better.
By connecting more deeply with clients and others who could send clients her way, Barbara began generating more referrals. She also lost about 20 pounds, which helped improve her energy and outlook.