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« Did Your Law Firm Ever Warn You That You're Working Too Hard? | Main | How Stress Can Kill a Lawyer's Career and What To Do About It »

Lawyers Suffering From Stress at Work Need to Set Boundaries; Life Isn't Just About "Getting Things Done"

It seems everyone has a “getting things done” mentality for career success today (coined by David Allen, cited by many). This is not an entirely new concept. My first day at my old job at MidLaw Firm, an Equity Partner handed me a copy of A Message to Garcia, a very brief story written by Elbert Hubbard in 1899. Equity Partner said he gives this book as a gift to each new associate, and “not to read too much into it, it’s just a gift. Welcome to the firm.”

A Message to Garcia is the story of Rowan, who was tasked with delivering a letter to Garcia during the Spanish-American War. The point of the story is, when tasked, Rowan did not object, did not ask who Garcia was, where he could find him, how long it would take, or whether someone else could do it. He just "got things done," traversing the length and width of the Cuban jungle, and getting the message to Garcia.

I knew the message to me was this: “When you’re told to do something, just do it. Don’t ask questions about how to do it, and certainly don’t ask stupid ones.” This was not so much a gift as it was de facto firm policy (so I asked most of my questions to my paralegal until I knew what I was doing).

Now, there is a lot to be said for having a Message to Garcia mentality. How many times have you suffered poor customer service, knowing you could have taken care of the matter yourself in half the time? Or, knowing that you always return phone calls within twenty-four hours, and emails within twenty-four minutes, how annoyed are you with people who take a week or more to get back to you? That makes it all the more refreshing when I order a grande iced raspberry mocha, decaf, nonfat, no whip, light ice, extra milk, and my favorite coffee shop gets it right every time, within minutes. They deliver the message to every Garcia that walks in the door, with a “getting things done” efficiency.

However, experts warn that getting things done like Rowan - that is, being a perfectionist, an over-achiever, pleaser or caretaker - can result in tremendous stress. As per a related post today on JD Bliss about lawyer stress, it's important to learn to say 'no' sometimes, and to set boundaries and limits on your effort.

If you're a lawyer who wants to learn more about setting boundaries at work, see my recent post on this subject on The Balanced Life Spa Blog.

By Ashley Brewer, Lawyer/Life Coach, The Balanced Life Spa

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