The Myth of Time Management: Why We Can’t Manage Time. We Can Only Manage Ourselves

The Myth of Time Management: Why We Can’t Manage Time We Can Only Manage OurselvesDon’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Theresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.

– H. JACKSON BROWNE

I talk to lawyers almost every day about time management. We all use the phrase “time management” because we’ve been conditioned to do so over the years. But time management is a myth. There really is no such thing as time management. Once you understand that you cannot manage time – you can only manage yourself – you’ll begin to think differently about time. And when you begin to think differently about time, you’ll begin to act differently. And until you begin to act differently, you’ll never be able to take control of your calendar or your life.

It has always been a badge of honor for lawyers to work ridiculously long hours. The law firm culture says work late, every night, no matter what you are working on. Oh, and come in on weekends, too. This is a recipe for stress and burn-out. Moreover, research shows that those long hours may be jeopardizing your health.

A study from Health.com and reported by CNN found that “people who work more than 10 hours a day are about 60 percent more likely to develop heart disease or have a heart attack than people who clock just seven hours a day.” According to Marianna Virtanen, M.D., doctors “should include working long hours in their list of potential risk factors” for heart disease. And Peter Kaufmann, Ph.D., says that people who are driven and impatient at work “may be equally driven and impatient with…family and friends.”

As Tony Schwartz, author and founder of The Energy Project notes in an article he wrote for the Harvard Business Review online:

Just as you’ll eventually go broke if you make constant withdrawals from your bank account without offsetting deposits, you will also ultimately burn yourself out if you spend too much energy too continuously at work without sufficient renewal…When you’re running as fast as you can, what you sacrifice is attention to detail, and time to step back, reflect on the big picture, and truly think strategically and long-term.1

Adrenaline Addiction

While research has demonstrated that high levels of stress are bad for our health, the truth is, many attorneys (and law students) like stress – and lots of it. Have you ever said to yourself, “I work best under pressure,” or “I’m really deadline driven”? Can you go for more than five minutes without checking your phone? Do you find yourself checking your phone in the middle of the night? Do you always feel overwhelmed? Are you usually running late?

These are just a few of the telltale signs of adrenaline addiction. And many of us suffer from it. Adrenaline is the most potent stimulant created by our sympathetic nervous system. It’s created in response to stress and increases heart rate, pulse rate, and blood pressure. It also raises the blood levels of glucose and lipids, in addition to having other metabolic effects on us. We are not built to have adrenaline coursing through our veins all or most of the time. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happens to adrenaline addicts.

In his article, The Painful Reality of Adrenaline Addiction,2 Patrick Lencioni, explains:

There is something particularly insidious about adrenaline addiction that makes it hard for many leaders to kick the habit. Unlike other addicts whose behaviors are socially frowned-upon, adrenaline addicts are often praised for their frantic activity, even promoted for it during their careers. And so they often wear their problem like a badge of honor, failing to see it as an addiction at all in spite of the pain it causes. When confronted about their problem, adrenaline addicts (I’m a recovering one myself) will tell you about their endless list of responsibilities and all the people who need their attention. And while they’ll often complain about their situation, they’ll quickly brush off any constructive advice from spouses, friends or co-workers who “just don’t understand.”

The legal profession has a long history of encouraging adrenaline addiction. How many lawyers have you heard brag about the long hours they work? You do not have to be one of them. Instead, create the habits now that will allow you to be more focused and productive during the hours you spend at work, so you can have a life away from work. The first step is to change your thinking. Refuse to accept the myths that say, “There just aren’t enough hours in the day,” or “I have no control over my time.” There really is enough time, and you can take control.

Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.

– GOETHE

You are preparing to join of one of the most important professions on the planet. You may not think about it often, but lawyers are life-changers. The work lawyers do transforms people’s lives. Forget the lawyer jokes. As a lawyer, you’ll given the opportunity to make a difference in your clients’ lives and in the world. Don’t gripe about not having enough time to get it all done. Instead, make a conscious choice to say “no” to those things that are not important. If you know your mission and strive to live it, you’ll become much better at saying “no” to the unimportant things. Give your very best time and talents to those things you are passionate about.

Three things you can do NOW to begin to manage yourself, not time.

  1. Change your mindset. Accept that you cannot manage time, you can only manage yourself. Plan your days. Plan your weeks.
  2. Schedule blocks of time in your calendar to work on those things that are most important to you. Don’t assume the time will just be there for you. When you begin to practice law, it will be up to you to control as much of your time and your calendar as you can.
  3. Do your best to stick to your plan. Don’t get discouraged if things don’t go exactly as you plan. That will happen. You’ll soon see that the more you begin to take control of your time, the less you’ll be knocked off track.

1. Schwartz, Tony. The Productivity Myth (2010). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2010/05/the-productivity-myth-2

2. Lencioni, Patrick. The Painful Reality of Adrenaline Addiction (2004). Retrieved from http://www.tablegroup.com/blog/the-painful-reality-of-adrenaline-addiction

This article was adapted from 50 Lessons for Lawyers – Earn More – Stress Less – Be Awesome, by Nora Riva Bergman.

Nora Riva Bergman is an author and business coach who works with lawyers, law firms, and bar associations in the United States and Canada. A licensed attorney since 1992, Nora brings a deep understanding of the practice and business of law to her work. She is the author of 50 Lessons for Lawyers: Earn More – Stress Less – Be Awesome, a practice handbook for attorneys. Learn more about Nora at www.RealLifePractice.com.


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About Nora Riva Bergman

Nora Riva Bergman is an author and business coach who works with lawyers, law firms, and bar associations in the United States and Canada. A licensed attorney since 1992, Nora brings a deep understanding of the practice and business of law to her work. She is the author of 50 Lessons for Lawyers: Earn More – Stress Less – Be Awesome, a practice handbook for attorneys. Learn more about Nora at www.RealLifePractice.com.

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