A few months ago, I spoke to a friend of mine who does transactional work for a large law firm. He was bemoaning the fact that the pace of his workload was unsustainable. He felt like he was drinking from a fire hose. Clients and partners were emailing him at all hours, he was spending a significant portion of his family vacations on the phone and in general, he was feeling burnt out.
Fast forward several months and the situation has changed. My friend is still working hard; but by modifying his own behavior, he finds that he is feeling considerably less stress.
What was interesting about my discussion was that my friend had come to realize that a portion of his stress was self inflicted. Despite the fact that he had worked for the firm for over five years and had proved himself to be reliable and hard working, he was treating every phone call and email as urgent.
In short, he was not setting limits on any requests he was receiving.
So now, he turns off his phone at 8 p.m. every night and unless he is up against a deadline, he reserves the rest of his evening to spend time with his family and pursue his personal interests. More importantly, when he gets requests from clients at 5 p.m., he asks them when they need to hear back. More often than not, the answer is NOT 8 a.m. the next morning. Similarly, he asks partners when they need a response.
By turning off his phone in the evening and by asking clients and partners for REAL deadlines, this friend of mine has made a meaningful difference in his work/life balance. He still works long hours. But now he is much more selective about what work is urgent and which matters can wait until he gets into the office the next day. And life is much better for him.