I’m back from vacation. When I got to work on Monday, I exhaled and thought, thank goodness that I’m in the office all week. I was elated to know that I had five full work days ahead of me. The thought of getting down and dirty in my work files for five full days pleased me. Then I thought, what the hell is wrong with me?
When I was out on vacation, I checked my email, and not just once per day. I checked it in the morning when I was lying in bed. I checked it pool-side between trips down the lazy river. I also logged into work – on multiple occasions. I felt the insurmountable need to keep my files moving until my return. I made mental checklists of what I needed to do upon my return and conceptually prioritized that list. The weight of knowing the work waiting for me in my office was substantial. As vacation drew to an end, I could feel my anxiety rising, thinking of that to-do list knocking at my door.
Now, I had fun on vacation – don’t get me wrong. In fact, I live for vacations. Traveling, spending time with my family, and exploring new places are my jam. But even that said, a part of my brain was always somewhat preoccupied with work.
I have genuine envy for people who, when they go on vacation or are out of the office, have other employees who take over their work. There are jobs, I assume, that don’t cause this kind of stress, right? Or maybe I’m wrong.
There’s something about lawyering that makes it so darn hard to be away from the office. What is it, I wonder? Is it that no one else can do the work that we do (or our misconception that this is the situation)? Is it the demands of clients? Opposing counsel? Is it the complexity of our files? Is it the billable-hour requirements? Or, is it just that we’re too inept to create a culture in which being away from the office is okay? Why can’t we have a culture that accepts an out-of-office email reply?
I thought for a second, what if I just let go of all that worry about getting my work done when I was on vacation. Imagine what that would feel like: true bliss, I suspect. Then, just thinking about not thinking about work while I’m out gives me angst. I Have A Problem, I thought. But, I’m also acutely aware that I am not in the minority.
What if we entered into a professional truce that we would leave our work at the office while on vacation, that we’d grant everyone a courtesy extension if they were returning from vacation, and that we wouldn’t file pleadings during sleeping hours?
There has to be a better way, doesn’t there? Should we – as a profession – reshape client expectations? Could we all pinky-swear that we won’t respond to each other’s emails at 10:30 p.m.? (Just think about being able to play Candy Crush instead of replying to emails while lying in bed! Dream big, people!) Think about if we had a professional agreement that if we received an out-of-office email response, we would never follow up with that lawyer’s assistant to try and track down the lawyer. What if we entered into a professional truce that we would leave our work at the office, that we’d grant everyone a courtesy extension if they were returning from vacation, and that we wouldn’t file pleadings during sleeping hours? Sounds pretty blissful, right?
I feel as though lawyers bear some of the responsibility for this wild work environment. We’ve allowed our clients to demand this from us, and we’ve not given each other enough slack when we’re on vacation. Can we right this ship? I sure would like to be more excited about time out of the office than I currently am about time in the office. I bet you would be, too.