LTRC Roundtable Discussion: Work-Life Balance

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This month, we asked our panel to tell us about how they will use technology to better maintain a work-life balance.

Our Panelists:

Dennis Kennedy (DK), Alan Klevan (AK), Lance Johnson (LJ), William Goren (WG), John Loughnane (JL), Darla Jackson (DJ), and Allison Shields (AS)

How is technology adding to your stress in 2022?

JL: I do not think technology generally adds to my stress—except when it does not work as flawlessly as expected in the exact moment needed. Of course, the best way to manage this situation is to always plan ahead and allow sufficient time to implement a backup plan if needed.

LJ: Only in one small issue with an apparent change in security policy by Microsoft that prevented Acrobat from saving a modified PDF back to the same subdirectory. That was an issue until I got it figured out.

AK: My weakness is surfing the web when I should be completing an assignment. It is easy for me to just hop on a bookmarked site, convincing myself that I am going on it “for only a minute” only to find myself engrossed in a story. By the time I realize how long I have been off-task, my stress level rises and it takes me time to re-focus my energies. Another stressor is the fact that sometimes my computers get caught up in the Microsoft updates which, in my opinion, have become clunkier.

DK: Many people are taking three steps backward on cybersecurity precautions at a time when we all need to be taking at least three steps forward. I’ve never known a more dangerous time for cybersecurity than what we are experiencing now. Worst of all, the poor security practices of others can definitely impact me. I suppose there is at least one analogy there.

DJ: There is so much new technology available that I sometimes experience stress in allocating enough time to become familiar with it.

AS: Too many different modes of communication! I get a ridiculous number of email messages every day, and those are difficult enough to keep up with. Add on top of that text messages, communications through Teams, Slack, Monday, and more—if I’m not careful, I can spend an inordinate amount of time just on these communications, and not get any other work done. It also adds stress because I have to go to several different places to keep up, rather than just one

How is technology reducing your stress in 2022?

JL: Effective deployment and use of technology definitely help cope with and manage stress. Technology should be used as a tool in support of key objectives and goals. If not useful, then another tool (technological or otherwise) should be used.

LJ: I use technology as leverage to increase my productivity so I can avoid stress. For example, I am still exploring all the ways Office 365 and Acrobat can help me streamline routine tasks and avoid unnecessary clerical work.

AK: I use the 10% Happier and/or Mindspace Apps once a day to just shut my mind off from the external influencing stressors.

DK: Yes, because that is one of my 2022 technology goals. I’ve been working on my “Second Brain Project” in Notion (www.notion.so) and that has made a world of difference for me in organization and focus. I’ve also become a big fan of using streaming music services like Apple Music to play ambient soundscapes for relaxation and other effects.

DJ: Particular tech tools allow me the flexibility to meet individuals where they are. This reduces my stress because I don’t feel impatient about having to be the IT help desk for everyone I am trying to communicate with.

What technologies (hardware, software, apps) are you using to reduce your stress in 2022?

JL: In terms of hardware, multiple monitors help keep key information viewable and accessible with ease. A quality headset is comfortable to wear and leaves hands free for the keyboard. Recently updated time-keeping software allows entry on various devices and provides a great deal more convenience for managing billing obligations.

LJ: Office 365, Adobe Acrobat, AppColl (integrated IP docketing and billing), and Westlaw.

AK: Microsoft OneDrive, Adobe Acrobat DC, CasePeer case management software (I am a personal injury attorney), the Fujitsu ScanSnap, a Hewlett Packard LaserJet printer, and multiple 27″ curved monitors. That is my entire office, and I have the same exact hardware in my home office and turnkey office.

DK: I’d say AirPods Pro and Apple Watch for hardware. AirPods do a great job on noise reduction as well as bringing you music. It might surprise people a bit, but large monitors reduce the stress of trying to see things as your eyes get older. I also dig deep into accessibility and other settings to customize my user experiences. As I mentioned earlier, Notion and streaming ambient soundscapes are great for me. Using an Amazon Echo or similar device for reminders can help keep you on time and not feel like you are always running late. Tons of great tools these days.

DJ: Microsoft 365, Zoom, Westlaw Edge, Lexis+, Fastcase, Casetext, features of the iPhone such as Screentime and Do Not Disturb.

AS: Although I can get “Zoom fatigue” just as much as anyone else, believe it or not, now that everyone is used to virtual meetings, being able to meet with clients and colleagues virtually is helping to reduce my stress, because I know I can meet with any of my clients virtually and not have to worry about travel time, weather, etc. I recently got a remarkable 2 (on the recommendation of my friend and fellow LP member Debbie Foster), which reduces my stress because I can have the experience of taking notes or making lists “on paper” but save them and export them in electronic format. Now I can keep everything in one place and I always know where my lists are. Being able to do a “brain dump” any time and know that I won’t lose my notes is priceless. And I can read e-books or review and mark up PDF documents on it as well. I have several different workout and mediation apps that I use regularly because exercise and meditation are important for managing stress (and helping me sleep!). The mediation app I use most often is probably Insight Timer, but I also use a number of meditations on the app that goes along with my fitness tracker, which is my Oura ring—another piece of technology that is crucial for helping me manage my stress. My ring not only tracks my steps, but it also tracks my heart rate, sleep time and quality, and more.

Do you take “sabbaticals” from technology to help reduce your stress? If so, what specifically are you doing?

JL: As noted, I do not generally think of technology as adding to my stress. It is a part of life and should be managed accordingly. When walking the dogs or exercising, I will occasionally listen to a podcast or music—or not. Free will remains.

LJ: I try not to work all weekend if at all possible.

AK: Absolutely. Complete reliance on technology can drive a person mad. Specifically, I am scheduling hour-long breaks, sometimes even longer, during the day to just get away from work. The pandemic seems to have juggled our concepts of time, and, as I feel like I have more work interruptions during the day, I use the daytime to get out and enjoy life, by taking walks or scenic drives, and work more during the evening. As I believe attorneys have fewer interruptions in the evening, I tend to get more work done, which, by increasing my productivity, makes me more satisfied.

DK: To be honest, I’ve never understood technology “sabbaticals.” The concept reminds me of “cleanses” and other drastic approaches, which provide their own unique types of new stress. Look at stress holistically. Tech might be just one part of it. Most of us don’t have the luxury of “disconnecting.” Hearing all the “exceptions” people make for their tech sabbaticals makes me wonder if the sabbatical rules are adding to the stress level. And, let’s face it, people complaining about tech stress usually have many deeper causes of stress.

DJ: Despite FOMO concerns, I try not to check email or social media after 11 pm. I use the screen time to monitor how much time I am using my phone. When I really need to focus, I use Do Not Disturb and focus notification filters.

AS: I haven’t taken any “sabbaticals” per se from technology, but I’m not opposed to the idea. I do try to make a concerted effort during the day to take breaks from technology, and if I’m walking or hiking, I typically prefer to keep my phone in my pocket and take notice of the sights and sounds around me rather than listening to music, eBooks, etc.

WG: I do not check emails or LinkedIn or anything professional from sundown on Friday night through bedtime. It really does make a difference. It’s my own way of observing the Jewish sabbath.

If you have one piece of advice, tech or not, for lawyers to help reduce stress in 2022, what would it be?

JL: Consider your most important priorities and work back from there in identifying how to spend your time. Stress experienced in support of key priorities and goals is significantly better than stress experienced over matters of less importance.

LJ: Be thoughtful with your needs analysis, and get the software before you desperately need it. Give yourself time to install and test it out before you have a deadline.

AK: My first piece of advice for 2022, while not exactly “tech,” is to stay away from news sites when surfing the web. I tend to get caught up in articles regarding the pandemic and the upcoming elections, which is unhealthy. Studies show that it takes lawyers additional time to get back “on task” after surfing the web, and controversial discourse on the internet seems to throw me off even more. Piece of advice number two: turn off all notifications, both on your desktop or laptop. Turn off your phone notifications while working. You can use the “Pomodoro” principle (Allison Shields has an excellent primer on it if you like to take frequent breaks during work). A more practical piece of advice for lawyers hoping to reduce stress in 2022 is to feed your brain, which I believe is the most important piece of technology anyone has. By feeding your brain, I mean eat healthily, be certain to exercise, practice some form of mindfulness, even for five minutes a day, and let your brain be your guide as to what “terrestrial” technologies you need to actually make your practice work. You don’t need the newest and most expensive technologies to have an efficient and profitable practice. Use what works best for you and stick with that. Make a goal in 2020 to yourself to be the best person you can be, to yourself, your family, and to your clients.

DK: Don’t compare yourself to others. You be you. If I can add a second bit of advice, don’t fool yourself into using “tech stress” as a way to avoid dealing with the root causes of your stress.

DJ: Try to be patient with yourself and your technology. Try to make sure you begin working with new tech before you absolutely need to use it; this will reduce stress in transitioning to new apps and services.

AS: Get regular exercise, spend time with friends and family, be present in whatever you are doing, instead of constantly thinking about what is next or allowing technology to distract you.