How to get through the day and get back on track
“I’m exhausted”, said Evan. “I know we have to talk about marketing but I can’t get to that right now. I’m feeling out of control. I can’t focus. I’ve lost my motivation. I don’t even know how I’m going to get through the stuff on today’s list. So marketing is the furthest thing from my mind… I just need to get through the day”.
And so that became the agenda for that day’s coaching call with Evan. We spent the hour talking through what was happening, and what he could do to regain a sense of control. This had to come first because he couldn’t do anything else until he was off the slippery slope.
I asked him questions. He talked and I listened. We worked through the things he needed to do right then for himself, and his clients. Our sole focus for the day was to keep him from getting pulled further into the negative spiral that is very difficult to escape.
Evan also wanted to work on the causes of all of the issues – not just the symptoms. I assured him we’d get to that – but that he first needed to get through the storm before he could really think clearly enough to get to the heart of the issues. That’s because when your brain is on overload the fear response kicks in and knocks the higher-level thinking functions offline until you reach a place of relative safety.
Evan knows that my role as his business coach is to help him grow and build his practice. Along the way we work through whatever issues stand in the way of making that happen – like we did that day. He benefits from my personal experiences dealing with these debilitating issues – and the strategies I’ve used to help myself, and my clients. He also continues to rely on his medical professionals who are specifically trained to help him with his physical mental health – because often this kind of stress is more than just in your thoughts – it is the result of chemical and physiological changes that require medical professionals.
Here are some things you can do if Evan’s story sounds familiar to you, or if you have a friend in a similar situation.
1) Don’t Fall Prey to the Voices in Your Head.
When you’re under this kind of stress you will find yourself creating stories about how you’re not good enough, it is your fault, how if you only did things differently you wouldn’t be in this situation, that you’re letting people down … and on and on. Most of this is head-trash. And you’ll see it as that if you step back and create some space to think about the facts – and not the fears driving the voices in your head. Talking with someone you trust, whether it be your coach or your therapist, really helps you work through it.
2) Break the Overwhelming To-Do List into Bite-Sized Pieces.
Evan was stressed about all the things he had to do, and it all seemed like they had to be done right away. When we broke down the things on the list into much smaller bite-sized pieces, and then focused on which pieces HAD to happen that day, and the next day, he was able to pick the few things that could help him regain momentum and feel more in control. Sure, there was a lot that had to wait. But in that moment we just needed a beachhead of control and some simple wins to get him back on track.
3) Accept What You Cannot Control
He was really upset about a Judge’s decision that wasn’t supported by the law or the facts. He had concerns about why and how the Judge could make that decision, and the impact on his client. The injustice of the situation really occupied his attention and energy. Yet there was very little he could do about it in that moment. Talking it through helped him see what he could do and what was beyond his control. I find that so much lawyer stress comes from this inability to control things that we believe we should be able to, but we cannot. Becoming more pragmatic about our span of control can really help reduce stress.
4) Give Yourself A Break
You’re in a high-stress, high-stakes profession. That means there are things we are going to miss. We are going to make mistakes. The harder we press, the more likely we are to make mistakes – especially over time. Create the time to check-out, or recharge, or work off some stress. The first thing Evan was going to do after our call was to go to the gym and work off some of his excess energy and frustration. That was a good investment for him, because it allowed him to come back and be more focused on the most important thing that day – like working on the appeal of that Judge’s decision.
P.s… I know how hard it is to stay focused when things feel out of control – yet you still need to meet deadlines and get things done. So I wrote up 5 Productivity Hacks for Lawyers: Get More Done with Less Stress. Click Here for your free copy.