We lawyers like to play Tetris with our time. We break days down to the hour, if not the minute. We appreciate deadlines and the consequences of failing to meet them. As a criminal prosecutor, I’m never late for court and I always make deadlines. As a business owner of several stone quarries, I’m on top of my game. But as a father of four, I’m often late for family dinner — or worse yet, I miss it altogether.
For years, I blamed my absence on external forces. Court got out late and I needed to prepare for tomorrow’s trial. The commute took longer than expected. I had to make a call just as I was walking out the door. Then, I came up with internal excuses. I’m a hard worker. The better I perform at work, the better things will eventually be at home. People rely on me because I’m committed to my to-do list. If that means missing family dinner here and there, well that’s simply the cost of doing business.
Then, one day, a friend challenged me: “If you’re so keen to complete your to-do list, Paul, why not just add be home for family dinner to the list?” And he was right.
I instantly began to make changes. The result was transformative for me and for my family. Here’s how you crush it as a lawyer and still make it home in time for dinner.
Reverse engineer every day, beginning with family dinner. That’s the deadline. Meet it. Break down your day by time slots rather than tasks — and aim to eat the ugly frogs first. My day might look like this:
8:30 to 10:30: Prepare and file motion
10:30 to 12:30: Confirm discovery dates, begin memo to partner
12:30 to 1:30: Lunch meeting
1:30 to 3:30 Finish memo
3:30 to 5:30 Put out unexpected fires
5:30 to 6:00 Margin for error
6:00: Leave work
6:45: Get home, wrestle kids, eat dinner. Then, begin bedtime bribery routine.
Pack your bags
At the start of each day, pack an item you can easily work on from your couch at home, along with your favourite pen and highlighter. (Don’t pretend like you don’t love your highlighters. I know you do.) This way, come quitting time, you can easily walk out the door when you planned, and no time is wasted scrambling to find suitable work to take home.
Making it home for dinner five days a week may be too tall an order. Put it in your to-do list for three days and work your way up. Better to succeed at three, than fail at five. The most important principle? Don’t give up when you do fail. Treat dinner like any other goal — when you hit it, celebrate. And when you miss, try again right away.
Paul Attia is a husband, father of four, business-owner and assistant Crown attorney in Toronto.
Top photo from Beatrice Murch