The holiday season is upon us. As professional problem solvers, we all know that everything turns out a little better if we anticipate challenges, establish reasonable expectations, and set up a solid game plan. Dealing with the holidays is no different.
Much of what you need to plan for is very predictable. Even most of the things that can go awry this time of year can be anticipated, and advance contingencies can be made without too much trouble. It is merely a matter of being proactive in planning for the holidays, rather than being reactive when you are feeling overwhelmed and in crisis mode.
Get ahead of the holiday game by setting reasonable expectations for yourself and for your office. A solid game plan for dealing with disruptions is almost certain to ensure that you, your staff, and your family and friends all enjoy a pleasant and festive holiday season.
Here are a few tips to survive the holidays:
Make your calendar your best friend.
- Get everything on your calendar so you can depend on it and immediately update it as necessary.
- Review your upcoming events, both personal and professional.
Highlight what is a ‘must-do,’ such as hearings, trials, and family commitments. Make sure those events are clearly noted on your calendar, allowing plenty of time for both travel and parking, (which we all know increases during the holidays).
- Then, closely consider all the other demands on your time, and list them in order of priority. Be sure to include time to actually work on your cases and meet with staff. But do not forget that you will probably also require time for personal tasks like holiday shopping.
- When you start to calendar everything, you will most likely see that there are not enough hours in a day. Determine what is most important to you and eliminate or postpone what is not.
- Consider color-coding appointments on your calendar to designate their priority.
- When setting upcoming appointments, remember that other individuals, including the court, may be less available over the holidays. Plan accordingly.
Face the inevitable head-on
The holidays always seem to come as a package with both joy and stress. It is easy for most of us to deal with the joy, but the stress can also be managed if you deal with it head-on. Simply wishing that something doesn’t exist or won’t happen is usually a wholly inadequate plan. Identify your challenges early and make a reasonable strategy for dealing with them. Suddenly, they will not seem so intimidating. Additionally, it will be reassuring to your clients, staff, and family to know a plan is in place.
Manage and support your staff
- Set clear boundaries early. People are more likely to meet expectations if they clearly understand what they are. If you are prepping for a trial, everyone needs to know that all hands are expected to be on deck.
- Understand the reality that your staff have lives outside the office. It is important to be respectful of them and the personal demands on their time. However, at the same time, you cannot lose sight of what is needed to get work done and serve your clients.
- Try to avoid putting more demands on yourself while catering to the demands of your staff. It can be difficult, but this is when setting and communicating very clear expectations of your staff is most important. Be sure they know when they must be in the office and when there is more flexibility. Due dates and time expectations for completing projects can also be very helpful.
- Have a formal process for requesting time off in advance. Be sure that staff time off is shown on your calendar so that you can plan accordingly as well.
- Plan some time for office celebrations. Acknowledgment and positive reinforcement of staff support, loyalty, and production is vitally important, especially during the holidays.
Give back to your community
The holidays are a perfect time to show your community involvement. Some of the best ways to market yourself and your business involve your active commitment to working for the benefit of your community. Opportunities abound during the holidays; find something that speaks to you and/or your staff and support it.
Acknowledge seasonal changes as a reality
- The bad news is that law firm business generally slows down over the holidays. Plan for that in your budgeting. The timing of fewer new clients can be difficult because end-of-the-year expenses can present a challenge with lower income.
- The good news is that law firm business generally slows down over the holidays. If you are prepared for the financial hit of fewer new clients, it is easy to enjoy the opportunity to catch up on the work needed on existing cases or to simply have a little free time. Try to make the most of the time while you have it. It may also allot you some time to set goals and plan for the new year.
Brace yourself for weather delays
- Snow days are not nearly as much fun as they were when you were a kid when you are now trying to run a business. Shutdowns, late starts, and power outages can wreak havoc on deadlines and the best laid plans. However, they are also a reality of the season. Decide how your office will manage snow, ice, strong winds, and heavy rain.
- Decide if your staff will be in the office or work from home during bad weather.
- Have a well-implemented back-up software on your computers for quick recovery of data.
- When storms are imminent, anticipate disruptions in your system/server. Go old school and print out calendars and client documents.
- Complete projects in advance to avoid eleventh-hour work on deadlines.
- Communicate clearly with clients if you foresee the possibility of delays in their case due to weather, especially if it involves their appearance in court, deposition, or at mediation.
Practice preventative medicine and self-care to avoid sickness and burnout
- While most pandemic restrictions are in the rearview mirror, we are not totally free of risk. Continue to take the risk of COVID and other communicable diseases seriously. Do everything reasonably possible to protect yourself, your staff, and your loved ones from exposure.
- The return to social gatherings, particularly during the holidays, undoubtedly increases the risk of sharing more than the holiday spirit. Be cautious, encourage health-conscious practices in your office, and have a clear policy in place for staff who are ill.
- Burnout seems to show up at the most inopportune times. Coming to the end of a long, challenging business year, compounded by the professional and personal demands of the holidays, is the perfect breeding ground for fatigue, self-doubt, recriminations, and depression. Again, know that you or your staff may be susceptible to these emotions, and be alert to the warning signs. Taking preventative steps is the best course of action. If burnout still creeps into your environment, take immediate and decisive steps to counteract it.
- Take time for self-care and encourage the same of your staff. On a stress-filled day, a simple walk around the block can work wonders to clear your head and lower anxiety. Investing time in exercise, getting a good night’s sleep, and healthy eating habits are all essential to your well-being.
Balance your personal and professional life
- Always try to find the sweet spot in balancing your personal and professional life. If you do not, it is certain to add to your stress and be a distraction. Allocate reasonable amounts of time to both family and work. Then, do your best to be present and to give your full attention to where you are committed to be when you are committed to be there.
- For example, when you are supposed to be preparing client documents, don’t be distracted by online gift shopping and push a deadline. When you are at your child’s holiday concert, don’t be working on your telephone instead of being fully engaged in the magic of the moment.
These distractions do a disservice to your relationships, both personal and professional. They are sure to increase the dissatisfaction of whoever is being short-changed, including yourself.
- Check out our article on work-life balance from last year for more tips!
Embrace your life with grace and gratitude
- Despite the challenges of practicing law, most of us are living lives of abundance. Taking moments to acknowledge that and show gratitude for our good fortune is important. Showing grace in dealing with others, including our clients, staff, and loved ones, not only reflects well on us but also endows us with compassion for others and appreciation for what we value most in our lives.
- The holidays tend to be a time of reflection, as well as celebration. Take time to reflect on all you have, the good you have done, the battles you have fought, the people you have helped, the people who have trusted you with their lives, the people who have supported you, the lessons you have learned, and your pride in what you do. Embrace it all with grace and gratitude.
Prepare for the holidays as best you can and, hopefully, that will allow you to relax and enjoy this special time of year. You may need to roll with the punches if they arise, but you will be prepared to do so without too much hassle.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM ALL OF US TO YOU AND YOURS!
Jeanne, co-founder and managing partner of Divorce Lawyers for Men, is a successful civil litigator who has focused her legal practice on complex litigation, primarily catastrophic injury and wrongful death lawsuits. She has served as a member and Chair of the Washington State Bar Association Law Clerk Board, as a Thurston County Family Court Child Advocate, and as a founding member of the Thurston County Volunteer Legal Clinic.