When you work as hard as we do, it can be difficult to prioritize your friendships.
After all, once you’ve put in your billable hours, eaten, and slept (at least a little), there’s not much time left in your schedule for anything else.
However, friendships are important – especially friendships with non-lawyers, who can sometimes serve as necessary reality checks for those of us who work around the clock. No one should have to abandon friendships because work has gotten in the way. It takes some effort and discipline, but it is possible to maintain friendships despite your busy work life. Here’s how.
When you’re working on a big case or important deal, you might “disappear” for weeks, unable to spend time with friends or sometimes even respond to phone calls or emails. This is obviously not conducive to keeping up relationships. Instead of disappearing, make the choice to make a concerted effort to stay as connected to your friends as possible, even when you’re extremely busy and can’t see them face to face. You can call friends during your commute, for instance, or send a “just checking in!” text while you’re in line at Starbucks.
As in any relationship, strong communication within friendships is important. Your lawyer friends will understand why you can be hard to pin down and make plans with, but your other friends might not get it right away. With that in mind, it can be beneficial to the health of your friendships to be as forthcoming as possible about what’s going on at work and why you have to work as much as you do. Make sure all your friends understand what your schedule is really like, so they’re not as likely to take your unavailability personally.
Don’t Make Plans Only for Weekends
While in theory it might make sense to reserve your social plans for Fridays and Saturdays, you’re missing out by excluding the rest of the week. First of all, you’re probably doing a fair amount of work on weekends anyway, which means you’re still likely to get caught up in something you have to finish and possibly cancel plans. But more importantly, there’s probably some free time in your weekdays you’re overlooking. Can you take a quick coffee break with a friend? Meet them for lunch? Walk to work with them? Consider ways to fit friendships into your schedule that aren’t just dinners or drinks on the weekend. It can also help to view time with friends as a way to reward yourself for all the hard work you’re doing.
Keep the Plans You Make
This can be challenging, thanks to the unpredictable nature of our jobs. However, you will hurt your friendships by canceling plans all the time. While everyone must cancel now and then, it’ll go a long way with your friends if you make an effort not to be a flake. One beneficial technique is to add any plans you make into your iPhone, Google, or Outlook calendar, which can help you schedule necessary work responsibilities around them, and also encourage your colleagues to do so when they see an official-looking unavailable block of time.
When you do manage to spend time with your friends, make sure to be as present, mindful, and invested as possible. Yes, that means putting your phone away and resisting the urge to check in with work. It’s also a good idea to make the best use of your time together so you can actually connect with your friends on a personal level. As much as you might want to head to the movies and catch the new flick everyone’s talking about, make plans to do something where you can actually talk to each other and catch up—at least some of the time.
The next time you’re able to meet up with a friend, focus on being as present as possible. Then, adopt one other strategy from the list above, whether it’s setting realistic expectations with a non-lawyer friend or getting in the habit of making calls during your commute home.