Work + Growth

How to Find an Extra Gear When You’re Running on Empty


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  • As tempting as it can be to refuel with sugary snacks and drinks, resist the urge! Healthy food and exercise will increase your energy level naturally
  • All work and no play (yes, even for lawyers) is a bad idea. Spending time doing what makes you happy can help refuel your tank for work
  • We’re overachievers by nature, but when you’re exhausted, learning to say “no” and relax can lower your stress levels and give your energy a boost

It’s a fact of lawyer life: At some point, you’re going to feel completely drained, as if all your fuel is depleted and you’re running on empty.

And of course, that’s when a deal will blow up or a client will command all of your attention.

But there’s also good news! There are strategies out there that can boost your energy and help you rise to the challenge, even when you want nothing more than to pull the covers over your head and sleep – and they’re manageable even for those of us living that law firm lifestyle.

Fuel Yourself the Right Way

For many of us, it’s common to skimp on self-care once we’re buried under a mammoth caseload. But if you’re constantly reaching for caffeinated soda or a handful of potato chips to keep you going when you’re running on fumes, you’re doing yourself no favors. Instead, take care of your body and make an effort to fuel yourself appropriately. Eat healthfully, drink lots of water, resist the temptation to skip meals, and keep caffeine and alcohol intake in check. Your body (and ability to function when it feels like you’ve been going nonstop) will thank you.

Get Some Exercise

A funny thing happens when you work up a sweat: You feel awake and energized, ready to tackle even the most daunting assignment, even if you’ve worked through the weekend. Exercise releases endorphins, which boost your energy level and improve your mood, helping kickstart your body and brain when you’re drained. Too busy to escape the firm for some gym time? Keep a pair of dumbbells in your office, consider swapping out your desk chair for an exercise ball, or even do 20 jumping jacks before you take a client call.

Have Some Fun

All work and no play is probably what got you here in the first place. So remedy that!

Do you have a hobby or pastime that you enjoy, but have been ignoring because, you know, lawyer life?

Make time to get back into it. If not, now’s the time to find one, even if your schedule is overpacked. Have you always wanted to play the guitar? Take a painting class? Learn to speak French? Try it out. As you work to refine any skill, the reward mechanisms in your brain activate, in turn helping your energy levels to naturally increase.

Just Say No

You know that self-discipline that helped you make it as a lawyer in the first place? It’s time to exercise it. As lawyers, we’re overachievers, likely to take on every single thing we’re asked to do. Some of that is unavoidable (if you’re a first-year associate, you’re at the mercy of more senior attorneys when it comes to your workload), but not all of it. Say you’re asked to attend an event you’re not excited about – say no. Or maybe there’s a project at work that you can delegate – do it. Whenever you add a new commitment to your schedule, you’re increasing your stress levels and probably adding to that feeling of running on empty. You’ll be amazed at what a few “no’s” can do.

Treat Yourself

Healthy food, abundant water, and exercise are good for your body. But what’s good for your heart? When it comes to running on empty, the things that make you whole are key to refilling your tank. Even for those of us with typical lawyer schedules (read: at the office ‘til late, attached at the hip to our phones), doing things you love will help. Whether it’s spending time with friends and family, taking a long relaxing bath, listening to music, or anything else, devoting time to that which makes you feel like yourself can help you feel refreshed and ready to handle whatever comes your way.

What's Next

Whether or not you’re running on empty, the strategies above will help your mind and body, and naturally boost your energy (and let’s be honest, all of us could use more fuel). Pick one item from the list and commit to it for two weeks. We’re pretty sure you’ll want to keep going when the 14 days are up.