A Man for All Seasons
To Fit Everything In, This Overscheduled Attorney Must First Find Balance
Posted Apr 28, 2005 2:52 AM CDT
By Jill Schachner Chanen
FIRM Law Offices of Slesnick & Casey, Coral Gables, Fla. Slesnick is also the mayor of Coral Gables.
GOAL Finding time for himself as both a full-time lawyer and an elected city official.
M. Diane Vogt
Tampa, Fla.-based lawyer M. Diane Vogt is a principal in People Wealth, a consulting firm devoted to improving job satisfaction for lawyers. She is the co-author of the ABA-published Keeping Good Lawyers: Best Practices to Create Career Satisfaction.
To say that Donald Slesnick has a lot going on is an understatement.
Slesnick, a busy labor and employment lawyer in South Florida, is the mayor of Coral Gables and is up for re-election this year. He’s a longstanding member of the FedEx Orange Bowl Committee and serves on the council of the ABA’s Labor and Employment Law Section. He also makes time for his two kids, his wife of 36 years and his elderly mother.
Needless to say, Slesnick’s commitments have him going all day, all night and then some. Most weekday mornings find him attending a breakfast meeting or two before heading to city hall to take care of his mayoral obligations. After a business lunch he heads to his law firm and then usually finds himself attending a reception or dinner before heading home to try to see his family and return personal phone calls and e-mails. It’s usually well after 1 o’clock in the morning before he turns in to bed.
Slesnick is not complaining, mind you. Like many other lawyers, he thrives on staying busy and welcomes any opportunity to improve his community. He also hates to disappoint. So if there’s a ribbon to cut, he’s there with the mayoral scissors. If there’s a new commission to chair, he’ll volunteer. And if there’s a baby to kiss, he’ll smooch both cheeks.
But Slesnick admits that he’s reached a point where something’s gotta give. “The most stress is just the act of squeezing two hours of work into one for extended periods of time,” he says. “When I was on military duty in Vietnam, I lived in a 24/7 work environment. But in that situation, a person realized that it was for a specified, limited period of your life and it would be over. So the adrenaline kept you going. Here the obligations are for an undetermined, extended number of years.”
The obvious solution is to cut back, but Slesnick isn’t that kind of guy. “I could give up my extra activities without sacrificing any efficiency in my law office or mayor’s office. However, that just isn’t me,” he says. “I am quite devoted to those activities, as one is important to the welfare of my profession and the other to the welfare of my community.”
What Slesnick needs to do is learn to make trade-offs, says Life Audit work/life balance expert M. Diane Vogt. “It is easy to say no to things that you do not want to do. The challenge is to say no to the things that interest you.”
But for lawyers like Slesnick--who often have an embarrassment of worthwhile opportunities--accepting that challenge is no easy proposition. But Slesnick can rise to it by examining what he really needs to bring balance to his life and then allocating time in what seems like an already chock-full schedule.
She says Slesnick has already taken the first step in this process by recognizing that he is discontented. “That general discontent usually percolates until you have what we call a point of power where you can see what is causing the discontent and can make some changes,” she says.
To figure out the cause of his dissatisfaction, Vogt gave Slesnick a life-balance scale so he can evaluate his personal satisfaction level in a variety of areas.
The life-balance scale is a proprietary list of factors that Vogt’s company has created to help lawyers like Slesnick see for themselves how they can better achieve balance in their lives by grading their contentment with themselves in each area.
The eight factors on the scale: friends and family, romance, adventure, spirituality, work, play, exercise and health.
Vogt says that by grading himself in each area, Slesnick can admit to himself what is good in his life and what is lacking. From there he can begin to make trade-offs in his life to achieve the desired balance he seeks.
The grades Slesnick has given himself on the life-balance scale are no surprise to him: high marks for friends and family, spirituality and work; low marks for play, exercise and adventure.
“You have to start thinking about what you are saying yes to, what you can delegate,” Vogt says. “Lawyers have a tendency to over commit themselves. But the result of saying yes to too many people is that you cannot provide the excellence you want to provide.”
The results of Slesnick’s scale reveal that he’s lacking in the areas of quiet reflection, recreation and exercise. But he’s concerned that, to bring these aspects of his life into balance, he’ll be adding activities to an already strained schedule.
But Vogt says he can commit to nurturing these out-of-balance areas by viewing his life in seasons, with re-election season and its fixed commitments being the first season. Post-election season, she says, is when Slesnick can introduce real change.
To kick off the season of change, Vogt suggests that the mayor cut himself a break and take a vacation. The time away from all his obligations will help him be refreshed enough to reflect on the changes he wants to make and put them into action.
When he returns, rested and relaxed, he will be ready to make changes.
There are two immediate changes Slesnick wants to make, post-election. First is easing the burden he has placed on his law partner while he has been seeking re-election and serving as mayor; second is exercising regularly.
Vogt says that Slesnick can achieve these goals simply by acknowledging the need to delegate and by taking better control of his daily schedule.
For example, if Slesnick is elected for a third term as mayor, he should acknowledge that he doesn’t have to show up for every event he is asked to attend. He also has a dedicated staff he knows and trusts, so he can delegate some appearances or obligations to his deputies, Vogt says.
By taking this step, Slesnick will already have cleared up major blocks of his time. However, the trick is to use that time wisely, Vogt says.
If spending more time at his law firm will help add balance, then he should schedule more time in the day at his law office. If he is serious about exercising, he should allocate time each day for that. To help him make this transition, Slesnick should tell his assistant to schedule his day accordingly. “Tell your assistant not to schedule anything before 10 a.m.” so you can exercise, Vogt advises.
Finally, Vogt tells Slesnick that he must learn to recognize that he can do it all. The trick is just accepting that he cannot do it all at once.
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Evaluate Yourself Honestly
Use the life-balance scale to determine what elements of your life are out of balance.
Realize you cannot change all at once. View your life in seasons. Change with each season.
Have a certain date or time frame to commit to change your life for the better.
Making change requires trade-offs. Create a blueprint to accomplish those changes.
You can do it all--just not all at once.
Life Audit Hot Tip: Check Those Biorhythms
Is going to the gym every morning more of a struggle than a benefit? Maybe it’s just the wrong time of the day for your body. Don’t fight it. Instead, simply adjust your schedule to make it work with your circadian rhythms. You’ll find you are able to get a whole lot more done when it’s the natural time for your own body to do it.