Law

Tips On How To Unplug

Contrary to what outside counsel may believe, being in-house counsel comes with stress too. We may not have billable hours or have to develop business, but we are still in the client service industry and have business clients (sometimes right outside our door) who rely on us to be available and responsive, to solve their current problems and anticipate future ones, and to stay within budget and, of course, to win.

Lay that over the normal stress of juggling family life and the barrage of bad news on the news reel and yep, we can end up just as anxious, depressed, or burned out as our firm colleagues.

So as Mental Health Awareness Month comes to a close, I would be remiss not to share a few tips on how to unplug.

  1. Taking Breaks

This is an obvious one, but worth mentioning because it is frequently ignored. I know this because I used to ignore it too. But now that I practice taking breaks (and it is a practice!), I’m a believer – and I can share that while the action is small, the impact can be mighty. I, too, intimately know the strong siren’s call to keep plugging away at your desk as furiously and as long as possible, skipping meals and limiting your bathroom breaks until the last possible moment like a toddler – all in an effort to get as much done as humanly possible without interruption.

But this strategy can actually backfire – leading to typos and bigger mistakes (thus, harming your brand), impacting your physical health, and exponentially adding to your stress. And honestly, how much productivity are you “losing” in a few minutes, especially if you’re so tired or stressed that it takes you multiple reads of an email to understand the ask? (By the way, that’s a sign you need a break!)

Instead, intentionally add a few breaks, anywhere from 5-15 minutes, in your day between emails and projects. Schedule them at the beginning of each day. And during those breaks, get physically away from your desk. When I work from home, I will take a quick walk around the block and listen to some music, a podcast or a few minutes of my current book on Audible. Sometimes I’ll use that time to do a 5-10 minute yoga, strength, cardio or meditation from Peloton. When I work in the office, I’ll take a walk to go refill my water or coffee, stopping to connect to a colleague I may pass by.

There’s just something restorative about giving yourself a little headspace, changing your environment and taking a few deep breaths to “reset” your focus when you get back at it. It may not actually lessen the amount of work you have, but it improves your ability to address it.

  1. Taking Vacation

As someone who was trained in Biglaw and actually worked on her honeymoon, I understand the ingrained inclination to feel productive and want to work, even on vacation. But now that I have been in-house and have actually experienced a vacation without touching my laptop, I can attest to how restorative vacation can (and should) be.

To make sure I take my vacation, I assess how much I have at the beginning of the year. Next, I block off any plans we may already have as a family or want to have – anticipating spring break, summer vacation and holidays. Because I have school-aged children, I also consult the academic calendar. I also try to reserve 4 quarterly “me” days, even if I am not traveling, where I spend my time next to a pool, reading fiction or at a day spa or Home Edit-ing my closet because it brings me joy. Certainly, these days may have to move for business needs, but if they are already blocked off and scheduled, the likelihood of you taking vacation increases. Last, but certainly not least, don’t take your laptop or work with you on your vacation. Hopefully you have colleagues like mine where we happily “backfill” for each other so anyone of us can fully enjoy their time off.

  1. Sticking to Work Hours

Especially for those who are working from home, it is too easy to find yourself working more and all the time. Which is why it is important to define your workday – and stick to it. Of course, you will need to be flexible to client needs, but decide on a time when you will shut your computer off and stop checking email on your phone. For me, my workday is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. central, but my clients know that if they need me outside of these hours, they can reach me by calling my cellphone or scheduling something different. The beauty of intentionally sharing my schedule with clients is that they tend to only call on me outside of my workday if there is an urgency to do so. And sticking to work hours allows me to be the kind of mom, wife, and overall human being (and not human doing) that I want to be.


Meyling “Mey” Ly Ortiz is in-house at Toyota Motor North America. Her passions include mentoring, championing belonging, and a personal blog: TheMeybe.com. At home, you can find her doing her best to be a “fun” mom to a toddler and preschooler and chasing her best self on her Peloton. You can follow her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/meybe/). And you knew this was coming: her opinions are hers alone.

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