Why Thriving Is Hard for Lawyers

A blog that every lawyer should read by lawyer consultant David Shearon about the unique set of challenges lawyers face and why these factors make it hard for them to thrive in their personal and professional lives.  Read the Blog

Getting Things Done While Depressed

In my last blog, I wrote an article about the importance of goal setting for those in the legal profession with depression.  I went looking for some nifty quotes on the topic; true nuggets of insightful wisdom. Instead, I found a lot of boorish material which just rehashed what we already know – it’s important to get your act together.

That being said, I hope to humbly offer up my own take on goal setting for those hampered by the drag of depression.

Depression is full of waffling and meandering through the wastelands of our somber thoughts.  We are, of course, seduced into all of this by such thoughts — as if this were a productive way to live one’s life.  The thoughts gather strength and become ingrained cognitive habits as we repeat them millions of times with several variations on the same theme:  “I’m no good”, “nobody cares about me,” “I can’t do anything right” or what’s wrong with me?”  Listen, thinking these thoughts occasionally are normal for anyone who has been smacked around by life’s trials and tribulations.  After all, we are all jerks at different points of our lives . . . . . speak for yourself Dan, you may retort!

The problem comes in when such thoughts aren’t a sometime-sort-of-thing, but an all-the-time-sort-of-thing.  They take up residence in our minds and make a mess of the kitchen.

Depressive thoughts become one of the reasons we avoid, forget and/or just can’t seem to set healthy goals.  It’s as if in the midst of a depression, we simply don’t care because we can’t see anything good happening in the near or far future to us whatever we do.  This self-talk is a script right out of the movie, “How Depression Took over My Life.” (Not a real movie)

There are two ways to approach this issue of goal setting for the depressed professional. Though they aren’t mutually exclusive, it’s helpful to pull them apart.

Goal Setting with Depression

There will be different things you’ll be able to realistically get done depending where you fall on the depression continuum.  However, some ideas which should help everybody:

Structure Your Day – Please.

People with depression can feel scattered and overwhelmed.  The strain of being so exacerbates their depression because of the stress chemicals released in their bodies.  As such, go through your day first thing in the morning and decide how it might play out in your mind.  Try to be constructive about it.  Watch the language you use in your self-talk.  Instead of your stated goal being, “Not to feel like crap today,” try something like, “Today, I’m going to do my best to take care of myself.”  The shift in perspective can and does make a big difference.

Keep it simple. 

I keep a stack of 3 x 5 index cards in my laptop case and use one per day.  On it, I write 3-5 things on the left that are priorities and 3-5 things on the right that I’d like to get done.  I used to have a variety of notes scattered across piles of legal pads.  You can still do that if you, like me, are a “To do” list junky.  But, try the index card approach.  It’s cheap and simple to do. Keep it in your shirt pocket with a pen so you don’t have to search for it.  Psychologists tell us it takes 21 days for a habit to stick so give it three weeks.

Goal Setting at Work

Managing and Delegating

You must corral your work.  If you don’t, it’ll sink you when you’re dealing with depression.  If you have a secretary, lean on her heavily to organize your day and your desk.  Sit with her every morning and go over the day.  Many lawyers are control freaks and aren’t good at delegating.  You have to break that habit and let go of this compulsion.


Many lawyers bring their all-or-nothing cognitive approach to the workday.  Either they have to get everything done (“Yikes!”) or nothing done (e.g. they blow the whole day because they don’t feel well at the beginning of the day).  A good cognitive tool to use is regrouping.  I would sometimes have a crappy morning and think that the day was then ruined.  I’ve since learned to regroup at different intervals of the day, take stock and tell myself that just because the morning was crummy (or even the past hour) that doesn’t mean that I can’t zoom in the afternoon.

Watch Your Depression Patterns

Learn the patterns of your depression as they relate to your work day.  If you pay attention, depression takes on a certain pattern.  For me, I felt my worst in the morning.  This was often related to trouble sleeping.  I would begin zooming around 10 in the morning.  As such, I planned my day around this.  Other lawyers find that their depression hits around 2 p.m.  Keep a journal for about a week and pay attention to when this happens to you.  A good idea is to wear a sport watch with a timer.  Then set it to beep at one or two hour intervals.  Write down your mood at that time and rate it between 1 and 10.  I think you’ll be surprised to see how your mood changes during the course of the day.

It is not impossible to set goals while depressed.  It’s important to watch yourself getting things done.  Zoom.

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