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Unplugging to Recharge

As electronic devices invaded our lives, plugging in became an essential. Have you ever counted how many charging cords you have in your home or office? Have you even taken what you thought was your laptop charger to a meeting and discovered that it was a different charger altogether? Welcome to the digital world.
Devices with rechargeable batteries are wonderful tools. We don’t have to be tied to an electricity outlet, allowing us to work outdoors, at coffee shops and while travelling. But while they provide flexibility and convenience, they have also created an inability to get away—pretty much wherever you are, you can charge your phone, tablet or laptop and access your email and files.
This was essential to our ability to pivot to working-from-home when the first Covid-19 lockdown orders arrived. We set up workspaces in our homes, plugging in our laptops and carrying on seamlessly. We gave everyone our cell phone numbers since it was easier than relaying calls through our office phone systems, and we answered emails when they came in because it was easy, and our lives were quiet.
But while plugged in accessibility was great during the pandemic and work from home era, we now have a new problem: how do we unplug from our technology so that we can recharge ourselves?
Some of us legal dinosaurs lived in an era when leaving the office meant you were largely unavailable. This was the norm. But law was practiced, trials were conducted, and deals were closed. We managed this without being on duty 24/7. When we went on vacation, we dictated transfer memos to our colleagues who had agreed to cover for us, outlining the status of all our files and advising of steps that needed to be taken during our absence.
Besides allowing us to take vacations, this process also forced us to look at our moldier files a few times per year and consider what needed to be done. Sometimes, the prospect of a vacation energized us to complete outstanding tasks—we didn’t want someone else looking at how long the file had been siting on our credenzas. There was good that came from assessing our files and rectifying delinquencies!
One American law firm, Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, recently took an interesting approach to lawyer well-being: the firm provided an extra 40 hours of additional paid leave per year. Evidently, taking the 40 hours of leave, where lawyers were encouraged to unplug for the full block of 40 hours, is factored into bonus calculation.
Lawyers are good at critiquing and poking holes. Bloomberg Law reports that an Orrick Herrington lawyer, who was unnamed, stated that lawyers could still complain that they cannot get their full bonus unless they take a week off. You can never please everyone at the same time. Truth be told: an Orrick Herrington office was our main US counsel for the multinational corporation I worked for many years. They had some excellent lawyers, so I suspect that they can figure out how to plug any holes and communicate effectively.
Other lawyers said that lawyers’ egos were too large to trust a colleague to take over their work. I am not sure that I agree—lawyers’ egos were pretty large when I was a junior lawyer, and it was just a fact of life that other people had to cover your files. If we normalize this, it should not be unsurmountable.
In light of Ontario’s new right to disconnect legislation, discussion about unplugging is spilling over into Alberta. Should lawyers—particularly junior lawyers—have the right to log off at a set time except for true emergencies?
If you read this blog, you know my opinion—lawyers should be able to log off their electronic devices so that they don’t burn out. I proposed a standard cut-off time for emails, with truly emergent issues being communicated by telephone or text.
I have heard about Alberta law firms bringing in these types of policies, and I would love to be able to share the creative solutions that balance client need with employee well-being. Please send me what your firm is doing, or how you think law firms can implement boundaries. Perhaps we can pull together as a community of lawyers who value well-being and share our learnings.
For some excellent strategies on how to develop and assert boundaries in a Big Law context, check out a four part blog series from a pair of lawyers.
I don’t want to be accused of not taking my own advice, but I am actually on holidays this week. I am using an imperfect strategy where I will be checking in on my work email once a day because our organization is small, and I have a lot of institutional knowledge. My work holiday is not actually a vacation this year—I am assisting elderly parents with a variety of issues including the sale of real estate and dealing with lifetimes of memorabilia. Emails about work are going to give me little breaks from challenging emotional issues. Yes, my work involves challenging emotional issues, but sometimes you need a break from the particular challenging emotional issues you are facing! However, I am planning a three-day getaway with my mother and sister, something we haven’t done for years, and I am recharging my battery with two favourite activities.
The first is music that makes me happy. I am unplugging from work and plugging into the soundtrack of happy times in my life.
I recently caught a news clip about research which has determined the happiest song is Electric Light Orchestra’s Mr. Blue Sky. This research looked at the number of beats per minute of songs as well as whether they were in a major or a minor key, using the following formula:

Rating = 60 + (0.00165 * BPM – 120)^2 + (4.376 * Major) + 0.78 * nChords – (Major * nChords).
Interestingly, Mr. Blue Sky was also selected as the happiest song in a survey. The researcher, Dr. Jacob Jolif from  University of Groningen in the Netherlands, also factored in the theme of song lyrics. Happy songs tended to involve happy events or else make no sense at all.

And here is a QR code link to the ten-song playlist that Business Insider put together based on Dr. Jolif’s research: 

This is more than forty minutes of happy music to listen to during your commute!
And not only was Mr. Blue Sky shown to be the happiest song empirically, it was also voted as the Happiest Song by a British radio station. Click here for a list of their top 50 happy songs.
My second strategy is bibliotherapy—I immerse myself in reading. I am a lifelong bookworm and reading has always been one of my go to activities to build my own well-being. It turns out that reading for pleasure has huge benefits. A recent Harvard Business Review makes the case for reading fiction, my poison of choice.
There are many benefits beyond learning to keep an open mind while processing information. I like to learn about different cultures through literature. This summer, I am reading a mystery series by Canadian author Thomas King.
King, the author of The Inconvenient IndianThe Back of the Turtle, and Truth and Bright Water, has won a variety of literary prizes, including the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour and the Governor General’s Award for English language fiction. The three books I noted above are great ways to supplement what we are learning about Indigenous culture and history from The Path.
But it is King’s mystery novels which revolve around an ex-deputy sheriff named Thumps DreadfulWater, who like King hails from the Cherokee nation, that I am focusing on. They are fun, funny, and filled with memorable and entertaining characters. I found a review of the first three DreadfulWater books which has a great example of King’s writing style:

"Thumps turned out of the driveway and pointed the nose of the car due west. Back to Buffalo Mountain Resort. Things were beginning to go in circles. Big circles. Little circles. In most Native cultures, circles were good. But for police work, circles were maddening. Culture notwithstanding, Thumps was more than ready to stumble onto a straight line.”
This summer, I hope you can unplug from work and plug into music and literature—or whatever it is that feeds your soul.