Author Topic: Absolutely No Motivation at Work and Not Sure How to Turn it Around  (Read 6737 times)

ReadySetMillionaire

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I don't know what's gotten into me lately, but I just can't seem to get anything done at work over the last two weeks. And when I say haven't been getting "anything" done, I mean it. I'm an attorney and thus have to bill my hours, and I've maybe billed 5-6 hours total in the last seven working days (for an average about less than 1 hour billed per day). This is obviously going to catch up to me and I'm terrified to submit my May billings.

I'm not really sure why this is happening, but my guess is that a month or so ago, I emotionally readied myself to switch jobs. I'm in a small and undesirable market doing rather mundane legal work. It's simply not what I expected it to be and has been draining on me lately. Thus, I want to go to a bigger firm with more complex work.

Since making that decision, however, I find myself doing all sorts of things other than work while I'm at the office--checking my student loan balances, bank accounts, investments, etc.; checking forums like this one and others; reading articles on job career websites; looking at houses in suburbs of desirable cities; on and on, it never stops. I literally can't go 15 minutes working consecutively without checking something unrelated to work.

I think I know what I'm going to hear in your responses--you're not going to be able to lateral somewhere else unless and until you do a great job at your current job. But I'm starting this thread and hoping to get some advice from people who have been in similar ruts, how they approached the problem, and things they did to get back on their feet.

I've only been out of school for less than a year and it scares the shit out of me that I'm already feeling like this. Maybe it's normal, maybe it's not. But I'm just not enjoying the work at my current job, the grass seems a lot greener elsewhere, and I just can't seem to keep my eyes on the here and now.

So, any advice on how to get out of this slump? Any and all comments and criticism welcomed.




SK Joyous

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My sympathy RSM, it does indeed suck to feel demotivated at work.  Short of telling you to move jobs (obvious), the you need to do at LEAST one interesting thing at your job to try to increase your interest in it (even if temporarily - you can ride temporary enthusiasm for a while).  Is there any case, research, or client that you find more interesting - or is there one you could access?

Also, for May billings, you may have to buckle down and put in some serious hours these last several days in order to pump up your hours.  As you say yourself, you can't fail in your current job before moving up to another one.

Here is a great series of posts from wait-but-why about procrastination (re: the unrelated to work activities) - I highly recommend, since it sounds like your instant gratification monkey is winning :)

ZiziPB

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Is actual work left sitting undone while you are doing these things?  In other words, do you actually have enough work to bill more hours?

It sounds to me like you don't have enough actual work to do.  Can you get more billable hours?  Are other lawyers busy at the firm?  Are the partners bringing in sufficient business to keep everyone occupied?

I'm a fellow lawyer and what you describing is a very typical pattern if there is no actual work for you to do.  (On the other hand, if you are surfing the internet while files are piling on your desk, e-mails go unanswered and deadlines come and go, then you do have a real problem!)

ETA: if you don't have enough work, e-mail or talk to in person to every partner in the firm and ask for more work (I would start the conversation by: "I looked at my billable hours and realized that I had a really slow last couple of weeks.  With no new projects in my pipeline, I definitely have capacity to take on more work.  Are there any matters currently or in the near future that you need help with?"

When I was in private practice, the partners were always saying that if a junior associate did not have enough billable hours, it is not the associate's fault or problem.  It is up to the partners to make sure that associates have enough to do.
« Last Edit: May 26, 2015, 02:14:59 PM by ZiziPB »

Jeremy E.

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I have some trouble with this as well... As we speak I have work to do but instead I'm commenting on this post, I waste probably 2 hrs per day, and work about 6, so my problem isn't quite as bad as yours. One thing that I did was leaving my phone in the car so I don't text, facebook, or check my personal emails. This has helped a little bit, but a lot of the time I spent doing those things I replace with this kind of thing. I look forward to seeing helpful replies to this post.

ReadySetMillionaire

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My sympathy RSM, it does indeed suck to feel demotivated at work.  Short of telling you to move jobs (obvious), the you need to do at LEAST one interesting thing at your job to try to increase your interest in it (even if temporarily - you can ride temporary enthusiasm for a while).  Is there any case, research, or client that you find more interesting - or is there one you could access?

Also, for May billings, you may have to buckle down and put in some serious hours these last several days in order to pump up your hours.  As you say yourself, you can't fail in your current job before moving up to another one.

Here is a great series of posts from wait-but-why about procrastination (re: the unrelated to work activities) - I highly recommend, since it sounds like your instant gratification monkey is winning :)

Good idea re: getting more work in areas I'm interested in. Definitely going to try that here soon.

Is actual work left sitting undone while you are doing these things?  In other words, do you actually have enough work to bill more hours?

It sounds to me like you don't have enough actual work to do.  Can you get more billable hours?  Are other lawyers busy at the firm?  Are the partners bringing in sufficient business to keep everyone occupied?

I'm a fellow lawyer and what you describing is a very typical pattern if there is no actual work for you to do.  (On the other hand, if you are surfing the internet while files are piling on your desk, e-mails go unanswered and deadlines come and go, then you do have a real problem!)

It's mostly due to lack of work. Since you're a fellow attorney, I'll explain. We have a huge case coming up for trial June 8th and I'm going to be second chair (so long as it proceeds). I have the list of everything that needs to be done for the final pre-trial and trial itself, but my partner has told me to hold off because he thinks opposing counsel is going to voluntarily dismiss and refile.

Thus, I've been intentionally anxious about recruiting work because I might have to sit second chair for the first time in my career. And that's resulted in me not having much to do (honestly, aside from trial prep, I could get caught up on every single file and assignment in a single day). I've just been drawing things out and waiting around.

So yes, I do have a lack of work right now. But that's been intentional and I can't help but think it's also the product of my general overall lack of motivation.

ZiziPB

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Quote
So yes, I do have a lack of work right now. But that's been intentional and I can't help but think it's also the product of my general overall lack of motivation.

I truly think it's the other way round for most people. I know it is that way for me - the less work I have, the less motivated I am to actually do it.  If I'm busy, have a long to-do list and have deadlines to meet, I am very productive.

Talk to the partner in charge of the large case and explain that you have done all the trial prep and you have kept your schedule clear for the case.  This resulted in you not having enough to do and very low billable hours now that he/or she told you to hold off on any more work on the case.  Ask him/her if he/she would be OK with you getting more work from other partners at this point.  Then contact each partner you are interested in working with and ask for work.

Blonde Lawyer

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I feel ya.  I have ADD and the lack of supervision combined with lack of deadlines often leads to screwing off.  I'm great with a deadline looming though!

One thing I occasionally will do is use my sick or vacation time retroactively even though I was in the office.  Basically it is just a billing code for us.  It deducts from our leave bank but credits or explains lack of hours. I try to do this rarely.  Recently, however, my back was messed up and I had 2 end of the day appointments I couldn't reschedule.  Instead of working, I distracted myself from the pain with the internet, or locked my office door and just laid on the floor.  I'll probably "bill" 4 hours sick for that day, which is actually accurate.  What matters for you and I isn't whether we are in the office but if we are working.

I can bill administrative time for "industry reading" and I use that to cover some of my internet time reading various blogs that are related to my industry.

For your situation, you can seek non-urgent work that can be set aside if your trial goes forward.  You could also do some CLEs or non-billable writing projects like a journal article. 

Some offices let you bill a client for time that can't be spent on other clients.  It is known as "engaged to wait" or something like that.  If you do bill another client you certainly can't double bill.  But I'll give you an example. If I'm hammering out a doc with a client and it involves emailing it back and then waiting 10 minutes for a return call and then repeat 6 times, I'm not going to start something new for each of those 10 minute increments.  In that case, I can bill each of those 10 minutes to that client as I'm usually staying engaged in that matter even if I'm briefly waiting.

As a first year, they might not care so much about your hours and they may want you to keep your schedule open.  If that's the case, ask how you should be handling it.

For keeping yourself on task, while I am the WORST at this, try to do your billing a couple of times a day.  (I am lucky if I do mine once/week.)  If you are on top of your billing you will see how much you are f'ing off. 

I hear ya though, sometimes it is just hard to care.

Oh, and don't forget to log all of those .1's.  Every email and phone call, etc.  They add up. 

Also, it doesn't have to be all or nothing.  That is the hardest part about getting back into the swing.  Shoot for just a productive morning tomorrow.  Or 3 hours of billable time throughout the day.  Give yourself small goals and work it back in slowly. 

Kiwi Mustache

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A book called "30 Something and Over it" would benefit you quite a lot.

I read it when I was figuring out what I wanted out of a career when I've been bored/distracted at work. I found it incredibly useful.

rafiki

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I found myself screwing off a lot while working at a law firm too. I hardly lasted 3 months let alone a year (it was a summer internship). Never got invited back. Probably the best thing that ever happened to me.

Blonde Lawyer

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A book called "30 Something and Over it" would benefit you quite a lot.

I read it when I was figuring out what I wanted out of a career when I've been bored/distracted at work. I found it incredibly useful.

Thanks for the recommendation.  Just bought it.  Darn Amazon 1-click, I forgot to see if my library had it.

Dee

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Re: Absolutely No Motivation at Work and Not Sure How to Turn it Around
« Reply #10 on: May 27, 2015, 09:03:20 PM »
Have you been running a metaphorical marathon before you hit this rut? I recently took 1 1/2 off work to do NOTHING and it has worked wonders for me. Prior to that, I had many days like those you'd described. I'd been in the workplace for several years and I'd taken appropriate amounts of vacation time but I hadn't really had much time where I did so little. I came back feeling really re-charged. You may just be exhausted from all the work and stress of law school and your first year of work if you haven't the amount of down time that you personally need -- it varies from person to person.

If your situation really is related to not having enough work, then dismiss the above. But otherwise, consider the possibility that you are just a bit burnt out and could really use some official down time.

LouLou

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Re: Absolutely No Motivation at Work and Not Sure How to Turn it Around
« Reply #11 on: May 27, 2015, 10:12:41 PM »
Another attorney here. I am MISERABLE  and demotivated when I don't have enough work to do. I am on fire when I'm busy.  I switched to a larger firm after one year of practice and I'm much happier with my work and career trajectory. There's light and the end of the tunnel!

Several months ago, a massive case suddenly settled and I had nothing to do. I made myself have productive, non-productive time:
- in-person and webinar CLEs
- attending bar association events
- socializing with more attorneys at work
- finding blogs and websites for industries related to my practice areas and law practice in general

I was still bored, but I actually made myself better off by the time I was busy again. I know more people, did my CLEs for the year, and became much more knowledgeable about the issues facing my clients.

I also do my billing in real time, so I know precisely how much I'm billing at all times. It keeps me on task.

Sibley

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Re: Absolutely No Motivation at Work and Not Sure How to Turn it Around
« Reply #12 on: May 28, 2015, 10:45:05 AM »
I'm an accountant, but have a similar billable hour concept. If I don't have enough work to do, I lose motivation. It's a huge part of my work satisfaction actually, having sufficient tasks.

But you also hit a point where you're overstressed and have to stop, and your mind/body will enforce that. If you're there, then take whatever time you need or you'll burn out.

ReadySetMillionaire

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Re: Absolutely No Motivation at Work and Not Sure How to Turn it Around
« Reply #13 on: May 28, 2015, 11:04:21 AM »
I feel ya.  I have ADD and the lack of supervision combined with lack of deadlines often leads to screwing off.  I'm great with a deadline looming though!

One thing I occasionally will do is use my sick or vacation time retroactively even though I was in the office.  Basically it is just a billing code for us.  It deducts from our leave bank but credits or explains lack of hours. I try to do this rarely.  Recently, however, my back was messed up and I had 2 end of the day appointments I couldn't reschedule.  Instead of working, I distracted myself from the pain with the internet, or locked my office door and just laid on the floor.  I'll probably "bill" 4 hours sick for that day, which is actually accurate.  What matters for you and I isn't whether we are in the office but if we are working.

I can bill administrative time for "industry reading" and I use that to cover some of my internet time reading various blogs that are related to my industry.

For your situation, you can seek non-urgent work that can be set aside if your trial goes forward.  You could also do some CLEs or non-billable writing projects like a journal article. 

Some offices let you bill a client for time that can't be spent on other clients.  It is known as "engaged to wait" or something like that.  If you do bill another client you certainly can't double bill.  But I'll give you an example. If I'm hammering out a doc with a client and it involves emailing it back and then waiting 10 minutes for a return call and then repeat 6 times, I'm not going to start something new for each of those 10 minute increments.  In that case, I can bill each of those 10 minutes to that client as I'm usually staying engaged in that matter even if I'm briefly waiting.

As a first year, they might not care so much about your hours and they may want you to keep your schedule open.  If that's the case, ask how you should be handling it.

For keeping yourself on task, while I am the WORST at this, try to do your billing a couple of times a day.  (I am lucky if I do mine once/week.)  If you are on top of your billing you will see how much you are f'ing off. 

I hear ya though, sometimes it is just hard to care.

Oh, and don't forget to log all of those .1's.  Every email and phone call, etc.  They add up. 

Also, it doesn't have to be all or nothing.  That is the hardest part about getting back into the swing.  Shoot for just a productive morning tomorrow.  Or 3 hours of billable time throughout the day.  Give yourself small goals and work it back in slowly.

As always, thanks for your detailed and thoughtful response. I definitely need to incorporate some "down time" into my billing, as I was in fact reading a lot of industry stuff.

ReadySetMillionaire

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Re: Absolutely No Motivation at Work and Not Sure How to Turn it Around
« Reply #14 on: May 28, 2015, 11:05:52 AM »
A book called "30 Something and Over it" would benefit you quite a lot.

I read it when I was figuring out what I wanted out of a career when I've been bored/distracted at work. I found it incredibly useful.
My Amazon cart is up to six books, mostly early retirement books and other personal finance books. I've read the reviews and this sounds like a good read. Thanks for the suggestion.

ReadySetMillionaire

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Re: Absolutely No Motivation at Work and Not Sure How to Turn it Around
« Reply #15 on: May 28, 2015, 11:10:18 AM »
Have you been running a metaphorical marathon before you hit this rut? I recently took 1 1/2 off work to do NOTHING and it has worked wonders for me. Prior to that, I had many days like those you'd described. I'd been in the workplace for several years and I'd taken appropriate amounts of vacation time but I hadn't really had much time where I did so little. I came back feeling really re-charged. You may just be exhausted from all the work and stress of law school and your first year of work if you haven't the amount of down time that you personally need -- it varies from person to person.

If your situation really is related to not having enough work, then dismiss the above. But otherwise, consider the possibility that you are just a bit burnt out and could really use some official down time.
I had about a month off between studying for the bar exam and work. But in that time I also had to study for the MPRE (ethics exam) and then my girlfriend was in the hospital for ten days, so I really only had about a week of down time.

After that, I basically did a three month grant program where my school paid me $2000 to work for three months (yes, $2000 for three months). That really wore me down, but then I was offered a job here so I kind of got back on my feet.

But as others have suggested, I'm just bored at work due to lack of assignments. I was in a good groove about a month ago when I was slammed. Now I have so much down time that my brain is wandering and I'm not getting anything done.

I think I am going to look into taking a week off here this summer. My firm gives 10 days off even for first years. I have an "associate liaison" (i.e., a designated partner who I can ask questions), and I am getting lunch with her next week. Might as well broach the subject of vacation to re-charge my batteries.
« Last Edit: May 28, 2015, 11:30:02 AM by ReadySetMillionaire »

Gumbo1978

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Re: Absolutely No Motivation at Work and Not Sure How to Turn it Around
« Reply #16 on: May 28, 2015, 11:29:38 AM »
I get that way yearly.  In my job (claims adjuster) I'm constantly slammed.  No downtime and I am never caught up.  I just try to knock out the important stuff and live day to day here.  Been doing it 11 years.  Hit a rut this month but I usually do around this time of year because I take little vacation from January - May.  I'm taking 3 weeks in June to go to the beach.  Then I'm usually pretty motivated when I get back because I get time away and I'm even more behind so I have to work fast.  The good is my day goes by fast, bad is that I'm ready for a career change but sticking it out here 3 more years would be better for my family.