I’m not a contracts expert. But I am a lawyer who understands deadline stress and I teach mindfulness and compassion. One could say that I am an expert at dealing with stress.
From what I understand, professionals who work with contracts face considerable stress when dealing with a high volume of contracts, especially around quarter-end or year-end. Emphatically, mindfulness and compassion can help with this and, no, it’s not just because it can make you calm for a few minutes a day. There is so much more to mindfulness that can help contracts professionals manage mental health during stressful deadlines.
Here are four ways mindfulness can help.
1. Mental Space
Planning and prioritizing are essential for closing out contracts efficiently and on time. This is true for managing almost any major project. But, the stress of impending deadlines can make planning and prioritizing a challenge.
In such a situation, anxiety about deadlines or overwhelm by the number or complexity of items on your task list can arise. How do you plan when your mind is spinning with thoughts and emotions?
This is where mindfulness can help because it offers mental space. Mindfulness is present-moment awareness. When you make time for mindfulness in your life, this awareness engenders mental space. You get used to things bouncing around your brain and you get better at discerning which ones deserve your time. This results in more mental space to see possibilities, plan for the future, and separate imminent priorities from long-term projects.
Even the most seasoned contracts professionals don’t recommend striving for perfection for every single contract. And why is that? Because we’re human and perfection isn’t an attainable goal. Given that reality, the next way that mindfulness can help you mentally and emotionally is through self-compassion.
You’ve probably heard a lot less about this concept, but compassion, including for yourself, is part of mindfulness. At its heart, compassion means responding to life with less judgment and more kindness. This may sound like a luxury in times of stress, but experience shows it is essential.
As I mentioned above, deadlines are bound to produce stress. The mind can easily turn this into a story about how futile, dire, or hopeless the situation is or how inept, disorganized, or destined to fail you are. This isn’t helpful at all and can hurt motivation or induce procrastination.
Self-compassion is a better response because research shows it is positively correlated to improved mental health as well as goal attainment. Even in stressful times, you can quickly invoke the power of self-compassion by remembering the “best friend test.” To do this, you simply ask yourself how you’d treat your best friend in the same situation you are facing.
Odds are that you wouldn’t judge or create unhelpful stories about a friend dealing with the stress of closing out a bazillion contracts by end of quarter. Instead, you’d think more practically to identify ways of facing the problem, and offer kindness and support. This strategy, simple as it is, works because you aren’t a contract-closing robot, but instead a human being. Your feelings matter and when you learn to honor them, just as you would another person’s, you’ll feel better and focus more on your goals.
3. Efficient Rest
Time is a most precious commodity when dealing with deadlines, but this is one reason why mindfulness can be so powerful. People tell me often that they don’t have time to meditate but my experience is that I don’t have time to not meditate. In the midst of stress, mindfulness can help you gauge your emotions and physical needs so that you can proactively manage them.
Meditation itself is a tool that assists with this because it is a highly efficient way to rest. I regularly incorporate short bursts of meditation into my day to give my eyes a break from screens, let my tired mind settle, and relax my body. Sure, this takes some time, but it overall extends my productive work period just like recovery intervals may allow your body to exercise for longer periods of time.
Beyond this, a really amazing aspect of meditation is that it can teach you how to rest. In times of stress, it isn’t uncommon to struggle to relax even during downtime. You may struggle to sleep because thoughts of the next day’s to-do list are dancing through your mind. Storytime with your little one may feel like a burden instead of a source of nourishment if an unsolved work issue won’t leave you alone.
This is where all the struggles with focusing on one’s breath in meditation pay dividends. What do those struggles teach you? They teach you to relax. They teach you that you can relax. They help you see that you can just watch the breath and sit with it and that you don’t have to follow every thought or distraction that comes to mind. When time and energy are limited, the ability to rest efficiently can make a huge difference.
4. Everything Is Temporary
Mindfulness can make life a little less stressful, but when deadlines loom nothing can make all the stress magically go away. This, too, however, is another way that mindfulness can help you cope. When you regularly pay attention to the present moment, you may soon notice how quickly those present moments fade into the past.
As litigator, I know that deadline stress is real. But as a meditator, I know that it is temporary too. The ever-changing nature of life is something that can cause us sadness in good times but serves as a lifeline in stressful times. Remembering that time is finite may also help us recognize our human limits and prioritize those projects that have to be done now.
At the end of the day, nothing can make the end-of-quareter rush easier. Stress is real and so are the deadlines and client demands that cause them. But this isn’t an argument against the value of self-care; it’s an argument strongly in favor of it. When there is so much in life that you can’t control, it makes sense to get clear about what you can control and focus on that.
Regardless of the number of contracts you need to close this quarter, you deserve to be mentally well and to feel like you have the support you need to care for your stress. Along with other critical self-care strategies, mindfulness is one of the tools that can help you do that. If you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness, check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer: The Unexpected and Simple Guide to Less Stress and Greater Personal Development Through Mindfulness and Compassion.