Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Measured in 10ths of an Hour

As you know, I'm a lawyer. What you may not know is that my life is measured in 10ths of an hour. This is otherwise known as the "Billable Hour." I have come to resent the billable hour except to the extent that it is what allows me and my firm to pay the bills. The problem with the billable hour is that now my whole life is wrapped up by what I've done each 10th of an hour. How will I bill the 10th of an hour that I spend writing this blog entry? Was it worth it? Do I catagorize it under the area of my life called: Church, Family, Professional, Professional Development, Mental Wellness, Friends, Social? Do I bill this time to me, my family, my friends? When I'm spending my time at the spa, I know that that is time allocated to me. I can't tell Chuck - babe, that was your time. When I spend time at an A&M football game, I allocate it to Chuck & Family. It certainly doesn't fall under the same category that a day at the spa would fall under. When I spend time at a board meeting, I catagorize it as Professional Development or Community Service. You get the picture.

We all do this - catagorize our time and how we spend it. Do I get enough time with God? Do I get enough time with my kids? Am I spending enough time at work to impress the boss or earn my salary? The problem is that within the practice of law (and among other professions), I spend my time so diligently tracking how I spend every minute of my day. Can I spend an extra fifteen minutes at lunch? Instead of 1 hour, I've spent 1.3 and now I have to make up the .3 somewhere. If I bill less than 7.5 hours in a day, I realize that sometime during the year I will have to sacrifice to make up the billable hours that I missed, and I have to weigh the importance of missing any time at work.

Some things are easy to determine, but others are not. For example, there is no decision to be made when it comes to going to my kid's school presentation, staying at home with a sick kid, or like today, attending a funeral. Yes, I will sacrifice the 3 hours of billable time so that I can pay my respects to my friend who passed away and his family. Yes, I will stay at home with my sick child. Yes, I will do my best not to miss my kid's mother's day presentation. These are things, however, that force me to recognize that my law firm is not receiving it's day's work that I owe for my salary. In another job, I would just have personal time (elusive in a law firm career) and I would take that personal time without guilt or any thought that I have to make it up sometime in the future. However, at a law firm, I know that I have to make up the time when I'm gone. So, I do it.

In the grand scheme of life, however, I am contemplating whether it is healthy for a person to live in increments such as these - measuring my life by ticks in the clock rather than by my accomplishments at work. Did I bill 40 hours this week, preparing for a single deposition that never took place? Yes. Success. Did I settle a case, win a motion, and provide helpful counsel to a client entering into a contract? Yes, but I did it all in only 32 billable hours - no success. I still have 8 hours to make up.

The same is applied to life. Did I spend every day with my kids while I cleaned the house and let them watch tv? Yes, success because I a majority of time with my kids. But what if I spend two hours every night with my kids, talking about school, reading books, and playing soccer? Then, no success because I only spent 14 hours with my kids.

The problem comes into quality. I would rather spend 14 hours of quality time with my kids than stay at home with them and spend that time cleaning house or constantly riding them to do their homework or their chores. Does this seem backward? Am I missing a key ingredient in life with kids? I feel the same way about work. I'd rather accomplish something rather than bill out hours for document review or letters and phone calls. With that said, the billable hours and tasks that I just listed (such as document review) are necessary evils in the practice of law.

Still, when attending a funeral it brings to mind whether measuring my life in increments of 10ths of an hour is wise, healthy, and worth it.

Try measuring your life by this clock and tell me how much you love/hate it. In a glass-is-half-full kinda way, at least I know where I spend my time, and I can evalute whether I'm making the right decisions. Tell me what you think.


roxanne said...

I don't think everything is that black and white...but sounds like you think about what time it is a lot. Hope you have a really cute watch that you love :)! I don't think that there is quality vs. quantity...quantity AND quality is ideal and the worst case is of course none of either. I also have to tell myself to slow down all the time and be still to enjoy my blessings.

I have a hard time not scheduling things on a day that I see an open schedule, so I am working on that!! Sometimes when I just fly by the seat of my pants, I have the best of times. Mike has always lived that way and I envy that.

Theresa said...

Lucky for me, I don't wear a watch. That actually helps me get away from the clock. Instead, I have three clocks on my desk, so I'm pretty much bombarded by it at work. I agree that there is a balance between quantity and quality. I do my best to keep that in mind. It is interesting that I was sitting at the funeral trying to figure out how much of his time was spent measuring the billable hour. Yuck. I'd hate to imagine that the rest of my life is built on that.

ginster said...

i love the billable hour clock. too funny! i admit i don't miss the billable hour. i just fill in my time sheet at the end of the week and receive a paycheck. nice.

Jess said...

Being a working mom and watching the "clock" makes things really hard. While I don't bill by the 10th of the hour, I see that time at work, especially after regular work hours takes away time for my kids and my husband. Who has time to even think about time for yourself sometimes.

I just try to focus on the time I do spend with the fam and try to keep it quality time. I am blessed, but often feel like I could do so much more if I didn't need to work. But, would I really do so much more? The struggle of a working mom.

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