NBH 023: The Death of Unsustainable Systems

I'm writing this blog post at the time of “Sheltering in Place” of COVID-19. We are living in a lot of uncertainty and this episode and in the next few following, I am focusing on a theme of things falling apart and how that is a stage in the evolution of time, and of our relationship to ourselves. And today's topic is the death of unsustainable systems. As you know, the New Billable Hour, which I wrote years ago, is about creating a new way to look at time for lawyers. Because the old way, let's call it as I did in my book - the “old billable hour,” is not sustainable. That system that we created as lawyers served us for a time until it didn't.

Of course we can keep using that system as a tool. I taught a workshop and some lawyers said it was very helpful to use billable hours because often we don't know where our time is going. So it's good to track it. It's good for ourselves; it's good for our clients. If we can get ownership back of our billable time and how we measure time, the billable hour is a great tool. But before we can look at something as a tool, we have to really mourn the death of how things were, how we thought they were, how we've been taught that we don't own our time, we don't have control of our time. It is someone else's - usually a client, perhaps your supervisor or your firm. We need to let go of the system we created (that our time is not our own), in order to create a new system like the New Billable Hour. And this applies to all the systems in your life.

Let's start broadly; all the systems in society are dying, and crumbling before our eyes. This includes government systems, and the way we've done business. It's not business as usual and things have changed forever. The systems around us are crumbling. The education system we're trying to function in with this new way (and the systems that we've had in place) are crumbling because we cannot use them like we used to. And that's what's hard. There's a grieving process of this death, of these big systems dying because we relied on them. We thought it would always be that way. It was this comfort that we created of some normalcy, of routines we created, of some regularity of how things should be every day.

And now that we wake up each day and things are different, there's some mourning there. There’s a death of those systems. Let's look at other things that are closer to us: our businesses, our law firms. Whether you work for someone else or for your own law firm, you've had to really mourn how you do business. And I know for a lot of lawyers they've had to lay off staff and the transition to working remotely has been very challenging. The transition to using more technology has been challenging. It's all been shining a light on how we've all been practicing law and maybe the holes that we kind of left there. We need to look at that old way. We are doing things that no longer serve. If we weren't equipped to be remote and to really serve clients in any emergency, we need to let go of that way and create a new way of practicing law.

This applies also to any procedures you had in place, any procedures you did not have in place that now you cannot live without. And by procedures I don't mean anything so complicated, but how you do things in your law firm. How do you communicate with clients? For example, do you have a policy of how you're going to communicate and how they can communicate with you and how are requests going to be handled? How do you start a new case? How are you communicating with your staff, especially now when you're not necessarily in the same place? How do you support your staff? All of these, maybe holes or maybe opportunities, have emerged from your prior systems that were not sustainable. It lasted for as long as it did and now you're noticing what's missing in the procedures and systems in your business.

And then of course there’s your family. We overlook things in our family life and our home life with our closest relationships. Whether you live with someone or not, how are you communicating with people in those systems? Are you patching things together and pretending and keeping busy so you don't have to deal with the deeper issues? That's coming up. It's coming up with parenting. How do we parent? What's important to us?

And then finally, how are you spending your time? What is the system for the time for taking care of yourself? And if you say you don't do self-care, that's not true because the self, the person that you are, requires some maintenance. You must be doing something. Maybe it's not the best way to do things, but take a look. How are we spending our time? I know I'm going through this right now. How are you spending your time and how is your productivity? So many people are telling me they don't feel productive and what does that mean? Could we change the definition of productivity?

Perhaps looking at yourself is the most productive thing you could do. Notice how you spend time. What are the unsustainable systems that have died or need to die: the way you did things before, how you took care of yourself, how you spent your time, what routines were in place, what habits (healthy or not healthy) were there and now re-emerging perhaps, or with all the busy-ness before you didn't pay attention and now you're paying attention. We've all slowed down and that can make us anxious actually. And so now is a time to really mourn the death of unsustainable systems. The systems are on a broad level: your business, your family, and your own day-to-day life – the moment-to-moment life with each breath, your relationship with time.

What are your priorities? Has what you've been doing been sustainable or unsustainable? Now is the time to acknowledge the falling apart of systems that we have created, ways of doing things, structures that are not sustainable for the future. Whatever the future is, whatever is coming for us next, what has died or needs to die and what are we holding onto? And what can you do to let those unsustainable systems die? That is our practice right now in these times. I invite you to please look at your systems and your life: from your personal life to your family and your law firm, to what procedures or ways you're doing things just need to go. We can't create new ones until we let the old ones go.

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