Healthy boundaries start with the way we define our identities as public defenders. Is it something we do, or is it who we are? I am drawn to slogans and t-shirts that champion public defense as who I am, but I also recognize that it is dangerous and potentially damaging to me to define myself entirely by my work as a public defender. Where does that leave other parts of my life, the other people in my life? What happens when I take a break from or stop being a public defender?
To be clear, I think the notion that work and life can be compartmentalized is crazy and untrue. The goal is to support your whole self and show up as your whole self in all the parts of your life.
But it is important to put some parameters around the work part when you have work that can be very intrusive.
Useful boundary setting practices for the work day and work week include:
- Commit to off hours. Set a start time and end time for the work day and try to manage your time to stay within it. Set parameters around weekend work time (ex: 9-12 on Saturday) rather than letting the work expand to fill all the time that isn’t specifically scheduled for other things.
- Set work goals around time not task. Set a goal to leave at a designated time—such at 6 pm– not to complete the entire to do list before leaving. It will never be completed. You will build habits of working more efficiently and being realistic in estimating turnaround time for tasks.
- Set routines and rituals to end the work day. Clear your desk, update your prioritized task list and leave.
- Set transition markers. Create a transition marker along the way home—an intersection you drive though or train/bus station you pass—to transition from work thoughts to home thoughts. How was my partner’s day? My child’s day at school?
- Give honest timeframes. To managers for projects, to clients for motions. Be honest about your available time and what you are capable of completing, while maintaining your rest time. You can work around the clock for a project or a trial, but not for decades.
- Accept structural limitations as structural. One of the hardest parts of public defense is the stress of feeling you’re not doing enough and knowing that the reality is that some things are not getting done, and that most of us will never reach end of the task list—and the “task list” is filled with urgent needs of people who are suffering. This can be very demoralizing. Recognize that this is structural under resourcing of public defense, not a personal defect or shortcoming.
What do you think? What helps you set useful boundaries in public defense?