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Small initiatives that have a BIG impact

August 31, 2017

It can be all too easy to forget that law firm cultures are really based on a mostly silent agreement about how things should run, and what can and can’t be done.

Then someone comes along and shows us how a simple change in business as usual can have a big impact on the quality of working life in a law firm.

Picture this — the clock strikes 10 and a small group of lawyers gathers for a quick exercise break, assuming the yoga pose known as the Plank. Holding this pose develops endurance and stamina, and tones the nervous system. It’s also great for strengthening the back.

There is quiet conversation and laughter as the group works to stay in plank position for a minute, moves into side planks, and finishes with wall sits. Then the time is up. Everyone rises, stretches a little, and heads back to their offices until the next break at noon. Lunchtime exercise? A five-minute series of lunges in an athletic congo line around the boardroom.

Truth or Fiction?

Truth! These mini breaks really happen four times a day, every work day at the Vancouver office of MLT Aikins, the recently expanded giant western Canadian law firm. Their Vancouver office is housed high above the blaring horns in the top floors of Vancouver’s beautiful art deco Marine Building.

The instigator of these five minute exercise breaks is litigation partner David Wotherspoon. I caught up with David over lunch this summer where I learned about his strategy to get him and his colleagues moving while developing a collegial firm culture. Says Wotherspoon, “We’re in and out within five minutes – we get a brain break, an exercise hit, and it takes only a little time away from our desks.”

It’s working.

It’s long been proven that short bits of exercise several times a day benefit our fitness levels and mood. How often have we all read about the importance of getting up from our desks and moving around throughout the day, or going outside for five minutes of natural light to refresh and renew — taking a break from the solitude of our screens and devices.

Wotherspoon has taken this notion a step further by making movement and connection a fun, planned, collective everyday occurrence in the workplace. Being active is a great way to unwind stresses and strains from our busy schedules. Increasing heartrates through shared laughter and camaraderie among colleagues can only lead to success for the firm and its team.

One simple routine added to the work day – big impact.

What can you initiate at your office?

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Evading the – not enough time – trap

August 1, 2014

Have you ever felt like there just wasn’t enough time to get everything done?

Well this May found me in a panic about a presentation I was giving with a fellow coach for a large group of women lawyers. At the heart of my panic was the thought “there isn’t enough time to prepare” followed by a second thought “and so I am not going to be good enough”.

That thought “there’s not enough time” raises much anxiety and stress in the legal profession and is the root cause of a lot of inefficiency, procrastination and wine guzzling.

The culprit for all this stress is a little almond shaped part of the brain known as the amygdala. It is the “fight or flight” centre of the brain. It is also known as our reptile brain or my particular favorite expression used by brain researchers – the neural back alley.

As my mentor Martha Beck says, the amygdala is all about lack and attack. All your scarcity thoughts come from the amygdala.

Here’s the challenge: The amygdala isn’t your smart brain. The smart brain is the prefrontal cortex located in your forehead. When we are down the back alley we are no longer thinking straight. We are reacting rather than responding. This stress propels some people, like me into panicked action. Others freeze.

My May article for Slaw.ca is all about how to get yourself out of the “not enough time” panic or frozen state and back into productive action.  You can read it here.

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Superwoman, superman, take off your cape

February 5, 2014

My Slaw column in January picked up on an important theme I have been exploring in my work and in my writing, namely, the trap of setting super hero expectations for ourselves in terms of volume and quality of our work, number of commitments we take on, and so on.  I personally ran headlong into this in the lead up to the December holiday period and ended the year with much to reflect on.  If you, like me, have a strict inner task master or mistress, please read on.

From the column:

On Christmas Eve, instead of happy dreams of sugar plums and nutcrackers I tossed and turned in bed battling inner demons that were determined to remind me of all my apparently innumerable short comings.

I was sick with a flu that left me weak and unable to carry out my fabulous plans for holiday entertaining. Adding insult to injury, I was left curled up on the couch clutching my cup of camomile tea and watching others sip from that bottle of California Cult Classic wine we had been saving.

Holiday photos this year feature me with tangled hair and dark circles under my eyes. Heck even my dog didn’t want to be seen with me!

How did this happen? I burned the candle at both ends. I attempted to be everything to everyone, exceed expectations, and…

Click here to view article.

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