Focus: Devoting more attention to one task at a time is much more efficient. *AFP Photo
Focus: Devoting more attention to one task at a time is much more efficient. *AFP Photo

We are all familiar with the recurring mantra spoken at graduation ceremonies everywhere: “Never stop learning”. 

This phrase was said to me as I stepped out into the world on my graduation day and, at the time, I figured it was referring to all of the court cases and textbooks I would be reading while doing research for my future cases. Now, while that certainly is the reality in my day to day life as a lawyer, this phrase embodies a great deal more than that. Life is a sequence of lessons coming at us and the things we learn from experience vastly outweigh anything found in a textbook. As George Whitman said: “All the world is my school and all humanity is my teacher.”

In this two-part article, I will share some lessons that I have learned so far in my life as a litigation attorney, wife, and mother, amongst other things.

In true legal fashion, a little disclaimer before I begin: these are lessons I have learned so far. I am still learning! Everyone’s experiences differ and the lessons I refer to are based solely on mine. Although I believe these to be important principles, I do stray from them sometimes.

Grab your own oxygen mask first

One of my favourite lessons comes from a book I read a few years ago, The Last Lecture. 

For anyone not familiar with this book, it is based on a lecture given by Randy Pausch, then a professor at Carnegie Mellon. Pausch used the opportunity to set out important life lessons to not only his students but his own young children given his terminal diagnosis with pancreatic cancer.

Pausch said: “The best piece of parenting advice I’ve ever heard is from flight attendants. If things get really tough, grab your own oxygen mask first.”

 He went on to say: “When we become physically or emotionally run down, we can’t help anybody else, least of all small children.” 

When I read this book, I was not yet a mother, however the concept still resonated with me because it transcends parenthood.

The principle applies to everyone. It can feel selfish to think of yourself first.What about thinking of others? The fact is that you cannot take care of others if you are not taking care of yourself. I have had to learn to say ‘no’ when I need to, rather than trying to be all things to all people.

Live mindfully

I used to pride myself on being a multi-tasker. I thought it was great that I could juggle several things at once in hopes of checking more things off my to-do list. 

Then, a colleague of mine posted up an article about how inefficient multi-tasking is and furthermore, how harmful it is to the brain. Essentially, multi-tasking is not really ‘multi-tasking’ at all. What we are actually doing is switching back and forth between tasks and in doing so, we lose time. Your brain takes longer to recognize new things so there is no real time saving and the switching between tasks can lead to mistakes. Studies also show that we retain less when ‘multi-tasking’ from one thing to another. 

After reading this article and others on the subject, I no longer pride myself on being a multi-tasker.

Instead, I aim for a mindful approach to tasks, taking them one at a time.

I am sure that we can all relate to having a day that we look back on and can scarcely remember what we did through all the hustle and bustle. We cannot be putting our best foot forward in those circumstances. I aim to slow down and prioritize so that I make deliberate choices throughout my day both at work and at home.

Disconnect each day

In the age of the Smartphone, we are constantly connected. With globalization, there can be an expectation to always be available, especially if the nature of your business involves interacting with individuals many time zones ahead or behind you. 

This can mean having your Smartphone on your bedside table so you don’t miss an email from Hong Kong at 3am, taking your phone with you to the gym so you can send an email from the treadmill, or using your hands-free device during your morning commute to have a conference call. 

All of this ‘connectedness’ reeks havoc on our nervous system, putting ourselves in a heightened state of stress. 

It also can damage our relationships because always being ‘on’ means our family and friends have to constantly compete for our attention. It is crucial to take time each day to disconnect not only for our health but for our relationships. 

That may mean that dinner time is family time or that the bedroom is a sacred space. Our house rules include no phones/laptops/tablets at the dinner table and no phones in the bedroom. 

Jennifer Haworth is an associate at MJM Limited’s Litigation & Dispute Resolution team.  For more details go to