Resources Newsletter Archive Issue 2, Part I, March 2000

Issue 2, Part I, March 2000

  • It's URGENT!!

Making The Hours of Your Life Worth More ™

Issue # 2 - Part 1


This issue of BEYOND THE BILLABLE HOUR™ will be delivered in two parts so that reading it will fit more easily within the time demands of your life.





Part 1:  The Dangers of Constant Urgency

"It is only when we realize that life is taking us nowhere
that it begins to have meaning."
P.D. Oupensky


"I really do my best under pressure.  I love that adrenaline rush.  When I don't feel it, I feel bored. I don't really feel like I'm working unless there's an urgent deadline."

A woman attorney recently expressed these sentiments to me.  Have you heard yourself say or think something similar?

Urgency is the norm in legal practice.  You are expected to overwork and probably have come to expect yourself to be constantly busy. These days, the more urgent the project the more important it seems to us as well as to others.

There is a "rush" that accompanies addressing urgent issues.  Adrenaline is a source of energy - as it rushes through your blood stream you feel exhilarated.  And every time you effectively solve a crisis you feel successful, competent and valued.  Urgency can provide a great temporary high.

But when you reach the point where you believe you're at your best when you work under this much pressure, or find that you're bored when you're not experiencing an adrenaline rush, then you're probably headed for trouble.


1. Chronic hyperarousal and stress-related illness

When you're running on adrenaline all the time your body is in a constant state of distress.  You're actually in a state of physiological hyperarousal.  Stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are produced; your heart, respiration rates and blood pressure are elevated.  Your immune system is compromised.

This kind of chronic stress puts you at risk for all kinds of stress-related problems including heart disease, hypertension, headaches as well as all the risks associated with an inefficiently functioning immune system.

2. Compromised effectiveness

Although you may believe you are at your best under pressure, this is a physiological impossibility.  You simply cannot be thorough, clear-thinking, imaginative, optimally effective or efficient when you are in a state of hyperarousal.  In fact, this is when you are most likely to make those mistakes that can result in malpractice issues.

3. Damage to Important Relationships

When faced with an urgent task, we tend to push everything else aside. How often have you sacrificed time with important people in your life in order to handle a crisis?  When we disappoint the people we love in order to deal with a work emergency, we expect them to understand.  We explain that we just can't help it. But over time, these relationships become eroded. There's a limit to how much disappointment our friends, lovers, spouses or children can tolerate before the relationship begins to deteriorate.

4. Losing Control Of Your Life

Perpetually putting out fires leads to feeling like your life is out of control.  And in many ways, it is.  You can become a slave to billable hours, the demands of clients, the expectations of partners.  After a while, your career can feel like a runaway train, pulling you along at terrific speed, giving you no time to decide if you really want to go down this track.

5. Urgency Addiction

When your life is controlled by urgency, it's unlikely that you're spending much time doing other things that restore you.  Your personal needs get submerged. It's no wonder the only "high" you experience is the one you feel when you're under pressure at work. Once you're in the habit of neglecting other needs and sources of enjoyment, your only reliable source of excitement becomes this adrenaline rush.

As Stephen Covey notes, "Urgency addiction is a self-destructive behavior that temporarily fills the void created my unmet needs." (1)


1. Covey, S.R., Merrill, A R. & Merrill, R.R. (1994). "First Things First." New York: Fireside.

Find solutions in Part 2: YOUR URGENCY MANAGEMENT "TOOL KIT"


BEYOND THE BILLABLE HOUR™ is published monthly by Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D., founder of  She brings 20 years of experience assisting women attorneys to her work in Lawyers Life Coach TM.

LawyersLifeCoach LLC is a professional and personal coaching firm specializing in working virtually (by phone with email and fax backup) with women attorneys interested in developing strategies to find greater satisfaction in their careers within the law or in exploring career alternatives for lawyers.

Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D. established to coach busy lawyers who might benefit from the insights gained from 20 years as a psychologist combined with her experience and familiarity with the legal profession.

Ellen holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Rochester and is a managing member of Metropolitan Behavioral Health Care, LLC., a multispecialty, multidisciplinary psychotherapy practice in Washington, D.C. and suburban Maryland.

She is a member of the International Coach Federation and a graduate of the MentorCoach Program™.


NOTE:  BEYOND THE BILLABLE HOUR™ is intended for informational and educational purposes only.  It is not a substitute for a personal consultation with a mental health professional and should not be construed as a form of, or substitute for, counseling, psychotherapy, or other psychological service.



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