Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Things that Happen When I'm (Briefly) on Pace to Bill 3,000 Hours/Year*

*Please note that this is said with tongue firmly in cheek. While I did work that much for a few weeks in January, it was mainly due to an unusually urgent project of a type that isn't likely to recur often. At the rate I was working, I still would only have billed 3,000 hours if I didn't take any vacation and also worked at that exact same pace for the entire year. I don't expect to be anywhere near that busy again for quite some time, and thank goodness for that! Now, two months on, I'm already significantly "off pace" for getting anywhere close to 3,000 hours billed in 2019. I'll probably come in around 2,100 at most, if I had to guess.

I'm told there may be a number of biglaw firms where regularly billing close to 3,000 hours/year may be necessary to be a tip-top associate, but hours like that (as opposed to a "mere" 2,100 or 2,200... which is still a lot) are not terribly common. Lots of things need to align just right (or wrong) to get close, including that one's practice group may need to be consistently busy the whole time. A lot of practice areas are subject to the whims of the markets, and not every firm or practice group is always able to bring in enough new business to sustain hours like that. While I was in biglaw, I was on track to fall slightly short of 2,000 billed hours that year, even with significant pro bono hours included in my total (firms generally allow pro bono service to account for a small percentage of an associate's total hours for the year, usually not much more than 200 hours out of a 2000 target). Most of my fellow junior litigators there were also struggling to hit 2,000. I could speculate on what that says about where the biglaw litigation market is going, but I only have a small sample size of my old firm and my friends' firms to go off of.

Back in January, that intensely hectic period was unlike anything I'd ever experienced before. I didn't mind it too much, actually, I enjoyed having a lot of responsibility, but I was definitely also feeling sleep-deprived and exhausted by the end. At least for me, there is a point at which one works so much that performance and efficiency inevitably deteriorate. In no particular order, here are a few observations about what life looks like with just two or three weeks of working so hard that I'd potentially be on track to bill 3,000 hours that year if I kept it up:

A recent email from Ally, Bank where I keep my savings account. While it's great to save that money from coffee, if one wants to save and invest more than that, then further steps in other areas of one's finances would also be necessary!

1. // Latte factor: I tend to go to coffee shops a lot more often than most people who like to save. (Though I think we're all well aware that cutting out a frequent coffee shop habit wouldn't, by itself, be anywhere near enough when it comes to longer-term saving and investing for retirement and other big needs.) There have been times in my life, when I had a killer commute and needed to wake up hours earlier than I'm used to, that I had a latte almost every weekday morning and considered it "worth it". Given that I'd taken a large pay-cut at that time, I felt extremely sheepish about my habit, but in the end, it wasn't a big deal, relative to my larger financial situation in the long run.

This past January, though, when I started getting that fancy latte almost every morning, I was surprised to find that those purchases gradually started losing their value and appeal to me. I suppose that might have been because the biggest challenge at the time was the intensity of my work, not my feeling tired or sleepy from needing to wake up a lot earlier than comes naturally, so the extra caffeine boost wasn't as useful anymore. Also, the lattes finally stopped feeling "special" because I had them so often. My propensity for going to coffee shops has been significantly reduced in the weeks since that busy period. We'll see if the trend continues for the rest of this year!

2. // GrubHub's best customer, and even HelloFresh is too much effort: Normally, I cook five or six meals a week, including the ones from HelloFresh or Blue Apron, but during that hectic period at work, I was only able to cook once or twice a week. We also weren't able to go out to restaurants quite as often, so of course we ordered delivery all the darn time. None of this is surprising, but there was one other big and lasting change to my cooking habits that resulted from my recent brush with a 3,000 hour year, brief as it was.

After our less than great experience with Blue Apron (I found their recipes poorly designed and extremely time-consuming, and the variety of ingredients they offer extremely limited), we switched to Hello Fresh. We subscribed for nearly six months, with a lot of cancelled weeks here and there when we were on vacation, or when we both knew we'd be busy enough that we'd be stuck eating dinner at the office that week. I generally found their recipes a lot more efficient and their variety of ingredients much better, in part because they (unlike Blue Apron) recycle a lot of popular recipes, enough that if you prefer more "meat and potatoes"-type dishes, you'll start picking some repeats after maybe six or seven weeks. Blue Apron, in contrast, would continuously create slightly different combinations of the same limited set of ingredients that were easy to ship(so many carrots, so much kale). I don't actually mind the repeat recipes either, as I'm the type of person who can keep eating mostly the same food for weeks on end.

Even though my most intensely busy period at the office has ended, certain developments in my biggest projects have resulted in a generally busier and significantly less predictable schedule than before. It's definitely a perfectly reasonable thing for this profession, and I'm quite glad to have steadier work and more responsibility, but it's also left a lot less mental energy for things like figuring out whether I'm going to be able to cook in a given week, even if Hello Fresh will plan the recipes and deliver all the necessary ingredients. It had become difficult to predict, within the time we could still cancel each week's delivery, whether we were going to be able to make use of Hello Fresh. (K has consistently been far too busy to do any cooking at all for months, he's been working consistently on pace to bill above 2,700 hours a year that entire time, so the duty of deciding whether to order Hello Fresh and then to cook it is always mine.) Some food waste resulted, which I felt absolutely terrible about. It got to be such a mental burden that we've cancelled our subscription, and that's taken a surprisingly significant weight off me.

I generally already feel bad about being the exact type of customer that finds a service like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh "worth the price". Even with the unusually high cost of groceries in NYC (for example, the cheapest farmed salmon at my closest non-Trader Joe's grocery store starts at ~$14/pound, though that stuff usually doesn't look great, I usually get the next most expensive at ~$16/pound instead), Blue Apron and Hello Fresh are still pretty clearly not "worth it" relative to local grocery prices. This lack of objective "good value" is even more obvious when one is, like me, at least a moderately experienced home cook who doesn't actually need the company's help with meal planning or cooking instructions.

3. // Mixed effects on shopping: Because I know I have a  tendency towards stress-induced shopping urges, including as recently as last month, I was surprised to find that, at the height of my busiest period at the office, I didn't actually want to shop for clothes, shoes, or accessories that much. January was, by my standards, a very low-shopping month. I'm currently in another hectic period (though nowhere near as intense as January), and it may be having a similar effect as in January.

That's not to say that I didn't have any shopping impulses at all. There was a sale on The Sims 4 for $5, and I tacked on Seasons for $19.99. I greatly enjoy The Sims, but it's also so addictive and time-consuming that it probably isn't a particularly good influence to bring back into my life now that I'm a working adult. (This isn't to say I avoid all video games, it's just that because there's no definite storyline or endpoint with The Sims, it's much easier to sink far more hours into it than with other games I enjoy.) Plus, when my current computer was new, it was barely equal to the task of running Sims 3 without expansion packs, so it may be that my new game purchases won't even work on my now five-year-old computer! I also spent another $10 on Pokemon Go this month. So certain types of impulsive purchases do become more likely when I'm having an especially busy time at work.

4. // Too tired to fuss at my insurance company: I continue to find my medical insurance company's treatment of my contraception baffling. My co-pays for that specific medication have rarely looked the way they're supposed to, based on my reading and interpretation of the official insurance plan documents. In the end though, even if it's a lot of extra money each month that I'd never had to pay before, the monthly spend has still been low enough that it can't quite inspire me to continue with the Kafkaesque process of communicating with my insurance company to figure out what's happening, much less to try and change the situation.

Towards the end of the year, my copays for that medication settled down to $35/month, but now it's gone up again, arbitrarily and with no notice of any policy changes, to $39/month. That's still not quite a price that will inspire me to interact further with the insurance company (a process as painful as pulling teeth; and it's definitely happened that two representatives on two different days within a week of each other will give me opposite answers about simple factual questions about my plan). But who knows what other price fluctuations are coming next!

5. // Too tired to blog: Even though things have long since calmed down at the office, that intensely busy period at work caused one other lasting change in my habits. Although I often get home by 6:30 or 7:00 PM these days, and have a reasonable amount of free time and energy left (especially now that I don't cook often on weekdays), every time I try to start writing a blog entry after work, I find myself completely unequal to the task. I can still comment or reply to comments, and I can still revise and proofread draft entries I wrote over the weekend, but I can't seem to actually write anything new for future blog entries on weeknights anymore.

This new state of affairs confuses me a bit. I've never before had trouble making time after school or work to dash off a few paragraphs about fashion, shopping, or how I manage my money whenever inspiration struck, which was usually often, as one can see from my robust archives here. Alas, these days, if I'm going to write, it needs to happen over the weekend. 

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