Congratulations! You’re about to wrap up another year. Hopefully, it was productive and profitable. I’m proud to say my firm had another year of double-digit growth. If your 2016 was strong, you probably had a solid business plan in place. Much of the consulting work I did for my clients, focused on practice management. It was especially true for my solo practitioners.
Note: My article was originally published by the Louisville Bar Association (Bar Briefs, December 2016, Page 7).
If you’ve ever taken a family vacation, you know how difficult it can be to lug all of your baggage to the car and through the airport. Once you’ve handed it off at the counter, there’s an instant feeling of relief. There’s freedom in checking your mental baggage as well.
If you feel as if you’re lugging too much mental baggage (it’s easy to do if you’re running a practice), consider a technique I use with many of my clients.
Find the biggest white board you have and divide it into 3 vertical columns: Admin, Lawyering and Building. Your goal is to offload all of that mental baggage. It’ll help you to visualize areas/tasks that are weighing you down. At the same time, simply capturing those problem areas is the 1st step to bringing a little order to the chaos.
As you begin, the idea is to quickly build your list. No item is too big, nor too small. Use the Admin column for those items such as scheduling, staff training, follow-up, internal processes, etc. Use the Lawyering column for issues related to your actual practice of law (e.g. tracking deadlines, communicating with clients, personal work-flow, etc.). Finally, put all marketing/advertising issues in the Building column. Include updating your voicemail to reference your website, collecting any/all digital assets, listing key vendors and contract expirations, as well as networking activities.
Once you’ve built your list, mark the ones that are keeping you up at night. If you dealt with them now, would they have the biggest impact on your practice? Would resolving them add to your piece of mind?
The tricky part here is that you really want to “force-rank” each item. Try to put a number beside each item. You can decide for yourself whether you want to do an overall ranking, or a ranking within each of the 3 columns. My advice is to be honest with yourself. This is your list. Don’t worry about what others will think. This one is yours.
If you’re part of a firm, consider working off the same board, but rank them individually. Colored post-it notes can work well for groups. Have each person indicate their high/medium/low priorities by sticking a note beside each point, according to a color-scheme. Once everyone has ranked the issues, then share and look for areas of convergence.
GE invested in many of its young professionals by putting us through extensive time-management training.
We were taught to create a daily list and force-rank each activity as either an A, B or C-level priority. Some of you have probably noticed a folded slip of paper sticking out of my shirt pocket over the years. It’s that same style of daily list.
We were coached about a simple fact: Even if we spent the majority of the day/week tackling 1-3 A-level activities, we were still spending our time the most effective way possible. That fact holds true for most professionals.
I’ve facilitated many of these exercises over the years. It’s not surprising that everyone isn’t on the same page. It’s okay. The important point is that everyone gets the opportunity to contribute to the conversation. If you have a consensus-based culture, it should be easier to now prioritize the main, high-impact issues, based on the above-mentioned convergence.
You’ve just accomplished a key step.
You’ve identified the starting line so that issues can be addressed in order of importance. It also necessitates that you develop individual action plans to resolve them.
Taking the disciplined steps to create this 3-column list introduces a structure. My experience has proven that many small firms and/or solos can operate more efficiently, once this small system is in place. If you’re part of a firm, you can now allocate responsibilities and report back on progress.
Remember, this list will continue to evolve as your firm develops and grows. New items and issues will pop up. The difference now is that you will have a way to categorize and prioritize the relative importance of the new issues. This discipline can prevent you from getting off track by trying to resolve something simply because it’s top of mind. Your time and effort may be better utilized elsewhere. When you’re confronted by these new items, I encourage you to “take it to the list.”
I hope you’ll invest the time during this last month of the year to focus on preparing for a stronger 2017. Remember my friends, everyone has good ideas. It’s only the ones who actually execute on those ideas who will achieve the highest levels of success.
Thank you for reading my various articles this year. I hope they’ve been helpful. Let’s look forward to an excellent 2017 as we continue to focus together on the business of law.