Begin with the end in mind (and work backwards)


Most people choose a goal and then start working towards it. They put one foot in front of the other and keep walking until they get to their destination.

If they choose the wrong step, however, they may get sidetracked and lose sight of their goal. If they do the steps in the wrong order, they may waste time and resources.

A better way, some say, is to begin with the end in mind and work backwards.

Let me give you an example of how it works.

Let’s say you have a goal of getting one additional referral each week.

Nice goal, yes?

Okay, now you have to ask yourself this question: Can I do this tomorrow? Can I get one additional referral per week starting tomorrow?

The odds are the answer is no. So you ask another question: What would have to have happen first?

Putting aside the idea of getting more referrals from your clients and existing contacts, let’s say the answer is, “I’d have to have twenty new professional contacts who know, like, and trust me. If each one of these twenty contacts sends me just one referral every five months, I would achieve my goal of getting one additional referral per week.”

That sounds doable. But can you do it tomorrow?


What would have to happen first?

First (let’s say) you would need to connect with 100 new contacts (professionals, business owners, community leaders, centers of influence, etc.), in order to find twenty who are willing and able to send you one referral every five months.

Can you do this tomorrow? I’m guessing not.

What would have to happen first?

First you would have to identify (a) places where these people congregate, so you can go there and meet them, and/or (b) people you know who can introduce you to these people.

Can you do that tomorrow?

Yes you can. You can start anyway. You can do some research and find organizations comprised of people who fit the description of the people you want to meet who meet locally.

You can also comb through your current list of contacts to identify people who are likely to know these people. They have clients or colleagues or business contacts who fit the description. You know them well enough to ask for an introduction.

Finally, you have something you can do tomorrow. Now you can take the first steps towards your goal.

But if you do all of that, can you reach your goal tomorrow? No. What has to happen first?

You need to meet them and get to know them. You need to find out what they are looking for that you might be able to help them with. You need to show them what you do and how you can help their clients or contacts. And you have to build a relationship with them, earn their trust ,and eventually, their referrals.

Can you do this tomorrow? No. What would you have to do first?

You’d have to talk to them, get their contact information, and begin a dialog with them.

Can you do that tomorrow (if you meet them tomorrow)? Yes you can.

And now you have a plan.

You can’t “do” a goal, you can only do activities. Begin with the end in mind and work backwards. Identify the activities you need to do, and do them, and keep doing them until you reach your goal.

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What you focus on is what you get


You can’t be successful at everything. If you’re smart, you’ll make a big list of everything you’d like to do this year, narrow it down to ten things, and then choose just 3 or 4 goals or objectives to focus on this year.

That’s what Steve Jobs did with Apple.

The key to success is focus. Choose a few things and spend most of your time on those.

I have one major business goal this year. If I accomplish it, it will transform my business and I will be a happy camper. To achieve this goal, I have two big projects I’m working on. Depending on how things go, I might take on a third project, but no more. To achieve exceptional results, I must stay focused.

It’s not a lack of discipline that keeps us from achieving our goals. It’s a lack of focus.

Clarity gives us focus. If you are clear about what you want to accomplish in the next few years, you can focus on the work that will help you get there. If you are unclear about your future, your focus will be fuzzy and your efforts will be scattered and inconsistent.

Clarity gives you focus and focus gives you momentum.

So, what do you want? What are 3 or 4 goals or projects you intend to focus on this year?

You may not need 3 or 4. You may need only one. A major goal that will decidedly advance you towards your long term vision.

Perhaps that one goal is to reach a certain income level. If you achieve this, it will take care of a lot of other goals. If you increase your income enough, you don’t need a separate goal of paying off back taxes, for example.

Now, with goal in hand, you can focus on achievement. What do you need to do to accomplish this goal?

You can accomplish anything you want in life, you just can’t accomplish everything. Get clear about what you really want and focus on that. Because what you focus on is what you get.


Planning 2015 and beyond


What do you want to accomplish this year? Be specific. Next year at this time, if I ask you, “Did you do it?” I hope you’ll be able to answer in the affirmative, but what is “it”?

You have many options. You must decide what you want and be very clear about it. What’s the number? What’s the outcome?

Do you want more clients? How many? Do you want better clients? How do you define better? Do you want fewer clients who pay you more? How many and how much?

Start with the big picture–where do you want to be five or ten years from now?

Do you want to expand into a new market? Branch out into a new practice area? Attract different types of clients?

Do you want a big firm, with lots of employees and offices, or a small firm with low overhead and low(er) management requirements?

Do you want to build a war chest to finance something new, or passive income so you can retire?

Before you make a plan or take action, you must know what you want. But there’s something else you need to figure out.


Whatever it is that you want, you have to know why you want it. You want more income? Why? What will you do with it?

When you think you know your “why” take it deeper. You say you want more money to pay off debt, start a college fund, or hire some new staff. Fine. Why do you want that?

Ah, more staff will allow you to earn more and work less. Okay, why do you want that?

It will give you more time with the family you love. You won’t miss soccer games and ballet recitals. You’ll be able to pursue music or art or travel the world.

Okay, but why do you want those things?

Keep asking yourself “why” until you get to the emotional core that is driving what you want. That core will be fueled by one of two emotions: love or fear.

Your love of your children will keep you going when you hit an obstacle. So will your fear of disappointing them.

It is our emotions that drive us and unless we access those emotions, it’s too easy to get distracted, procrastinate, or give up.

When you have emotional clarity about what you want, nothing will stop you from getting it. Without that clarity, anything can stop you.

Get clear about what you want, and why you want it.


We get what we expect, not what we want


Years ago, my wife and I attended an annual New Year’s party at her agent’s home. Every year, all of the guests wrote down what we expected to happen that year. Not our goals, our expectations.

The agent collected our scribbles in a basket and before we wrote our current expectations, we read what we had written the previous year. We could share with the group if we wanted to, or not.

The idea is that we don’t get what we want (our goals), we get what we expect. Goals are aspirational; expectations are objective.

I believe this is true. Our subconscious mind is a servo-mechanism, after all. It accepts our beliefs (expectations) as reality and works to create that reality.

I never quite got the hang of it, however. Every year, I wrote down what I wanted to happen, in the guise of what I expected. And every year, I missed the mark by a long shot. But this was my fault. I didn’t put a lot of thought into the exercise.

Maybe I was afraid my wife’s agent would secretly sneak a peak at what we had written so I wrote down something acceptable.

Anyway, if it is true that we get what we expect and not what we want, how does this help us? How do we access our deepest beliefs, and how do we use them to get what we want?

You got me.

Hypnosis? Meditation? Prayer?

All I know is that as we write down our goals for the year, we should give some thought to our expectations. That way, instead of choosing random goals that we hope will magically come true, we will choose goals that come true because they are the natural progression of our current reality.

If it turns out that our goals and are current reality are miles apart, and we’re honest with ourselves about that, after we write our goals, we will write down a list of things we need to work on in order to close that gap.

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Give it away, give it away, give it away (but not everything)


You’re thinking about next year, aren’t you? If you’re not, just check your email. It’s undoubtedly filled with messages about goal setting, resolutions, organizing your work flow like a boss. . .

Oh, and don’t forget to register for the next goo-roo webinar that promises to reveal the secrets to profligate wealth. (Note to self: the free webinar is a sales pitch).

Not all free webinars are like that. Just most of them. You don’t learn that much. Or they tell you the “what” but not the “how”.

I know, they can’t give away everything for free. They’ve got a business to run. Just like you do. You don’t give away all of your wisdom and advice during a free consultation (nor should you), so you get that.

But you’ve got to give people something.

I’m not saying you can’t sell your services without “content”. You certainly can. Advertising still works. But if you’re asking people to invest an hour of their time with you at your seminar, watching your videos, or reading your blog, you’ve got to give them something in return.

And the more you give them, the more likely they are to see you as the solution to what ails them.

So, as you plan your next move, I suggest you add “content creation” to your list. If you already do this, ask yourself how you can do it more or make it better.

Put some articles on your website. Write a report or ebook. Make some screen capture videos. Teach people something about your area of expertise, so they can see that you know what you’re doing and get a sense of what it would be like to work with you.

People go online for information. Give them some.

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I’m dying and so are you


In a galaxy far, far away (in the 1970’s) I attended my first real estate investing seminar. I was young and ambitious and had no money, but I had spunk. Mr. Grant may have hated spunk, but it was going to make me rich.

Yes, I was scared. I’m sure most of the people in the room were, too. The trainer knew this, of course and spent time encouraging us. He suggested we adopt the “I.G.D.S.” philosophy. That stands for, “I’m gonna die someday” and is meant to suggest that we get on with life because it will one day be over.

What are you waiting for? This is your life, not a dress rehearsal. Do or not do, there is no try. (Okay Star Wars wasn’t out yet. I got a little ahead of myself.)

Years later, Steve Jobs echoed this sentiment when he said,

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Over the years, I’ve reminded myself that I’m gonna die someday and I had better get on with things. Sometimes, this helped me do just that. I overcame inertia, stopped researching and planning, and got things done. Some big things, too.

As I have aged and thought more about my mortality, I realize that the clock is still ticking and there are many things I still want to do. I.G.D.S. and I had better get on it.

I also know there isn’t enough time in the day to do everything. But I have a plan.

My plan is to give myself permission to dabble. A taste of this and a taste of that. I don’t have to be “all in” with every project on my bucket list. I can sample things, not with the intent to build something big necessarily, but to savor the feeling of doing it.

Of course the challenge is that I will fall in love with what I’m doing and get completely sidetracked. But I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. As Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure, or it is nothing.”

Steve Jobs dreamed big dreams and took big chances. He make lots of mistakes and more than a few enemies, but no matter what anyone says about him, I think we can all agree that he left a huge footprint in the sand.

So, how about it? What have you been putting off until “someday”?

Life is short and so is Danny DeVito. He didn’t let that stop him, and neither should you.


If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough


I was watching auditions for The X Factor. One of the thousands of people who showed up for a chance to become a star was asked what she thought about the seemingly impossible odds of winning the competition. In response, she said, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.”

I immediately wrote that down. And then I thought about it. I thought about how most people play it safe. They give up on their childhood dreams and reconcile themselves to the pursuit of sensible goals.

What fun is that? How likely are we to achieve greatness when we settle for so little?

I have a dream. Something I’ve wanted to do since I was a wee pup. (No, not sing.) But I decided a long time ago that my dream was not possible, that even trying would have to wait.

I talked myself out of following my dream because the whole idea was frightening. What if I fail? If I don’t try, I can’t fail, so it’s better that I don’t even start.

The fear we feel when we contemplate our dreams tells us our dreams are important. If we didn’t care deeply about the dream, there would be no fear. We would shrug it off as a passing fancy.

What dreams are you afraid to pursue because you are afraid or because they seem impossible?

Chicago architect Daniel Burnham famously said, “Make no small plans for they have no power to stir men’s blood”.

Make no small plans. Thing big and take big chances. Get excited and get busy, because even if you are a spectacular failure, you’re still spectacular.


Turn your goals into problems and then solve those problems


Lawyers are good at solving problems. We can look at a situation, decide what needs to be done, and take action to solve the problem. That’s what we do all day long for our clients. We know the objective–to win the case, to negotiate the contract, to protect the client’s business or assets–and we able systematically proceed towards solving the problem.

Why is it, then, that we’re often not very good at achieving our goals? Isn’t a goal really an unsolved problem?

Let’s say you have a goal of earning x per month by the end of the year. Your goal is also a problem: you’re not currently earning x per month. Now, how do you solve that problem?

When we solve problems one of the first things we do is look at the obstacles. If you want to win the case, you look for ways to eliminate or minimize your weaknesses. If there is a eye witness who hurts you, for example, you look for ways to challenge their sight line or establish bias.

Why aren’t you earning x right now? What are the obstacles? And what can you do to eliminate or minimize them?

Start by scrutinizing the elements. Look at your fee structure, practice areas, average fee, and number of cases or clients. You may discover that the weakness is simply that you’re not bringing in enough new clients. Fair enough. You have a new problem to solve.

Or perhaps you realize that your practice area is waning. You need a new one. You knew this but only now are you able to admit it.

But knowing the solution to the problem is only half the battle. It doesn’t mean you’ll do what you need to do.

You’re good at solving client problems because you want them to pay you and return and send referrals, and because your reputation (and bank account) are at stake. You are accountable to your clients. If you mess up, they’ll tell others. They may report you to the state bar. They may sue.

That kind of accountability ordinarily doesn’t exist with our goals. When nobody knows about your goal but you, if you don’t make it, oh well.

Tell your spouse, your partner, or your mastermind group about your goals and ask them to hold you accountable. If a lawyer friend knows about your goal, you won’t want him to know that you didn’t achieve it, or that you dropped the ball and didn’t even try. You’ll do what needs to be done to solve that problem.

Accountability is a bitch, but she loves you and wants you to succeed.


How to get your work done on time


The statute runs on the ninth, so we get the complaint filed by the eighth. We have to, so we do.

What about things that don’t have a deadline? We put them off. We procrastinate. Especially if it’s something we don’t want to do.

But we know this is a bad habit and we want to overcome it. So we make up a deadline. A firm date when we will have the work done. We put it on our calendar. It’s in writing. We see the due date coming up. We’re determined to beat the deadline.

But we don’t.

The day comes and goes and we don’t do the work. We were probably busy doing things that had a real deadline.

I read about a study that confirms what we already know: self-imposed deadlines don’t work. At least for things we really don’t want to do. We procrastinate for a reason, and writing down a deadline doesn’t eliminate that reason.

There is a solution. A way to make a self-imposed deadline work.

You need a deadline AND a penalty for missing it.

When you set a deadline, tell someone. Someone who will hold you accountable.

Tell your client when the work will be done. Promise to deliver it on that day. Put that in writing. You don’t want an unhappy client. Or a client who thinks you are incompetent. Or a client who sues. So you get the work done. Because you have to.

If you really have a problem with procrastination, put in your retainer agreement that the work will be delivered on the date promised or there will be no fee. Or, 10% reduction for every day it is late. Or some other costly consequence.

You’ll get the work done on time, won’t you? Yeah, you will.

You can do something similar with non-billable work or projects. Have you been procrastinating on your website? Tell your boss, partner, or spouse when the work will be done and ask them to hold you accountable.

If you have difficulty estimating when you can finish a big project, break it down into components and set a deadline for the first one. If you want to write a book, for example, set a deadline for completing the first chapter or the first draft. After that, set another deadline for the next component.

You can use penalties to finish any project or achieve any goal. I know a vegetarian who publicly promised that if she didn’t meet a certain goal, she would eat a McDonald’s hamburger every day for a month. Her goal was a big one, but yeah, she made it.

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Goal setting for lawyers and other smart people


After yesterday’s post about goal setting and the value of having both “result” goals and “activity” goals, an attorney emailed me and said that when he sets results-based goals and doesn’t meet them, it is discouraging. “By establishing activity based goals, I largely control whether I meet them or not. Therefore I am much more motivated to achieve them.”


Results-based goals are inspiring, but if you continually miss them, you get to where you don’t want to set them anymore.

Before you give up on them, there are a couple of things you can do.

The first thing you can do is to break the rules about “when”. In other words, instead of saying you want to earn $20,000 this month, let go of “this month”. Focus on what you want, not when.

It’s a “law of attraction” thing. The ticking clock is a constant reminder that you don’t have what you want, and when you think about that, all you get is more of what you don’t want. You attract the “not having”.

So, set (results) goals that feel good when you think about them. What and why, but not how or when.

The second thing you can do is to change your thinking about what a goal is. Normally, a goal is a fixed target that you either hit or you don’t. Since we usually set goals that are somewhat out of reach, we get conditioned to missing them, and that quickly gets old.

The answer isn’t to set goals that are so low we always hit them. It is to set three version of the goal:

  1. The minimum (what you absolutely know you can do without much in the way of extra effort);
  2. The target (a realistic goal that will take reasonably significant effort but is not out of reach);
  3. The dream (you probably won’t reach it but it’s not impossible).

If $20,000 is your dream goal, $12,000 might be your target, and $8500 might be your minimum.

Another way to do it is to keep the goal at $20,000 but change the month for hitting it: Six months from now is your target, one year from today is your minimum, and next month is your dream version of the goal.

This way, you almost always hit your goal and are almost never discouraged.

Goals are meant to serve you, not the other way around. If setting goals isn’t working for you, change how you do it, or let it go completely. Leo Baubata, having been a strong proponent of goal setting, relinquished it completely and found that he is just as productive, if not more so.