I’m dying and so are you

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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.

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

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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.

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Turn your goals into problems and then solve those problems

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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.

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How to get your work done on time

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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.

Get serious about marketing. Here’s help.

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Goal setting for lawyers and other smart people

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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.”

Exactly.

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.

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Two ways to look at your goals

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I was washing dishes the other night, thinking about my goals for a new project I’m working on. First, I thought about an income goal for the rest of the year. I earned a small amount on this last year. How much do I want to earn this year?

Then, I thought about it in a different way. I thought about how much I want to be earning, per month, by the end of the year. For some reason, I like that better. Perhaps it’s because the end of the year is in the future and I have time to get there. I can build towards that goal instead of having to produce meaningful results right now.

Of course, most income goals are fanciful. You can’t control results. What you really need are activity goals.

Income goals are inspiring, but impractical. Practical goals are based on the activities needed to produce those results.

You can’t control whether your new website will get any traffic or subscribers or sales, but you can control when you will write the first page. You can’t control whether you will get any referrals from contacts at your networking group, but you can control how many new people you will speak to next Tuesday night.

Both types of goals are important. As you see progress towards your result-based goals, you can adjust your activity goals. Want to earn more? Do more. Or do it faster. Or do something different.

The Attorney Marketing Formula comes with a template for a simple marketing plan 

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The one thing. . .

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If an angel sat on your shoulder and whispered in your ear the one thing you need to know or do right now, what would it be?

Not two or ten things, just one.

You may have to search for it, but deep down, you know the answer. There’s a message you need to hear, something that will profoundly change your life in a positive way. What is it?

It’s simple, a single word or a short phrase, but important. You’ve thought about it before. Now it’s time to embrace it.

It might be personal, like a reminder to “lose weight” or “smile” or “call her”. It might be work related like “new clients” or “start the blog” or “networking”.

It might be anything.

When you have the answer, write it down and keep it in front of you, so you will see it often. You might put sticky notes on your computer, on your bathroom mirror, and on the visor in your car. If you have a reminder app, set it to pop up several times a day and display your “one thing”.

Mine came to me last night. The message to myself is “write faster”. I have several projects in the works that involve writing and I’m not an especially fast writer. If I can get the work done more quickly, good things will happen for me.

Note, these aren’t affirmations or goals or anything formal or structured. Just something to think about. A place to start. You might turn it into a project, with specific tasks, or you may leave it as a simple touchstone.

This is supposed to be easy, and inspiring. When you look at your “one thing” you should feel good. If what you wrote makes you feel guilty or unhappy or any other negative emotion, change it.

Aside from inspiration, there is a practical application for writing down your one thing. It summons the power of your subconscious mind to make your one thing come true.

Every time I look at “write faster,” my subconscious mind is working on my behalf to make it so. It will help me notice tools and techniques that can help me write faster. It will help me stop editing as I write, so I will get first drafts done more quickly. When I slow down or go off on a tangent, it will pull me back to the task at hand.

When I got up this morning, I had forgotten that I had written down my “one thing”. When I saw it for the first time, I smiled and started thinking about what it will be like to write faster and get more done, and what a wonderful year it will be to have that play out.

What’s your “one thing”?

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Are you managing your law practice or is it managing you?

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See the client. Review the document. Write the letter. See the next client. Document the file. Mail the letter. Read. Read some more. Email. Email some more. Prepare the complaint. Prepare the motion. Make the calls. Go to the meeting. Check your email. Check your calendar. Oops, late for court. Out the door. Fight traffic. Wait to be called. Back to the office. Record notes. Send the email. Look at the time. Oops, late for dinner. Fight traffic. Kiss the wife. Eat, read, news, sleep, get up, eat, dress, fight traffic, see the client. . .

Another day. Another week. Another month. Another year.

Who has time for marketing? Thinking about the future? Planning?

You want to, there’s just no time. Too much to do and it never gets done. At the end of the day you’re tired and want to go home.

You aren’t managing your law practice. It’s managing you.

Believe me, I understand.

It’s time for you to take control. Tell your practice who is in charge. Decide what kinds of clients and cases you want instead of taking what shows up. Decide how much you want to earn this year and do what you need to do to earn it.

But to do that, you have stand down from the daily grind, clear your mind, and make some decisions.

What do you have to decide? Start with the end in mind. What do you want your future to be like? What is your long term vision?

What do you want your life to be like five or ten years from today? Imagine things the way you would like them to be. What are you doing? Where are you living? How much are you earning? What is a typical day like?

Write a “vision statement” describing your life, in the present tense, five years in the future. One page is all you need. The only rule is there are no rules. Describe the life you want, not the life you think you might have.

Your vision statement is where you want to go. From this point forward, you can make choices that are consistent with your vision. You’ll do things that move you towards your vision. You’ll reject activities that don’t.

Instead of being pushed through life by circumstance, you’ll be pulled forward by your vision.

Once you have a vision statement, the next step is yearly goals. What do you want to happen in the next 12 months that is consistent with your long term vision?

You can set one big goal or a handful of goals in different areas of your life. Goals should be specific and measurable. At the end of the year you should be able to say that yes, you did reach the goal, or no you did not.

Goals should be bold and exciting. They should require you to stretch and grow, but not be so far out of reach that you don’t have a chance of achieving them.

Once you have yearly goals, the next step is to write monthly plans. What will you focus on this month? What projects will you work on? When will you start? When will you be done? What will you do after that?

Schedule your monthly plans in your calendar. Set up files to collect information and track your progress.

While you’ve got your calendar handy, also schedule a recurring weekly review. Once a week, take an hour or two to review what you have done during the week and what you will do the following week. This keeps you focused and accountable. This is you managing your practice instead of it managing you.

Finally, from you yearly goals, monthly plans, and weekly review, you choose your daily activities. What will you do today to move you forward? Choose a few things but make sure they are important.

It’s best to write down your daily activities the night before. “Plan your day before your day begins,” one of my mentors taught me.

A well-lived life is a well-planned life. If your law practice is managing you, it’s time to show it who’s boss.

The Attorney Marketing Formula will help you plan your future. Click here for details.

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The truth about goal setting

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“You can’t handle the truth!” Okay, yes you can. I just wanted to yell and sound like Jack.

The truth about goal setting is that it is what you want it to be. Don’t want to set formal written goals? You don’t have to. Many successful people don’t. You want lots of goals or just one or two? Whatever floats your boat.

But whether or not you go through a formal goal setting process, it is important to know what you want. Someone once said, “you can have anything you want, just not everything.” You have to choose. You only have so much time and energy and resources.

So, what do you want?

Choose something you really want, not something you think you’re supposed to have or do.

How do you know the difference? When you think about it, it should feel good. Both the doing and the having. Because if it feels good thinking about it, you’ll be inspired to do it, you’ll enjoy the process, and you’ll get what you want with far less effort.

Over the years, I’ve written many articles dealing with setting goals. Here is a sample to help you:

The surprising truth about written goals

Why goal setting works

What’s the one thing you most want to accomplish this year?

Goal setting and the law of attraction

Instead of setting goals this year. . .

Once you’ve decided what you want, the plan for achieving it should come more easily. That’s because when you know what you want, you also know what you don’t want so you can eliminate certain things from you plan.

For marketing, here’s some help for creating that plan:

Marketing plan for lawyers: getting ready for the new year

Have a safe New Year’s celebration.

The Attorney Marketing Center’s products can help you earn more and work less.

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Slowing down to speed up: getting ready for the new year

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It’s time. The last few days of the year when the holiday craziness is nearly over, the tree and the lights are coming down, but the new year has not begun. This is the time when I tie up loose ends from the current year and get ready for the new one.

I’m sure you’re doing something similar. Or you will in the next few days. Much like we do in the days leading up to a vacation.

It’s called “slowing down to speed up”. We shut off the flow of regular business and look at things from a different perspective. Because we’re not consumed with taking care of clients and projects, we can better see where we are and make plans for where we want to be.

In addition to doing some goal setting and planning, I’m getting caught up on CLE and learning some new software I plan to use extensively next year. I’m also cleaning up my computer workspace, catching up on email, consolidating files and folders in “my documents,” and consolidating my Evernote tags.

Not difficult stuff. Kinda fun, actually. But important, because it will allow me to start the new year with fresh eyes and fewer distractions and, therefore, be more productive with “real” work.

At least it feels that way. And that’s why we do this year-end ritual, isn’t it? So that we’ll feel refreshed and empowered?

So, how about you? How are you getting ready for the new year?

If you’re planning to upgrade your Internet presence next year, you need this.

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