How many hours a week do you work?

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If you’re like me, and you are, when someone asks you, “How many hours a week do you work?” you usually say, “It depends”. We say that because we’re lawyers and everything depends.

How many hours we work depends on how one defines “work”. Do we count being at our workplace as working?

Do we count thinking time? Reading time? What about driving time?

I’m guessing that most people who put in a “full” day spend only 25% of that time actually working. Show up for eight hours, you do about two hours of work. (Actually, I recall reading that the average person only works 90 minutes a day, but we’re not average, are we?)

And don’t get me started on billable hours.

So when I read about the notion that working more than 40 hours a week makes us less productive, I have to wonder what they mean by work. And while we’re on the subject, what do they mean by “less productive”?

We might get more done in less time working 40 hours a week, but so what? If we’re getting things done after 40 hours, we’re still getting things done.

And maybe we like what we do. Maybe it doesn’t feel like work. Maybe we don’t have hobbies or other things to occupy our time and, given the choice, we would prefer to keep working instead of resting or playing.

When someone tells us we’re working too hard, we should smile and nod and tell them they’re right, even if we disagree. Hard work never killed anyone, right? Yes, but what do we say when they tell us we’re not working hard enough?

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If you’re not growing, you’re dying

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James Clear had an interesting post about something called The Repeated Bout Effect. In simple terms, it means, “the more you repeat a behavior, the less it impacts you because you become accustomed to it.”

He quotes Marshall Goldsmith, author of “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There,” who says, “Doing the same thing over and over again, even if it worked for a long time, will eventually lead to a plateau.”

Clear uses examples from weight training, but the principle applies to other aspects of life, including marketing and managing your practice. If you continue doing the same things you’ve always done, or you do them the same way you’ve always done them, you limit or retard your growth.

And if you’re not growing, you’re dying.

Clear suggests deliberately practicing new skills that you can master quickly, i.e., “in one to three practice sessions”. This will stimulate growth and help you reach new levels of achievement.

Identify skills that could prove helpful to you in marketing and managing your practice. Once a week or so, choose a skill to focus on for the next few days.

For ideas, read blogs and articles and books on those subjects. Talk to your colleagues and business contacts and see what they do to build or manage their business or practice.

Regularly add new skills to your bag of tricks and encourage your staff to do the same.

But don’t stop there.

I think it’s also wise to periodically examine your current skills and activities and seek ways to improve them.

Over the next few days, take note of everything you do–small tasks and big tasks, highly skilled tasks and rudimentary or routine tasks. Include everything: writing, speaking, presenting, signing up new clients, meeting with employees, interviewing job applicants, dictating a motion, prepping for trial, reviewing a new client intake, touch typing, and everything else.

Then, look at each task and ask yourself, “How can I do this better?”

Can you change the order of the steps? Add in an extra step? Use a different tool?

Can you do it faster, perhaps by leaving out a step or two?

Can you get better results by practicing the underlying skills or delegating some of the tasks (or the entire task) to someone else?

Acquiring new skills, combined with an ongoing effort to improve your current skills, is a powerful recipe for growth. And if you’re not growing, you’re dying.

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Marketing like a drug user

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Why do people get started taking drugs? Peer pressure is a big reason. They see their friends doing it and they don’t want to be uncool. They don’t want their friends pointing and laughing at them, or worse, ignoring them.

When your friends take drugs, supply them to you, and show you what to do, drug use becomes normal for a lot of people.

If you hang around nine drug users, there’s a good chance you’ll become the tenth.

I’ve never taken drugs. One reason, I’m sure, is that my friends didn’t take drugs, at least as far as I knew. If I went to a party and someone was sniffing or popping or lighting up, I left.

I didn’t associate with people who took drugs and never got started. I think I was afraid I might like it and I didn’t want to take that chance.

Anyway, the point of my sermon is that the people we spend the most time with influence us. We may not realize how powerful this influence is until one day, we realize we’re just like them.

It’s called the Law of Association. If most of your friends are big sports fans, for example, you probably are, too. If your friends are workaholics, there’s a good chance you work more than most.

Who are your best friends? Think about the five people with whom you spend the most time. What is their life like? Are they married? Have kids? Where do they live? How much do they earn?

If your five best friends earn an average of $150,000 a year, the odds are that you earn close to that. If they earn $500,000 a year, congratulations to you.

If you want to increase your income, one way to do that is to begin associating with people who earn more than you do. You’ll adopt their habits and their way of thinking. You’ll read what they read, talk about the things they talk about, and eventually, you’ll do what they do. In time, you’ll be like them.

Think about the lawyers you are close with. If they are “too busy” for marketing, or only give it lip service, the odds are that marketing isn’t a priority for you. If you want that to change, start spending time with lawyers who have a marketing “habit” and let them show you what to do.

Marketing, income, or drug use, it’s all the same. If you want to change your life, change your friends.

Do you know The Attorney Marketing Formula?

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It gets better and so will you

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A bought a new desk chair recently. I spent more 90 minutes setting it up. I studied the instructions, identified all of the parts, and took my time assembling the chair, making sure I did it right.

I did do it right, and the chair worked fine, but after I started using it, I noticed there was a flaw in the material and I could see that the seat backing would eventually come undone. I took the chair back to the store and exchanged it.

Setting up the chair the second time was a piece of cake. I knew what all the parts were and where they went, and everything went smoothly and quickly. I was done in less than 30 minutes.

I was able to set up the chair in about a third of the time because I had done it before. I was confident about what I was doing. I didn’t have to study the instructions or take my time making sure I had the right screws for the right holes.

The first time we do something is usually the most difficult. Even if we have detailed instructions, we are unsure and unsteady. We may come away with bloody knuckles or a bruised ego.

The first time I opened an office I was not very good at negotiating my lease. Over time, I learned what I could ask for, I knew market rates, and I had more experience and more confidence.

It was the same the first time I hired someone, the first time I appeared in court, and the first time I handled a big case and wondered if I should have tried for more than policy limits.

Writing your first article or blog post can be intimidating, painful, and slow. It may take you three hours to write 150 words. Do it again and it will be easier. Eventually, you’ll spit out a post in 15 minutes.

You may be all thumbs when it comes to networking. You don’t know what to say or do. You may think, “this isn’t for me,” but give it a few months; you might find out you’re actually pretty good at it.

Whatever it is, it gets better. And easier. And faster. You learn how to use the tools and implement the techniques. You learn from your mistakes. You do it again and again and eventually it becomes second nature.

Remember, there was a time when you couldn’t tie your shoes.

Don’t let your fears or inexperience stop you. If someone else has done it, the odds are that you can do it, too.

I know you know this. But sometimes, especially when you’re going through a rough period, you need to be reminded that it gets better and so will you.

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Are you busy? That’s a shame.

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Being busy isn’t necessarily something to brag about. It’s not a virtue. In fact, it may well be a failing if you’re busy doing things that aren’t important.

It’s better to be productive than busy.

Being productive means you’re producing. Creating value for yourself and others. It means you’re not simply in motion, you’ve got to something to show for your efforts.

What do you want to produce? What results do you want to achieve?

Not someday, now. You can have dreams and long term goals but life is lived in the present, so what do you want to do today?

What are your priorities?

You should be able to cite a few things that you are focused on, and only a few. Because if there are more than a few, it can’t be called “focus”. When everything is a priority, nothing is.

“If you have 3 priorities, you have priorities. If you have 25 priorities, you have a mess,” one writer said.

You may have heard it said that you can do anything you want in life, you just can’t do everything; there isn’t enough time. Fill your day producing things that are important to you, your family, and your clients. If you do that, you will have a productive and happy life, even if you’re not that busy.

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If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right

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Do you enjoy practicing law? Do you look forward to going to work every day? If you do, great. If not, we need to talk.

The purpose of life is to experience joy. At least that’s what I believe. We’re not here to suffer or sacrifice endlessly, we’re here to experience our time on earth as the blessing it is meant to be.

Your work, your marriage, your social life, even your faith, should be fun. Or at least gratifying. If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.

I’m not talking about the little things you have to do to keep the wheels spinning. You may have to plunge out a toilet every once in awhile. Marketing may not be your favorite thing, but you have to embrace it to some extent because without it, you won’t be able to do the work you love.

Okay, I said “work you love” but I don’t really mean it. You don’t have to love your work to be successful at it. You just can’t hate it.

For some, work is an expression of their joy and their purpose in life. It defines them and pulls them forward towards a better future. For others, work is a means to an end. They enjoy it, but it’s not who they are.

And that’s fine.

There will always be things you don’t want to do. There will always be parts of your work that you would rather not do.

As long as most of your time is spent doing things you enjoy, you’ll be just fine.

My law practice wasn’t my life’s purpose. There were a lot of things I didn’t enjoy. But I focused on what I did enjoy: helping people (who appreciated it) and making money. That’s what I focused on. That’s what kept me going.

I delegated the things I didn’t like, or put blinders on and accepted them as part of the deal.

Eventually, though, the negatives outweighed the positives and I knew it was time to move on.

Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” Starting my practice was, at the time, a daring adventure. When the thrill was gone, I found a new adventure.

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Why people don’t trust lawyers

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Why is it that so many people don’t trust lawyers? Unless they’ve been burned by a lawyer before, or know someone who has, I think it comes down to how we are portrayed in the media, movies, and TV. And let’s not forget all of those lawyer jokes.

And yet I think most people who meet us for the first time are willing to give us the benefit of the doubt. They will assume that we can be trusted, because it’s too difficult to assume that we cannot. They come to us with a problem and they want to believe that they can trust us to help them.

But their trust can evaporate in an instant.

The smallest misstep can trip us up. A little white lie, missing a deadline by a day or two, a bill that comes in for a few dollars more than expected.

For many clients, one screw up, one broken promise, or even one exaggeration is all it takes.

I thought about this over the weekend when I was looking at a book on Amazon. A five-star review said something like, ” . . .although it took some time to read. . .” and then praised the book. But the book was only 26 pages. Seeing that, I knew the review was phony. The author had purchased the review.

That’s cheating. And against Amazon’s terms of service. If the author did that, what else is he dishonest about? Why should I trust his information or advice?

So I didn’t “buy” the book, even though it was free.

One strike and he was out.

Learn how to build trust

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Mr. Spock was only half right

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As a kid, I loved Star Trek. I watched the original series and thought that Mr. Spock’s unemotional, logical approach to problem solving was the way to go.

Examine the evidence. Calculate the probabilities. Make your decision.

I even took a class in logic in college. It was one of my favorites. My professor noticed my enthusiasm for the subject and wrote me a letter of recommendation to law school.

Anyway, I started my legal career with a penchant for logic. I calmly reasoned my way through problems to find the best solutions. I did my best to keep my emotions in check.

And it’s a good thing I did. Those first few years were awful. I didn’t know how to bring in clients and, oh yeah, I barely knew how to do the legal work. Every month was a struggle to survive and if I had let my emotions out of their box, I would surely have fallen apart. Logic got me through some tough times.

Later, when I had turned things around and had a thriving practice, logic only took me so far.

At one point, I had an important decision to make. I can’t recall the subject but I remember having a terrible time deciding what to do. I had a paralegal who saw my consternation and offered a suggestion. She told me that I was more intuitive than I realized and that I should trust my intuition to provide me with the right answer.

I listened to her. And then I listened to the voice inside me that told me what to do.

Whatever the issue was, my intuition provided the solution and the problem is long forgotten.

We should remember that Spock was half-human. Somewhere inside him was a reservoir of intuition and human emotion. We saw flashes of it when he made illogical decisions to save the life of Captain Kirk.

We all have great intuitive powers and we shouldn’t ignore them. There is a voice inside us that wants to guide us but most of us (men) don’t listen.

Feelings, who me? I’m a lawyer. I don’t let my feelings tell me what to do.

Maybe we should. Maybe we should listen to how we feel about things before we make decisions.

I do that now. When I think about choosing A or B, for example, I ask myself how I feel about those options. More often than not, I choose the option that feels better.

I also do that when charting my future. I look at the pantheon of options available to me–all of the projects I could work on, all of the tasks on my master list–and do the ones that I feel pulled toward.

I have one such project I’m working on right now. It’s something I feel good about and I can’t wait to get back to work on it. Isn’t that how our work should always be? Mostly doing things we enjoy?

Look at everything on your plate right now, and everything on your list of ideas. Which one calls to you? Which one feels good when you think about it?

That’s probably what you should do next.

Mr. Spock might not approve, but he’s at the Science station and you’re in the Captain’s chair.

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When to hire your first (or next) employee

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A sole practitioner asks, “How do I know when I can afford to hire my first employee?”

That depends. If you think like a lawyer, you’ll wait until you have so much work piled up you can’t keep up with it. Hiring your first, or your next employee will be a matter of necessity.

But you’re not just a lawyer. You’re also a business owner and if you think like a business owner, you will invest in the future of your business (practice).

You won’t wait until it’s obvious you need help. You will imagine the future of your practice the way you want it to be and make sure you get there ahead of time.

In other words, you’ll hire staff before you absolutely need them.

I did this. I hired people when I didn’t yet have enough work to keep them busy. I expected my practice to grow and I wanted to be ready.

I did the same thing with office space. I got bigger space before I needed it. I was nervous about signing a long term lease, but I filled the space every time.

Don’t dwell on where you, imagine where you want to be. Buy some big boy pants and know that you will grow into them.

I was once in the real estate business with another lawyer who thought even bigger than I did. He wanted us to lease the penthouse suite in a building on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. The rent was gag-inducing. He also wanted us to hire several secretaries and buy new computers, and the business was barely getting started.

We did it. We invested in the future we expected to create and our investment paid off.

Of course we were also motivated by a tremendous fear of loss. We had huge overhead and had to make it work.

We charged higher fees, took out bigger ads, and worked out tails off. In less than a year, we were paying all of our expenses, had leased top of the line Mercedes, and took home six-figure draws, and this was in the 80’s when six-figures meant something.

If you expect your practice to grow, invest in that growth. Take on bigger space before you need it. Hire more people before you have enough work to keep them busy.

Start with employees, because they are scalable. Unlike a lease, if the work doesn’t materialize, you can easily downsize.

If you’re still not sure, start with temps or part time help. If you share space with another attorney, talk to them about sharing a secretary.

Don’t be reckless, of course. But don’t play it safe, either.

If you wait until you’re sure, you’ve probably waited too long.

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How to beat procrastination without really trying

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There are hundreds of tips and strategies on how to beat procrastination floating around. That’s too many, if you ask me.

Instead of giving you a laundry list of ideas I want to share with you just three.

(1) DON’T DO IT

Not everything on your task list needs to be done. Many tasks aren’t that important, at least in comparison to other things on your list. After all, being productive isn’t about getting everything done it’s about getting the most important things done.

So ask yourself, “Do I really need to do this?” and if the answer is anything but an unqualified yes, either cross it off the list or put it on a “someday/maybe” list and look at it at some future date.

If a task does need to be done, ask yourself, “Who else could do this?” If you can delegate the task to someone else, you should.

(2) CREATE A DEADLINE

If something needs to be done (by you), and you don’t already have a deadline, give yourself one. Pick a date when the task will be done, or when a significant portion of the project will be done, and put this on your calendar.

You may be inclined to give yourself ample time but it’s usually better to do just the opposite. Shorter deadlines make it more likely that you will complete the task.

If you give yourself three weeks to complete something, you might not get started until a few days before the deadline. Or, as you see the deadline approaching you will extend it. So instead of three weeks, give yourself three days to complete the task, or even three hours.

Once you have a deadline, tell someone about it–your client, spouse, partner, or a workout buddy–and ask them to hold you accountable. When I tell my wife I will have the first draft of something done by a certain date, I am much more likely to do it.

(3) START

The most important part of any task is getting started. The first step in doing anything puts you one step closer to the second step.

Start with something small and easy. Make a list of everything you need to do, for example, or re-write the list you already wrote.

Tell yourself you’ll work on it for just five minutes. No matter how unpleasant the task might be you can do it for five minutes. The odds are that once you get started, you’ll feel compelled to continue.

These three strategies should help you beat procrastination most of the time. If you still find yourself procrastinating, however, ask yourself why you are resisting doing things you know you need to do.

The solution might be simple. If you don’t know how to do something, for example, schedule time to learn. If you’re afraid of doing a poor job, get some advice or ask someone with more experience to help you.

There is always a reason why you are procrastinating. Instead of ignoring that reason, embrace it. Your subconscious mind knows what you need and if you listen carefully, you will hear the solution.

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