The cure for the overworked and overwhelmed attorney–part two

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So it’s a new year and you’re ready to get back to work. If you’re like most attorneys, you’re excited about all of the plans you’ve made for the future but feeling overwhelmed with everything you have to do. You’ve got “too many”.

  • Too many articles and blog posts to read (not to mention the books piled up on your shelf (or floor) and in your Kindle or iPad
  • Too many people to call, letters to write, lunches to attend
  • Too many projects you’ve been putting off but promised yourself (spouse, partner) you will (finally) do
  • Too many continuing education seminars you don’t have time for but must do because your compliance group is “due” (guilty)
  • Too many commitments you’ve made that you know you can’t possibly keep

And let’s not forget your legal work. You know, the stuff that actually gets you paid.

In a previous post, I wrote about how I dramatically cut my work hours (and stress) by delegating. If you’ve ever emptied a closet or a desk drawer, all that empty space feels good but you know it won’t last. It’s only a matter of time before that closet or drawer is once again filled to overflowing. Once you get good at delegating as much as possible and have more time available, it’s the same thing: you find more and more things to fill your time and before you know it, once again, you’re overwhelmed.

I’ve still got “too many”. I have a backlog of hundreds of articles I need to read and I’ve bookmarked so many web sites to visit my head is spinning. I glance at the updates in my Twitter stream and wonder how I could possibly read even a fraction of the tweets that go past me, let alone follow up on the relevant ones, let alone connect with the people who sent them.

I think it’s safe to say we all have “too many”. So how do we avoid being overwhelmed?

First, take a deep breath. Exhale. Once more. Now, repeat after me, “I can’t do it all, I will never get everything done, and that’s okay.”

None of us will ever get it all done. We’ll never read all those articles or complete all those projects. There’s too much and there will always be more and the first thing we need to do is acknowledge that we’ll never get it all done AND THAT’S OKAY.

So relax.

The key to success and a well-lived life  isn’t doing everything, it’s doing the most important things. It is the 80/20 principle: a few things matter, most everything else doesn’t; the ones that matter are the ones that produce most of your results. Focus on doing a few important things, and don’t worry about the rest.

Success comes from achievement, not from being busy.

About a year ago, I started working with David Byrd, an executive coach, who helped me get clear about what I wanted to accomplish. He taught me the value of being driven by vision–my vision of the future I want to create–instead of being driven by circumstances. The idea is to start with the end in mind and then set goals that are consistent with that vision. In doing so, we cut through the clutter of “too many” possibilities and focus on the most important ones. The system gives me a place to come back to whenever I find myself wandering. WhenI feel overwhelmed or losing clarity about what to do next, I revisit my vision and my goals and I’m back on track.

David Byrd also taught me a system for achieving my goals. I plan each month so that my activities (projects, actions, etc.) move me forward towards my goals. I also plan each day. As a result, I always know what I need to do.

In short, the system helps me put one foot in front of the other and continually move forward towards my destination. I don’t get distracted by all of the side roads or billboards.

So, as we begin a new year, have you chosen your most important goals? Have you put them on paper? And do you have a plan for achieving them?

If you are driven by vision, have goals that support that vision and a plan for achieving them, you’ll have clarity about what to do and what you can let go of. You’ll be empowered, not overwhelmed. And you’ll be excited because you know where you’re going and you have a map that will get you there.

On January 19, Mr. Byrd will be conducting a free goal-setting webinar for my subscribers. Please join us. Register here for this free webinar and make 2011 your best year ever.

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