Seven steps to better delegating for overworked attorneys

Attorneys, especially sole practitioners, are often poor at delegating. “Nobody can do it as well as I can,” they say, and that’s not ego talking, it’s usually true.

There is risk in giving a task to someone who might not do it as well as you or might not get it done on time, but delegating is essential to the growth of a law practice. Delegating gives you leverage and leverage helps you to earn more and work less.

To get better results when you delegate, follow these seven steps:

  1. Give specific instructions. Describe what you want done in sufficient detail, in writing if possible. If instructions are given orally, ask them to be repeated back to you. Tell them to ask questions if they don’t understand.
  2. Give objectives, not procedures. Tell them what you want done, not how. If you’ve chosen the right person for the job, trust them to get the job done. Guide them, don’t micro-manage them.
  3. Tell them why. They’ll do a better job when they are invested in the outcome instead of just carrying out orders so explain why the task is important. And, if you give them more than one task at a time, tell them the relative importance of each.
  4. Give a due date (and time). Due dates help them to know what is expected and allow them to prioritize their work flow.
  5. Equip and empower them. Make sure they have what they need to get the job done–tools, a budget, assistance–and the authority to decide what to do. Don’t make them come back to you with every little decision.
  6. Offer incentives. If you have an especially valuable project, you might want to offer something for getting it done early or with a better outcome. A day off, dinner for two for them and their spouse, a cash bonus, all work well.
  7. Give praise. When they do a good job, thank them (even though they were doing their job) and praise them. Let them know you are pleased and they’ll want to do a good job for you next time.

The cure for the overworked and overwhelmed attorney–part two

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.

The cure for the overworked and overwhelmed attorney

I don’t know a single attorney who wants to work more. Oh they want more work, they just don’t want to work longer hours.

Unfortunately, we have been trained to believe in an absolute correlation between our income and the amount of work we do, but that correlation simply does not exist.

As a young lawyer starting my career, I had very little work and an income to match. When I finally learned marketing and starting bringing in more clients, naturally, my income and work hours increased. Eventually, I had lots of clients and incredibly long hours, obviously proving there is a correlation, right? Well, that depends.

I realized that I wasn’t happy working so much but I wasn’t willing to cut back my schedule if it meant cutting back my income. I struggled with this for a long time and, thankfully, I figured out how to do it. I was able to significantly reduce my work week without reducing my income. In fact, when I got things fully underway, my income took a dramatic leap.

There were a few things I did to make that happen. One of those was to get comfortable with delegating.

Attorneys are famously bad at delegating. There are a number of reasons, ranging from fear that the person to whom the work is delegated will screw up, to ego, the notion that, “nobody can do it as well as I can.” I had a little bit of both going on in my head; it took some effort to come to terms with these beliefs, but I did.

On the “screw up” issue, I realized that I would still be supervising my employees, I was the failsafe. I also realized that happiness (or a successful law practice) doesn’t require the complete absence of risk. Risk can be managed. That’s why God created “E & O” policies, after all.

As for the idea that I was the best one for the job, I simply had to accept the premise that if I was ever going to have relief from eighty hour weeks, “good enough” would have to be good enough.

Once I crossed the threshold of acceptance,  I began to see that there were many functions in our office I could let go of and, in fact, there were many functions where I really wasn’t the best person for the job. Once I started the process of handing over responsibilities to others and saw that the sky did not fall and, in fact, good things were happening, I embarked on a quest to delegate as much as possible. Eventually, my philosophy was to only do that which only I could do, and this was a major turning point in my career.

If you are overworked because of reluctance to delegate (or delegate as much as possible), I urge you to do as I did. Change your philosophy and learn some techniques. Your kids will be glad you did.