Working hard or hardly working?

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All our lives we’ve been told that hard work is essential to success. The person who works harder than other people generally achieves more than other people.

But is that always true? Does someone who earns a million dollars a year work ten times more than someone who earns $100k? What about people who work incredibly long hours every day but continually struggle?

We’ve also been told that there are no shortcuts to success. It doesn’t happen overnight. Okay, then how do you explain the many tech entrepreneurs who are billionaires before they’re 30?

I don’t purport to have all the answers but clearly, there isn’t an absolute causal connection between effort and results, hard work and success. There are other factors at play. That’s why I continually look for ways to work smarter.

Working smarter is about leverage. Getting bigger (or quicker) results with the same or less effort. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to do that.

You frequently hear me prattle on about the 80/20 principle. I do that because it is the quintessential illustration of leverage and I encourage you to continually look for ways to use it to increase your income and improve your life.

Where does most of your income come, for example? The odds are that a high percentage of it comes from a few things you’re doing, the so-called “20% activities that deliver 80% of your results”. Look at your practice area(s), target market(s), and marketing methods. You’re likely to see that most of your income comes from a “precious few” things, not from the “trivial many”.

When you find your precious few, do more of them. Get rid of other things to free up time and resources so that you can make that happen.

If 80% of your income now comes from one or two marketing activities, for example, doing more of those activities could increase your income by 160%. That’s because you’ll have two blocks of 20% activities instead of just one.

Back when I was a cub lawyer, struggling to figure things out, I made three changes to what I was doing and my income skyrocketed. In a matter of months. I also went from working six days a week to just three.

So nobody can tell me there aren’t any shortcuts. Now, if you will excuse me, it’s time for my nap.

How I learned to earn more and work less. Yep, it’s all here

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If John Wooden managed your law practice

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Basketball coaching legend John Wooden was known as a perfectionist. He believed that planning and preparation and attention to detail were the keys to winning. He expected the best from his teams and usually got it.

In his long career, Wooden proved that his methods worked. He left a legacy unmatched in the field of sports and we can learn a lot by studying his methods and his life.

But how much of what he teaches can we use to build a law practice? Can we demand as much from ourselves and our staff as Wooden demanded from his teams?

Let’s think about that in the context of the first client interview.

I suspect that Wooden would have us regularly drill on the questions we ask and the things we say, continually improving how we sound, our body language, and our timing. He would have us study the client intake form to the point where we could recite it in our sleep. He would have us practice everything several times a day.

Every minute would be scripted, every detail drilled to perfection. He would evaluate us not just on whether or not the client signed up but on how many referrals we got before they left the office.

Is that the standard we should seek?

Not in my book.

I’m not saying we can’t learn by paying attention to detail. We can, and we can use what we learn to sign up more clients and get more referrals. But I don’t believe we need to work that hard to get every detail right.

According to the 80/20 rule or The Pareto Principle, in anything we do, only a few things make a difference; most things don’t. If we get the few things right, we don’t need to obsess over everything else.

Let’s say that body language is one of the few things that make a big difference. (I believe it is). If we make eye contact, smile appropriately, and otherwise show the client that we are listening to them and sincerely care about helping them, we’re more than half-way home.

But this doesn’t mean we need to drill on every word we say, where we place our hands, or how we time our gestures. If you truly care about the people in your office, none of that is necessary. If you don’t, none of that will help.

With most things we do, good enough is good enough. Get the important things right, the 20% that delivers 80% of your results, and you won’t need to sweat the small stuff.

Wooden would probably disagree . He said, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

Yes, but what if you don’t need to do it at all?

Want to sign up more clients? Get this

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Is hard work the key to success? Umm, no

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Everyone and his brother says that hard work is the key to success. But is it?

I can point to many times in my life when I was successful without hard work. In fact, many of my successes came with little or no effort.

I can also point to times when I worked my fingers to the proverbial bone and accomplished nothing. Goose eggs. Bupkis.

I’m sure you could say the same thing.

A mentor of mine once said, “If you’re not having the success you want, there are only two reasons. Either you’re not doing something right, or you’re not doing it enough.”

No mention of hard work.

“Doing it enough” implies persistence, but that isn’t necessarily hard. In fact, the more you do something, the easier it usually gets.

“Doing something right” is important, of course. With a little practice, you can usually improve your skills (and your results).

Let’s flip around the phrase “doing something right”. Could this also mean “doing the right things”? Yes it could. In fact, I think doing the right things is the key to success.

It’s the 80/20 principle that I talked about recently. We are much more successful at some things that others. Choose the right things to do, and you will have more success.

Don’t tell anyone, but I found law school and the bar exam to be relatively easy. I have always been good at exams, especially essays. Essays are a “right activity” for me.

Other things, not so much.

Ever meet someone who seems to lead a charmed life? They don’t work hard and yet they go from one successful outcome to another. They have a great career, and everything seems to come to them quickly and without a lot of effort. Is it talent? Luck? Magic spells?

Maybe. Or maybe they’ve simply made the right choices.

I’m not saying “don’t work hard”. Working hard is a way to hedge our bets, in case we’re not as good as we think, or in case we haven’t chosen the right activity.

Work hard if you want to. Just don’t depend on it.

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Wrestling out of your weight class

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In high school, I joined the wrestling team. I thought it looked like something I could do. Okay, I thought I could meet some cheerleaders. Turns out, the wrestling team didn’t have any.

Anyway, the coach told me that with my height and frame, I should be in a certain weight class and suggested I drop some weight before the weigh-in which was two weeks away.

Off I went, running, lifting weights, dieting, and drinking gallons of water, determined to get down to the lower weight class.

I missed it by two pounds.

There I was, forced to wrestle bigger guys, exhausted by my efforts to lose weight, and not particularly good at wrestling.

I lost every match.

Turns out wrestling wasn’t my thing. And I’m fine with that. I found other things I was good at and enjoyed.

Author Richard Koch, in one of my favorite books, The 80/20 Principle, says

Everyone can achieve something significant. The key is not effort, but finding the right thing to achieve. You are hugely more productive at some things than at others, but dilute the effectiveness of this by doing too many things where your comparative skill is nowhere near as good.

High school is a place to try things. I’m glad I tried wrestling, and I’m glad I found out it wasn’t for me.

In college, you try more things, and find your career path, or at least a place to start.

In law school, and your first legal jobs, you narrow things down further. You find the practice areas that appeal to you, and the ones that don’t.

When you start your own practice, you learn more about what you’re good at. Or you find out that practicing law isn’t for you and you move onto something else.

If you’re lucky, you find your “thing” early in life. You find what you love and do best and eliminate the rest.

But the quest doesn’t end with the choice of careers. You try different partners, employees, and office locations. You try different niche markets, and different marketing techniques, continually searching for things where you are “hugely more productive”.

If you get it right, you are happy and successful. Things click for you because you’ve found the right path. If not, you keep looking.

I’m glad I found the right path. Because God knows, at my age, I would not look good in tights.

Are you ready to take a Quantum Leap in your law practice? Here’s how.

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Keeping it simple

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Look at your phone. How many apps do you have? Now, look at your hard drive and answer the same question.

If you’re like most people, you have many more apps and programs (and tools in your garage) than you use. It’s unlikely that you’ll ever use them, or if you used them once, use them again.

But we can’t help ourselves. We like new. New apps, new techniques, new ideas. Even if we never use them, and even if what we’re already using works just fine.

There’s nothing wrong with looking. I do it, too. But I don’t spend a lot of time on it because what’s new today is often gone tomorrow. I’ll wait until others have vetted the app or the process and recommended it. Then I’ll look. Maybe. I might be too busy using what I’ve already got and getting some work done.

Anyway, the point is that simple is better. A few apps. A few tools. A few techniques. If you’re not keeping it simple, the odds are you’re not getting things done.

Take marketing for example. If it’s not simple, the odds are you won’t do it. True or true?

According to the 80/20 rule, “a minority of causes, inputs, or effort usually lead to a majority of the results, outputs, or rewards”. Figure out which inputs (efforts, tools, apps, techniques) are producing most of your results and do those. Don’t worry about (most of) the rest.

For a SIMPLE marketing plan that really works, get this

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Hack away at the unessential

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I just heard about a hoarder who had 30 years of newspapers and magazines stacked floor to ceiling in nearly every room of his house. Yeah, he had a lot of issues.

(Rim shot.)

So last weekend, I cleaned out my closet and armoire and got rid of a lot of old clothes. There’s empty space now, and it feels good. Next stop, my office.

Once a year, I get the bug to de-clutter. I like to, “Hack away at the unessential,” as Bruce Lee said. Getting rid of things I don’t use, simplifying my life.

It’s not just about possessions. I try to do the same in my digital word. Eliminating (or at least filing away in a place I won’t see them) forms, emails, notes, and assorted paperwork. I pare down the apps on my iPhone, too.

I like looking at an empty email inbox and a slimmed down “My documents”. It gives me a sense of peace and control over my world. Fewer things to look at, think about, or update.

Bruce Lee talked about getting rid of the unessential to better focus on the few things that mattered most. He concentrated his work outs, his energy, and his focus on a few things. It made him more efficient, quicker and more powerful. He may never have described it as such, but he appears to have embraced the Pareto Principle, eliminating the “trivial many” so he could focus on the “precious few”.

In a law practice, that might be achieved by getting rid of (or filing away) eighty percent of your forms (letters, checklists), so you can focus on the twenty percent you use the most. You’ll have time to make them even better.

You could do something similar with client intake. Identify the most important parts of the process and spend more time on them. Do you really need to know all of the facts or review all of the documents at the first meeting or might some of this be done later? Freeing up some time at the first meeting would allow you to get to know the client better and he, you.

It could also mean paring down your client list, getting rid of marginal clients who pay the least or give you the most trouble, so you can focus on your best clients.

Bruce Lee believed that simpler is better. When you hack away at the unessential, you aren’t mired in complexity or distracted by minutia. Fewer moving parts makes you more agile. You get better at the most important things.

How can you hack away at the unessential in your law practice?

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“It’s the cases I don’t take that make me money”

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“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials.” -Lin Yutang, writer and translator (1895-1976)

Last night, I spoke at an event. One of the topics I talked about was “The 80/20 principle,” aka, “The Pareto Principle,” the idea that a large percentage of our results come from a small percentage of our activities.

Afterwards, I was chatting with a man who works for a bankruptcy attorney. He liked my talk and was telling me about their practice and how busy they were. He quoted something his employer said, but I wasn’t sure I’d heard him correctly so I asked him to repeat it:

“It’s the cases I don’t take that make me money”.

He explained that the attorney was very selective about the cases he accepts. A lot of business comes knocking on his door, but he turns down a large percentage. He turns down the lower-end of the spectrum of clients, the ones who don’t have enough for a retainer, who need installments, price shoppers, etc., in favor of those who can pay his higher than average fees.

A lot of attorneys will take the lower-end clients, figuring that whatever they pay will contribute to overhead. But this attorney understands that those clients would actually cost him money, and not just in the literal sense of “not paying,” but because they would take up a disproportionate amount of time and energy.

And, he doesn’t have the extra overhead he would have if he accepted the lower end clients.

By eliminating as much as eighty percent of the possible client pool, he is able to run a lean and profitable practice. I’m sure he also makes it home for dinner.

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