What word holds the most promise for both positive change and hopeless atrophy? Tomorrow.
Lawyers are, by nature, planners. We also tend to be pessimistic and, therefore, risk-averse. Those tendencies conspire to incline us to create great plans for career or business development — and then to let them sit on the shelf, unexecuted. Whether that’s because we don’t believe the plan will work, because we want to perfect it before putting it into practice, or just because we get busy with other things, the end result is the same: nothing.
Although this is similar to garden-variety procrastination, there’s a difference. I suppose everyone has procrastinated at one time or another on a work-related task, but generally those tasks either reach a point when they become critical or unnecessary. Procrastinating on professional development (and here I use that phrase broadly to refer to both career development and client development) rarely becomes critical, and it never becomes unnecessary. Instead, professional development plans hover in the background, waiting, waiting, waiting….
This phenomenon goes back to Stephen Covey’s quadrant-based time management concept. I’ve discussed this previously here. Clearly, the professional development tasks under consideration are Quadrant II activities.
A few tips to get your plan into action:
1. Set a weekly time to review and revise your plan. Though it’s counter-intuitive in some ways (aren’t we talking about action here, not reviewing and revising?), setting a dedicated time that you’ll spend on your plan sets you up for success. This is your time to work on your plan and to select the tasks that you want to implement during the week.
2. Put one professional development task on your “to do” list every day or so. This doesn’t have to be difficult. Choose a small task, whether it’s attending a networking event, drafting an outline of an article, or reviewing advance sheets. Urgent, important tasks may knock these off your list on some days, but if that’s a daily occurrence ask yourself why. Are you procrastinating, or are you genuinely focused on more pressing matters? What do you need to do to ensure that you’re moving toward your ultimate professional development goals?
3. Schedule a quarterly review of your overall goals. Keep your eye on what you want to accomplish. A quarterly review will allow you to track your progress and make any needed corrections.
4. Create accountability. Whether you ask your spouse to help you stay on track, join a mastermind group, or hire a coach, it’s important that you have a person who will hold you accountable. The ideal partner will be able to cheer your successes, help you to learn from your failures, and assist you in holding your professional development plan as a dynamic plan that changes as your goals and opportunities change.
If you think you don’t need an accountability partner, review these statistics from the American Society for Training and Development, measuring the likelihood that a person will reach a goal at different points of commitment:
Hear an idea: 10%
Consciously decide to adopt an idea: 25%
Decide when to do it: 40%
Plan how to do it: 50%
Commit to someone else that you’ll do it: 65%
Have a specific accountability appointment with the person you committed to: 95%
5. Be rigorous in your expectations of and commitments to yourself. Lawyers generally exhibit high levels of self-discipline, though less so when the target of the discipline is self-improvement. (We’re not alone in that, by the way; I’d suggest that many professionals exhibit the same behavior.) I’m not suggesting perfectionism; everyone will fail at some point, and there’s often more learning in failure than in success. This is about being committed to yourself and your career. Erase the word “try” from your vocabulary: as Yoda said, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”