In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it. — Robert Heinlein
You may be wondering how this relates to the law. Practice keeps you busy. Really busy. Aside from the rare (and, frankly, frightening) slow times that crop up occasionally, there’s always something to do, whether it’s advancing a particular case, wooing a potential client, or putting out an administrative fire. There’s a great deal of urgency to practice. The danger, though, is that urgency can overwhelm what’s important, creating irreversible delay.
I’ve posted at some length about Stephen Covey’s four quadrant time management system on my blog, and I’d encourage you to review that post or one of the other descriptions of the system. Today’s quote leans into that urgent/important distinction, because daily trivia is often urgent, it often draws us in, and we can easily become ensnared in the urgent and lose sight of the important.
The clearest way to keep in touch with what’s important is to have, as the quotation says, clearly-defined goals. I recommend you set SMART goals. SMART Iis an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based, and SMART goals thoughtfully set function as a declaration of what is important to you.
When you declare what’s important and what you intend to accomplish, and when you create a strategy for reaching your goal (because goals without strategy are just dreams), you’re well on the way to knowing how to function in Covey’s Quadrant II.
Staying in Quadrant II takes determination, of course, especially in the face of urgencies that threaten to pull you off task. But commitment to a goal and a vision of how that goal will serve you can draw you forward.
Let’s get real. What about those times when the “urgent and important” necessarily crowds out the “non-urgent but important”? It happens to all of us, and I’d even venture to guess that it happens more often to lawyers than those engaged in other kinds of work. What then?
I recommend you have a back-up plan, or a maintenance strategy. If you’ve been working on business development activities and you get swamped with a closing or a trial, decide where to set your minimum weekly requirements. Will you take a half-hour to connect with contacts by phone? Will you send a helpful article to a potential client?
As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter so much what you do as it matters that you do something. Whether your focus is rainmaking, professional development, or looking for a new position, you need to persevere even in the busy times. Far too often, putting activity on hold means putting it on the back-burner until it’s cold, and then you have to start again, with no momentum to help you.
Take a look at your calendar. What busy-ness might derail you in the next three months? Decide now how you’ll handle it. Planning ahead is planning for success.
And to close with another quotation: If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.