50 Lessons for Lawyers

Lesson 7. Get in the habit of planning!

August 25, 2019

To be prepared is half the victory.
– Miguel de Cervantes

One of the most powerful things you can do to begin to take control of your time, your work, and ultimately your life, is to get into the habit of planning. The power of planning comes not from flawlessly executing your plans; that may rarely happen! Rather, the power comes from the planning itself.

As the German writer and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) said, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” Planning is the means by which you can identify the “things which matter most.” Without identifying “the things which matter most,” you will constantly be reacting to things that are important to others. You’ll always be putting out fires. Planning is the first proactive key to your time management success.

“But I’m too busy to spend time planning,” I hear you thinking. Get that thought out of your head. The return on your investment of time spent planning has been estimated as high as three-to-one. That means that 30 minutes invested in planning this week may recoup you as much as 90 minutes next week.

Here’s another reason why planning is so essential to your success. In his book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working,[7:1] Tony Schwartz talks about the concept of “predeciding.” The concept of predeciding is a powerful way to change behavior. For example, if you want to stop eating junky, sugar-filled snacks at work, keep an assortment of healthy snacks in your desk drawer. By doing so, you’ve helped your brain “predecide” what you’re going snack on, lessening your need to rely on willpower alone. Planning is just another way of predeciding. Rather than constantly reacting to other people’s priorities, planning allows you to decide – in advance – how you will spend your day.

Predeciding should help a person protect goal pursuit from tempting distractions, bad habits, or competing goals…When you go into a day that’s unplanned, then you’re just faced with whatever hits you. If you have a plan, then you don’t let the unplanned things get in your way.
– From The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working

You may not always be able to execute your plans flawlessly. But that’s okay. As the old military saying goes: No plan survives contact with the enemy. And in your office, the enemy can appear in a variety of ways. Clients, opposing counsel, even the people on your team – sometimes it can feel like they’re all out to thwart your best laid plans. The enemy is anyone or anything that blows up your plan for the day or the week. Yet, the truth is, the only way to be ready for the enemy is to plan. Remember, it is the act of planning itself that is powerful. Planning forces you to:

  • Identify critical issues and deadlines
  • Anticipate potential roadblocks
  • Prioritize your work and focus on “what matters most”

Living the Lesson

Take 30 minutes to plan your week.

  • Schedule a weekly appointment with yourself to do your weekly planning. I suggest a minimum of 30 minutes on Thursday or Friday to plan the coming week.
  • Include your key support person in your planning session.
  • During your planning session, look at your calendar for the next month. Make note of deadlines and due dates.
  • Schedule time in your calendar during the coming week to actually do the work associated with those deadlines and due dates. (See Lesson 12. Schedule time to do your legal work and work on your goals.)

Take 10 minutes at the end of the day to plan the following day.

  • Do this before your legal assistant or paralegal leaves for the day. I recommend building in a quick huddle at around 3:30 p.m. or 4:00 p.m. (See Lesson 10. Put an end to “lurk and blurt” with huddles.)
  • Review your calendar for the next day. Do you have everything you need for the day? Are the files you plan to work on in your office or accessible on your desktop or tablet? Are you prepared for your hearing? Depo? Client meeting?
  • Identify the one thing that you must accomplish tomorrow if everything else goes south!
  • Make sure your key people are clear on their top priorities, as well.

Use these focus statements with your team:

If we do nothing else tomorrow, we must ______________.

The single most important thing we must do this week is _________________.

You’ve got to think about the big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.
– Alvin Toffler

[7:1] Schwartz, Tony and Gomes, Jean (2010). The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working. Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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