How many times have you read a book or blog post, listened to a keynote or podcast, and been inspired to take on the world? You know the feeling. The writer or speaker drops a bunch of knowledge bombs which open your mind to new possibilities. You can barely wait to get back to the office and start implementing everything you’ve learned.
So you sit down at your desk, pull out your legal pad and create a cascading flowchart full of goals, with a corresponding laundry list of to-do items. You’re pumped. You’re ready. Time to go big. This time it will be different.
But then it’s not. In fact, if you’re anything like me, you never even get started. The legal pad that you were so excited about sits undisturbed on the corner of your desk. Pretty soon it gets filed away with all the others. You go back to doing things the same way you always have.
Sound familiar. Feel familiar? It does to me. At least it used to.
For the longest time I struggled to gain any traction on my goals. I had big, bold ones, but never seemed to make any progress. I started to think that perhaps the goals I was setting for myself were too big. That I wasn’t worthy of them, nor capable of achieving them. Then I realized that the problem wasn’t with my goals, it was my failure to understand what it took to achieve them.
I thought that achieving big goals required equally big action. Extreme discipline. Personal sacrifice. Finding big chunks of time to fully immerse myself in tasks.
I came to learn that the opposite is true. I realized that the best way to achieve big goals is to take small actions. Big, ambitious goals aren’t achieved overnight. The key to becoming a productive lawyer isn’t running 100 yard dashes. It’s learning to take slow, methodical walks in the same direction every day.
Strategy and Structure
In the summer of 2016, my first book was published. I got it done, but the process nearly broke me. I missed a couple of publisher deadlines along the way. I muscled the book into existence. I couldn’t find time to write consistently, so eventually I starting setting aside “writing days,” when I’d sit at my computer for up to eight hours and just hammer out thousand of words at a time. These days would wipe me out.
I’m proud of the book. But the process was hard. Author Dorothy Parker once said, “I hate writing; I love having written.” Bingo.
For the last year, off and on, I’ve considered taking a crack at another book. But I couldn’t get over the freshness of the wounds I’d suffered finishing the last one. And since I knew I wanted to – had to – up the bar and write an even better book, I couldn’t commit. So I did nothing.
And then one day I just decided to start. But instead of starting with a marathon session “writing day,” I decided to carve out 30 minutes, five days a week, at the same time and in the same place, and just wrote.
It was slow at first. Some days I would write 100 words, others 200. But it was steady. I built momentum. Instead of perceiving the book as some monumental task that I had to achieve, I re-oriented and stopped looking toward the end result. Instead I looked at my book writing as a job; one that I had to show up for and work at for just 30 minutes every day. That’s something I could wrap my head around.
I’ve continued to build momentum, and as my book writing has become habitual, I’ve upped my output. Now I’m writing for two hours every morning, and instead of 100-200 words, I’m now producing 1,000-2,000 words and the pages are stacking up.
So what made the difference? Well, in the past I would have set a goal (writing a book), then come up with a strategy to research, write and launch the book. From that strategy I would have created a long to-do list of tasks. And I would have felt overwhelmed.
This time I set the goal, thought through a strategy, but skipped the to-do list. Instead I focused only on accomplishing one task, which was writing the book. I realized that without the book, nothing else – publishing, launch, marketing – mattered. Rather than thinking big, I decided to act small.
I structured my day – at first scheduling just 30 minutes every morning – in such a way that it would help me build momentum toward my goal. My calendar is otherwise full of other people’s priorities, but for 30 minutes every day I scheduled an appointment with myself.
This enabled me to slowly start knocking over the first of many dominoes that will need to be toppled to bring a new book to market. Once a few fell, the pace of progress quickened, and a few weeks in I’m now halfway to my goal of a first draft consisting of 75,000 words. Just as in investing, there’s a compounding effect to small actions.
The operative word, however, is action. And, as I’ve found, action in service of a strategy only happens when you build structure around it.
Chances are, as a reader of this blog, you have big dreams you want to achieve. Ever feel stuck? Of course you do – we all do! Don’t despair. There’s a way to overcome the inertia. The key to becoming a productive lawyer starts with prioritizing one thing, the most important thing, not many things. And then, once you’re clear on your number one priority, building structure into your day so that there’s time (inviolate) to tackle it.
Achieving big dreams isn’t impossible, even when you’re super busy. It’s just a matter of structured prioritization. Now go do it.
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