What do you want? Yes, that’s a pretty big question for lawyers since most would start by explaining… “That depends…” I think Forbes contributorBruce Kasanoff who ghostwrites articles for entrepreneurs, and speaks about bringing out talent in others has a great bit of advice. Kasanoff explains…

“To paraphrase a bit, a professional recently wrote me to say that he was capable of being a VP, but that he was happy in his job, but he didn’t do such a good job of representing himself, but he was proud of his accomplishments, but he thought he should probably improve his skills, and what did I think?

I think he should have written: can you help me become a VP this year?

To get what you want, you have to be coherent, both inside and out.

This means you have to be clear, simple and focused in how you communicate with others. It also means you have to be clear, simple and focused in how you think. If one day you want to be VP, and the next you aren’t sure that you want to work harder or travel more, then you will never be a VP.

Perhaps you don’t want to be a VP. That’s ok— but to get what you want, you need to know what you want.

Once you decide, stick with it.

Wake up every day with your goal in mind. Simplify your language so that you can hold your goal in your mind and be prepared to share it with others. Be ready to deliver your elevator pitch whenever appropriate.

Your elevator pitch is what you will say to whomever has the potential to help you get what you want: a colleague, friend, neighbor or potential employer.

You need to make it easy for other people to help you. 60% of the people I meet do not do this. Instead, they share a sort of “stream of consciousness” slice of their feelings, emotions, experiences and ideas. I’m often left wondering whether the other person wants to be a magician or a doctor. In a perfect world, I would have days and days to get to know what’s in that person’s heart. But in the real world, I may only have a few minutes.

Just the other day, a young man wrote to say he actually wanted to be a doctor, but that he had been sidelined by financial and personal issues. He seemed more focused on those problems than on his goal of being a doctor. That’s understandable, but if your goal is to be a doctor, focus all your energies on that goal, so that any problems or obstacles pale in comparison.

I know this may sound trite, but that is how successful people operate. They know what they want, and they focus on that goal. The goal grows and grows until it block out most other things. They see the result in their mind, so clearly that they can describe it in powerful terms to others. At that point, it becomes exceptionally easy for other people to help. Why? Partially because they understand the goal, but also because it is human nature to want to join a winning team. When we sense that a person has fire in her belly and is destined to succeed, we want to help her out.”

Lawyers… take note that focusing on why you can’t do something, and focusing on the obstacles, doesn’t really get you where you want to go. Be clear and focus on your goal with blinders on and don’t let the naysayers rain on your parade. It’s your career and your life, stay in the driver’s seat! 

If you would like help figuring out what you truly want, drop me an email.

Are you in a rut? Are you just going through the motions of your business development? Are you not seeing results? Are you overwhelmed and going in too many directions? Maybe it’s time to take a closer look!

At the end of EVERY week reflect on your performance and results of the week. Here is a list of eight questions to ask yourself…

1. Was your client service so solid that your clients will give you more work?

2. How many referral sources did you reach out to this week?

3. Did you do something to develop a relationship this week?

4. What did you do to increase your credibility with clients, colleagues or potential clients? (Examples could include writing an article, giving a speech or even spending ten minutes on the phone answering questions for a client or a colleague.)

5.  Did you feel “in control” this week… or did you feel that external events dictated how you spent your time and energy?

6. What did you enjoy doing this week?

7. What will you do differently next week?

8. What are you most proud of this week?

Write your answers down and look back on the progress you’ve made from week to week. Are there obstacles and issues that keep occurring? Find solutions. Are you feeling out of control more often then not? Look for the root cause of it and and see if you can find ways to alter the situation. It’s important to write down what you will do differently and to acknowledge what you are proud of… that is how change occurs!

If you’d like to discuss this process further, give me a call or shoot me an email today!

Focus… it’s a hard skill to perfect when there are so many demands, options and desires. There is one thing I have a lot of experience with… and that is being scattered and unfocused and dealing with the results of my lack of focus. Every single time I wanted to shift my focus and go in a new direction I made a very convincing argument as to why it was a good idea. My gut was sending out alarm signals, making me feel the need to convince someone. In truth it was me making excuses for myself! Does this sound familiar? I bet it does!

So what did I learn from those experiences that helped me create a different course of action? It turns out that the solution was very simple. I created a strategic plan… a well thought out strategic plan. One that made me look at my long-term goals and in some cases create them where there weren’t any. I looked at things like the path of profitability, of joy and fulfillment and how much time I have to get there. When you create a strategic plan like that it gives purpose to your actions and when your gut sounds the alarms of caution you will be more likely to hear it. When that scattered voice distracts you, ask yourself… Does this action or new initiative get me closer to my goals or am I making excuses for it just because I WANT to do it? If the answer is just because you WANT it then get to the core of what you want about it and find a way to nourish that desire in a way that complements your strategy, and doesn’t detract from it … don’t kid yourself that it is good for business.

Many years ago I lost a quarter of a million dollars because I took on a project convincing myself that it was a sound business idea when in reality it was because I WANTED to travel and create. At the time I had no strategic plan to guide my thinking. By the way, I now take exotic vacations and travel between my two offices in Miami and Denver. As far as fueling my creativity… I write books, blogs and help others do the same. Those things fit into my strategic plan AND fuel my desires. It was a VERY expensive lesson to learn… but I learned it well!

What should go into your strategic plan? What kinds of things get you off-track? Would you like assistance in figuring it out? Shoot me an email and let’s talk.

We have all been there… needing to do two or three things at once. Seldom do we feel like we’ve done anything well. The reality is that if we focus on each task, complete it and move on to the next, we will do each one much better and probab feel more satisfied in doing so. Tony Schwartz in his Harvard Business Review article… The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time recommends…

If you’re a manager, here are three policies worth promoting:

1. Maintain meeting discipline. Schedule meetings for 45 minutes, rather than an hour or longer, so participants can stay focused, take time afterward to reflect on what’s been discussed, and recover before the next obligation. Start all meetings at a precise time, end at a precise time, and insist that all digital devices be turned off throughout the meeting.

2. Stop demanding or expecting instant responsiveness at every moment of the day. It forces your people into reactive mode, fractures their attention, and makes it difficult for them to sustain attention on their priorities. Let them turn off their email at certain times. If it’s urgent, you can call them — but that won’t happen very often.

3. Encourage renewal. Create at least one time during the day when you encourage your people to stop working and take a break. Offer a midafternoon class in yoga, or meditation, organize a group walk or workout, or consider creating a renewal room where people can relax, or take a nap.

It’s also up to individuals to set their own boundaries. Consider these three behaviors for yourself:

1. Do the most important thing first in the morning, preferably without interruption, for 60 to 90 minutes, with a clear start and stop time. If possible, work in a private space during this period, or with sound-reducing earphones. Finally, resist every impulse to distraction, knowing that you have a designated stopping point. The more absorbed you can get, the more productive you’ll be. When you’re done, take at least a few minutes to renew.

2. Establish regular, scheduled times to think more long term, creatively, or strategically. If you don’t, you’ll constantly succumb to the tyranny of the urgent. Also, find a different environment in which to do this activity — preferably one that’s relaxed and conducive to open-ended thinking.

3. Take real and regular vacations. Real means that when you’re off, you’re truly disconnecting from work. Regular means several times a year if possible, even if some are only two or three days added to a weekend. The research strongly suggests that you’ll be far healthier if you take all of your vacation time, and more productive overall.

Being in the moment is the BIG take away here. Schwartz has a few ideas I will put into action immediately… how about you? Will you be able to be as productive as you plan in 2013?

Consider not setting goals? Heresy! Why would Peter Bregman, contributor to the Harvard Business Review write such a thing? He’s the master of getting things done, focusing, prioritizing, etc. Remember that he’s the author of 18 Minute: Find Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done. This shatters what we’ve been taught since grade school. Why? The question rattled around in my head as I started reading the article. Resisting and resisting as I read…

We all know how important it is to have goals, right? And not just any goals, but stretch goals. Big Hairy Audacious Goals (or BHAGs, as they’re known to the inner goal-setting crowd).

It makes sense: if you don’t know specifically where you’re going, then you’ll never get there. And if you don’t set the bar high enough, you’ll never live up to your potential.

This is accepted common sense in the business world and it’s reinforced by research. Like that study done on the Harvard Business School class you may have heard of, in which only 3% of the graduating students wrote down clear goals. Twenty years later, those 3% were worth 10 times the worth of the rest of the class combined. Compelling, right?

It would be if it were true. But it isn’t. That study doesn’t exist. It’s pure urban myth.

Still, that’s just one specious story. Questioning the wisdom of setting stretch goals is like questioning the very foundation of business. We might debate which goals to set, or how to set them, but who would debate whether to set goals at all?

I’d like to.

It’s not that goals, by their nature, are bad. It’s just that they come with a number of side effects that suggest you may be better off without them.

The authors of a Harvard Business School working paper, Goals Gone Wild, reviewed a number of research studies related to goals and concluded that the upside of goal setting has been exaggerated and the downside, the “systematic harm caused by goal setting,” has been disregarded.

They identified clear side effects associated with goal setting, including “a narrow focus that neglects non-goal areas, a rise in unethical behavior, distorted risk preferences, corrosion of organizational culture, and reduced intrinsic motivation.”

Here are two of the examples of goals gone wild the authors described in their paper:

  • Sears set a productivity goal for their auto repair staff of bringing in $147 for every hour of work. Did this motivate employees? Sure. It motivated them to overcharge on a companywide basis.
  • Remember the Ford Pinto? A car that ignited when it was rear-ended? The Pinto resulted in 53 deaths and many more injuries because workers omitted safety checks in pursuit of Lee Iacocca’s BHAG goal of a car that would be “under 2000 pounds and under $2,000” by 1970.
  • And here’s another, via the New York Times: Ken O’Brien, the former New York Jets quarterback, was throwing too many interceptions. So he was given what seemed to be a pretty reasonable goal — fewer interceptions thrown — and penalized financially for every one. It worked. He threw fewer interceptions. But only because he threw fewer passes. His overall performance suffered.

Okay. I can see the negative side effects, I mumble to myself, and continue reading…

It’s practically impossible to predict the negative side effects of a goal.

When we set goals, we’re taught to make them specific and measurable and time-bound. But it turns out that those characteristics are precisely the reasons goals can backfire. A specific, measurable, time-bound goal drives behavior that’s narrowly focused and often leads to either cheating or myopia. Yes, we often reach the goal, but at what cost?

So what can you do in the absence of goals? It’s still often necessary to drive toward achievements, especially in business. We need help setting direction and measuring progress. But maybe there’s a better way to achieve those things while sidestepping goals’ negative side effects.

I want to propose one: Instead of identifying goals, consider identifying areas of focus.

Now, he’s making sense. Focus!

A goal defines an outcome you want to achieve; an area of focus establishes activities you want to spend your time doing. A goal is a result; an area of focus is a path. A goal points to a future you intend to reach; an area of focus settles you into the present.

A sales goal, for example, might name a revenue target or a specific number of new clients won. An operations goal might articulate a cost savings.

An area of focus in sales, on the other hand, might involve having lots of conversations with appropriate prospects. An operations area of focus might identify areas you want to explore for cost savings.

Obviously these aren’t mutually exclusive. You could have a goal and an area of focus. In fact, one could argue that you need both together — the goal specifies where you’re going and the area of focus describes how you plan to get there.

I took a deep breath that restored my loyalty to Peter and his philosophy. I see that we were actually on the same page all along. When I talk to lawyers about creating a strategic plan I ask. How can you build relationships? How can you increase your credibility and visibility? Of course: areas of focus.

But there is a benefit to concentrating on an area of focus without a goal.

An area of focus taps into your intrinsic motivation, offers no stimulus or incentive to cheat or take unnecessary risks, leaves every positive possibility and opportunity open, and encourages collaboration while reducing corrosive competition. All while moving forward on the things you and your organization value most.

In other words, an area of focus offers all the advantages of a goal without the negative side effects.

I agree with Peter, the possibilities expand and in ways that we would not think possible. This is a hard one for lawyers since you don’t like to ask questions that you don’t know what the answers will be. Right? But trust the process. Think about it. If you focus on building stronger relationships with your existing clients, new matters will follow. And you will relax and be more genuine.

So… in conclusion Peter and I were on the same page all along. But he hooked me with that headline that made me resist his comment. But I have to admit that I have seen side effects as damaging as some of those he pointed out. Stay focused on the big picture and the rewards will follow.

Who owns your vision? Sounds like a rhetorical question. If it’s your vision… of course it’s you! But let me tell you that is not always the case. Three times in as many days I have worked with clients who have given up ownership of their own vision. How could that be you might ask? While getting input and feedback is very important it often has a derailing effect.

If you have created your strategy with good solid research, input and analysis… you’ve done your homework. You have listed the pros and cons. You have considered how it impacts others, etc. And now you have committed to it… really committed to it! Then you need to have faith that you are on the right track and know that others can’t see your vision, not yet anyway. Here are the pitfalls to look out for…

1. Unsolicited opinions. This kind of input has a very negative impact because it tends to make you feel that your direction is wrong. Remember that others don’t have the benefit of your research and analysis. Thank them for sharing and keep moving toward your vision.

2. Stop asking for input once you have made your decision. There comes a time when input no longer serves you. It only serves to confuse. Asking others is common to those who are striving for perfection… so don’t let perfection get in the way of progress!

3. Letting others hijack your vision. How could that be… it’s your vision? It’s simple. Your requests are not quite followed. Someone does something for you that doesn’t quit fit… and you accept. Then someone else does something that doesn’t quit fit and you accept that, so on and so on. Now your vision is so off course that it is virtually unrecognizable. Hold your vision to YOUR standards.

If you are starting a new practice area or building a network of referral sources you have a vision of how that will look. It’s hard for your friends, partners or your colleagues to see what you are visualizing at the moment. Take what they say with a grain of salt. And don’t let perfection get in the way of progress!

Sometimes it’s important to know and understand what NOT to do. Considering the deluge of information on social media it’s good to have the "Do NOT Do" list. Social Media Today ran an article by Brad Smith, The 3 Worst Ways to Use Social Media to Grow Your Business. I think his points will be very helpful as you maneuver your way through the maze of social media to develop your practice. Smith not only tells us what NOT to do but tells us what to do instead.

Bad Strategy #1: Creating Too Many Social Networks. 

According to social media experts, you should be on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr, and every other network possible.

The problem with this strategy should be obvious. Who’s going to manage all of these? How can you really do a great job on ALL of them? And which accounts are your customers supposed to follow and interact with?

Corrective Strategy #1: Invest MORE resources in to LESS tactics.

If you want to grow visitors to your blog, then produce one exceptional blog post each week. 

Bad Strategy #2: Relying on Others to Share for You.

Getting people to share your blog posts, or Retweet your updates is one of the best things about social media marketing. It exposes your content to new people, and turns customers and fans into ambassaders of your brand.

But serendipity is not a marketing strategy. And it doesn’t matter how many social media buttons you plaster on your site. You can’t sit around and wait for others to do the work for you.

Corrective Strategy #2: Drive visitors to specific points of conversion.

You’ll get better results if your activities are more focused and deliberate. Funnel people from one marketing asset (your existing website traffic, email list, offline displays, or another social network) to the new place you’re trying to grow.

Another way to drive more users is to piggyback off other’s success. Which leads us to #3…

Bad Strategy #3: Focusing Too Much on Easy, Ineffective Tactics.

Engagement is a vital step in the marketing process.

But joining Twitter chats, leaving 3-sentence blog comments and doing a lot of manual outreach is ineffective and inefficient.

Instead, you should position yourself so people want to come find you. That way you’re pulling people in, and they’ll be more receptive to engaging with you.

But how do you do that? Especially if you’re new, small, or virtually unknown?

Corrective Strategy #3: Focus on business development, not just community management.

Community management is important if you already have a huge audience. But if you want to grow, then you need to focus on business development and create partnerships with other entities.

Maybe you can provide content to a larger media property. Or donate time and money to an important nonprofit that will position yourself in front of affluent or influential people.

Either way, the goal of online business development is to use these new tools and technologies to create partnerships with important people and organizations.

It’s more difficult because there’s no pre-defined script. And it takes more time to develop trust and figure out how to help each other properly. So you won’t see quick, fast returns.

But the long-term ROI is much higher.

And it will contribute more to your overall business growth than a Twitter chat or blog comment ever will.

Smith makes sense. And the reality is… the underlying principles are the basic principles of business development. Just because we are using new tools doesn’t mean that the core of business development has changed. Focus, build relationships and put your resources where they will make the most impact.

What SHOULD you be doing? What COULD you be doing? Two very different questions, that is for sure. 

Last week I ran across two blog posts that addressed the subject of focus. To be honest… I ran across them while my mind was wondering to some far off place. The reality? I was sitting in front of my laptop appearing to be concentrating on my email. 

The universe was trying to tell me something. Could it be… focus… focus… focus? Okay, I got the message. You don’t have to hit ME over the head!

One of the blog posts was from my friend Cordell Parvin titled "Contacts: Are You Focused or is it Random Lunches?" The other was from the blog Lawyerist by Tyler White titled "Drop the Distractions and Get to Work." They both have great bits of insight that can serve as a reminder. Pay attention!

Focus On Your Work – Tyler White helps us minimize distractions…

1. Make yourself unavailable. Close your door, put up a sign, put a pissy look on your face at the coffee shop. Do whatever you have to do to let everyone around you know that it’s game time. 

2. Throw on some music. When I need to get down to business, I like to put on some classical music at a low volume and just leave it be. This isn’t because I’m a pretentious audiophile or anything; I can just focus better with some nice ambient music playing.

3. Unplug from the Matrix. It isn’t news that we surround ourselves with focus-draining devices all day long. Smartphones, laptops and iPads are very useful tools, but they are also huge sources of distraction. A British study shows that people who check their emails while working exhibit a lower ability to concentrate than someone under the influence of marijuana. 

4. Block yourself out. If it’s possible for you to do, block out two hours of your day for straight-up distraction-free work. It might seem ridiculous to you to schedule a time for NOT answering the phone or responding to email, but you probably do it all the time. If you schedule a time for you to be in court or in a client meeting, it’s the same thing, and I would argue it’s of equal importance. It’s amazing what we can accomplish and how crisp we can be when we allocate time to concentrate.

I have used all of these for some time… believe me they work! (Email junkies heed the British study.)

Focus on Your Contacts – Cordell has a great system to follow…

1. Make a list of all of your contacts.

2. Give them a score 1-10 on how often you are in contact with them (every business day-likely someone with whom you work-gets a 10, less than once a month gets a 1.)

3. Give them a score 1-10 on the nature of your contact (in person gets a 10, email instant message a 1, phone a 5 and combinations fall between)

4. Give them a score 1-10 on how important they are (client contact or business referral source a 10, you don’t have a chance of ever getting any business a 1 and everyone else in between).

5. With Excel press the button and your highest rated ones will come to the top.

6. Consider spending 80% of your networking time with the top 20% of your contacts. Try to upgrade how you are in contact. In a day where email and contact on Facebook is so common, calling your contact and meeting in person is more powerful.

I love Cordell’s last statement… personal contact is what truly cultivates a relationship. Take your online contacts offline.

You get what you focus on. Remember when your mother said… "Don’t drop the milk!" What happened? Your focus was on dropping the milk… and you dropped the milk. So, focus on your BIG GOAL for 2012 and you will reach it… at the very least you will get pretty close!

I was talking with a client today about an article opportunity and on the surface it sounded very attractive. This publication’s target market is a good one, the magazine has published my client’s work before, so she already has some exposure to their readers and she can easily figure out a strategy for the article.

Sounds very doable… RIGHT? On the surface it does. But when we start to think of all the other irons she has in the fire it may not seem so attractive. The big question is… What is the opportunity cost?

1. What will she set aside in order to have the time to devote to this article?

2. Is THIS target market where she can get the most return on the time invested?

3. What is the projected time frame to expect a return on the time invested from this article?

After careful consideration the conclusion is: She needs to FOCUS and spend her time more wisely. Work on client matters, continue to stay in-touch with prospects that are considering the possibility of hiring her in the near future and complete the writing assignments she has already committed to. That is what’s at stake if she loses focus. A much wiser course of action… don’t you think?

She’s a get-it-done-kind-of-gal. She first sees the WHY she should do it… then she sees the HOW to get it done. She is a lot like me and chances are, many of you. Let’s add a third step… ask "WHAT is the opportunity cost of doing it?" This will help set priorities and will help you FOCUS…FOCUS…FOCUS! 

Some of us “live and breath” by our TO DO lists. We would be lost and would find it hard to accomplish anything without them. I’m sure there are plenty of heads nodding yes… yes… yes! Even the most devoted list maker among us seldom thinks of a STOP DOING LIST.

Why don’t we do it? Well, I think there are a few reasons…

We don’t want to admit that something we are doing is not working or serving us well.

We are too caught up in the momentum of activity to stop and evaluate the effectiveness of what we are doing.

And most importantly… it’s a habit… and we find it too difficult to stop.

Does this all sound familiar? I’m sure it does. Those of us who are over-achievers seldom use the word NO or NEVER… because we see possibilities around every corner. So a STOP DOING LIST will take some effort… believe me I KNOW. (I had to put “create a STOP DOING LIST” on my TO DO list. Sick… I know!)

I read The Innovative Secrets of Steve Jobs, by Carmine Gallo and he talks about how Jobs says NO to 1000’s of things. Why? In order to FOCUS on what is really important, with no distraction. Gallo writes about when Jobs was developing the iPod, and people were trying to convince him to create a mobile phone. By focusing on one at a time they made a smashing success of BOTH. And the iPhone leveraged the success of the iPod. In many cases the iPod was the first Apple product some people had ever used… the iPod opened the door to a huge market  that was eager to see what else Jobs had in store for them. FOCUS is the name of the game.

I talk to my clients a lot about narrowing their focus, here are a few things to consider…

STOP trying to be ALL things to All people: If corporations could use your services… then which ones? Pharmaceuticals, Financial, Manufacturing, Distribution… you get the idea. You can’t be meaningful to them all. Pick one!

STOP trying to meet EVERYONE in the room: If you hate to go to networking events, change your focus. Instead of trying to hand your card to everyone in the room, your goal should be to have a meaningful conversation with two people. And when you’ve accomplished that you can leave.

STOP over scheduling yourself: Allow ample time and BE ON TIME. Nothing speaks, professionalism as clearly as being prompt.

STOP multi-tasking: Be present no matter where you are. Put the BlackBerry down and be present in a meeting with a client, your boss, your staff or your family. They all deserve your undivided attention.

Figure out what you are doing that does not serve you well, so that you can focus on what really matters. What is YOUR equivalent to the iPod and iPhone… what can you focus  on in order to create leverage for your next endeavor?