Good Intentions

By March, those of us who create personal practice development goals usually know what we need to accomplish by year-end (usually). We also know how easily the best intentions can derail as the year progresses.

There are as many excuses to stop working towards long-term goals as there are distractions. Busy-work makes us feel productive. As Leigh Buchanan points out in a recent article in Inc. magazine, it’s also a trap.

Proven techniques help the dispirited stay on track. Why not try a few and see if they would help?

What matters most to your practice? Your practice group? The firm? Many of us would answer “productivity” when asked these questions. But this answer fails to consider how productivity factors into the firm’s overall priorities. If you don’t know, try to find out (or at least validate your assumptions).

Say “yes” to unanticipated opportunities that build skills and experience such as volunteering inside or outside your firm. This gives you the chance to meet people outside your usual circles.

Say “no” to unanticipated time-wasters disguised as opportunities. You might have a habit of paying attention to colleagues who drop by to complain about their problems, for example. You might feel like a good or important person when you listen to them. But it won’t get you any further towards your goal. And it’s demotivating.

Get specific
In their bestselling book Switch, Chip and Dan Heath reference influential research proving that we’re much more likely to reach difficult goals if we create “action triggers”.

If you have trouble remembering to capture billable time, for example, don’t think “I need to be better at that”. Instead, think “I will record my billable time every day at 5:00 pm”. Then, set an automatic reminder to pop up on your screen or phone every day at 4:55 pm. Your chances of success just shot up from 22 percent to 62 percent.[1]

The Inc. article mentioned above suggests creating a “have-done” list instead of a “to-do” list. Why? It serves as a reminder of what you’re capable of accomplishing rather than what you haven’t done.


The path towards accomplishment can be a lot smoother if we develop the necessary skills to reframe our attitudes and examine deeply rooted habits. Have the courage to try to take a different approach to your practice this year – at the very least, you’ll learn something new about yourself or your firm. At the very most, your “have done” list will be worthy of a year-end celebration.

[1] C. Heath and D. Heath, Switch, New York, Crown Publishing, 2010, p. 211.

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