Most of the law firm leaders or senior management I deal with seem to be run off their feet, especially those who are also managing a practice. Part of this is because they unselfishly spend so much time worrying about their firm and others and not on their own affairs. Sometimes it is simply because they have too much on their plates for one person. Invariably they have not worked out a simple and effective way to prioritize and get things done.

The good news, there is light at the end of the tunnel!  It is simple and effective and all of us can do it – read on …. some months ago I read a popular blog post by Tony Schwartz (attached edited PDF version) where he talked about these challenges. He suggested the answer is to develop a few simple rituals and make them automatic. I have found that it works – I am sure it can for you.

The counterintuitive secret to getting things done is to make them more automatic, so they require less energy. Develop rituals — highly specific behaviors, done at precise times, so they eventually become automatic and no longer require conscious will or discipline. (graphic adaptation by Sean Larkan)

He felt that many leaders make the mistake of thinking that to get over these challenges they should perhaps:

  • have more discipline
  • more will-power
  • or maybe learn time-management in one of its forms.

However, as psychologists have shown, as we only have a limited store of discipline in us, we should instead make things more automatic. This is where rituals come in.

Also, it is wrong to think that to get things done we must constantly or consciously think about them. The opposite is true – we should instead increase the number of things we do without thinking about them. So the counter-intuitive secret to getting things done is to make them more automatic, so they require less energy. Develop rituals — highly specific behaviors, done at precise times, so they eventually become automatic and no longer require conscious will or discipline.

The rituals which I have found have worked powerfully for me are:

  1. each morning first tackle that item or maybe two items that you consciously decided the night before was the important (not urgent!) thing you had to get done the next day.  Don’t let anything stop you doing this thing. Do this each day. At the end of the week you will find you have tackled most or all of the important things that were lurking in your mind, or on your mental ‘to do’ list, instead of finding you have only done two and what happened to the week! It is an amazing way to start a weekend!
  2. if you have a good idea write it down in a place where you can easily access it and use it later. Then you can forget about it. I find what works best here is EverNote – the iPhone/iPad/PC/Mac application which is available for free download and also works brilliantly on a desktop PC. The wonderful thing about this program is that all your notes are synchronized automatically – so, make a note on one device and look it up a few days later on another one of your devices and it will be there for you. It only takes a matter of seconds. This way you know you will never again forget a good idea nor will you lose it or forget where you wrote it down. The new iCloud service for iOS devices will make the same thing possible.

I have other important rituals (rising an hour before dawn, making my wife coffee first thing, meditation, going for a surf or walk, and so on) – as will most of us – but I feel the above two are really powerful from a work perspective.

Give this a try – I think you will be amazed how life-changing it can be over time. Its power also lies in the fact that it helps get rid of one of those things we beat ourselves up about – not getting things done or prioritizing them properly – eventually this constant beat-up can impact one’s confidence and occupy far too much of one’s attention. Now the opposite can be true.

Once it is working for you, put your managers and colleagues on to it.

The good news as Tony Schwartz says – once you’ve got a ritual targeted in your consciousness,  it truly takes on a life of its own!