If you are a long time reader, you’ve likely read blogs I posted in December about making the next year your best year ever. We’ve finished 2019 and now you have a new year and decade to take your career to the next level. Here are questions for you to ponder and my suggestions.

As you know, I coached over 1500 US and Canadian lawyers. Some lawyers I coached had not given a lot of thought to what they want. Instead they had focused on what they didn’t want.

Some lawyers I coached knew what they wanted, and even had a fair idea of what they needed to do to get it, but they did not have the commitment or the discipline to actually go after it. It reminds me of people who start diets and join workout facilities in January, and, even though they know better, they are back to their old eating habits and skipping exercise by March 1.

Here are my questions:

  1. What would be a homerun for you in your career and your personal life for 2020?
    If you are challenged answering this, think about what you want to accomplish in your career this year, what you want to learn, what would be enriching relationships with family and friends and how you want to live your life.
  2. Picture in your mind, you in January 2025. What is happening in your career, your family and your personal life? Write down what you picture yourself doing then.
  3. What is the one thing you could do in 2020 that you have not done before, that would have the greatest impact on your career and your life? Several years ago, I decided that the one thing for me was to use my time more wisely. I also decided that I needed to plan my time each week and write down what I planned to do.
  4. If you know what you want, what is holding you back? Don’t say your firm or other things over which you have no control. Instead, focus on what you can control. In my case, I know I lack self discipline, and more than anything else, I waste time on things that don’t lead me toward my professional or personal priorities.
  5. What are you willing to do to achieve what you have described is important to you?
    I like the quote attributed to a wide variety of college football and basketball coaches, and I wrote a book Prepare to Win, using part of the quote as a title.

“Most people have the will to win, few have the will to prepare to win.”

Here are my top career tips for 2020:

  1. Write down what you want to accomplish in 2020. Then prioritize your list of what you want to accomplish.
  2. Prepare a Plan with written goals so you use your non-billable time wisely. I can provide you with two different templates to consider. Break the plan down to a monthly, weekly and daily plan.
  3. Decide on one area to learn that will enable you to be a more effective lawyer in your field. One year I decided to focus on communication to juries. I bought every book I could find on the subject, listened to every tape and read every article.
  4. Get a group of your colleagues together to talk about the main points of leading business books that will make you more effective. If you send me an email, I would be happy to send you my list of books that will make the biggest difference in your career and life. If you read any of the books, write down your takeaways and how you can implement them.
  5. Use your time more wisely and effectively. Time is your most valuable resource. Whether you care to admit it or not, your challenge is not that you do not have enough time. Instead, your challenge is that you do not use the time you have based on our priorities. Occasionally, I challenge myself to write down things I do – or things I should do that by not doing them – wastes my time.
  6. Think of ways to apply the 80-20 rule. Let me give you examples so you can think about it. Twenty percent of the things you do create eighty percent of your success. What is that twenty percent for you? Eighty percent of a typical lawyers’ business comes from twenty percent of his or her clients. Which of your clients generate eighty percent of your business?
  7. Decide how much non-billable time you plan to spend developing your career and client base in 2020 and divide by 50. Each week give yourself a report card on whether you spent the number of planned hours and how well you spent it.
  8. Get more face time with clients and prospective clients. One of the lawyers I coached discovered that each and every time he met in-person with a client, he came away with a new matter either right then or shortly thereafter.
  9. Develop your elevator speech. Send me an email that tells me all I need to know about you to recommend that a potential client hire you. Why am I suggesting this? First, if you do not know why a client should hire you, the clients clearly won’t know either. Second, this will cause you to think about your elevator speech. How many times have you met people who ask what you do? Telling them you are a litigator, or a corporate lawyer or a tax lawyer may be absolutely accurate, but it will not likely get you very far.
  10. Get a friend in your firm or outside your firm who will be like a success workout partner. Why do this? It is just one good way you can hold yourself accountable. When I had a workout partner, I was way more likely to show up at the fitness center even when I did not feel like it.
  11. Make client development a habit. Do something each and every day, no matter how small and write down what you did. The lawyers in one firm I coached came up with a list of 33 potential small client development activities they could do each day. Can you come up with your own list?
  12. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, spend more quality time with your family without feeling guilty. When you are with your family, be in the moment with them. Focus on them both externally and internally. Do not let your mind wonder. One of my first mentors was known as a hard worker. Yet he spent more time with his family than any of the partners in the firm. How did he do it? Put simply, he did not waste time on things that were not his priorities. You can spend more time with your family, if you spend your billable and non-billable time more efficiently and more effectively based on what is most important to you.