I am continuing my reposts on how lawyers I coached prepared their 2012 business and personal plans. As in the other blog posts. I have changed the year from 2012 to 2015.

As you will see below, Squire Patton Boggs partner, Kevin O’Neill uses David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach. Kevin tells me he is still using the approach he wrote about three years ago.

Through my work with Cordell, I am a big fan of the Getting Things Done (GTD) series of books by David Allen, and they are very helpful in the process of developing my business plan.

The GTD principles compare your planning and implementation to an aviation system with different altitudes from “runway” duties (the literal next step tasks needed to move the project forward) to the 50,000 foot-level where you are focused on the mission and vision for your life. I’ve adapted the GTD principles to my own needs in developing long-term goals and objectives of which a business plan is just one element.

So working down from 50,000 feet, begin by understanding who you want to be and what you want to become. My vision and guiding principles have been in place for 15 years and will remain the focus for who I want to be professionally and personally. If you don’t have the vision and principles in place, planning for the year will be difficult to conceive and implement.

The next level down (40,000 feet) define your roles in daily life. For me, those 2012 roles are Husband, Father, Friend, Self, Citizen, Attorney, Manager, Leader and the nature of each of those roles are evolving over time. That’s true at work where my roles as Attorney, Manager, and Leader in 2012 are different than what they were in 2008 or 2010. It’s true outside of work as well, because what my wife, children, and friends need in 2012 is not the same as prior years.

You must spend some time thinking about what you would define as success for each of these roles in 2015. You also must consider how you are going to allocate the 8,760 hours you have in a year between these roles because we know the hours spent succeeding as “Attorney” often come out of the time we wish we had for “Father” or “Friend.”

My final “business” plan for 2015 will have a page for items related to “personal issues” to go with a page on purely “business issues.” Both pages are taped to my desk where I can see them everyday and highlight the subgoals as they are accomplished. Keeping the personal and professional together and in front of me makes it easier to make sure work won’t swallow my real life over time. Also, this the part where discussion with your significant other is key – you can’t have support for a plan that’s not shared and accepted.

At 30,000 feet are your multi-year goals – these are the mileposts to making your long-term vision a reality. For lawyers, we have lots of multi-year goals we are working towards: make partner, make equity partner, have a book of business worth $x, write a book on my topic of expertise, etc.

Your personal life is full of those goals as well: Get married, have children, send your parents on vacation to Europe, buy a home, retire with $x in the bank, etc. Do you have these goals on paper somewhere? They don’t have to be in your 2012 business plan but they should exist on paper somewhere even if you have to write them as part of this year’s business plan development process. Are there elements of your work/personal plans for 2012 that you can point to and say “this is helping me reach the multi-year goal of [fill in the blank]?”

Lower down, at 20,000 feet, you have the various publics to whom you are responsible: clients, partners and colleagues at work, family, friends, your church, and yourself at home. There’s lots of turbulence at this level because the needs of these people are ever-changing and that alters your obligations to them. Do you know who is being served by each of the goals in your business plan?

Professionally, what are your clients expecting you to do in 2015 that they would define as success and is that in your plan? In my 2015 business plan, every client I currently have could read the plan, point to a specific bullet and say “That’s what you are trying to do for me next year” yet only about 25% of the bullets in the business part of the plan are specifically focused on current client goals.

At 10,000 feet, you have projects, defined broadly as anything requiring more than one step to accomplish. Most clients will have lots of projects over the course of a year (Ex: association conference where I will speak, legal memo that needs to be researched and written, etc.) but none of those projects are likely to be something you want in a business plan.

The same is true with the “runway” or next-step tasks needed to move forward on various projects. Yes, you are going to have to implement your business plan via projects and tasks but that level of detail is for a project/task list not a business plan. Keep the plan focused on measuring success for the coming year and how that success will help you achieve longer-term personal and professional goals.

In developing my plan, I try to follow a few rules:

  1. Be specific, measurable and attainable – Say you want to bring in a specific amount of new business to the firm in 2012 rather than saying “I want more clients.” Virtually every bullet point in my business plan can be reviewed in a year and a “Yes” or “No” answer given for whether or not I achieved the goal.
  2. Stretch goals should be evident – Yes, I want my goals to be attainable but many of them should also be currently beyond my grasp. If I set a goal to get $X in new business, which is double my best year, and I only get 80% of $X, I will be pleased with the result and will still have grown from the failure of falling short.
  3. Don’t plan to last year – The last few years of economic turmoil should be all the evidence you need to know you can’t count on last year being like next year. Much of your plan’s ambitions should be focused on the new and improved, on growing your expertise, on building your reputation for clients and colleagues.
  4. Focus on doing what only you must do – In order to free up time to do the new things and grow your practice to meet your plan’s goals, you have to give up much of what you did in the past. Especially as you grow professionally, you have to look for opportunities to say “My responsibility here is to see that the project or task is done but I don’t have to do it myself to fulfill that responsibility.” This is also a great chance to make sure you are developing your teammates as each year gives you opportunities to help them grow by assuming responsibilities you used to handle.
  5. Helping others will always help you – Just as your plan should include something your clients could point to and say “that’s what you are doing for me this year,” your teammates should be able to read your plan and see the same thing for them. If you are a partner, what does your plan say about supporting the next generation of talent at your firm or your partners as they try to reach their goals? Does your plan support your practice group’s goals or the firm’s goals? You want the best talent at your firm working with you so you can achieve your goals. If you are spending time focused on “only what you can do” you are naturally pushing down work that helps those working with you grow. If you are advising others on how to meet their own professional goals, you will be building the network and culture needed for your own success. Make helping others achieve their goals part of your plan.
  6. Don’t be afraid to share – A plan that only you see is one you aren’t committed to achieving. If your department head or managing partner is not aware of your goals and ambitions, how can she evaluate your past efforts fairly and how can she support you in 2012 as you try to grow? Has your significant other reviewed the plan and laughed, groaned, or offered input? Has your mentor or good friend who can push you looked at the plan and offered suggestions?

In the end, what I have is a series of documents.

  1. One is a page that expresses my vision/mission statements, my core values and the adjectives I hope others would use to describe me in their daily interactions with me. This document is more than a decade old.
  2. I have a set of long-term goals (5 years or longer) on a page and for almost 20 years I’ve had what is now commonly called a “bucket list” of about 100 life experiences I am pursuing (Ex: work took me to China a couple of years ago and allowed me to check off the goal of standing on the Great Wall; this year, I focused lots of effort on losing 30 pounds which allowed me to check off my goals of running a mini-marathon and significantly lowering my cholesterol, all of which should help me work harder professionally for several years to come).
  3. My “business plan for 2015” is two pages – one for work goals and one for personal goals – and is below those bigger picture items listed above. The business plan is just the 2015 steps towards a longer-term vision. A paycheck won’t motivate me as well as the knowledge that what I’m doing today is a building block for the future I want.