Good Intentions

By March, those of us with personal practice development goals know what we need to accomplish by year-end (usually). We also know how easily the best of intentions can be set aside during daily work.

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?


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 people outside your usual circles the chance to get to know you and learn how you work.

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 can drain your energy.

Get specific

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

Here’s how action triggers work: take the case of a busy lawyer with a habit of forgetting to capture billable time. To reach her goal of improvement, she needs to specify exactly how she’s going to address the issue. Instead of thinking “I need to be better at that”, she needs to think “I will record my billable time every day at 5:00 pm”. Then, she can set an automatic reminder to pop up on her screen or phone every day at 4:55 pm. Her 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.