Here’s the planning process you need to take action and implement the steps along your path to the right career as a lawyer.
The difference between working to survive as a lawyer and working to thrive at it is a question of how effectively you’re adapting. And as a human, you can always learn to adapt better. This post offers the fifth and final workbook in our Career Research and Development Series, introduced here.
Before you begin this workbook, we strongly encourage you to complete:
- Workbook 1: STRENGTHS, which will guide you through an analysis of your Strengths, Weaknesses, and Opportunities and where to strategically invest your time and effort.
- Workbook 2: VALUES, which will guide you through learning what drives your behavior and how to harness it for the right work as a lawyer.
- Workbook 3: BRAND, which will guide you through crafting the right messages to communicate how you work as a lawyer.
- Workbook 4: PURPOSE, which will guide you through pivoting your current work as a lawyer into the right career for your passion.
Whether or not it’s been easy for you to figure out the direction you want to pursue in your career as a lawyer, planning how to get there is another challenge. You have a sense of your skills and passion. You have investigated career options in the marketplace. You have a sense of how you help people. Now you need to determine what steps will lead from your current position to the destination you want to reach.
To create effective plans, start with a clear vision. After crafting your Vision Statement, you’ll distill it into SMART goals, transform those goals into discrete action steps, and hold yourself accountable to implement them.
Commit to staying mindful to reflect on outcomes as you take the steps you’ve planned. You’ll learn new information, experience new feelings, and adapt accordingly as you evaluate your progress. You can only choose to test out the best practices and innovative solutions if your brain generates the idea, so observe and engage your world.
ACTION STEPS CHECKLIST. This workbook will guide you through activities in four parts: Your Vision, SMART Goals, Action Plans, and Accountability Plans.
▢ Create your Vision Statement.
▢ Draft your SMART Goals and Action Plans.
▢ Learn project management, time management, and people management skills.
▢ Implement your plan with accountability.
▢ Reflect on your plan with a growth mindset and grit.
PART ONE: YOUR VISION
A Vision Statement builds motivation, helps you to visualize opportunities, and gives you a starting point for creating the decision-making criteria to use in the design and implementation of your strategy. It expresses a clear desire and a broad description of how you make it happen. It is not detailed. How you make it happen is because of some aspect of your authentic Self.
A Vision Statement is a broad statement about what you want your professional and personal life to look like in 2-10 years. You derive specific goals from your vision. You derive Action Plans from your goals. A Vision Statement is a beacon, attracting you to your desired future by its illuminating nature.
Seeking your vision is a truth-finding mission, and requires self-honesty to find the reaches of your own power. It comes from a willingness to ask yourself continually: What do I want? You need a growth mindset to contemplate your answer to avoid limiting your vision based on a flawed understanding of how we develop. You need to be comfortable with the concept of failure.
It’s often easier to find what you don’t want. Building your resilience will help you navigate through negative experiences and clarify the lessons you can learn from them. And when you process new insights, you create new opportunities by changing your thinking, feelings, and behaviors. Appreciate how your vision changes as your bounty of experience grows and you extract the core self-learnings buried deep in the way you make sense of each experience and incorporate them into your worldview.
Your Vision Statement is your future-oriented expression of a successful personal and professional life grounded in your sense of Values and Identity. A Vision Statement is easier to write when you have already generated a significant amount of verbal- or image-based data derived from self-reflection on your Values and Identity, and a significant amount of data about the possibilities or Opportunities in your External Environment for you to fully express your Values and Identity.
Research has confirmed the need for quiet time to generate ideas. Find and schedule time everyday to be alone with your thoughts about your Values, Identity, Strengths, Opportunities, and Experiences. Allow the data needed to write a Vision Statement to rise and be expressed. Limiting your data will limit your potential.
Take a leap of faith and jump over the edge. Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote about a leap of faith and the absolute uncertainty that underlies it. Faith is defined by uncertainty; it is trust particularly in that which cannot be proven or disproved. D.H. Lawrence wrote, “When one jumps over the edge, one is bound to land somewhere.” There is no certainty in the correctness of your true vision.
The only certainty is growth. You won’t know whether you’ll reach the vision you set or whether you’ll eventually redefine your vision of success. It takes a leap of faith and complete honesty with yourself in order to be able to discover your vision. To do that, you need to have the certainty that you will land somewhere and you will be okay. If you need help developing resilience, Massachusetts lawyers and law students can talk to a clinician at Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers for free and confidentially by calling (617) 482-9600.
ACTIVITY 1: Write Your Vision Statement.
Where are you aiming when you jump over the edge? WANT BIG. Be ambitious. Failure in itself is uncomfortable but not final. The value of a failure is its information about how to do better next time. Fear can make it hard to see the value of a specific failure and even failure in general. To move through your fears, you need to be aware of them. There is always a next time until it no longer matters.
Use this Activity Sheet to fill in the blanks in your Vision Statement.
ACTIVITY 2: Examine Your Fears.
You may face resistance to writing your Vision Statement. If it seems too difficult because you don’t know what you want, that’s resistance to change. It’s common for people to interpret a change like this as a loss. You are choosing to leave behind options. Often, the fear of loss is an obstacle. When it is, you may need to come to terms with the loss and find yourself experiencing the five stages of loss, identified by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and finally, acceptance.
In addition to fearing a loss, you may have other unconscious biases and fears. They may surface as concerns about how others will judge you or the time it will take away from doing other things. Time is not the only resource that you may identify as a concern. Money, the help of others, or even the space to be alone and think are all possible causes for concern. Common fears include the financial and time cost of the resources involved in seeking your vision and also fear of failure, embarrassment, abandonment, or death. You must surface and address your fears and concerns on your own, or with a friend, relative, coach or therapist.
Common thinking about obstacles is that you have a choice between all or nothing. When you find yourself stuck between two extreme positions, you are likely missing many options. The powerful question is: How can I accommodate both? For example, you may think you have limited time and therefore to do the work necessary to create a Vision Statement, you would have to give up doing something else. How can you make the time to do what you need (to pay the bills, for example) and also the time to express your authentic self? Perhaps by setting aside only 10 minutes each day for yourself, you will make progress on your Vision Statement work and still maintain the job that pays the bills.
This eventually becomes an issue of time management: If you prioritize your daily tasks, are you willing to stop doing something that is not important to you to free the time you need to do what is important? When trying to identify whether a task matters or how much it matters, break down this powerful question into two parts to answer: (1) Will the task get me closer to what I want or push me further away? (2) How much closer? If you can’t find 10 minutes each day to work on what matters most to you, then you may need to ask: Where am I looking?
Giving yourself the space and time to discover and be your authentic Self is the only way to bring your best potential to the world. Every morning begin the day with this powerful question: What is one thing I can do today? Choose an action and do it NOW. Your written Vision Statement is a tool to help motivate you and give you direction for identifying SMART Goals, noticing what’s important when you SWOT Yourself and Your Environment, and to Develop and Implement Your Action Plan.
Use this Activity Sheet to confront your fears with the right questions.
PART TWO: SMART GOALS
How do you put a Vision Statement into action and start identifying and implementing the steps of success? Begin with this question: What does your Vision Statement really mean? Without a clearly articulated meaning, you are still on a journey to discover what you really want. Knowing where you are in your journey is important. You can’t will yourself to be further along than you are. It takes time. Treat it as the critically important task that it is.
I want to acknowledge that there are many people in this world who would see this process as a luxury and an indulgence that could derail their efforts to meet basic needs. If that is you, I encourage you to consider the possibility of simultaneously pursuing your basic needs and figuring out what you want to create with your life. Creating a picture of what you want and how to attain it might be the one gift you could give yourself that would make it possible to meet your current basic needs and more.
As you craft your SMART Goals, consider whether they are also HARD: Heartfelt, Animated, Required, and Difficult. Heartfelt means you can easily list 3 reasons why it’s important to you. Animated means you can describe what you want to find yourself doing on a typical day 1, 3, and 5 years from now. Required means it’s so urgent that you know what you’re doing today and can identify what you need to have done to stay on track in 1 month, 90 days, and 5 years. Difficult means that you’ll need 3-5 new skills to achieve your goal, and you have a plan to acquire them.
ACTIVITY 1: Craft Your SMART Goals.
SMART Goals distill a broad or ambiguous idea like a Vision Statement or HARD Goal into concrete milestones. SMART Goals guide you to do everything in your power to achieve your Vision through the following parameters:
- Specific: You (individually and/or collectively if speaking on behalf of a team or organization) are able to describe a goal in a way that unambiguously and clearly expresses what will exist when the goal is met.
- Measurable: Your description of the goal implies a metric for measuring progress toward goal attainment.
- Actionable: You have the power to attain the goal, know the necessary actions to move closer to the goal, and know how to implement those actions.
- Relevant: Goals support a mission, purpose, and/or vision of your organization, team, or self.
- Time Bound: You have attached a specific date by which you will attain the goal.
The most common obstacle to reaching goals is starting with an overly broad or ambiguous goal that isn’t designed to prompt action in the current moment and those immediately following. When you identify an idea, ask these questions to develop a SMART Goal:
- What does the idea mean? Specific
- What has to happen before I can say the goal has been attained? Measurable
- What will I do to cause whatever needs to happen? Actionable
- How does the goal support my idea, purpose, project, or vision? Relevant
- When will I do whatever I am committing to do? Time Bound
Use this Activity Sheet for each SMART goal to parse your Vision Statement into SMART Goals.
PART THREE: ACTION PLANS
When a SMART Goal requires multiple steps and is more than a single task, separate it into smaller tasks to complete over a shorter time period. Creating an Action Plan is separating large tasks into discrete tasks until you are able to identify actions to complete today, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually.
SMART Goals and Action Plans are meant to be revisited and updated on a regular basis. This becomes part of your Project, Task, and Time Management Plan. Daily or weekly “To-Do” lists should be updated every day and every week. Monthly Action Plans will turn into weekly and daily “To-Do” lists and so forth.
Every SMART goal needs its own Action Plan. Consider at the following tips when creating an Action Plan.
- For each broad goal that you identified on your Storyboard or Who/Do table, identify each action step that you will need to take to reach the broad goal.
- For each action step, identify what you must do, how you will do it, and by when you will accomplish it.
- For each action step, consider the details. These details may be SMART Goals with shorter time frames.
- Action steps may include acquiring resources – people, space, money, or developing skills through further online training, live workshops, or by getting a personal coach.
- Action steps may involve addressing obstacles.
ACTIVITY 1: Process Your SMART Goals.
To transform your SMART Goals into Action Plans, asking the right questions will help you identify the tasks you need to focus on. How long will it take to attain each goal? For each goal, do you need resources? Resources include time, money, space, skills, others, and technology. Do you expect any obstacles? If so, how will you address them? What are the discrete Action Plan steps to attain the goal?
Use this Activity Sheet for each SMART goal to answer questions to shape your actions for each goal.
ACTIVITY 2: Action Plan for Each Year.
Your SMART Goals and Action Plans are designed for revision. Consider them drafts. Strategy is an iterative process. Plans are meant to be implemented, outcomes are meant to be reviewed, and revisions are to be expected. Keep pushing forward until your most important SMART Goals and Vision of Success are attained.
To break down your year into quarterly plans, you’ll schedule dates for each SMART Goal you drafted at +3 months, +6 months, +9 months, +12 months and identify what you need to have accomplished by that date for each SMART Goal.
Use this Activity Sheet for each SMART goal to create Quarterly Action Plans for each year.
ACTIVITY 3: Action Plan for Each Month.
To break down your month into weekly plans, you’ll list what you need to accomplish in your first month of the quarter to pace the rest over the following two months to meet your Quarterly Deadlines.
Make appropriate adjustments after reviewing your first month’s accomplishments to list your weekly tasks for the second month, and then again for the third month.
Use this Activity Sheet for each SMART goal to create Weekly Action Plans for each month.
ACTIVITY 4: Action Plan for Each Week.
Break down your week into daily task lists. Each week, compile the tasks from your six sheets into your physical or digital planner, using abbreviated form as needed.
Review your accomplishments at the end of each week to update your plans. Identify what daily tasks you didn’t complete to help you assess your pace and task volume generally. Reset deadlines whenever helpful.
Use this Activity Sheet for each SMART goal to create daily task lists for each week.
PART FOUR: ACCOUNTABILITY PLANS
Organize your work to accomplish more in less time. Understanding project management, time management, and people management will help you implement your Action Plans with accountability.
- Project Management: Distilling complex tasks into discrete actions, prioritizing tasks, assigning due dates, and following-through on commitments to act. Vision to SMART Goals to Action Plans.
- Task Delegation: Clearly communicating performance expectations to each person you give an assignment or ask for help.
- Time Management: Task prioritization, assigning actions to time slots, and engaging with commitment to act.
- Giving Effective Feedback: Providing specific information about your performance expectations as delegated tasks are completed.
Project Organization. (1) Organize projects according to importance and urgency. (2) Distill a broad project with a due date into its component parts. (3) Assign parts a logical order and due dates and times. (4) Regularly measure progress. Find more on these steps in this post on our blog.
Task Organization. (1) Organize specific tasks according to their purpose, importance, and urgency. (2) Clarify specific actions for each tasks. (3) Delegate tasks appropriately. (4) Assign due dates and times to your discrete tasks. (5) Regularly measure progress. To ensure you’re investing your time in the right tasks and accomplishing them efficiently, learn project management skills in this post on our blog.
Delegating and managing others are critical to accomplishing your goals. Effective feedback keeps delegated tasks on track for on-time and quality delivery by keeping lines of communication open and expectations clear. Find out what you need to know to manage people effectively in this post on our blog.
When your performance expectations are not met, use feedback to bring efforts back on track with these 4 steps: (1) Evaluate the situation, (2) Be curious, (3) Describe the problem and impact on you, (4) Identify with specificity what you want the person to do differently. Find out how champion delegators apply these steps in this 30-minute edition of our Webinars for Busy Lawyers.
Technology is also critical to accomplishing your tasks. And its potential to increase your time savings grows every day. Our Deputy Director and resident technophile recommends lawyers use Evernote so enthusiastically that she wrote a book about it (and the ABA published it, of course). Find out how to start using Evernote in this post from Heidi on our blog. Then, catch this 30-minute webinar on How to Do 90 Minutes of Legal Work in 60, using technology you already have in your law practice.
ACTIVITY 1: Examining Time Management Obstacles.
Obstacles like failing to prioritize can derail time management subtly. Knowing what is really important to you will affect what you choose to do and what you choose to avoid. Not prioritizing can lead to a form of procrastination common among lawyers known as “analysis paralysis”. Prioritize your projects and tasks according to what really matters to your goals and vision of success. This will keep your career on track and your professional development moving forward.
Focusing on related common challenges to time management is the best way to work through the reality of having so many forces competing for our time and attention. Among the most common obstacles to time management are: (1) Preferring not to plan in advance; (2) Being overly rigid with plans and discomfort with change; (3) Not planning to relax and recharge; (4) Being easily distracted by the important-but-not-urgent; (5) Striving for perfection; (6) Not distilling projects into tasks and tasks into specific and measurable actions ; (7) Not scheduling time for time management; (8) Putting too much on your “to do” lists. This post on our blog has a deeper dive on these obstacles..
Use this Activity Sheet to identify your time management obstacles.
ACTIVITY 2: Hold Yourself Accountable to Implement Your Plans.
After you’ve identified your obstacles and what you need to overcome them, you need to implement steps to overcome them in the context where you’ll encounter them.
Use this Activity Sheet to plan how you’ll implement solutions to challenges.
ACTIVITY 3: Reflect on Grit + Growth.
To change how you think and what you do, and how you feel about developing your career, ask yourself three questions: What? So what? Now what? The first question helps you search for the facts about what you did and the results. The second question helps you make sense of what happened and what it means for you. The final question helps you consider what changes to make to get better outcomes next time or to continue to make progress.
Be aware of when you are climbing up the Ladder of Inference and climb back down. Come up with multiple interpretations whenever possible. This will help you to distinguish between your assumptions and conclusions, on the one hand, and actual data or facts, on the other. This step may send you back to the step of asking “What?”. Most people often don’t even realize when they substitute assumptions about the cause of a situation or conclusions about the situation with actual facts about what happened.
The trick is to check your words, in particular your nouns and verbs, for hidden assumptions and conclusions by asking what a word or phrase really means, and compare its connotative meaning to denotative synonyms.
Use this Activity Sheet to make a deliberate decision about your next step.
CONGRATULATIONS on completing the fifth and final workbook in our Career Research & Development Series! You’ve made a commitment to do real work in your profession on a level most people, including lawyers, do not. We wish you the best on your journeys, and encourage lawyers and law students in Massachusetts to book a FREE & Confidential consultation with a practice advisor whenever we can support your motivation or help you find the right tools.
You made the plans you need to take action and reach your evolving Vision — USE THEM!