My basement was kind of a disaster. Boxes haphazardly strewn about. Tools and equipment that had not been organized in the last 18 months, despite the best of intentions. Kids toys that had been played with and discarded. A pile of things to take to the landfill. So after months of trying not to notice the mess, I picked up and organized the basement. Now I have a tidy basement.
But if I just focus on the result that now I have a clean and well-organized basement, I will turn around in a few months to discover it has devolved to its chaotic state again. Because I just have a tidy basement in this moment. I haven’t put the processes in place to be the kind of guy who keeps his basement in good shape. It is the processes and systems themselves, rather than outcomes they deliver, that should receive our attention.
In a radio interview on The Paul Finebaum Show on May 28, Nick Saban was talking about his players’ mindsets following individual and team success: “I think at some point in time or when you start thinking about outcomes … outcomes can be a distraction. Whether you want to win awards for yourself or you just want to win a championship for your team. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with either one of those things, but when you start focusing on outcomes, it’s sort of a distraction, because you really need to focus on what you need to do to get the outcome.”[This article is an excerpt from my book, Level Up Your Law Practice: The Ultimate Guide to Being a Successful Lawyer.]
Don’t be misled by focusing on results
Focusing on the results instead of the processes can be misleading. You can manufacturer a good result, or have the good fortune to luck into a positive outcome, but if you don’t install the systems and habits which allow for consistency, no particular outcome will be indicative of the true state of affairs.
What are your processes for handling clients? For managing cases? For attending to your practice? Put systems in place to ensure that you are being consistent month after month. This consistency will enable you to audit your processes to see if there are any gaps or if you need to tinker with something.
By now, you know that I love a good spreadsheet. Spreadsheets are how I keep myself organized and stay on top of my caseload. And when I go a few weeks (or dare I admit, months) without updating the spreadsheets that reflect the status of my cases or upcoming trial settings, I feel disorganized and a little fraught that something may fall through the cracks. The other problem with failing to keep up with my processes (aside from increased anxiety levels) is the amount of time it takes to catch up. It is far easier and more efficient to keep up rather than catch up. Once your processes are in place, implement them. Otherwise, they’re not your processes; they’re just a way that you spent a few hours organizing some information that one time.
Processes drive consistency
If you want to sustain a successful practice that spans decades, you need consistent results. Nothing can deliver consistent results like maintaining the processes that got you there in the first place. In discussing the upcoming season in August 2018, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick reportedly said, “We’ve just got to keep stringing days together. Take advantage of our opportunities to go out there and improve and trust the process.” (link)
That’s what you and I have to do — string days together in which we are implementing the processes we’ve put in place and evaluating them for the possibility of improvement. Former general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers said this on his first day on the job in 2013, “We talk a lot about process—not outcome—and trying to consistently take all the best information you can and consistently make good decisions. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, but you reevaluate them all.” Six years later, although he’s no longer with the team, the processes he put in place have put the 76ers on the cusp of great success.
Marketing, caseload management, meeting your billable goals — regardless of what area of your practice you consider, there are systems you can develop to help you deliver consistent results over time. No individual result will be indicative of whether your systems are working. Only a long-term vision and observation of your results provide you with the information to assess whether your processes are effective or need revision.
But if you don’t have processes and you’re just flitting from one trendy method of doing things to another, you can never expect consistency. You won’t know what is or is not working, because you will not have given yourself the opportunity to have enough information to evaluate the source of your successes or failures before moving on to the next thing.
What can you do on a daily basis to give yourself the greatest likelihood of success? (1) Put processes in place to manage your cases and practice. Spreadsheets work really well for me, but you have to do what works for you. (2) Be consistent in implementing and working with your processes. (3) After time, monitor your results (whether that’s how a case ultimately resolved or just that you’re regularly getting discovery in/out in a timely fashion) to evaluate whether your processes are working for you. (4) Modify your processes as needed. (5) Persist. Being process oriented, rather than results driven, will result in consistent outcomes over time.
Photo by Keith Allison.