5 Tips to Find Your Lost Motivation
It’s just that time of year: the weather is getting colder, it’s dark when you leave the office, and you have a million things to do before the end of the month. It’s easy for even the best of us to get overwhelmed and lose our motivation.
Unfortunately, being a business owner doesn’t allow much room for feeling uninspired or totally defeated, especially when you have a whole team of employees who could feed off your negative energy. But before you slam your head against the desk and decide that getting a law degree was the worst decision you ever made, take a few moments to chill out and follow these five tips to find the motivation you’ve lost.
Recognize the positives
This is the time of year when business owners love to sit back and evaluate everything that has happened over the last twelve months—and then agonize over everything that has gone wrong. But focusing on the negative can discredit all of the great things you’ve achieved so far, and it might make you forget that even a small step forward is still a step forward.
Maybe you set a revenue goal in January that, despite your best efforts, you have no chance of reaching by December 31. Maybe you had a great idea for a new advertising project that ultimately failed in execution and resulted in a lot of stressful staff meetings and long nights in front of your computer screen. Maybe you fell short on a really important assignment, had to make a really tough decision or felt a pinch too many times for comfort. That definitely sucks, but it isn’t the end of the world.
Trying something new and failing is ultimately part of owning a business. However, most small practices don’t succeed because they aren’t willing to take risks, don’t think about the future and aren’t innovative in their techniques.
One failure—or even two or 200—is still better than giving up trying at all because each failure gives you the chance to learn from your mistake and grow as a team. If Rome wasn’t built in a day, you can’t expect your law firm to be.
Instead, consider the fact that you invested in a good marketing plan that has been increasing the amount of clients you have brought in over the last couple months and is projected to do the same in 2017.
Remember that you completely reorganized the system you had in place for handling client cases, and despite the risk of massive issues, it went off without a hitch and has become a well-oiled machine, with cases coming in the door as quickly as older cases are being successfully settled.
Perhaps you conducted the massive undertaking of going digital and cleaning out old or unnecessary files. Don’t forget about accomplishments such as growing your website, starting a social media campaign or even reaching a positive outcome in a case for a client who really needed you. None of these accomplishments should be overlooked or deemed any less important. Take these accomplishments and expand on them next year. Congratulate yourself for all of the effort and hard work it took to get where you are. You can only get better.
Take a good look at your staff
Not only are your employees the face of your firm, but they are also the individuals who can most strongly influence the success of your business. Not to mention, you spend 40 (or let’s be realistic, 50!) hours a week with these people. If you have an unhappy work environment, your business is not going to grow. This is especially true in a small firm where you don’t have a ton of staff members, and a high turnover rate is a surefire way to know that something is wrong. So when you’re feeling down in the dumps about a recent chain of events, ask yourself if your employees feel the same way.
Do your staff members get along so well that they get together outside of the office? Do they all want to participate in office events like luncheons and Secret Santa? Do they value each other’s opinions and discuss issues while constantly bouncing ideas off each other? Do they work through lunch or stay after hours when an issue arises that needs to be addressed immediately?
Or maybe you have an office manager who has historically jumped from job to job from being so frustrated with her employer but has now been at your office a few years. Maybe you have a legal assistant who knows she is leaving the firm in a few months to go to law school but still wants to work a few hours a week because she enjoys her job so much. Maybe you just hired a new lawyer who puts in 110 percent effort by working long hours and weekends, while constantly contributing to business plans designed to influence the growth of the firm, even when the going gets tough.
Face it: even with a shaky economy, your employees could leave and find a different job if they really wanted to. Ultimately, no office is going to be candy and rainbows every single day of the week. There will be problematic cases, difficult clients and disagreement after disagreement. That’s just part of being a law firm. But if your employees are still with you and are happy to come to work every day, you must be doing something right.
It’s a good idea to remember that these people devote over a third of their day to keeping the office afloat. Your employees have put their livelihood in your hands because they believe in you and they believe in your firm’s mission. A team like this isn’t made up of just the run-of-the-mill staff member here for a paycheck and a 5 p.m. punch out. A team like this envisions their future with your office and wants to do what they can to help your business succeed. If your employees still believe in you, maybe it’s time you do the same.
Prioritize your to-do list
Nothing can make you feel more defeated than being completely overwhelmed. If your firm is anything like mine, emails, faxes, calls and even snail mail come in constantly, both during and after business hours. This correspondence alone can overwhelm even the most organized staff member.
While it is only be the start of winter, it’s always a good time for a little “spring cleaning.” Try going through your inbox and deleting unnecessary documents or at the very least filing them in the proper location or delegating tasks to the right staff member. Making some space by creating the illusion that you have less to address can greatly alleviate your stress. Not to mention, getting through some of these messages will give you a sense of accomplishment because you are actually crossing a ton off your to-do list.
Speaking of your to-do list… follow it. Multi-tasking is universally accepted as a highly sought after capability. While there is certainly truth in this, the ability to prioritize tasks is almost more important because what good is starting and even working on a dozen tasks if you cannot complete them to the best of your ability?
It doesn’t matter if you have 10 or 10,000 things on your to-do list. It will never stop growing, as this is the inherent nature of being a lawyer and a business owner. That doesn’t mean you can’t knock stuff off the list to get ahead of it.
While you may want to believe you can cross 20 things off of your list at once, getting overwhelmed by your attempts or having to go back and redo a task because you didn’t give it the full attention it needed just creates three more tasks. Instead, consider which tasks are truly an “emergency” and tend to these first.
Does that sales person really need called back today? Does a certain document need to be printed before you call back a particular client? If you aren’t sure about which tasks are truly priorities, sit down with your team to find out what is coming down the pipeline and work together as a team to accomplish each task. Don’t start something new if another task is still pending or you will end up with a list of a dozen half-finished tasks.
Depending what works best for your first, consider grouping tasks together by type such as tending to all issues related to one practice area before starting another. This keeps you focused and will help to keep your head in the best space. When you are done working on criminal law cases, you can completely switch gears to your business law cases. When you are done with those tasks, you can move to addressing issues with your advertising budget. You will be amazed at how satisfying it feels to mark items off your to-do list, and by marking entire sections off your list, this sense of accomplishment doubles. There is no shame in creating calendar reminders, using a whiteboard or even hand-writing your list on a legal pad, so long as you ultimately get the tasks done.
Stop sweating the small stuff
This may be the trickiest and most difficult tip to implement. As a business owner, your livelihood is literally on the line. There is a whole team of people depending on you to make sure payroll is met every two weeks. If something goes terribly wrong, it’s your name on the door and your law license being questioned.
It’s not hard to understand how you could easily react negatively when something goes awry. Perhaps you or your employee forgot to call a client back or you were chastised by a peer for not handling a particular case the way they would prefer. Every time a client makes a complaint, chooses not to hire you or writes a bad review may feel like the worst possible situation you can imagine. But is it?
Ask yourself this question: “Is there really a problem here?” It’s human nature to create a problem where there is none. Perhaps we do this because it gives us some false sense of feeling like we are able to control every aspect of our business (because the reality that we can’t is terrifying!) Or maybe we do this because we think that focusing on one small issue will somehow solve the other million issues you’ve yet to figure out solutions for. Either way, creating an issue where one doesn’t exist will not only stress you out but will resonate to your staff and ultimately fill them with doubt.
The number one issue you will face as an attorney is an unhappy client. Not bending over backwards or catering to the whim of every single individual may seem like a foreign concept when all you can see are dollar signs walking out the door. However, the reality of the business is that you can’t please everyone. Despite your best efforts, you will run into someone you just can’t make happy. You could import solid gold and pave a sidewalk with that gold into your office, and some people will still complain that your gold isn’t as shiny as they think it should be. Don’t let this stymie your desire to practice law, and don’t let the complaints of one overrule the compliments of many.
Instead, try sitting down with your staff to discuss the reason behind an unhappy client and how you can potentially implement a policy to avoid the same situation in the future. Create improvement projects and assign tasks to those best suited to oversee the implementation of changes whether it is to choose a different envelope style or reword a standard client letter.
There is always room for improvement because, as humans, no one in your office is perfect. However, this doesn’t mean that there is a big problem to worry about, and there is no need to put yourself through unnecessary anguish. It just means this is a great time to make changes for the better. Small hiccups should always lead to big improvements, not massive stress.
Rediscover your passion for the law
If you are feeling less motivated than ever, take a few moments to think about why you actually decided to become a lawyer in the first place. You attended all of those classes, spent hours upon hours preparing for the bar exam, and worked every single case that came in your door to get your feet off the ground for a reason—what was it?
If you are anything like me and got into the law with the desire to better your community, ask yourself a simple question: “Have I helped members of my community?” If your answer isn’t a resounding “yes,” it may be time to reconsider your career path. But if you have done exactly what you set out to do, then ask yourself, “What will motivate me now?” Perhaps it is doubling the size of your business next year. Perhaps it is taking a particular type of case. Perhaps it is creating a new software that will help lawyers in your community more effectively manage their clients. Maybe it’s all of these!
Either way, remember why you first wanted to go to law school and then expand on that reason to reflect all of the ups and downs you have experienced and all of the practical and moral lessons you have learned since you opened your doors.
GET OUT OF THE OFFICE. You are not going to accomplish anything if you are miserable and unhappy. Perhaps you need to take a few days off or need to work from home. Fuel your motivation by talking to your clients and getting a sense of what you are doing right. Have lunch with your business associates to talk about current market trends and ideas for 2017. Attend marketing meetings and seminars that will provide excellent information you can take back to present to your team. Schedule a fun team-building event with your office staff, such as volunteering for a local charity or visiting an escape room. This will help you all work on your critical thinking skills, cooperation and boost your community involvement. Remember that growing your business and practicing law is not only done behind a computer screen.
These tips may seem self-explanatory, but sometimes we get too overwhelmed that we forget how to go back to the basics. However, if you simply take a moment to reorganize your to-do list, stop creating problems where there are none and rediscover your passion for the law, you will be able to get a better grasp on your motivation. Don’t forget that the cliché of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” applies, even in the legal industry. If your employees still like you and you’ve achieved dozens of goals your whole firm can be proud of, maybe you’re not doing so bad after all.
Jared Pierce hung his own shingle right out of law school and has spent every minute since then discovering the joys and difficulties of chasing success. Anyone who has ever met Jared will tell you h