Author Archives: admin

Delegation Practices

Assigning and Delegating Aren’t the Same Thing – Here’s the Difference

Mastering the skill of delegation is critical to your career.  In the past, on the WLF blog, we’ve addressed certain obstacles that get in the way of successful delegation.

Today we’re focusing on another delegation challenge: the practice of assigning work under the guise of delegation.

Both assignment and delegation have the same short-term result: the work gets done. But throw even the smallest wrench into the works (unexpected changes, unanticipated crisis) – and an assigned task becomes a boomerang that lands back in your lap. A delegated task, on the other hand, becomes a positive challenge for your team – at work or at home – to stretch, grow, and achieve optimal results. The critical distinction is that assignment is task-oriented, while delegation is results-oriented.

As with many things we discuss in WLF, effective delegation begins with cultivating the right mindset. A good leader effectively assigns work to improve their productivity now. A great leader effectively delegates challenging work and responsibilities as a learning and motivating opportunity to improve long-term productivity. Remember the success of the people who work for you is your success.

This month, practice these skills to master delegation:

  1. Tend to the person (or team) – not to the task.

    Understand your own role as leader; be clear, kind and direct. Step into this role by leading by example, enabling (empowering) and setting the people who work for you up for success (at work and at home).

  1. Know what YOU want.

    If you can’t visualize success, how can they? Before giving instructions, take a deep breath, center, and ask yourself what outcome will really make you happy. Be as specific as you can about your conditions of satisfaction. This might take an extra five minutes in the moment, but could save hours on the other end, not to mention added stress and disappointment.

  1. Know what THEY want.

    Understand motivating – and demotivating – factors by recalling your own experiences of performing delegated work, and seeing your team members as “collective individuals.” Remember that many team members are motivated by having the autonomy to deliver results in their own way and by understanding how they are contributing to a larger goal. The better you understand the person to whom you are delegating (both “hard skills” capabilities and “soft skills” individual drivers), the better you can lay out a framework for mutual success.

  1. Flex your behavioral style.

    What you do and say – and how you do and say it – matters (a lot). You have all taken the DiSC assessment. Pull it out, brush it off, and refamiliarize yourself with the your own natural style and the style of others – particularly under stress. If your team members have not completed the assessment, take a guess at their style and experiment flexing your style to make help make them more successful. Just remember not to “box in” anyone.

  1. Be clear, specific, and complete.

    During busy times, it can be tempting to drive straight into the task and move on. However, spending a few extra minutes on big-picture context, expectations, and process not only minimizes risky guesswork, but also can help align and motivate team members.  To know whether you’ve been clear and specific enough, ask whether the team member you’re addressing knows answers to the following

  • How the task supports a bigger challenge or client/firm success?
  • What are the expectations and success metrics?
  • What are the deadlines: internal and external ?
  • What is the appropriate level of initiative / authority they should be using?
  • Accountability: How and when to check in or ask for help?
  1. Try to meet face-to-face (in person or virtually).

    E-mail serves a purpose, but especially at the beginning of a new assignment (or delegation relationship), interactive meetings are essential to build trust and provide additional insight through non-verbal cues. It’s helpful to summarize the meeting with a memo/email to ensure clarity and alignment – in fact, this can be the first item you delegate!

Are you an alum of the Women’s Leadership Forum? We’d love to keep in touch with you! Request to join us in our private Facebook group here, or connect with Susan on LinkedIN here and send me a note that you’d like to be part of our exclusive LinkedIn group.  Also follow us on Instagram for frequent reminders of WLF content!

Delegate

Delegate or Drown: Mastering a Critical Skill for Building a Sustainable Career

First, a Quiz: Are you a Delegator or a Delegavoider?

  • Is your inbox out of control?
  • Do you find yourself regularly working overtime and/or staying up late at home on tasks “only you” can do?
  • Do you assign tasks rather than delegating responsibilities?
  • Do you view questions as interruptions?
  • Are you frequently interrupted by requests for guidance or clarification?
  • Do you frequently redo others’ work?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be a delegavoider!

If you have delegation challenges, now’s the perfect time to do something about them.  It’s important to maximize your relationships and resources before times get tough.

As the complexity of your job and your home-life increases, it is more important than ever to master the art (and neuroscience) of delegation. Putting these skills into practice to build high-performing teams is equally important at work and at home, regardless of your job title, and whether you are in a relationship or are raising children.

Delegating At Work:

We know the financial model of law firms is dependent on leverage. Delegation also builds trust (and therefore communication and effectiveness) among team members, and helps to motivate and retain high-performing junior team members.

Having a high preforming team at work may be the only way for you to have a thriving legal practice and the flexibility to tend to expected and unexpected responsibilities outside of work.

Delegating At Home:

Delegation (both sharing responsibilities within families and investing in additional support services) enables us to increase the depth and quality of personal time spent with those who matter most – including ourselves!

Our most important relationships – and resources – are nurtured through delegation. Having primed and reliable pinch hitters in the wings provides extra breathing room and peace of mind in the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) legal world. And yet we keep falling into the “It’s easier to do it myself” trap.

Five Ways We Talk Ourselves Out of Delegating

Here’s what I hear most. . . and a different perspective you might consider taking for each excuse:

  1. It’s faster if I do it.”

This may be an accurate assessment. But at what cost? First, every withheld assignment is a missed opportunity for your team (or your teen!) to develop skills and a sense of ownership and responsibility.

Second, by reaching down for easy assignments rather than up toward growth opportunities, you may be sacrificing your own career development or quality of life.

And finally, assuming that you have multiple, competing responsibilities, is it truly faster if a task takes you 30 minutes to complete but spends a week on your desk before you can even get to it?

  1. “I can’t trust anyone to do it right.”

There is a lot to unpack in this statement.  But simply put, this is most likely your problem – not theirs. Sometimes it is a firm-wide issue, such as poor hiring decisions or a failure to deliver required skills training in a timely manner.

Most of the time, however, mutual distrust comes down to trifecta of ineffective delegation: (1) not giving ownership of the process, (2) being unclear about needs and expectations, and (3) not building in sufficient “learning margins” for team members to ask questions or fix their own mistakes. Most people truly want to do the best job possible, especially when we give them ownership of their own success.

  1. “My client / family expects me to do the work personally.”

With the exception of highly sensitive, confidential projects, I am hard-pressed to think of an instance where any client specifically wants a senior attorney to perform junior-level work. What they do want is for someone with more experience to oversee, review, and ultimately be accountable for the final product.

At home, does your family really care if you personally drive to the grocery store, cook all meals from scratch, and clean the kitchen? Chances are, what they value most is the quality time spent together at the dinner table and great food (wherever it comes from!).

The good news is that there are many ways to maximize resources, both externally (e.g., hiring extra help, using grocery and laundry delivery services) and internally (i.e., sharing responsibilities for home chores) in a way that works for you.

  1. “I don’t receive any credit from my firm for training/mentoring junior team members. Advancement and increased compensation go to the lawyers with the highest hours and originations.”

I am the first to acknowledge that there can often be a disconnect between what law firms say and what they do. But as we all know, the profit model of law firms is based on leverage. The numbers typically show that a partner who keeps her team fully utilized, even if her own hours are slightly down, generates more profit for the firm than one who meets or exceeds her own targets but has excess capacity on her team.

Moreover, delegating work frees you up to invest time in more strategic activities that generate even more revenue streams, making you a high-performing individual contributor even as you delegate. Throughout this process, remember that you are responsible for communicating your accomplishments proactively.

    1. “While I manage major client matters, I don’t officially have my own team. How can I delegate work without stepping on people’s toes – both associates and the senior partners who manage them?”

Leadership has nothing to do with job titles or responsibilities.  Rather, it has everything to do with accountability and mutual success. Many of my clients admit to being uncomfortable giving work to others. They often deal with their discomfort by being vague or indirect with directions, deadlines and feedback.

This is a formula for mutual frustration and poor performance, and further fuels the “It’s easier to do it myself” cycle. Articulate your needs and expectations clearly and directly to senior partners and associates. Remember that the tone you use may have a greater impact on the outcome than the words you use.

                6.     “I worry that if I delegate, I will no longer be seen as                                     indispensable.”

Think back to early in your career. As your experience and performance improved, was your supervising partner sidelined or replaced? Being indispensable for what you already know means that you have fewer opportunities to learn new things and grow yourself!

Practice This Week

  • Begin taming your inner delegavoider by considering where and in what ways you fall into the “It’s easier to do it myself” trap.
  • Identify one work assignment and one home chore that you could delegate. It’s okay if this seems difficult – that’s precisely why we’re talking about this subject! Consider items that you are unable to get to right away, have longer deadlines, or that you feel less “proprietary” over (i.e. less inclined to direct the process from A to Z.)

Are you an alum of the Women’s Leadership Forum? We’d love to keep in touch with you! Request to join us in our private Facebook group here, or connect with Susan on LinkedIN here and send me a note that you’d like to be part of our exclusive LinkedIn group.  Also follow us on Instagram for frequent reminders of WLF content!

How to Make Sure Your Commitments Match Your Convictions

How to Make Your Commitments Match Your Convictions

Harvard Business Review’s 2005 article, “Do Your Commitments Match Your Convictions?” holds even more true today than it did in the pre-social media era when it was published.  In their research, professors Donald N. Sull (MIT-Sloan) and Dominic Houlder (London Business School) identify a societal phenomenon and outline a powerful self-authorship tool that has stayed with me to this day.

The Growing Gap Between What We Value And How We Spend Time, Money and Attention

For many of us, there is a growing gap between our convictions – what we value most – and our commitments – how we actually spend our money, time, and attention. We explain away the gap by claiming that we are “too busy.”

Contrary to what we believe, it’s usually not the “big” obligations that make us “too busy.” It’s the small, day-to-day commitments that we barely notice. Measuring ourselves against other people’s expectations – and a track record of meeting or exceeding their expectations – further reinforces the gap. This is why it is so hard – and often takes a personal or professional crisis – to force us to re-evaluate our priorities and change course.

But why wait? We can use same prioritization framework we instinctively apply during a crisis to close the gap before a crisis hits.

A Simple Prioritization Framework

The Sull and Houlder framework is simple, yet surprisingly effective:

Here’s how it works. (The article also features a sample worksheet, including annotations.)

1. First, list the things that matter most to you in all dimensions of your life (professional, family, social, spiritual, individual, etc.).

Be as specific as possible! For example, “money” may represent different values for you. Is it a metric of success (e.g., making more than your law school classmates)? Is it a means to a goal (e.g., retiring early and travelling the world)? And which value is most important?

While there is no ideal number of values, generally a list between 4 and 10 is sufficient to address different areas while maintaining a focus on top priorities. There are also no “good” or “bad” values. The authors note that for the exercise to be effective “it’s not about what you (or others) think you should value – but in what really matters to you.”

2. Second, note down how much money, time, and the quality of physical and mental energy you invest in each area.

Money and time can either be denoted in actual amounts or percentages. Energy is denoted by a “+” or a “–” sign to indicate peak attention to or low energy or focus (e.g., multitasking) on an activity.

3. Third, review your list with a critical (examining and curious, not judgmental!) eye.

Do the most important values get the most money, time, and energy? Was there a lot of time or money that you could not account for?  Are you devoting your peak energy to what is most important?

This exercise can help you identify new (or revised) commitments that align more closely with your convictions. The authors advise relinquishing or renegotiating one old commitment for every new one. Beware of making unrealistic commitments that are bound to fail and the “clutter trap,” i.e., forgetting to let go of old commitments as we take on new ones.

Above all, remember that taking control of your future commitments will ensure that your past commitments don’t control you.

Are you an alum of the Women’s Leadership Forum? We’d love to keep in touch with you! Request to join us in our private Facebook group here, or connect with Susan on LinkedIN here and send me a note that you’d like to be part of our exclusive LinkedIn group.  Also follow us on Instagram for frequent reminders of WLF content!

How (and Why!) To Create a Mini-Retreat for Yourself

The Women’s Leadership Forum (WLF) experience is built on three pillars: (1) a community of peers, (2) a cutting edge curriculum, and (3) reflection about what matters most.

We often talk about the importance of our shared community; and our curriculum is at the center of everything we do. Today, we’re focusing on that third pillar: reflection about what matters most.

In addition to facilitating retreats for alumnae of the WLF program, I am also very intentional about carving out time for my own retreats and reflection.  In one particular personal retreat, I went to Boulder, Colorado, where I spent a day working one-on-one with a wonderful coach, Sara Avant Stover.

Sara asked me to answer a series of questions, from “What do I care most about?” to “Who do I want to become?” to “What is success on my own terms?”

It wasn’t that I couldn’t come up with these questions on my own. The true gift was the freedom I felt to contemplate the possible answers in this still, “unbusy,” and supportive environment.

Today, I invite you to create the time and space for reflection by arranging a “mini-retreat” for yourself or for a group of friends or peers.

When asked to describe a retreat, many people first think of a place and describe its environment (quiet, surrounded by nature). Others think of a scheduled, contained period of time (weekend retreat). These all paint part of the picture.  But a retreat is not simply a time and place – it is an environment and mindset that encourages reflection and contemplation for a specific purpose. Above all, it is whatever, however, and whenever works for you.

Here are things to consider:

How To Create Time and Space for Reflection With a Mini-Retreat

WHO:

Mini-retreats can be solitary or shared experiences – or any combination of the two. Perhaps you need time alone to reflect. Or perhaps you feel the need to reconnect with people who make you feel supported and loved. Consider who can both benefit from and contribute to a contemplative retreat experience.

WHAT:

Consider all of the elements that will contribute to creating a contemplative environment just for you. Is it nature – and if so, what kind (e.g., trees or water)? Is it a need to avoid literal noise (cityscape)? Or figurative noise (distractions)?

Do you need support from external experts (e.g., a yoga or art class, a masseuse, or a meditation coach)? What does an ideal experience look like? Do you REALLY need your laptop or tablet, or will a pen and notebook do?

WHERE:

While we may dream about that luxurious spa getaway on a tropical island or a log cabin in the woods, that may not always be feasible. The most important aspect of “away” is changing your routine and shutting off distractions to gain perspective. Your own guest room, a coffee shop, a park, a hotel, or even a local monastery are just some of the myriad choices available.

WHEN:

There is no set formula for the timing of a mini-retreat – it can last anywhere from a few hours to an entire weekend. Consider not only when you will have the time and the resources to schedule time away, but also when you most need it.

Is change on the horizon? Are you feeling frustrated, burned out, and exhausted?  Or, conversely, are you feeling inspired, pulled in a new direction, or open to new opportunities? There are many times and multiple reasons our “true selves” call.

WHY:

Set an agenda and a specific intention – i.e., something specific to contemplate and achieve clarity on. Otherwise you are planning a mini-vacation or a mini-escape; not a mini-retreat!

Begin the experience with a simple centering/presence exercise to prime yourself for the most conducive contemplative experience.

HOW:

Recognize that less is often more. Think of interspersing enjoyable activities that encourage contemplation and reflection rather than trying to “force” deep thought during large chunks of time.

For some this may be journaling with words or images, interspersed with an enjoyable, healthy meal. For others it may be visualizing opportunities and outcomes interspersed with setting specific goals and action steps. It can even be stillness interspersed with movement (e.g., a peaceful walk). Use your agenda as a guide (again, to avoid slipping into that “mini-getaway” mindset). But DO include activities that you find enjoyable (e.g., reading, sketching, etc.).

Don’t be surprised if you are tired at the end of your mini-retreat. But hopefully you will also find yourself inspired, energized, and even just a little more self-aware.

Are you an alum of the Women’s Leadership Forum? We’d love to keep in touch with you! Request to join us in our private Facebook group here, or connect with Susan on LinkedIN here and send me a note that you’d like to be part of our exclusive LinkedIn group.  Also follow us on Instagram for frequent reminders of WLF content!

Photo by GemWebb on Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Retreat

Is Action Addiction Getting in the Way of Creating the Life You Want?

Women’s Leadership Forum Alumnae Retreats (like the one we held at the Salamander Resort) always remind me of how important – even essential – it is to take time for reflection. In my experience, the first thing to get lost in our busy lives is the time for reflection about where we are going and why.

Reflection can be done by anyone, anywhere, at any time.  Yet so few of us take time to do it on any regular basis.

It can be hard for us to value “reflection” as much as getting a brief done, developing new business, or spending time with our children. And slowing down, spending time with ourselves, and being truly reflective can be both physically and emotionally uncomfortable, because we’ve become accustomed – or even addicted – to action.

In today’s fast-paced and technology-driven work environment, we are constantly in reactive mode and habituated to being busy all the time. We believe that the act of DOING is what creates value.

We feel “itchy” or “antsy” when asked to wait. As we work through our “action items,” (which sounds so much more glamorous than “tasks!”) dopamine “hits” surround us with feelings of importance and gratification.

Checking things off our lists makes us feel productive and successful. And it becomes increasingly hard to slow down and lose that brain chemical-induced “high.”

But when we are busy making ourselves busy, we only see what is in front of us, and our overall sense of self can begin to erode. Action addiction numbs us to our true feelings and has other consequences, including diminished goal orientation, poor prioritization, and even decreased performance.

We may even wake up one day wondering – Where am I, and why am I here? From a speeding car, the outside scenery appears blurry. Similarly, when the pace of our lives is so fast, it is easy to lose sight of the things that are most important to us.

Does everyone need a full-on retreat? Not necessarily.  (Though I’m a huge fan of creating a mini-retreat for yourself.)  The most important thing to remember is that giving ourselves “white space” for reflection – in any form – is the only way that we can truly regroup and reground. It isn’t always easy.

Acclimating to a slower pace can be disconcerting, and like weaning ourselves from ANY addictive substance, it needs to happen gradually. But nothing should matter more than taking some time to think about the direction our lives are taking.

As author Annie Dillard once said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Are you an alum of the Women’s Leadership Forum? We’d love to keep in touch with you! Request to join us in our private Facebook group here, or connect with Susan on LinkedIN here and send me a note that you’d like to be part of our exclusive LinkedIn group.  Also follow us on Instagram for frequent reminders of WLF content!

What Gives Us the Most Control Over Our Lives?

Question:

The Women’s Leadership Forum (WLF) has given us many techniques to help us have more control over our lives. Which do you think makes the most difference?

Answer:

Thought you might first think of control over time or your schedule, the most basic technique for control really goes to understanding your body itself.  Better learning your body’s natural responses and working with biology rather than against it, can give you amazing amounts of control over your daily life.

When we feel “out of control,” our bodies react as if we are under physical attack and trigger our limbic systems. This “fight or flight” section of our brains makes us hyper focused, which in turn makes us see fewer possibilities. This then increases the feeling of being out of control and creates a downward spiral.

To regain control, you need to frequently remind your body that you are not literally under attack by taking these steps:

  1. Name and Acknowledge.

    “I feel out of control right now.” Say it out loud!

  2. Normalize.

    “This is a normal feeling under the circumstances.  But I recognize that it is keeping me from seeing all of my options.”

  3. Step Back.

    Get a new perspective — literally. Step away from your desk. Look out the window instead of at your computer. Take a deep breath.

  4. Reframe.

    “What is possible here?”

Remember — there are always many more options that you think, but first you have to give yourself the space to see them.

Bonus Question:

What can we learn from men about increasing our sense of control?

Answer:

A group of women partners I work with recently took up this question and suggested the following:

  1. Men are willing to pay more money to have others complete non-essential tasks outside of the office (e.g., laundry service).
  2. Not as many men have the “disease to please.” They set boundaries and ask for what they need (e.g., more time to complete an assignment).
  3. They say NO more often to non-essential work.
  4. They delegate with greater ease.

These women also acknowledged that there are many more complex factors at play.  Such factors include: bias, the fact that women often have more responsibilities outside of work — and more distractions at work — than men, and much more.  But it is still worth reflecting on these observations.

Do you have a leadership coaching question? Email it to us here.

Are you an alum of the Women’s Leadership Forum? We’d love to keep in touch with you! Request to join us in our private Facebook group here, or connect with Susan on LinkedIN here and send me a note that you’d like to be part of our exclusive LinkedIn group.  Also follow us on Instagram for frequent reminders of WLF content!

Time and Energy

Think You Have No “Free Time”? Think Again

A post on “free time”?  “What free time?!?” I suspect you are asking.  And truly, I hear you.  I don’t feel as though I have much (any?) so-called “free time,” either.

But because it seems so rare, free time is a topic I believe we should consider.  Today, I’m excited to share some tips from passion and productivity expert Laura Vanderkam and fitness expert John Fawkes on how to assert freedom (control!) over your free time.

To start, here are two arguments for spare time that appeal to different sides of our brains.

The Quantitative Argument: Time is fixed and finite . . . but we have more than we think.

Laura Vanderkam explains that there are 168 hours in a week. Assume that you work 60 hours a week, as follows 12 hours every weekday or 8 hours every weekday plus 20 hours divided between nights and weekends.  You get the basic idea. I hope (though I recognize it is highly unlikely) that you sleep for 8 hours a night.

That still leaves 52 hours for you to divide between things that you must do and things that you want to do. The number of hours doesn’t change – but you have more slices left over than may you think.

The Qualitative Argument: Time is finite . . . but malleable.

Imagine time as a balloon that represents one week. The amount of rubber in the balloon doesn’t change – but the density of what it is filled with can.

In other words, time is highly elastic. Consider the fact that we can always find time for an unforeseen emergency such as a sick child or broken water heater, even during our busiest days. We cannot make more time, but the time we have can stretch to accommodate our priorities.

So, we have more – and better quality – free time than we think.  But what are we doing with it?

For the most part, many of us are wasting this precious commodity. Instead of proactively carving out time for things we want to do, we build narratives around what we believe we must do and the limited time we believe that we have.

We engage in passive activities (watching TV, browsing social media), because we are exhausted and don’t have energy to devote to what matters most to us. And the cycle continues. But the good news is that we CAN do things differently – and even a few small changes can make a significant impact.

I really like Laura Vanderkam’s quotation: “We don’t build the lives we want by saving time. We build the lives we want, and then time saves itself.”

In her TEDWomen 2016 talk, How to Gain Control of Your Free Time, Vanderkam emphasizes the importance of identifying what is most important to you and changing your perspective on time. She recommends spending a few moments on Friday afternoons (or other “low opportunity cost” times) to identify 2-3 priorities for the coming week in each of three areas: career, relationships, and self.

Adding YOUR priorities to your calendar – even if some need to be broken down into smaller activities over time – is a fundamental way to take back control of your free time.

If It’s Not *Time* Preventing You From Doing What You Want, What Is It?

Vanderkam also shares some additional tips for leading a more productive and healthy life in this blog post. One of her observations is something I also frequently hear from women lawyers: “When I ask people what they’d like to spend more time doing, the most popular answers are exercising and reading.” We’ve just discovered that time isn’t what’s keeping us from doing these things – so what is?

The conundrum of finding time to exercise perfectly summarizes the additional roles that energy and motivation play in having a sense of control over our free time. We know that even 20 minutes of exercise a day is good for us.  That it will increase our energy levels.  And that it improves the quality of our remaining free time.

But for many of us, it can be very hard to make this choice to exercise. For some, going to the gym may be second nature, but other activities, such as arranging social engagements (e.g., dinner with friends), may elicit similar difficulties.  Those of us who have trouble reaching out know we will enjoy the time we spend with others and that it will be good for our emotional well being, but we find it hard to send that email or pick up the phone.

We all have one or more of these things where we tell ourselves and others that we don’t have the time – but the truth is that we simply lack energy and motivation.

While thinking about this subject, I came across an article by John Fawkes, 20 Ways to Take Control of Your Life that I found thought provoking. Not all of the recommendations in Fawkes’s post are relevant to our lives (it may have been written for a younger audience.) But it is an interesting and broad take on this subject that made me think about how many elements come into play when we contend with control.

Here’s an example. Fawkes notes: “Most people could benefit from [losing some fat or gaining some muscle] health-wise. But there’s an equally important psychological reason to [do so] even if you’re already at a healthy weight: to prove to yourself that you can. If you’ve never intentionally gained or lost weight before, doing so once in your life will give you an incredible sense of mastery over your own body.” While I don’t fully subscribe to this idea, it made me think a lot about the connection between mind, body and motivation when it comes to control. And what we can do about it.

So here is my challenge to you this week.

Challenge:

  • Observe when you say (to yourself or others) that you don’t have time to do something.

    You may be astounded how frequently this comes up. Note when, where, and how often this happens.  See if there are any patterns. Are they things you want to do but don’t have sufficient energy to try? Are they things that just aren’t priorities for you but keep popping up as “musts?”

  • Identify one thing that you’ve always wanted to do, but set aside due to a “lack of time.”

    It can be relatively small.  Perhaps, “read a book.”  Or relatively big.  Maybe “run a half marathon,” or “take a trip to Tuscany.”

    Consider what needs to shift (in work and your personal life) to make these things possible. Break the activity down into manageable steps – and make it happen.

  • Identify two “control” habits – a start and a stop – that you would like to work on.

    Is there a time or energy-sucking habit you would like to stop or reduce?  Perhaps watching less TV, no social media on weeknights, etc.? Is there a physical or mental health habit you would like to work on?  Maybe go to the gym twice a week, drink no more than one cup of coffee a day, meet up with a friend once a week, etc.?

Personally, I have found more energy and greater contentment by simply deleting most of the news that I was watching and reading and substituting mediation and yoga in that time slot.

Are you an alum of the Women’s Leadership Forum? We’d love to keep in touch with you! Request to join us in our private Facebook group here, or connect with Susan on LinkedIN here and send me a note that you’d like to be part of our exclusive LinkedIn group.  Also follow us on Instagram for frequent reminders of WLF content!

Harnessing Your Brain to Control Daily Overwhelm

This week I’m excited to share some amazing insights from Dr. David Rock’s Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long. It’s a guidebook on how to survive – and succeed – in today’s overwhelming work environment while feeling energized and accomplished at the end of the day. I particularly like this book, because it provides very practical, science-based strategies to gain control over your daily life.

Six Key Brain-Disrupting Challenges

Dr. Rock first identifies six key brain-disrupting challenges we can all relate to in today’s workplace:

  1. Email overload
  2. Highly complex problems in need of creative solutions
  3. Competing deadlines for multiple projects
  4. Distractions (and finding ways to shut them off, or say no!)
  5. Pressure to perform
  6. Mental roadblocks (getting stuck, or getting in our own way)

Many of us build up myths around our ability to overcome these challenges, believing that our mental endurance is limitless. We acknowledge that it is impossible for any of us to lift a one-ton weight, yet we falsely believe that we can hold onto tons of different ideas at one time. And while we know it’s physically dangerous to over-exercise, we are blind to the harm we are doing by trying to “push through” our mental limits.

Here are some of the things I hear most frequently from women lawyers:

Myth 1: I Can Multitask!

The Truth: I have spoken extensively about Cal Newport’s book Deep Work on the scientifically-proven benefits of focus. We all think that we can multi-task. But the truth is that it is the least efficient and most exhausting way to work.

According to Dr. Rock, at most we can hold four ideas in our heads at once – and the reality is more like one or two. Moreover, we are ALWAYS slower when juggling multiple tasks. And switching between tasks significantly increases the probability of making mistakes.

The Solution: Avoid multitasking by prioritizing and delegating. Remember the mantra “do what you are doing.” Be very disciplined about focusing on one thing at time. The only instances where multi-tasking can be effective is when you can pair a more thinking-intensive task (e.g., talking on the phone) with a more automatic, routine task (e.g., emptying the dishwasher).

Myth 2: I Can Power Through!

The Truth: Your best thinking can only be sustained for a short period before your performance drops off. Moreover, when you’re overloaded it’s easy to lose track of your overall intent. Also, when you become overly fixated on a single idea or solution, you may miss key connections that can result in true insights.

The Solution: Make knowing when you need a mental break as natural as recognizing when you need a break from physical activity – and take it.

Myth 3: Stress Makes Me Perform Better!

The Truth: Yes. . . and no. Optimal performance is fueled by just the right amount of stress. Too little stress, and we are not motivated and can become careless. Too much stress and we become overwhelmed. The happy medium is different from person to person.

We all need some stress to perform. But in high-pressure environments, the adrenaline-rush actually becomes counterproductive.

The Solution: Know your own peak performance balance. Identify times when you feel an uptick in your alertness (a sense of urgency) and interest (a burst of energy/excitement) and experiment with different levels of stress to calibrate your “zone.”

Learn from and encourage what motivates you.  And if you are responsible for managing someone else, understand that their optimal level may be significantly different from yours.

Neuroscientific Best Practices for Maintaining Control of Your Day

I’ve summarized five practices from Your Brain at Work below, and I challenge you to try them for two weeks.

  1. Consider when and where you are at your best for different types of activities or tasks.

    We all have a natural “groove” for different mental processes. Maybe your most creative ideas come in the evening, while your most accurate, detail-oriented work is performed first thing in the morning. Maybe you hit a slump at 2:00 pm, meaning that this is a good time to perform routine activities that require less thought and energy. Plan your days accordingly, and you will be amazed at how much more you can accomplish in less time.

  2. Get things out of your head on a regular basis.

    This is one of the easiest and most effective ways to increase control over your day. Getting things on paper clears valuable space in your head for creativity and problem solving. It also helps quiet that interrupting “What if I forget. . .” voice and is a great way to acknowledge distracting thoughts and ideas without letting them get in your way. Even if you have the world’s best memory, I guarantee it takes far more energy to summon action items from the deepest recesses of your mind than to note them down and later refer to a written list. Take time to try different approaches and find what works for you.

  3. Prioritize, re-prioritize, and prioritize once more.

    This is my personal favorite. Do you often start the day by turning to the most urgent things on your to-do list? Or even worse, the loudest things on your email? If so, you may be missing the most important time of day for accomplishing what matters most.

    According Dr. Rock, the act of prioritizing uses a lot of energy from the prefrontal cortex of our brain (the brain’s C-suite.) While ticking things off a linear to-do list can give us a sense of immediate satisfaction, we often then never get to the things that matter most. We end the day feeling exhausted, wondering if we accomplished anything that actually matters. Every morning, make prioritizing your priority. When your brain is at its best, decide what matters most to you, and prioritize these items according to importance, urgency and relevance. Then commit real time to accomplishing those tasks – maybe even first thing (if this is your peak brain time). Use your calendar as a central tool for proactively living your life according to your priorities.

  4. Simplify!

    Simplify complex new ideas by focusing on just one or two salient points until you become more familiar with them, and group information into chunks of similar items. This not only helps to reduce overwhelm, but just as importantly, it keeps you from becoming bogged down in details and getting stuck.

  5. Minimize Distractions.

    Research shows that up to 30% of our time is expended on distractions! We distract ourselves with flyaway thoughts. We allow ourselves to be distracted by others, who bombard us with ringing phones, blinking emails, “just stopping by with a ‘quick’ question. . .” and more.

    Train yourself to focus by turning off distractions and doing what matters most when you are at your best. And those pesky emails? Schedule (and try to stick to) specific times to respond to emails so that you can stop worrying about them. Remember, even 10 minutes of distraction-free time is better than none.

If you are curious to learn more (we’ve barely scratched the surface here!), I highly recommend Dr. Rock’s book.

Are you an alum of the Women’s Leadership Forum? We’d love to keep in touch with you! Request to join us in our private Facebook group here, or connect with Susan on LinkedIN here and send me a note that you’d like to be part of our exclusive LinkedIn group.  Also follow us on Instagram for frequent reminders of WLF content!

Demands

Is work feeling out of control? Focus on what is on YOUR side of the line.

One of most frustrating things about the practice of law is feeling out of control over your own time.

It begins with non-stop requests coming in from all directions and too little time to manage them all. This grows into a feeling of constant reactivity and an inability to commit to plans for fear things will change at the last minute. It can then turn into feelings of hopelessness and resentment

Ultimately, it can become the reason some women decide working in law firms is not for them.

Often, we want to blame our lack of control on others. “If they would just stop asking me to do so much, I could get some control over my life.”

Or we think that control is just around the corner. “Things are really busy at work right now. If I can just get through to next week, everything will calm down and I can get back on top of things.”

The problem is, we can’t change other people and the calm future may never come. But there IS something we can do next time we feel like control is slipping from our grasp.

What To Do Next Time You Feel You’re Losing Control

When you start to feel that familiar spiral of losing control, take these three specific steps:

  1. Stop what you’re doing – especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Assess the situation.
  2. Pull yourself out of reaction mode (re-engage your prefrontal cortex).
  3. Give yourself time and space to think about what control would actually mean – and what it looks and feels like. Here’s how to do this:

Accept These Factors: They Are Out of Your Control

Begin by accepting the factors that truly are beyond your control.  In particular, these include:

The Demands of Your Firm (or any organization for that matter)

Organizations are hungry monsters who will take what they can get. And why wouldn’t they? Expecting requests to slow down on their own is wishful (and unproductive!) thinking.

Other People

Repeat after me: “I cannot change other people.” Not their beliefs, attitudes or moods.  Not their readiness to commit, nor their quality of work.  And certainly not their time-planning or thought-processes.

I know how hard it can be to really accept these realities. But if we wait for someone else to change, we are likely to stay stuck forever. Worse yet, we make ourselves victims by giving away our power.

Four Things That ARE Within Your Control

Things You Can Control

Next, identify what IS within your control.  There is always more than you initially think!  For example, the following are squarely within your own control:

1. YOUR Priorities

Not all things matter equally. But when we’re really busy, we often react without thinking and prioritize the “loudest” rather than the most important tasks. Some of the most important things – like planning, thinking, business development, or playing with our children – may not be the loudest or the most urgent.

This is precisely why we need to take time every day to prioritize what matters most for that day, put these priorities on our calendars, and do our best to protect them.

You might even consider doing what matters most first, so you know it will get done.  (Daniel Pink encourages naming your MIT – or “Most Important Task” – and doing that first.)

2. YOUR Time and Commitments

It is true that clients and other lawyers in your firm can wreck even your best laid plans – no matter what stage of your law career.

But while you may not be able to control others’ requests, you can always control your response.

If your client wants something by tomorrow (Tuesday) and you know you can’t do it by then, ask the client if Wednesday will work.

You will often be surprised how accommodating clients can be, as long as they know they can really count on you to produce when you said you would. If you really can’t do something, can you suggest someone who can? Can you seek help from other colleagues? The key is to focus on solutions rather than the act of saying “No.”

Many senior lawyers tell me that they frequently feel frustrated at the end of the day, because they have not accomplished what they intended. If this happens for weeks on end, you are likely not scheduling enough “margin” time in your day.

Anticipate the unanticipated. Surprises and distractions are normal and inevitable. Factor them into your day by including margin time around your scheduled activities.

Wherever you are in your career, remember that you have more control and more resources than you think.

3. YOUR Resources

When we are in reaction mode, it can be very hard to “see” all the potential supports that may be available to us.

Often, we fall victim to ideas like “It will be faster if I do it myself.” Or, “only I can get this done.”

When this happens – ask yourself – is this really true?

Next time you “have” to do something, ask: “Is this my top priority? AND is it something only I can do?”

If the answers are no – STOP. Think as broadly as possible about your resources and delegate or drop it. Save your energy for more important things.

4. YOUR Energy

When we have more energy, we accomplish things more efficiently and effectively.

Also, time does not serve us in a linear way. When we have “too much” time, we end up stretching a task into taking longer than it needs. When we have “too little” time, time becomes irrelevant as adrenaline and laser focus kick in.  Or, we feel exhausted and defeated and give up.

So instead of asking yourself “Do I have time?” ask “Do I have enough energy?”

If the answer is “No,” invest time in replenishing your energy before starting. It WILL pay off.

Sometimes feeling more in control is simply a matter of accepting the realities of the moment. For example, if you have to work on a beautiful Saturday, you may think “I really don’t want to be here,” or “I can’t believe that I am missing something fun with my friends and family.”

But distracting yourself with resistance will only make the task take longer. Instead, just DO it.  You will be less stressed, feel more in control, and move on more quickly to other priorities.

And the next time you find yourself wrestling with that out-of-control feeling, take a step back and ask “What matters most?” Do that. Then ask it again. And do that. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Are you an alum of the Women’s Leadership Forum? We’d love to keep in touch with you! Request to join us in our private Facebook group here, or connect with Susan on LinkedIN here and send me a note that you’d like to be part of our exclusive LinkedIn group.  Also follow us on Instagram for frequent reminders of WLF content!

Fighting the Fear of Not Knowing Enough

Question:

I understand that I need to be more courageous to show up more confidently. But it can be really hard to put this into practice at a law firm. How can I get over my fear of not knowing enough and not being absolutely sure of my advice to clients — especially when I’m with a senior partner who has more experience?

Answer:

I recently conducted a 360 degree feedback interview for a Counsel I was coaching. A recurring theme was that she was “one of the smartest people in the firm” but needed to “appear more confident” in meetings and calls, when she was giving advice to clients.

One of the most helpful observations came from the senior partner, who noted that the most important thing she could work on is learning how to say “I don’t know” with confidence.

Four Ways to Say “I Don’t Know” With Confidence

1. Set a clear bottom line.

First, remember that your job is not to know everything off the top of your head.  (Or, worse yet, to guess blindly.) Your job is to know how to find the right answer.

The easiest path to courage is to set this as your clear bottom line.The fact is that no one knows everything.  Not even the most senior members of your firm.

2. Have a few “go to” phrases.

Next, remember that we all have moments when we don’t have the answer. The solution is not to try to plan answers for every single contingency — that’s impossible!

Instead, I highly recommend having a few “go to” phrases that convey “I don’t know” with confidence.  Some examples include:

  • “That’s a great question/idea. Let me give it some thought and get right back to you.”
  • “I have some initial thoughts but I’d like to check into a couple of things. May I call you back in X minutes?”
  • “My colleague Jane is our firm’s expert in X. I think her insights could be extremely valuable.”
  • “I’ll speak with Jane after our call and get back to you. In the meantime, have you considered Y and Z?” (pivot to your ideas/areas of expertise.)

3. Check your body language and tone.

Finally, remember to deliver your advice clearly, concisely, and directly. Confidence is primarily conveyed in HOW you speak.

Be mindful of your body language (even if you’re on the phone!) and your tone. Eliminate minimizing phrases like “Ummm,” “I’m not sure” or “it could be A or maybe it’s B,” etc. It’s fine to provide choices or include caveats, but be clear.  For example, “I see three options. I believe number 3 is the best, and I’d like to hear your thoughts.”

4. Say no to equivocating.

Above all, do not equivocate. Equivocating produces the worst outcome. You have exposed yourself by giving advice, AND your insecurity will make your partner and/or client feel insecure, which erodes their longer-term trust in you.

Are you an alum of the Women’s Leadership Forum? We’d love to keep in touch with you! Request to join us in our private Facebook group here, or connect with Susan on LinkedIN here and send me a note that you’d like to be part of our exclusive LinkedIn group.  Also follow us on Instagram for frequent reminders of WLF content!