Frame those onerous tasks in order to motivate you to act
Jeremy W. Richter.
I keep two 5-by-8-inch notebooks with me at all times: one white and one yellow. These allow my mind to rest a little more easily. If I were to lose them, I’d be in a heap of trouble.
The yellow one contains all of my daily billable time entries, and I have every one dating back to my very first day of practice. I’ll admit to being oddly sentimental about them. But my wife would likely tell you I’m both odd and sentimental about a good many things.
The white notebook contains my to-do list, which is usually two to three pages long at any given time. I also have each and every one of these that I’ve filled up with tasks to be completed.
Here’s another admission while I’m about it: Sometimes I will put something on the to-do list that I am going to complete moments later, just for the satisfaction of crossing it off the list.
But here’s the thing about my to-do list. It contains many tasks to be completed that I’m not too keen on and never envisioned were a part of practicing law. In fact, some of my daily tasks are downright unenjoyable, especially the ones that read “Make phone call to …” There are days I’d rather take a punch from Kimbo Slice than make a bunch of phone calls. But they’re important(ish) and have to be done. So it occasionally helps to frame things in a different context to provide motivation to do the tasks.
FRAME IT IN A MOTIVATIONAL CONTEXT
I write a lot of reports for clients. I mean, dozens per month. And it gets tiresome. But the reporting is important, and what’s important to the client needs to carry the same weight for me. But that doesn’t make it any more enjoyable.
So sometimes it helps to put things in a different context. Say I have several reports to write, but I’m really tired of writing reports. If I write the report, my client will be well-informed about the case and will be happy. If my client is happy, he’s going to continue to send me work. If my client continues to send me work, I will keep building my practice. If I build a successful practice, I can provide for my family. So by writing this report, I am providing a better life for my family.
Of course, it’s kind of absurd. But that doesn’t make it less motivating.
FRAME IT AS FOLLOWING ORDERS
As a lawyer (and as in many other walks of life), we have to make a lot of phone calls. A friend of mine hated calling people on the phone, but her managing partner believed phone calls were more effective than emails, and the phone was his preferred method of communication. His standing order whenever communication was needed was, “Just pick up the phone and call them.”
My friend then, whenever she needed to make a call, would tell herself, “I have to call this person because Partner told me to.” And that was sufficient motivation for her to attend to that task. She is clearly a more compliant person than I am, because I would have taken that “instruction” as a recommendation and continued to find a different workaround rather than having unnecessary human interaction.
FRAME DAILY TASKS AS SERVING A GREATER PURPOSE
Most of your daily tasks are not an end unto themselves. They serve a broader purpose, no matter how inane the individual task. Perhaps it’s case development or managing client relationships. Or perhaps it’s in furtherance of growing your practice and finding new clients.
Every day, I get a list of all the lawsuits that have been filed in Alabama. So I set aside time every day (or at least every couple of days) to check the lists to see if any of my clients or their insureds have been sued and may need to be made aware of it. Most days, this chore is fruitless. But it’s a task that my clients appreciate when something does come up unexpectedly. So I maintain the practice because it serves the greater goal of serving my clients.
You likely have dozens of daily tasks that, of themselves, are not rewarding. But regardless, they must be attended to. Don’t shy away from employing whatever mind games necessary to get your tasks done.
Jeremy W. Richter is an associate with Webster Henry in Birmingham, Alabama, and the author of an eponymous law blog.
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