Archive for the ‘Psychology of Inspiration’ Category

Productivity Problems? Get Honest With Yourself

I recently received an email from an attorney who expressed great frustration with her inability to become as productive as she’d like. Her email was a lengthy explanation of her situation and contained a fairly complete analysis of the different factors impeding her progress in this area. Her main culprit, she said, was her email inbox. She complained bitterly about how long it took to go through this mail and respond to the few threads she thought merited a response. She just couldn’t understand why it was the way it was – or what she had to do to fix it. Her problem, in a nutshell, she described as a “lack of information.”

I feel so strongly for this woman! This is a universal problem for solos of all stripes. And it’s an emotional one – we feel robbed of our time and energy when we realize we’re spending all of both on items that don’t fulfill us or move our dreams forward.  Certainly, in a time when people are declaring “email bankruptcy,” we can all appreciate her antipathy towards her inbox – heck, most of us probably share it!

But as much as I feel for anyone in this situation, I also know there’s a problem in the way this woman sees the problem. How do I know this? Because I see her emails – they’re more properly described as letters, I think – frequently over 15 paragraphs long, incredibly well written, amazingly helpful to the person who initiated the thread to which the woman’s responding. There’s a ton of value in her emails!

So what’s the problem? It’s not the kind of value she wants to create. The problem, in short, is one of self-honesty: she sees her problem as other-imposed. I see it as self-directed. She doesn’t have to respond with missives. She doesn’t have to respond at all. She chooses to, because it gives her something in return. Now, realize, please – there is absolutely no value judgment here. The choices themselves are neutral in value – the value is in how well the choice matches up with your intentions.

If I choose to lose weight, but I keep eating cake and ice cream, there’s no match-up here. This is a problem.  If I choose instead to eat properly but never exercise, there’s a slightly better match-up but it’s not optimal. When I choose to make all my actions support that goal of losing weight, I’ve reached the optimal state of productivity.

The problem? None of us are ever going to reach that optimal state 24/7/365. We’re all going to stumble a bit. Frankly, I think the occasional stumble is important – it makes life interesting, more valuable, and more “educational”! (I know I learn the most from my failures, not my successes.) We each have to choose where, on that spectrum, we want to fall. What suits me may not suit you. And vice versa. And that’s the way it should be.

So bottom line: you have to get honest with yourself about (A) your intentions, (B) your actions, and (C) how well (B) supports (A), if you want to achieve real productivity.  How to do this – the tricks and tips – can and do fill endless volumes. I’m not sure the mechanics are as important, though, as truly understanding that one simple equation: how well does B support A?  Only a thoroughly honest answer is going to help you there.

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NY Lawyer: Going Solo A Mistake? Or Is Something Else Going On Here?

Is being a solo worth it? This article at NY seems to suggest, “No.” And before I get mad, I think, I’d better laugh.

It was actually a good choice – the laughter – because the article really doesn’t achieve its purpose, assuming its purpose was to convince readers that those who leave BigLaw to go solo made mistakes. Here’s a sample quote:

Perry isn’t the only new solo to try her hand at steering her own ship only to find that she missed the crew. The tension between the desire to be the captain and the need for help has led other recent solos to rejoin established firms. Former Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins partner Reed Kathrein said recruiting into his startup was difficult, leading him to hop on board with a Seattle-based firm. Cotchett, Pitre, Simon & McCarthy veteran Bruce Simon said he spared himself at least six months of slow growing by joining a boutique with headquarters in Los Angeles. “Part of being an entrepreneur is constantly challenging your business plan,” Simon said. “If it’s not working, then you need to change. You need to be flexible.”

“Recruiting is difficult”? “Challenging your business plan”? “Be flexible”? Is that really what’s going on here? Or is it something unfortunately far more common and insidious?

Here’s what I think: Being a solo – being an entrepreneur of any flavor – is hard work. If you go in to it thinking anything different, then you’re deluding yourself. If you aren’t ready for that difficulty – to make those hard choices, to juggle the varying demands – then the solution isn’t to go running back to Big Law. It’s to get ready!

Have we become a profession of doing the easy thing, of avoiding something just because it’s hard? Of giving up simply because it’s not all sunshine and daisies?

I don’t think so. What’s going on here? A little fear of success, perhaps some fear of hard work, but more likely, a lack of preparation coupled with an inflexible mindset (one reason I have to laugh at the “flexible” quote above). It’s easy to get caught up in the giddiness of planning for your new business and gloss over the gritty details. That’s a mistake. But if you do gloss over something critical (and I confess, it’s happened to me), the proper response is “fix it.”  Not “leave it.”

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Courage in the Face of Adversity

One thing I can guarantee you, if you choose the solo life: You will face, at some point, a long dark night of the soul. There will be an ethical dilemma – a business decision you’re struggling with – a bank account that seems to hemorrhage money – a growing sense of crisis that you can’t do this …

In advance of that time, I’d like you to bookmark this post, and remember it when that night comes. Come back and read it then, or in the morning (because the process of getting through that night has its own value, too).

It’s not often I quote verbatim from anything – I think it’s cheating, in a way. Readers come to a blog not for other bloggers’ perspectives, but for that blogger’s ideas.  But this came in my email this morning and it was so touching, so significant that I felt it had to be shared in full. It comes from a daily email service called “Daily OM.”

The journey that each human being makes through earthly existence can have hardship as often as it is touched by joy. When we encounter adversity, the stress we feel can erode our optimism, eventually convincing us that the issues we face cannot be overcome. In truth, there is no situation so dire, no challenge so great, and no choice so bewildering that it cannot be overcome. Though we may believe that all avenues have been closed to us or that our most conscientious efforts will come to naught, we are never without feasible options. The best course of action may be veiled in doubt, but it is there. When we are honest with ourselves with regard to this simple fact, we can overcome anything because we will never stop looking for a solution to the challenges before us.

Self-trust coupled with a sturdy plan is the ultimate antidote to adversity’s tendency to inspire disillusionment in the human mind. As difficult as the obstacle plaguing you seems, it is no match for the love of a supportive universe that has been a part of your life since the day of your birth and will be with you forevermore. Try not to be misguided by your fear as this gives rise to the notion that there are problems without solutions. If you believe in your capabilities and dedicate yourself to the creation of some form of resolution, you will be surprised to discover that paths that were once closed to you miraculously open. Even if all you can do is change your perspective to turn an impediment into an opportunity to grow, you will have found the hope that is an inherent element of all hardship.

Remember that your destiny is a product of your own creation. Even when it seems you have nowhere left to turn, there is a solution waiting for you. The only insurmountable obstacles are the ones you create in your own mind—and these can only exert power over you if you let them. Uncertainty will always be a part of your existence, but perseverance and mindfulness will never fail to see you through to the other side of hardship where joy can thrive. Try and remember that no matter what life places at your feet, there is absolutely no situation that cannot be resolved with time, love, and friendship.

In Which Radio Silence Is Broken

First, an apology. I always cringe when other bloggers take a break from blogging and start back up with an apology – it seems inartful, sometimes, or even insincere – but that’s the honest emotional truth right now. I feel bad! So, I’m sorry.

What happened was nothing dramatic, or even worthy of recounting. Just one of those times when all the little things pile on and demand immediate response and attention. (One of them was a yard sale, and for anyone who’s ever had that unparalleled joy after consolidating households, well – I am sure I need say no more to you. You get it, profoundly!)

As my intention this year is to turn every moment into a teaching moment for myself, I ask myself “what can I learn from this experience?”

  • I feel less than good about myself when I allow myself to be overwhelmed.
  • I have a tendency to overestimate my strength, the number of hours in a day, and my patience. I have a tendency to underestimate how long a particular task will take and the love and acceptance that’s gifted to me by my loved ones.
  • I believe there is a way for me to do a better job juggling these tasks, projects, and interests, and I’m determined to find it. Due to Seth Godin’s book coming out soon about when to give up on a project, I found myself asking that question this past week – is it time to give up? The answer was a vehement “no!” and all I can attribute that to is pure desire. I don’t want to give up. And therefore, I am motivated to find a better way to coordinate the conflicts. Which leads me to the next lesson …
  • … Stress is good. Stress serves a purpose. It is how we respond to that stress, I remain convinced, which is the real body-killer.

Thanks for hanging in there with me. I will do better.

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“Why Can’t I Meet My Goals?”

We talked a bit earlier about wild goals, but here, I want to discuss the goals that drive your business. You do have a set of those, right? (I smell another post coming! Well, that might be the dog, actually … still.)

I don’t know about you, but often I find myself struggling when it comes time to actually implementing the programs and procedures that will get me to the successful side of my goals.  I can set the goals, define them, quantify success for them, and figure out exactly what I need to do to get there. But for some reason, when it comes time to actually do something to meet them, I start to falter. Or I might start strong but then waver and suddenly, I wake one day, and realize I haven’t done anything lately to meet that goal. Not a nice feeling, that.

Here are some tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way to help you troubleshoot your goals projects – see if anything here jumpstarts you again on the road to success:

  1. Strong, clear reasons. You need to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. “To make more money” won’t cut it. Try, “if I don’t do this, I will starve.” Now that’s a reason I could get behind! And don’t stop at one or two. Write down as many as you can possibly think of. This part’s crucial: write it down.
  2. Don’t miss a step. When you’re looking at a goal that’s a project – more than one step – in the GTD terminology, you want to make sure you understand fully each and every step. Write them down in a planner or journal so you can have a step-by-step guide to refer to regularly. When we’re stuck, sometimes it’s a question of having missed a preliminary step, or glossing over it. In those instances, it pays to go back to an earlier step and give yourself a “do-over.”
  3. Forgive yourself, frequently and with abandon. It’s so easy to get caught up in the “musts” of goals. “I must change. I must exercise daily. I must sign these clients.” That’s good for motivation but what happens when you don’t succeed, or when it takes longer than you thought it would? Frequently, it results in self-blame, which produces guilt and embarrassment, two of the most useless emotions ever. Seriously – what do they produce? Nothing. They don’t motivate – not really. They don’t teach us anything. Useless. So when you find yourself getting angry with yourself, take a breather and forgive yourself – actively. Repeat as often as necessary. Say it aloud if it helps. Just shove that guilt away and don’t accept it.
  4. Keep a written record. Sometimes with goals we’re not really honest with ourselves about our efforts. Writing down every single thing you did to support that goal (and every single thing you did that didn’t support the goal!) is a great way to gain some clarity.
  5. Think of decisions, not willpower. If we’re talking about behavioral changes – say, to become more assertive in negotiations – we may think of it in terms of willpower. “I lack the willpower to drop my doormat ways and become assertive.” In reality, what drives personal growth and change isn’t willpower at all – it’s decisions. Daily decisions that, when added together, begin to accumulate into a new habit. Stop thinking about motivation and willpower. Start seeing every opportunity to exercise your new habit as just that – an opportunity to make the right decision. And treat every decision with importance.
  6. Reevaluate your desire. It happens – we sometimes lose our passion for a particular goal. Or, perhaps, we didn’t identify it correctly in the first place. Don’t be afraid to reevaluate your passion for your goal if you’re having a really hard time staying on track. Maybe it’s not the goal for you at all. Maybe it’s “close but no cigar” – in which case, spending some time thinking about what you’re really in search of will assist you in identifying the real issue.

I hope these tips help you meet your goals. Please share your own ideas in the comments section! How do you stay on track with difficult goals?

Snap Out Of It! How to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Chaos

From “dumb little man” (one of the finest blog titles anywhere, ever) comes this post about worrying – how to stop it, why it’s bad for business.

I am the Queen of All Worriers. I mean, I excel at it. I have it down to an art form. I can whip through the “worst scenarios possible” list in 10 minutes, flat, complete with full-sensory visualization of the fallout therefrom. Give me another five minutes and I can tell you exactly what the odds are that a particular scenario will happen, and why, logically, it will happen to me.

But here’s the rub: I’m also really good at knocking it off. I wasn’t always, mind you. Once upon a time, I was the quintessential worrywart, who could recognize herself sliding down the slipper slope that never ends, but I was powerless (or so I thought) to stop the slide. The catch, of course, is that I wasn’t really powerless – never was. Once I realized that there were alternatives, and they were open to me, I was free to pick one.

What I came up with was a solution that works for quite a few folks, apparently: the timed worry. I give myself a set amount of time to worry about a particular subject. I schedule it – actually write it down in the calendar. And nothing is allowed to interfere with worry time – not clients, phone calls from judges – OK, phone calls from judges are allowed, come to think of it, but then they always are, so …

But the catch is this: once worry time is over, that’s it. No second bite at the apple. Doesn’t matter if I think of just one more awful scenario that’s even more likely to happen to me if I do this rash, bold thing (like, say, hang out my shingle?). Too late. Worry time’s over.

The second catch is this: I use it proactively. The “worst cases” become contingency plans. If this happens, then I will ___________________ (fill in the blank).

This way, worry becomes productive, and isn’t allowed to stop me from doing something. It’s given a voice (so it doesn’t start pestering me all the time), but it’s restricted to a particular purpose (so it doesn’t take over my life).

What methods for coping with worry work for you? Tell us in the comments!

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Tagged! My Goals (“Gotta Get Goals”)

Susan Cartier Liebel has tagged me! But it didn’t hurt.

Based on a meme created elsewhere,* Susan got tagged, she in turn passed the goodness to me and some others. Essentially, the meme asks for the “top 5 to 10 goals” that are the most “over-the-top” and “exclusive” ones you have.

Oh, this is easy for me. The hard part will be limiting it to 10. I have a knack for setting goals, and for planning out their accomplishment. (Where I fall down: long-term stick-to-it-iveness.) But the meme doesn’t just ask for goals – it asks for “wild” goals. Now, here’s a meme I can really get behind! My motto is “dream BIG!” So here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro before the snows are gone.
  2. Raise a daughter who knows what to do with fear, but maintains her compassion.
  3. Argue before the Supreme Court in a case that really matters.
  4. Go parasailing.
  5. Learn to play the violin.
  6. Donate a million dollars to a worthwhile charity, in one beautiful lump sum, anonymously.
  7. Build a beautiful home next to a body of water.
  8. Publish a book.
  9. Take a horseback tour of France’s countryside.
  10. There is a tenth – but it’s private. 🙂

Who am I tagging in return?

UPDATED – to fix a broken link back to Susan, and to add a trackback, just in case. 🙂

*UPDATED AGAIN – and further explained here.

Got a Tiger In Your Tank? Let It Loose!

Pamela Slim, the author of the brilliant Escape from Cubicle Nation blog, also publishes an e-zine on a monthly basis. Last month’s (March 2007) issue featured an article I think every Inspired Solo and IS-to-be should read, entitled “Is Your Inner Tiger Choking On A Short Leash?

Here’s what Pam has to say about those of us living life on that short leash:

I believe that each of us is born with a strong, creative spirit that wants to jump, dance, learn and grow. I call it the “inner tiger,” and it is the life force that propels us towards an active, open, engaging, healthy and fulfilling life. It can also be called your higher calling or life purpose. So why do we often chain it up and not let it roam freely?

Well, the short answer is “fear.” I’ve been corresponding lately with a reader who is strongly drawn to the life of an Inspired Solo, but is battling a number of (very rational) fears. In her story, I see my own, so recent and so vivid in my memory yet so distant from my current “space” emotionally speaking. So, with the benefit of distance and hindsight, I can offer her quaint and perhaps somewhat trite cliches, such as:

  • What is it that you’re really afraid of? Identify it and plan a way around it. Once you feel prepared for “the worst” – whatever that might be for you – you can let go of that fear.
  • Courage isn’t the state of not being afraid. It’s the act of being afraid and doing it – whatever “it” is – anyway. It’s a choice.
  • If an idea keeps presenting itself to you – keeps coming back up, time and time again, after you knock it down with practical objection after practical objection – then it’s obviously something you want to do. At this point, you have two options: (1) continue doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result (the definition of insanity, according to one old saw) or (2) accepting that you want to do it, and putting all that energy into figuring out how you’re going to do it.

Well, they may be trite cliches, but they’re cliches because they’re also true. If you want to let that tiger loose, as Pam suggests, you need to cut through the leash of fear, which truly has us tightly reined in.

Beating Back the “Do More” Monster

While I no longer think the boogey man lives in my closet, or a dragon under my bed (though I’m not entirely convinced that there is no Nessie in Loch Ness), I do daily battle with a couple of monsters with whom, I’d be willing to bet, more than a few of you are also familiar. Today’s post is all about my least favorite – the “Do More” Monster.

He’s the one whispering little nags into your subconscious, just about the time you start thinking about turning off the computer and turning your attention to home matters. “C’mon,” he says in his growly, stern voice, “one more email. One more letter. Shouldn’t you return that phone call? And what about tomorrow’s list? You should really get a jump on that. The kids will understand. You need to do more

He’s Enemy Number One for the Inspired Solo!

Now, sometimes, of course, he’s right. You really do need to return that phone call today. (We’ve all heard the statistics – how lack of lawyer communication is the underlying complaint behind grievances filed with bar authorities by disgruntled clients.) You do need to stay late to meet a deadline that’s looming. That’s really the genius of the Do More Monster, though. He uses the legitimacy he earns with the appropriate reminders to guilt you into buying his “BS” the rest of the time.

How do you recognize and beat the Do More Monster at his own game? Ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Is there a looming deadline – either an external one (such as a court- or rule-imposed deadline) or an internal one (e.g., my firm policy of returning all client phone calls within 24 hours)?
  2. Can you reasonably expect to accomplish the task he’s nagging you to do within the time remaining if you decide to ignore the monster in this moment?
  3. Have you made a promise to someone?

Question #2 gets you focused back on the practicalities of the situation, rather than the emotional appeal the Do More Monster is making to your conscience. Questions 1 and 3 help you dig deeper, into (A) the practical consequences of your actions and (B) the consequences to your reputation – and to your self-esteem. If I make a promise to someone that I’ll deliver a particular piece of work by close of business Friday, then come hell or high water, I deliver. (If I’m not sure I can deliver by then, I don’t make the promise.) The consequence of ignoring that promise is that my reputation takes a hit but just as importantly, my perception of my own integrity takes a hit, too. Neither consequence is acceptable.

Barring those implications, the Do More Monster’s just blowing smoke. When there’s a lot to be done – as there has been around my house for the last several months, thanks to a number of work and creative projects, as well as upheavals of the personal nature – it’s all too tempting to say to myself, “I really ought to be ____________” (fill in the blank). But what I’ve learned is to watch out for those very words –

Ought to



– and the like. They’re the favored language of the Do More Monster. When I hear myself using those words, it’s a red flag to me – “Possible DMM Attack. Approach With Caution.” The question then becomes – do I feel that I “should” do this task because it’s important, or because I’m being guilt-tripped into it?

We’d all love to be more productive – to get more done. Sometimes, however, the answer ironically isn’t “do more.”

Dave Dee’s Secret, part 2

Dave Dee’s latest post, “Unleashing the Moneymaking Vibration Within,” is a real head-scratcher for me. Dave apparently feels pretty dismissive of people who want to better themselves (except, I’d guess, those who do so via his marketing methods…?) as evidenced by this quote:

I just completed a bonus CD for a new product I’ll be offering and
on it, I revealed the ultimate secret to success in all areas of life.

That’s a big statement, I know but it’s the truth.

In a nutshell, it comes down to creating a magnetic energy vibration that attracts success.

Hold your horses, before you think I’ve become a new age nut job, hear me out.

Run-on sentences notwithstanding, this is pretty strange behavior for a marketing “guru.” Self-help is a huge business; over $581 million in titles in 1998, accounting for over 10% of all titles sold. So one would imagine the potential customer base there to be pretty large. Bold stuff, then, to go charging about calling such a large group of potential clients “nut jobs.” But – I digress. Moving on, Dave next neatly summarizes his “ultimate secret” – his “truth”:

The more positively charged energy you can create in your body, the
more confidence you will have, the more confidence you have, the more
powerful you will become, the more powerful you become, the more you
will accomplish.

That’s …. it?

OK, who wants to go tell Dave that this, in fact, is exactly what The Secret is all about (albeit with better grammar)? You know, the same Secret that he derided a few posts back?

I would have, but apparently his comments section is permanently closed.

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