Helping people makes you feel good

A lot of people want to go on their way and not be distracted from their path. Others spend their lives seeking opportunities to help people. Most of us do some of both depending on the day and what we are dealing with at work and home. Taking time to help others makes your part of your city a community. It makes a difference.

This doesn’t mean spending all day volunteering at a non-profit, though that is a good thing to do. It can be helping someone with directions or a restaurant recommendation.

Last night, while leaving my youngest child’s sports practice, a woman was having trouble getting past another vehicle that was not parked well. I happened to be walking by. I saw she was having trouble and was getting herself stuck on a curb. She was so stressed out about her situation, she didn’t hear me making a suggestion as to what she needed to do, but did ask for help when she realized I was walking by. I helped her, and a few minutes later she had squeezed by the other car and was on her way after thanking me for taking the time to stop and help her. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but then realized my son was watching. What a good lesson for him to learn.

Helping people translates to your business too. We all are busy, but hopefully helping others in the workplace is part of your culture. Today I also happened to have a younger attorney come into my office to ask a question regarding something she thought she may have done wrong in a case. She asked if I was busy. Though I was in the middle of a project, I told her to sit down so we could discuss her concerns. In the end she hadn’t done anything wrong, but I was able to provide some ideas and direction. This is part of my firm’s culture and part of what makes it a great place to work.

Another level of helping others is through networking and being a connector. This also feels good and can earn respect in your professional peer group. Every business person likes a referral or warm connection. These types of actions can help make your career.

When you have the option to help another person, it doesn’t seem like a hard decision which path to take. Despite this, many people just don’t want to be bothered. That bother could result in opportunities that didn’t exist the minute before you stopped to help. Of course, another reason to help others is someday that person needing help may be you and, when you do, you might find karma comes is different flavors. Which do you want?

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Deliver outstanding service

Most of us provide personal services to someone, whether a customer, a superior or a work team. It can be difficult to measure the quality of the services you provide or receive. It is different than judging the quality of a hamburger or a car.

For me, I provide advice. This advice can be life or business altering for my clients. Though it’s intangible, quality matters as much as that of the tires on your car. And it’s a challenge because every situation I face is different. It takes effort, constant effort, to continually provide sound advice.

All of us can personalize the service we provide and strive to make sure it’s quality service. You need to know and understand your client’s objectives and goals. Don’t assume. Instead, ask questions.

When I am explaining something to a client, I try to make sure they understand what I have told them. This includes the pros and cons of the existing options. It also includes making sure they understand what I can do to assist them, as well as what isn’t possible. It’s important to be transparent about what you can do and what you can’t do, i.e. it’s not good to over promise and under deliver.

When providing personal services, trust is the key. You only recommend people you trust, and so will your clients. If you deliver great service in a clear and understandable manner, you will build relationships that can last a lifetime.

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Are you taking up too much space?

This past weekend I was reading an article and saw a great quote: “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.” I think this applies to all of us and it doesn’t matter what you do for a living. I read it as saying to always be looking forward and challenging yourself. If you rest on your laurels you become stagnant. More importantly, in our fast moving world not evolving leads to failure.

Moving forward and challenging yourself can take many forms. For me, I am always open to change and new ideas. At my firm, we all do business plans each year. I try to include at least one new action item and otherwise try new things related to my business, which I equate to living on the edge and not just taking up space because I always am looking for forward momentum.

That is how I came to write this blog. It was a new action item a number of years ago. The feedback was positive and it helped me make connections, as well as develop some new work. I sure didn’t know it was going to be a positive experience or that I would continue to do it further out in the future, but the point is I was open and willing to try.

I also understand that my “living on the edge” and your “living on the edge” may be significantly different. I am not climbing Mount Everest (though I always thought it would a cool), and you probably aren’t interested in what may be my current idea of living on the edge. I always say if we were all the same the world would be a more boring place. Importantly, we all gain ideas from what we see and hear about what others are doing. Your living on the edge doesn’t need to be a unique idea never tried before, but just something new to you that you think will move the needle in a positive way.

So take this as a challenge to find your version of living on the edge as you try not to simply take up space.

ps. In looking online, it appears a number of people have taken credit for the quote “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.” My Google sleuthing seems to indicate it usually is attributed to Stephen Hunt, an author. Of course, it doesn’t matter who said it, but what it inspires you to do.

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Meeting Expectations

I currently have many really interesting matters I am working on. One of the matters had a large deadline a few weeks ago, which was then extended for a week. You can’t work on a large project without it impacting other work you have. The extension was a blessing and a curse because the pleading created was much better thanks to the deadline, but it certainly delayed me from focusing on other matters on my desk.

I know I can call a client to reset expectations and tell them my work on their matter is going to take longer than I initially explained, but I try not to do so unless it really becomes necessary. To me, the matters I am working on for different clients all are important. Even though deadlines can impact what rises to the top of my desk, I try to work in a timely manner based on the initial expectation I have set for a specific client.

For the last month, this has required me to work many nights and weekends to do what I have said I would within the time frames I set. I could have called clients to change that timing, but doing so would have just continued the problem of catching up while other matters with upcoming deadlines keep popping up and requiring attention. This also ignores new matters coming in, some of which require immediate attention.

By working in this way I have managed to meet my clients’ expectations. It hasn’t been easy, but part of it is meeting the expectations I have set for myself regarding how I work with and treat clients. It isn’t meant to be some sort of self-imposed torture forcing myself to work so hard. Instead it’s part of how I want to treat my clients and how I want to protect my reputation for doing what I say I am going to do by the deadlines I have set. By working in this way I am trying to manage and meet the expectations I have set for my clients and the expectations I have set for myself.

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Routine and Organization

I use routine to try and stay organized. This can be my general morning routine, to how I go about things when I get to the office. The Groundhog Day mentality definitely helps me stay on track. I have found that if I stick to certain routines, as much as possible, it allows me to accomplish the goals I’ve set for each day or each week. And this is both my professional and personal lives. But this doesn’t mean each day is the same because I am talking about general organization, not scripting all of each and every day.

A good way to dip your toes in the water of organization is to pick one area to script. It could be your morning routine, a to do list for each morning of work or choosing to work out on specific days at specific times each week.

For instance, my wife and I each have routine manners in which we start each day during the week. She starts with a cup of coffee. I start by meditating and doing some stretches. Our different routines work for each of us even though they are different. The point is we have that first thing or two that we just do without having to think about it, which makes it easier to get our days going.

I recommend finding one area in your life where a routine will help you meet your goals or do a better job at something. I think it helps to break your day down into smaller chunks of time and see where organization may help. Even if you are organized and use routines, you should revisit them every so often to see if they still are working for you or could use some new thoughts. The idea and goal is to continually be thinking of how to improve in all aspects of your life.

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Don’t be a poor winner or loser

Despite the participation medals or trophies our kids get for seemingly every activity or sport, in most everything in life there are winners and losers. This obviously includes in business. The baseline is easily a business surviving versus a business failing. If you speak with someone whose business is going to fail, they don’t want a pat on the back or to be told “good try.” They wanted to win.

Of course we all lose. When you lose, how do you react? Do you get upset? Do you blame others? Or do you take responsibility for your part in the loss, if any? I ask because I am used to seeing people make excuses.

Conversely, how do you act when you win? Do you gloat? Do you put down whoever lost? Or are you complementary to the person who lost?

In what I do there are winners and losers all of the time. It could relate to a motion being considered by a court or at trial. No attorney can win them all. And there can be real excuses because we are hemmed in by the facts in each case and the law that applies. The excuses I have heard over the years for these types of losses are many, such as “the judge made a mistake” or “the jury just didn’t like my client,” etc. The list goes on and on.

When I have lost I chalk it up to experience and try to look back on what I can learn. I also try to be a graceful loser, where it makes sense and is appropriate. When I communicate a loss to a client, such as when a court issues a ruling months after a hearing or trial, I make sure to do it in person or on the phone, and not by email or text. I don’t make excuses. Doing so never helps the situation and is not how I would want to come across.

When I win, I am, of course, happy. Who isn’t? But I also maintain a professional decorum with any opposing attorney or party. I save the celebration for my client and the attorneys I have worked with on my side of the case.

Knowing how to win and lose is important. It contributes to how people view you and your reputation in your community. Next time you win, or lose, think what you want your reputation to be and let it guide you to acting accordingly.

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Work smarter

Everywhere you look you are told hard work pays off. This is true, as is the fact that hard work is required to become successful. But as you gain experience and have success, the formula should change and you should work smarter.

By working smarter I mean a few things. The first is that you should be able to streamline much of what you do. This may be through utilizing technology that saves you time or keeps you more organized. It also could be that your experience allows you to complete certain tasks or types of work faster.

Second, you should be delegating work. This allows you to push work down to younger or less experienced co-workers. In my world that means having associate attorneys do certain projects such as research and writing, which saves me time and the client money. It also allows you to focus on higher-level tasks. By delegating work you can choose the work you enjoy more or create the time to develop more work.

Third, choose to work when you have the most energy. When you are first working you it feels like you have to be in the office when your superiors show up in the morning and when they leave at night. As you gain experience and the people you work with and for know you get your work done, you hopefully can schedule how you work.

If you aren’t a morning person, having to be in the office and working by 8 am won’t help you get more done. I know someone like this who starts work after 10 am each day, but then works into the evening. If you are a morning person or the opposite, try working to your body’s rhythms and see if it helps you get more done. It also may help you feel more rested and maybe even experience a touch less stress.

These are just a few ideas for working smarter. We all should be open to trying new ideas and strategies that may help us do so. If you do, hopefully you will find a few ideas that will work for you.

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The Email Conundrum

Picture this: you are working on an important project with a fast approaching deadline when suddenly an email comes into your inbox and your computer makes a sound alerting you to this new email. What do you do? You know the answer for most people is that they open the email, thereby interrupting their work and train of thought on the time-sensitive project. We all have been there and the new email is hard to resist.

I have been speaking to more and more people, who, though clearly in the minority, ignore the new email and plow forward on the project in front of them. You probably are thinking “what do these people do with their email?” They tell me they actually set specific times of the day to review and respond to email. One person told me he reviews email at 8 am and 2 pm each day. Another told me he does so at 11 am and 4 pm each day. These two and others I have spoken with swear it works. They all believe it allows them to truly focus on the things they want and need to work on .

I like the idea, but worry about what time-sensitive email I will miss if I turn off the email notifications and only check it a few times each day. Of course the answer is to retrain people to call you if they have a true emergency or time-sensitive issue at hand. I still am trying to wrap my head around whether this idea may work for me, but I could get there in the future.

In a day and age when everyone expects instantaneous response times for emails and other electronic communications, it’s hard to bite the bullet and be less in touch. But it also could be a differentiator. In my case, maybe my clients would appreciate the notion that when I am working on their matter I am focused on it and nothing else.

If any of you work this way or decide to try to do so, I would appreciate feedback on your experience and what feedback you receive about doing so from your colleagues, business partners and clients.

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Luck v. Skill

I really like the podcast How I Built This, on which Guy Raz interviews entrepreneurs about the businesses they have built. At the end of most of the interviews he asks each entrepreneur how much of their success they attribute to luck and how much they attribute to skill. The answers can be interesting, but it always makes me apply the same question to my business and those of my clients. Since first listening to that podcast in the last few years I have been known to pose the same question to my clients and professional contacts.

For me, and for most of the people I have asked, I believe it’s a combination of both. I include timing as part of luck, because most times there is nothing you can pin a chance meeting or conversation on.

An example is when, many years ago, I interviewed at a law firm where a partner there asked me for references. In addition to asking for the usual type of references we generally know will say how great we are – otherwise why would we be using those people as references? – they asked for an adverse reference. I never had been asked that question and thought of an attorney who had been very complementary after being adverse to me in my first trial. The end result was that the formerly adverse attorney, after giving me a great adverse reference, asked me to come work at the firm where she was then employed. I accepted that offer.

If Law Firm A hadn’t asked for an adverse reference I never would have had the opportunity with Law Firm B. Additionally, the timing of this occurring was at a point in time when Law Firm B was interested in hiring someone with my background and skills.

Without those skills, the serendipitous timing wouldn’t have mattered. My skills allowed the opportunity to advance to a job offer and to succeed in that new position.

The point is that business and life are an amazing combination of luck and skill. You need to take the time to hone your skills in you chosen line of work. As you move forward you need to be open to luck and timing. This could be a job opportunity like I had, or a chance connection with a new client with really interesting work for you to do.

If any of you have a great story on the intersection of luck and skill, I would like to hear about it.

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Feedback is important

It is important to provide people with feedback in the workplace. Feedback should be positive or in the form of constructive criticism. Purely negative feedback accomplishes nothing and is the sign of a poor corporate culture.

If you are providing positive feedback, make it meaningful. You should praise someone’s work or actions when it’s really deserved and you mean what you say. Being overly complimentary all of the time won’t help morale or people improve in the long run.

In our participation trophy world, praise can be handed out too much and in situations where it’s not warranted. Don’t give positive feedback when it isn’t deserved. If you do it only will cause problems down the road.

In a similar vein, people withhold praise when it would provide validation for an employee who did a good job and deserves it. I know it can be hard to always know how complimentary to be or when to provide some constructive criticism. The better you know the person the easier it should be to know how and when to provide feedback.

If you start thinking about providing feedback more often you likely can find the balance in trying to provide the right amount of feedback to your co-workers. Try it and see the positive effect it can have on you and your workplace.

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