Time is a key resource

We all have abilities, resources and a role to play in this life. Sometimes we squander our resources, abuse our abilities and misunderstand our role. My experience has been that we eventually figure life out, or at least most of us do. Sometimes we figure it out too late in life, but we figure it out.

Our abilities include knowledge, wisdom, physical strength, dexterity, and skills. You can probably add to my list of abilities, but that is my top five. Then we have resources like time, money, family, relationships, and inheritance. Feel free to add to my list, but these are my top five.

I was thinking about these lists and had an interesting thought develop. Of the five resources, I have some control over 4 of them. I can make, steal, or earn money. I can change my family, develop or end relationships, and even influence an inheritance.   What I cannot do is change time. How about my abilities? I can obtain knowledge, develop wisdom, increase physical strength, improve dexterity and acquire skills. When all my theoretical talking ends, I realize that I cannot buy time and cannot control many of the hazards of life.

When my father was in his 80s, he would tell me that I would gain wisdom over time and would reach a point when I would realize that I should have listened earlier in life. Never knew what that meant until I reached 75 years of age. One day, I heard myself telling one of my children that same thing. I stopped with a slight chill thinking where have I heard this speech before. Yep, it was my father.

For 75 years I have been gathering information about life, and gradually I could see a stop sign ahead. I am not able to calculate how far away it is or what is beyond it, but for the first time, I can see it. With that clarity, I can also see a road out in front of me. Along the way, I met a therapist that told me an analogy of several roads that I could travel down. There are my road and several side roads where I can see friends and family traveling on. Sometimes I am tempted to divert to their road and often get lost. Now I have this clarity about my road.

Sometimes it takes a swift kick in the pants, my father would say, to wake us up. About five years ago I got that swift kick. When I look back on life, for many years I thought I had time to enjoy life. I thought I had all the abilities and resources I needed to make it up the next step. The swift kick was in the form of a diagnosis of a muscle disease. I spent three years going through the five stages of grief before I accepted several interesting challenges in life. My abilities and resources were no longer infinite, and they would diminish over time. Add to this the fact that I can now see a stop sign off in the distance and I develop a real appreciation of time.

I am luckier than many recipients of a swift kick. My kick in the pants was a gentle nudge. I still had abilities and resources. Not everybody gets that luxury. Now I add this to my wisdom bag, why wait so many years for the kick in the pants?

What are you waiting for?


Let’s do a Strategic Plan

Lately, I have started to see more focus on strategic planning and tools like the Balanced Scorecard when we talk about Law Firms. We started focusing on strategic plans about ten years ago when we started working with our first law firm. We have not found a lot of law firms that have a strategic plan they are following. The idea of a balanced scorecard frequently goes hand and hand with strategic planning, and it is still difficult to find that idea implemented. If these two ideas have become almost universally accepted why is it so difficult for a law firm to implement? Or, perhaps the real question is, do these ideas apply to a law firm?

Based on the law firms that we have worked with and the success we have seen, these two ideas apply. So, it is not that these concepts are difficult to implement or don’t apply that they are not being used. I believe the problem is that most law firm owners do not understand the value of the concepts. But even that is a bit of a stretch. When I look a little deeper, I find several reasons.

  1. By far the first reason on my list is that law firm owners have trouble defining their business objectives. It sounds crazy when you hear this, but I have found that most law firm owners cannot tell me what their vision is. In fact, even crazier, they cannot tell me why they are in business. OK, they can say “I want to make money” but why baffles them. The whole idea of having a well-defined vision for the business is the foundation of strategic planning.
  2. Strategic planning is all about defining the vision and then creating a roadmap to realize that vision. This is a top-down process. Since the “leader” generally does not know what the vision is, this is turned into a group effort. The resulting statement was sufficiently vague and so fragmented that it was doomed from the start.
  3. When the group finally starts writing the plan, there is a tendency to move or skip right to execution. Immediately jumping to an action plan without going through the process of clarifying the strategy sometimes has you going down the wrong path.
  4. I find that nobody is identified as the owner of the plan or the person accountable for the implementation. Everyone wants to contribute their ideas, but they are not the owner of the plan.   In fact, it should be the law firm owner that is accountable for the plan. This is a new concept for a lawyer/owner because they see themselves as a professional whose only responsibility is to their clients. They frequently separate themselves from the business.

These concepts have been around for many years in Corporate America but only for a few with law firms, so there is not a long history of success to point to as evidence of value. Where we have implemented these concepts, we see success. Often it has been between one and two years before we see measured success in the law firms we have worked with. The first year is all about planning and the second is gathering data from the balanced scorecard.

When the strategic plan is used to develop action plans, and the balanced scorecard is used to measure the results that can be used to improve the plan, we typically see a clear picture of the law firm. The four areas that are measured in our balanced score card are;

  1. Finances – those measures that measure financial success. This is everyone’s favorite because it is what they are used to. How much money did I make? How big is my bonus this year? This is real to everyone.
  2. Client Service – those measures that capture how well the firm served their clients. Law firms frequently focus on client service but never measure it. So, this is something all law firms want. The problem is leadership has trouble relating this measure to success or failure. If I improve client service by 10% what happens?
  3. Growth – those measures that capture how well the firm is doing to improve. This is the measure that will tell you if you will still be in business in a few years as the market changes. It is a measure of how effective the firm uses the human resources (staff). One of the problems here is that frequently staff is viewed as only a resource instead of being a key element of the business process. How do you relate training your paralegal to an improvement in the bottom line?
  4. Internal Processes – those measures that capture how efficient and effective the business process is. How are the tools, like the case management system, used? Do you have the right mix of skills, tools, workspace, and supplies? Frequently many steps in the process are skipped or ignored, so it is not easy to show how a quality review of a few process steps is beneficial. Most of the law firms I have worked with view their business as being skill based and not process based when, in fact, a high percentage of the business is process based.

Before we get to the execution phase, we need to have a good understanding of what we want to build and how we are going to measure success. Without this, we will be fighting fires every day and depending on brute force to make it through the day. Very little business improvements or refinements are going on. Is the law firm a business with business processes that react to the best business practices of the day? In the competitive environment we are in today, those law firms that are viewed as a business have a better chance of being here tomorrow.

One of my favorite stories I remember from our years working with law firms was a firm that was celebrating a million-dollar settlement. I, being the ole auditor that I used to be, started asking questions, like what was your return on investment. I got a lot of blank stares. With a little research, I could see that the “business” lost money. That peaked my interest, so the next question was, what was the vision of the “business?” I wanted to find out if they expected to make money. Well, more blank stares. We could dig deeper into this hole all day. Dare I ask to see the strategic plan for the business? Maybe tomorrow, I am getting some cake and coffee.


Project Management is changing

I have been working with management theory since the 60s. Back in those early days, the focus was on results or production.   Management was concerned with resources and employees were considered as one of those resources. Many schools and professors were trying to determine a scientific approach to measuring the effectiveness of management with a focus on things that could be measured or counted. Up until the 80s, the study was focused on data analysis and quantitative tools. That was about to change. During the 80s, the studies suggested that there was something else affecting the results. Gradually, we started hearing more about leadership and how it impacted production.

At the same time that leadership was being explored; there was mounting evidence that it was the process being followed that was impacting quality and production just as much as resources and skills. By the 90s, as I witnessed this move, we started to see a primary focus on process, self-mastery, emotional intelligence, and environment. These elements were not as easy to measure or quantify. The study of leadership recognized the unpredictability of people was a key element of the results seen. This study became much more complex than counting the number of widgets.

While we all know that leadership and human response is the critical factor, most of us are not trained. For this reason, when there is a production problem we revert to counting widgets. I can remember back in the 90s, when I was at IBM, they tried to address this concern. I doubt they there originated this saying, but the “mantra” of the day was; When there is a defect, it is almost never the person and always the process. Back in those early days if a project or a task failed, the person was identified, and many were let go. Under the new concept, they started looking at process, training, and documentation as the first cause of the failure.

There were also changes in how I saw overall performance measured. I saw the introduction of the balanced scorecard, leadership training, and strategic planning. It is difficult to condense many years of the process into a few paragraphs, but this is how I remember it. I bring up these memories now because I still see a focus on managing production instead of improving the process, training, or documentation. I see very expensive employee turnover that could be avoided.

What have you experienced?  Have you seen the focus change?


What Should I Do

I was awake at 4:10 AM this morning thinking, what should I do. I decided that I could not get up until at least 5: AM. Totally arbitrary, of course. Anyway, at 5:30, after staring at the ceiling for an hour, I had developed this brilliant article to write, so I got up.

I had to get a cup of coffee and since I took the time to do that I also got a muffin. The ocean was inviting, so I sat on the deck looking at the potential sunrise drinking my coffee. No spectacular sunrise so I fired up the laptop to write my article and could not remember what I was going to write.

Nobody was up and nothing to do, so I went back to bed. Stared at the ceiling for a half an hour with eyes wide open. This is depressing. Decided to get up again, and headed for the coffee maker. This all seemed very familiar.

I sat out on the deck drinking my coffee thinking about what I could do. By the end of cup one, I was wondering why I had to be doing something all the time. Then it occurred to me that there was plenty to do. The problem was there was not anything that I wanted to do. In fact, I could create a lot of things to do. So here I sit staring at the ocean wondering, what is it that I would like to do. The first thing that came to mind was sitting on the deck, ocean front, drinking a cup of coffee. This is vacation, perhaps I am overthinking this stuff. Going for my last cup of coffee – I swear.


Don’t get stuck in denial

This blog is a bit of a departure from my normal discussions, but there have been a lot of questions the last few weeks on the denial blog. This is all about how to find joy in your life. The best way I can address the questions is to talk a little about my journey.

I am sure you are aware of the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance). My journey started in 2013, and I think I am finally getting to acceptance. The hardest step for me was denial because it takes a lot to finally recognize that you are even into denial and then months to get out. For a long time, I claimed to be in control, and I finally recognized that I was not. I was diagnosed with a muscle disease. I was told how the myopathy was going to progress and didn’t like it much. So I had three different labs look at the muscle biopsy. Still didn’t believe until I noticed changes happening. My stamina was getting shorter, my breathing getting harder, and my balance getting worse.

OK, so it is real, and now I am angry. My first big question was, who am I angry with? Did I blame God, myself, my parents or climate change? I had great pity parties. That was a wasted few months being angry, so I went into bargaining mode. Could I beat this? Failed at bargaining, so ended up in depression and counseling. Now, three years later I am getting close to acceptance.

Any of this sound familiar? Perhaps you have never had a major event in your life. Based on my journey so far, I am saying that you will go through all five stages. Nothing major happens until you get to the acceptance stage.

While all this is going on there is another aspect of your life that quickly becomes important. That is this question of why am I here and where am I going. You have to go through this analysis while you are doing everything else. I started out focused on religion and found it helpful but not the complete answer. I added counseling and learned just enough to understand that I did not have the answer yet. I finally found mindfulness meditation. I had someone tell me that it made his prayer life complete, so I was all in to try it. His view was that prayer was talking to God and meditation was listening. By-the-way you can use God, the universe, or any term you feel comfortable with. Once I figured this out I started getting some insight as to what the answer is.

All of this to tell you that you are on a journey – always have been. If you want to enjoy this journey, we call life, figure out where you are going and along the way how you can contribute. I have discovered that we are all on this journey and we are all linked in some magical way. We are not alone, and we are more dependent on each other than we realize. I can say that some of my experiences during my morning meditation have been scary or eerie depending on your point of view. I believe that we all are in this life for a reason and when you find your path, it will become clear.


What is your plan for life?

I have been through the first step and developed my belief system and a set of values that represented that belief. My next step was to develop a plan for my life. Many have asked me what I mean by this. What is a plan? For me, it was defining my purpose in life and a plan to fulfill that purpose. These are my thoughts on this step.

The first point I thought of was, most people I know don’t sit around developing a plan for their life. Most of the people I know just react to life as best they can. So, I am thinking that it is a stretch to spend time creating a plan. Now that I have worked my way through the procrastination stage I am doing a plan.

Most of the research I have done suggest that there are four areas of life (Emotional, Physical, Intellectual, and Spiritual). These areas should be in your life plan, but they do not have to be in balance. They should be in harmony. So I developed a vision of the future with these four areas, with no conflicts. For example, if I wanted an intimate relationship with my soul mate, I did not put under spiritual a solo trip to Tibet to live with the monks for a year.

Let’s say that I thought out my plan and all contingencies. The first obstacle I hit is someone else wants me to do something else and can see no possible reason why my plan would be more important. If I wanted a relationship, I start to prioritize and rationalize and “Bang” my plan shifts. When I realize that has happened, I get miffed. Miffed, of course, is a technical term for being upset with myself. The other person does not understand my plan. They may not even be part of my plan. So why am I going off my well thought out plan? The easy answer is, I wanted a relationship. You have to decide on what you want and be flexible.

The main reason people do not have an abundant life is that their intentions do not agree with their attention. If you are not following your path, then you must be following someone else’s! If you are not clear on your life purpose, you will find it hard to say “no” to what other people want you to do. Discover your purpose and stay on the path.

My intention is to create a plan for my life that includes a relationship that is in harmony with my perceived purpose. My goal is that my intentions are in alignment with my attention. I want to become a person happy to get out of bed in the morning, ready to go on with life. It’s all about finding your passion and living it out! Once you have learned to love yourself, dare to do what you like doing, and you are following your plan, you will find joy.

When we truly accept and acknowledge that we are responsible for our fate, there is a profound increase in our ability to control it. When we were teaching self-mastery, I found this concept the most difficult for my audience to accept. Nobody wants to take on responsibility. Perhaps that is why many people do not have a plan. If they had a plan, there would be the potential for some responsibility for the results. It is reflected in the self-discipline to refrain from blaming others for your results.

You want to find more joy in your life, figure out what you want to do and how you plan to do it. You will learn along the way and improve your plan. The hardest step is the first step.


Let’s talk about denial

This week the most asked question was about denial. We have written about the four paradigms of self-mastery (fear, duty, achievement, and integrity) and the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance). The only reason that there are five stages of grief and four for self-mastery is, you must get past the denial stage of grief to get started on the path to self-mastery. Denial is a defense against realities that threaten us, and it can be a good defense in the face of bad news.

We have many events that happen during the day, and they are not all the same level of impact. I could take a simple event like not getting the last piece of chocolate cake, and it is no big deal to me but is a very big deal to someone else.   We may only be in denial for a few seconds, but we start there. You may deny the reality to avoid humiliation, pain, or many other reasons. In an extreme case, I have seen people deny any knowledge of past statements, contracts or events regardless how well they are documented because they do not want to deal with it.

If you can understand the stages you go through, you have a better potential to shorten your path to Joy. This is what your journey looks like after an event happens. Your first reaction is shock and denial – almost disbelief. You may add to that some guilty feelings due to your contribution to the event. Life feels chaotic and out of control. The degree of the severity is dependent on your belief system, your current state of mind and the circumstances involved with the event. Someone with a positive outlook on life and a positive belief system will not be in denial very long. Someone that expects negative things to happen or has a negative belief system will reinforce the impact.

The first sign of acceptance is often a reaction with anger and frustration. You will look for someone or something to blame. You do not want the burden of responsibility, the pain or the negative impact on your life, but you start to accept reality. Using the terminology of self-mastery, you enter the fear paradigm. How long you are in the fear paradigm will determine your loss of joy. If you are in the fear paradigm, you are unable to accomplish anything. In an extreme case, you may even show the world how painful this all is and look for sympathy. In the fear paradigm you will find anger, bargaining, and depression.

One of the first actions used by many is bargaining. You will attempt to bargain your way out of this instead of accepting what has happened. When I was diagnosed with a muscle disease my first reaction was “this is a mistake”. I would bargain within my belief system. Finally, I will accept what has happened. With acceptance, I have the potential to move on. Instead of feeling sorry for myself or blaming others I start to climb out of depression. I am ready to move to the duty paradigm. I will do whatever I think is expected of me. With the results of my muscle biopsy, I decided to do whatever the doctors asked of me. I became the perfect patient. I am learning to deal with reality.

After I have accepted my reality and started on a solution in the duty paradigm of Self-mastery, I now have the potential for achievement. I have a new reality, and I am ready to improve my situation. In the achievement paradigm of self-mastery, I take charge and move forward. I have learned many lessons as I went through the duty paradigm. In the achievement paradigm, I have the potential for joy. At first, it is a lot of work. I not only have to learn new facts and skills; I am making a lifestyle change. The event that happened could be a change in health status, a new job, a new relationship, a change in finances, or any of the events that change our life. It is in the achievement paradigm that I become comfortable with my new reality.

The last stage of self-mastery is called integrity. I take all the lessons learned and modify or reinforce my belief system. I may modify my values. All elements of my life are now in concert, and I experience joy. Through all the stages there were periods of happiness, but I now experience joy. My father would say that I am at peace with myself.

Many of us get stuck in one of the early stages. We may be in denial or duty where there is no potential for joy. We may be stuck in achievement that has periods of happiness, but it is a lot of work. Sometimes this happens because there are so many events happening that we are not capable of handling all of them without help. Worse case, we are stuck in denial and do not even recognize that we need help.

What is true in life is true in business, find a trustworthy partner who shares your beliefs and values. Learn to ask for advice and listen to differing points of view.


Let’s be Honest!

There is a lot of talk about honesty after the election. People were tossing around words like trustworthy, truthfulness, and a few more. Many think that honesty meant not lying or just telling the truth. The most common definition of a lie is a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive. The truth is most often used to mean being in accord with fact or reality, which is not as straightforward as you may think. Often truth is based on a belief and becomes subjective. There is a Chinese proverb that goes like this: “There are three truths. There’s my truth, your truth and then THE truth.” So, what the heck does honesty mean?

I realized that the word Honesty refers to a moral character and suggests positive attributes such as truthfulness, straightforwardness, along with the absence of lying, cheating, theft, etc. If you look through literature, I believe Honesty is used to mean being trustworthy, loyal, dependable, and sincere. With all that said, honesty is an important element of business and can be subjective.

Honesty is the foundation upon which a person builds any relationship such as family or friends. By being honest, a person will make you feel that they are trustworthy and capable of exposing their true self. A person may endanger their relationship with others if they tell lies. For example, a child tells their mother that he will go to the library to study. However, he ends up going to a friend’s party and gets caught. After that incident, you will not trust the child as much as before and doubt what he says later. Honesty produces trust which is needed for a relationship. I have also seen that people have a tendency of relying on an honest person. Just remember that there is a subjective element to honesty.

Consider a person that breaks promises, ignores commitments or hides information. It would be very difficult to trust or form a relationship with such a person. First of all, most would conclude that this person is not trustworthy, not dependable and not sincere.

I also believe that being honest all of the time can backfire on a person. There are situations when being honest would inflict pain and stress on somebody else. Sometimes, you need to justify what is the best solution because not telling the truth, in certain cases, is the best way to protect someone from being hurt.

That is just some of the problems with a position of always telling the truth. So, there is more to it than just not telling a lie. Whatever the absolute or literal definition is of honesty, I believe it is best to have the intention, to be honest.

I would be curious what you think. We have people that have been proven to be dishonest 75% of the time, and they seem to be successful. So, is honesty a key element of success?


It was not my fault

In honor of “Blame Someone Else Day” (which is January 13th, 2017) I offer this entry.

Are you 100% responsible for your life? The 100% figure throws many people off because there are some events that may not have been under their control. For years, I taught self-mastery and included the idea that we are responsible for everything that happens to us. The concept was that if we were not responsible, we could not fix it.

Today I would say that we are not responsible for everything that happened in life. For example, I was diagnosed with a muscle disease that was inherited. I didn’t have much control over that. Accepting the idea that we are responsible for everything still has the advantage. Taking responsibility for your life is great but, you can’t control how someone reacts to what you say or what you do. The problem is, we tend to look outside ourselves for the culprit. We do not take any responsibility. We are all conditioned to blame someone, to make excuses, or to complain when something does not go the way we would hope. If we were frustrated, upset or mad, we would often blame the event. Blaming the event or complaining about the event shifts the responsibility.

Here is a fly in the ointment, as my father would say, to find joy this concept would suggest that we give up:

  • Making up excuses
  • Complaining
  • Focusing on what is wrong with no plan to fix it (my favorite)
  • Playing the victim

Well, sometimes I don’t want to fix it. I just feel like complaining. My current problem is, I don’t have a lot of time to waste on being frustrated. I have wasted too much of my life trying to prove that I was right or that outside forces caused my results. When something happens, or doesn’t happen in life, ask these questions to get back on track;

  • What thoughts/beliefs got me here?
  • What did I say or not say that led me to this outcome?
  • What do I need to do differently next time to get the result I want?

By asking yourself the right questions, you can move past the emotions you may be feeling (anger, guilt, resentment, frustration, etc.) to change the results.  There is the assumption that you want to find joy. Like I said earlier, sometimes you just want to feel miserable. Either way, don’t blame anyone but yourself except, of course, on Blame Someone Else Day.



I see a lot of conflict between happiness and joy.  My best definition is that happiness is immediate and short term, and joy is internal, slowly developing and long term.  For example, a lot of things make me happy.  If I think about it, I can come up with a list something like this: oatmeal cookies, boats, apple pie, recognition, validation, etc.  Relatively easy to make me happy.  If you look at the list, you will realize that all these things are immediate and short term.  Back in the good ole days’ cookies could make me happy, and still do, but there is this diet thing.  Happiness from a new boat may last a few months.  The apple pie about 3 minutes.

As for joy, that is much more complex.  It gets into things like peace of mind.  Joy projects into the future and is long term.  Many gurus have come up with their answer for joy.  Some would tell you it is faith in God; others may say that it is financial security.  I tend to think it is personal relationships.  The remaining question is; how do you find joy?

I believe that it is a process, then again I think everything is a process.  No matter how you express it, I believe it starts by discovering your belief.  Faith can be an interesting element of any belief system.  Once I work out my belief system I can express my purpose or vision for my life.  Now I have some boundaries to work within, and I can more easily discover things that make me happy.  Ultimately realizing my purpose will give me joy.  In fact, if I believe that I am on my path to realizing my vision I will be filled with Joy.  Anything that knocks me off my path or interrupts my journey will steal my joy.