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February 13, 2018 Articles

Business Development Happens in Small Steps

How to make the most of those little pockets of time—even on the busiest of days.

By Allison Wolf

I’ll get to it after this project is done.

I am really busy right now; I’ll make time for this once I am caught up.

Have you ever thought something like this? You can have the best, most strategic marketing plan and the ripest opportunities within your grasp, but the “there’s not enough time” mind-set will stop momentum and prevent real business success every time.

Nodding your head right about now? You are not alone. In my experience, this “not now, later” thinking is what throws most lawyers off the path of their best-intentioned plans and causes them to spend money calling up coaches like me for accountability.

Here’s what is important to know: a lot of business development happens in small steps—often very small steps.

Understanding the Value of Small Segments of Time
Big projects are best tackled, initially, with some small steps. In other words, don’t think that you need to wait until you have a larger block of time free to work toward your business development goals.

Taking small steps over time improves productivity. There are two reasons why starting earlier, with a small investment of time, can make you more productive:

  1. This approach will likely produce a better end product. Our brain needs time to process information and cognize. When we begin work on a difficult project and then set it aside, our brain will continue to ponder it, silently, in the background. Through such pondering, our brain is being exposed to a variety of other stimuli from our environment, and this can help inspire new thoughts and promote creativity. The result is that when we return to the task after a break of some minutes, hours, or days, we are likely to return with fresh ideas and insights.
  2. The pace of legal practice is such that we are all likely to be overwhelmed with work. Leaving our big projects for the perfect moment is an exercise in futility and just means that we will find ourselves in firefighting mode each time a deadline approaches.

Mere minutes can lead to tangible progress. An investment of just a few minutes can be enough to keep your plan on track. With just five to 15 minutes, you can get some important things done.

Below are some examples:

  • With two minutes, you can send an email to your contact, suggesting a lunch date and offering a time.
  • With five minutes, you can set up a Google alert tracking topics of interest to your clients. Or, if you are fortunate enough to have access to a staff librarian, you can email the librarian to set up a weekly summary of important news items related to your clients’ business interests.
  • With five minutes, you can email an article or link to a client with a note saying, “I thought of you when I read this” and summarizing what is important for the client to know.
  • With five minutes, you can take a look at your business plan or contact list and decide, whom do I want to connect with this week? Or what action do I want to take this week?
  • With 10 minutes, you can start jotting down some ideas for an article or presentation topic. Or, if you already have a topic, you can begin writing up a short to-do list of how you can break down the project into smaller steps. With another 10 minutes, you can set about gathering the research materials that you need, take a stab at drafting an outline, or just write and see how far you can progress.

Finding and Using Those Valuable Pockets of Time
Time is not solid like granite. Time is highly flexible and subjective. You can find little pockets of time in the busiest of days.

Dennis Mortensen, founder and CEO of the artificial intelligence company X.Ai, writes in his post The Time Lords Manifesto, “Time is the very fabric of the universe. It moderates everything we do. If you look for it, you’ll find time everywhere. Each moment has the potential to be used effectively, or wasted, so be mindful of your time, all the time.”

Use the time that exists in the spaces between what you are doing now and what you are doing next to get something done:

  • After finishing a call with a client and before heading to your next meeting, take five minutes to schedule that business development lunch.
  • While waiting in line at the deli, post a short social media update about the conference that you are heading to next week.

Waiting for the perfect moment to start business development tasks is counterproductive. Allowing yourself to work on big tasks in small increments helps you get more done and, in turn, can produce better-quality work.

What is critical is to track your precise next steps. To unleash the potential of five minutes, you need to break your plan down into precise next steps and list these on your to-do list. Otherwise, it will take you 10 minutes just to remember what you wanted to get done.

Next time you find yourself thinking, I don’t have enough time, think again. Ask yourself: What can I get done today with just five minutes? Then do it.

Allison Wolf is an experienced lawyer coach at Shift Works Strategic Inc. and founder of the blog