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When Nothing is Something

November 26th, 2013 / - filed under Law Firm Management

Yesterday morning, I read an article about things successful people do in the morning.  I think there were, I don’t know, like, 14 things we’re supposed to do before 0600.  It was an exhausting read.  I felt like going back to bed before I got to the final paragraph.

The truth is, I do believe that successful people launch out of bed in the morning, mostly because I have trouble believing the opposite is true.  I just can’t envision Bill Gates and a snooze button in peaceful coexistence.  I don’t think Warren Buffett tugs the duvet over his head on Mondays crying oh, god, just 10 more minutes of sleep.  Please.

There is an art and an honor to those who get things done.  Surely we all feel splendid when we’ve done two loads of laundry, sent in a charitable contribution, walked the dog, made kids’ lunches, invented something brilliant, run 10 miles and stretched after. (A typical morning, right?) But the problem with adult timing is no different than what we most criticize and fear for our children: overscheduling.

This issue is particularly tricky in the law firm universe because time is money and if you don’t believe me, just look at the really long piece of paper under a partner’s keyboard or right next to the phone.  There it is, that pesky little time log.  When you think about your labor in terms of billable hours, after a few years in the game, it gets harder to take time out of the equation when assessing your own personal value.  Efficiency is everything.

Guilty as charged, I’m working on doing nothing.  I’m going to get really, really good at it.  And I challenge my clients and friends to join in this worthy pursuit of nothingness.  I am totally convinced that in nothing, there’s something.

In the marketing context, this means I’m building into my days whole stretches of down time; meetings, where we bring only a notepad, pen and an open mind.  I’m going to ask free-wheeling questions of myself and my team.  I’m going to throw our challenges on the table and see what people think when they’re just allowed–and just asked–to think.

Maybe this happens in Silicon Valley.  Maybe this happens all the time in creative industries.  Not so much here in professional services.  We are perilously overscheduled, intense hyper-achievers.  We like lines on paper, boundaries in everything.  However, I have a hunch that the reason why we stick to status quo has less to do with comfort or complacency and more to do with timing.  We just don’t allow ourselves the time and space to conceive of anything different.  We’re too busy for that.

Today, have a meeting about nothing.  Carve out some time to be an inventor in your market.  Ask yourself how your work might be different, or better.  Challenge yourself to value your clients differently.  Shake up your strategic planning by allowing for strategic thinking.  Invite 10 people in a room and ask how you can collectively become the best in your business.  Maybe lock the door first.

Then, take a nap.  And tomorrow, when you’re done being so busy, do more of nothing.  Let us know how it goes.