Non-Billables: The Key to Success

Taking “time out” to make yourself and your career a priority‚Ķ?

Nonbillable work?

Hard pass.

Many of my clients are resistant to making themselves a priority. Time is money. I get it.

I also get that you have the choice of just “doing” your practice or “investing” in your practice. One will take you much farther than the other but it will first require some priority shifting.

I recently heard an analogy that really drove this home for me. Imagine you have 100 miles to travel and you are on a bike and your are chugging along, doing great, you’ve found you’re rhythm. You got this you tell yourself. You feel strong and you don’t want to stop and get off the bike because you are making great time and you don’t want to burst your momentum. You just are focused on pedaling, pedaling, pedaling. But because you are so focused on keeping moving, you don’t notice that you have your car keys in your pocket and you could simply stop, take out the keys, hop in the car, and be there in a fraction of the time. So you just keeping moving.

You will probably get there eventually but it’s going to take a lot longer.

That is how so many of us live our days. We have hours to bill, projects to complete, things to do. We don’t want to stop and employ any planning tools for our week. We don’t want to take 2 hours to fully engage in a CLE or webinar that could teach us something that would be a benefit to our clients. We don’t want to take the 3 hours to review that new legislation that could impact our clients.

We rebel against the things that aren’t “paying the bills.” We resist taking actions that don’t correlate directly to some emergent need.

What is really happening is that we are not making ourselves a priority. We are not making our development and success a priority. Those things are too amorphous. We can’t wrap our arms around them. We can’t put them on a client bill and get paid for them. So we don’t do them. We choose to stay on the bike and just keep pedaling.

If you stop and ask yourself what you will gain from that CLE or from taking the time to plan and prioritize your week — what is the answer?

Will that webinar teach you something you can employ with future clients? Will that CLE make you a better attorney? Will 2 hours reading that negotiations book make you more effective for future clients? Will planning and prioritizing your week make you more efficient for your clients? Will planning your week save you time and save your clients money? Will you be a better attorney because of what these “non-priority” items can give you?

Logically, we can all buy into why these non-billable tasks are good for our practice and good for our clients. Part of the problem is that we have a hard time letting go of the billables for an hour or two so that we can redirect our focus. We spin in thoughts like

If I don’t get my billables in this month, I’m going to get into trouble.

What if I miss an important email?

I need to answer that phone call.

I can’t check out for an hour in the middle of the day.

I have more important things to do.

Are any of those facts? Do you know with certainty what will happen if you devote an hour each week to plan and priorities your time? Why do you need to respond to that email right now? What happens if you wait an hour to respond?

Be honest with yourself–none of these are facts. They are choices. They are things you are choosing to make a priority: random emails, missed phone calls, constant availability.

I recently had one of my free mini-session clients work through these very same questions. We were able to help see the fault in this thinking. We created some buy-in and excitement for creating a better practice and becoming a better attorney. She left the session excited about growing her skills and appreciating how much those skills would help her clients.

What happens when you go to an in-person CLE or when you get stuck on a conference call for a hour? Do you respond to those emails immediately? Do you answer every knock at your door? Why is it any different when you are instead taking time to invest in yourself?

Does it make you a better, more skilled attorney to jump into all those emails at 8am? Imagine how much you could grow or develop if you committed to making yourself and your development your first priority each day. Take that webinar, go to the CLE, read the strategy books, follow legislative developments.

Go on offense with your career instead of always being on defense.

We create all this drama around why we can’t take an hour to develop ourselves. We believe all these crazy thoughts about how the world will fall if we spend time on non-billable development. We convince ourselves that we need to stay on the bike and we ignore that there is a better way to get there. Another way to create efficiency and success. But it will require you to take a pit stop here and there and make yourself a priority.

In order to become a skilled and successful attorney you have to invest in yourself as well as your clients. If not, your clients’ needs will grow and you will stay stagnant. You are limiting yourself by not investing in yourself.

Get off the damn bike.

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