back icon
All Episodes

Melissa Shanahan

#224: The Discipline of Staying Focused

Listen Now:

Today’s episode stems from the strategic planning retreats Melissa has been facilitating with her clients. Q4 is just around the corner, which means this is the perfect opportunity to finish strong for the year and look ahead to next year. 

If you want to take your firm from successful to a perfectly well-oiled machined that is in alignment with your core values and creates fulfillment and freedom, there are only three things that matter. Winging the next few months can create some pretty remarkable results, but if you want to create velocity towards where you want to go, listen in.

Join Melissa on this episode to discover the only three things that matter when it comes to planning and executing your goals. You’ll hear the difference between simple and easy, what happens if you wing it, and how these three core ideas will keep you focused and help you experience less friction along the way.

If you’re a law firm owner, Mastery Group is the way for you to work with Melissa. This program consists of quarterly strategic planning facilitated with guidance and community every step of the way. Enrollment will be opening soon, so join the waitlist right now to grab one of the limited seats!

Show Notes:

What You’ll Discover:

• 3 things that matter when it comes to making your goals possible.

• The highest level of thinking you can do for your business.

• Why you must keep planning and execution separate.

Full Episode Transcript:

Download Transcript PDF

I’m Melissa Shanahan, and this is The Law Firm Owner Podcast Episode #224.

Welcome to The Law Firm Owner Podcast powered by Velocity Work for owners who want to grow a firm that gives them the life they want. Get crystal clear on where you're going. Take planning seriously and honor your plan like a pro. This is the work that creates Velocity.

Everyone, welcome to this week's episode. I'm so glad you're here. Can you believe this is the last recording before we hit Q4 of this year? That is mind boggling to me. This year has flown by, and the next time you hear my voice on this podcast, it will be Q4.

We have been working hard over here. Lots of retreats, lots of private client retreats, also leading the Mastery Group Retreat, which is super fun. By the time this airs that will be done. But I'm recording this before that actually happens. I'm very excited. This is what I'm built for, so it feels really good to be in the flow.

My team is rockin’ & rollin’. I mean, we are more dialed right now than ever before. Which is funny, because episodes I did in the last month or so… I did one called “The Storm Before the Calm.” Then I released a couple of interview episodes that I did with Tara Gronhovd on her podcast.

What's so funny, is “The Storm Before the Calm” was born out of my experience from back then, when I actually did those interviews. So, when you hear those interviews, I was really in the thick of this transition with me, in terms of leadership and how I'm showing up, the team members I have on the team, the responsibilities and roles that we have in the company, we were thick in it.

We were going, we were doing all right, but it felt really hard. Since then, man, it feels different. Our team dynamic is strong, agile, positive, all the things that you want in a team. So, I'm just so pleased and my heart is full and happy. Because it's really fun to work with a team that's having fun, and it does feel like we're all having fun right now.

So, retreat season is here. We do retreats between, in the quarter. We have to because we can't squeeze every single person into the turn of the quarter, every single law firm, but it's heavier at the turn of the quarter. Man, it is just delightful.

I think this is a special time because this is everyone's chance to finish strong in the year, and we think forward to the next year. It's a really special time. It's a special quarterly retreat, in my mind. Every private client gets one two-day retreat a year. We call that The Annual Planning Retreat, where you look a full year ahead. You plan out really well for the full year, the next year.

Then we have quarterly retreats along the way in that year that are one day each. We have some clients that have done this enough to know that they prefer to have their annual retreat in the fall. So, the Q4 planning retreat that typically would happen, they want that to be their annual so they're looking out 12 months from there.

I think that is so brilliant. Because what that does is ensure that they have bigger plans, and they can get a head start on those bigger plans as they finish strong in the current year that they're in, the calendar year that they're in.

And around the holidays they're not trying to squeeze in a two-day retreat where they're making a bunch of plans, then they go on break, then they come back, and they have to reinvigorate and remember. They have to reacquaint themselves with all the plans that they had made. I've been observing the clients who've chosen to do that, and I think that's brilliant.

So, the season that we're in, we are leading retreats. Some of them are just quarterly retreats, some of them are annual retreats, and we are having a blast. It's really cool to see the lessons learned that are coming out of these owners and leadership teams in many cases, and how they're applying those lessons to the future.

The decisions that they're making. The investments that they're making. How much quicker they hire than they used to, because they're starting to get it. How much more discerning they are when they hire. How much stronger their core values become, and the culture of the firm.

There is an evolution to affirm who is going from ‘successful on paper’ to a well-oiled machine that is collaborative. The culture is positive, and there's a culture of accountability. They feel organized, generally speaking. They are always seeking to make improvements, but for the sake of staying in alignment with the core values.

To watch all of this unfold, and to see what happens… The numbers are a byproduct of the work that they're doing. To see what happens with the numbers and to see what happens with their level of fulfillment in their work, and freedom for the owners, it's pretty remarkable.

I feel really grateful that we get to be on these journeys with our clients, and that we are doing our part in their journey to ensure that they get to where they want to go. That is a brilliant feeling. As time has gone on, and as our company has grown, it's more than just me interacting with clients. I have team members that truly help and make a difference in our clients lives that I'm not even a part of.

It's planned, it's part of our system to help clients, but it doesn't involve me. Those pieces and steps don't involve me. The impact it's having for clients is, I mean, it's a brilliant feeling to know how supported they feel in conversation with really smart, sharp, and experienced experts in their own right. People who are now working with us behind the scenes. It's been a difference maker. Really cool.

All of this to say, this isn't to toot our horn, this is just coming from a place of gratitude. Clients, Mastery Group members, everyone that I get to touch when it comes to strategic planning retreats, you are inspiring. It doesn't matter what level you are at. It's not that the higher revenue firms are the ones that are inspiring to us.

Every single retreat that we host and we lead inspires me and my team. This has always been why I do what I do. This has always been why I started this company. But now, the inspiration that's happening, that infiltrates my company, because of this, we get excited for it. It is why we show up and do what we do.

It's because of how inspired we are by our clients and their progress. So, this level of purpose feels so much deeper than it did, even though I had a lot of sense of purpose when I started the company. It's so much deeper now.

Partially because it's collective with my team, but partially because we've evolved and were able to offer levels of support that we weren't able to offer before; gets us in the trenches more with the clients. It's just all really great.

I realized, as I'm talking about this, that we don't have any way on our website that someone can work with us privately, as a private client. The reason is because we're extremely selective. And, we haven't done the work to create a system that honors that selectiveness. So, the only way to learn more about this, and to see if this is a good fit for you, is to schedule a consult.

You can do that through our website very, very easily; there's a way to do that. The other is, if you're in Mastery Group, then, of course, you kind of have us at your fingertips. So, we could talk about that if it feels like you're ready to go from Mastery Group to private. But the way to work with us on our website is Mastery Group.

But truthfully, we haven't had to mark it for private. We don't need to grow that extensively. We have a really good set of private clients. We definitely have creative capacity, so it's not that we can't take more, but I don't need more.

I don't need to go hunting for them. I've been really pleased with the way that this has grown organically; most of it word-of-mouth, when it comes to private. Actually, maybe all of it word-of-mouth when it comes to private. I prefer it that way.

Of course, there's Mastery Group. If you are under $1 million, under $1.5 million, Mastery Group could be a good option for you. I talked about inspiring; that's a community. So, you also feel the inspiration when you are part of that community. It's pretty strong, warm, and remarkable as well.

So, those are a couple ways we work with people. I'm saying that because I've talked a lot about it. If you want to get involved you can go to the website; Mastery Group is there. If you are interested in private versus Mastery Group, schedule a consult, we'll chat and see if it makes sense.

Okay, today, what I have for you is stemming from Strategic Planning retreats. We had a client; this was their first… We call it the Kickoff Retreat, it's two days. It's looking at long-term vision, planning the next year, and then of course, the quarter in front of us. It was a fantastic couple of days.

Now, at the end of all of this, they were overwhelmed. Not in a way that felt heavy and they didn't know where to start, but there was a lot; we made a lot of plans. We did create simplicity so that it was very easy. They knew exactly what to focus on this quarter so that they would be on track.

I facilitated that, pulled it out of their heads, so we could distill down the most important things that need to happen in order for them to be on track with their long-term ‘pin in the map,’ so to speak. One of the things that they mentioned, was that they couldn't believe how simple it was.

At first, I said easy. I said, “This isn't easy. This is simple.” This is not easy. Not only distilling it down, that part's not easy, but executing on the simple plans you have is not easy. They really understood that the difference between simple and easy, when it came to the plans that they had made.

I told them, “Look, I know we have all this stuff on the stickies and on the whiteboard,” and we are going to give them a debrief after each retreat. Clients get a debrief of the important points that came out, so that they have to refer back to. It sort of further distills down what's important from those days.

I told them the only three things that matter are this… and I want you to know this too, because if you're anything like them, and using their words, they've been winging it to build what they've built. And, they built something pretty remarkable.

But you know what happens when you wing it, you don't constrain down. You don't simplify. You look around and get new ideas, and you start executing on those ideas, and then you let those drop, and then you flip into something different, a different focus, and then you just get caught up in the legal work.

And so, you run with that for a while, but you know that you should be doing something better. So, you go back to figuring out what project you should work on and what system you should implement. Execution, real, meaningful execution, doesn't really get to happen. And if it does, it's not really centered around anything other than just things that you know would probably be a good idea.

What I told them was this… Because we came up with goals, which are numbers, that they should be shooting for; revenue also broken down by practice area, the number of cases closed in their case, number of hours for one of the practice areas. We have goals. Of those goals… Google reviews is another goal.

To support the achievement of those goals, and being able to hit those goals, they have Rocks, which are key quarterly priorities, identified and prioritized, so that through the execution of those, it makes it easier for them to hit their goals.

This sounds so simple, right? It is. But we went through two full days to get to the point where we had the right goals for them and their firm, and the right Rocks for them in their firm. Of course, there's other important initiatives that are going to come out of this.

But here's what I told them: There are three things that matter, period. The first is that they finish their Rocks, no excuses. They do it. They fully implement the Rocks, the priorities, the projects that they said they were going to get done, they get them done.

The second thing that is extremely important, is that they pay attention to the numbers in a way that they never have before. Which I gave them a way to do. There's a weekly meeting, where they're going to look at the numbers and report on the numbers.

The third, is that they sit down once a week to be intentional about their calendar. They look ahead at the next week, identify priorities, and figure out how they're going to get those done in the next week.

Those three things are the only things that matter. Now, this isn't about doing… Many of you know about Monday Map/Friday Wrap. This is not about doing Monday Map/Friday Wrap perfectly. They haven't practiced it up till now. I am going to work with them to implement it. But more than anything, I care that they're intentionality goes up.

And so, Rocks to be completed. Always know what's going on with the numbers, pertaining mostly to the goals that were set, where they are week to week. And sitting down to be intentional once a week for the upcoming week. If they do those three things, they will come back different people, and they will come back with a different firm.

I'm sharing this with all of you because we think that it feels heavy, it feels like there's so much sometimes that we need to do in order to right the ship, or get on track, and that is not the truth. What is important, is that you decide on a few priorities that you are going to implement, a few things you're going to get done.

Sometimes that's hiring, sometimes it's implementing a system or a process. Sometimes it's finding a partner for something that you need to get dialed, which could be a great accountant or a marketing partner. You get what I'm saying. There are just a few things you need to identify. Put your blinders on. Do not look around.

Because these clients, if they were to stick with the habits that they had previously, they'll go back, they'll spend the first two weeks pretty motivated and feeling really good about the plans that they made, and then real-life kicks in. The legal work kicks back in and they get busy.

And somehow, it kind of falls out of focus just enough that new ideas enter their brain, and new things to look towards, to think about, or spend money mental energy on, even if they don't execute them, really that mental energy should be spent on what came out of this retreat.

And so, when I helped them understand, listen to me, the only things that matter are that you finish your Rocks, that you have your finger on the pulse of the numbers every single week, that you sit down once a week to be intentional about your calendar, and how you're going to spend your time in the upcoming week.

Do those three things. This is about progress, not perfection. If you do those three things, next time we get into a room together you will be in a very different place. That really landed with them. I thought, man, how simple that was.

That was very helpful for them. They did a lot of good work in these two days. There is a lot that came out that is meaningful. They have action items. They have plans for the future that they can't help but kind of get ahead of themselves and think about what systems will help them create those outcomes.

But all of that is for those two days. That is for that room. That's the time to lift your head and look at the landscape and figure things out. And then, when the retreat is over, put your head down and you go. You execute on the plans that you made.

You trust that the plans you made came from a time where you were in a room, really high-level thinking. You're not going to have better thinking in the middle of a quarter, when you're busy with running your law firm, doing legal work, and having your life. It's not going to happen.

When you're in a room for these two days, and you've taken space away to give a lot of deep thought to what's going on, and it's facilitated, that is the highest level of thinking you can do for your business. Trust that. So, when the retreat is over, put your head down and go. It's all about execution at that point.

Don't make plans when you're supposed to be executing, that is not the time. So, I think that helped them. I wanted to share it with you all in case it's helpful. Listen, if you do retreats on your own, this works. Do I think facilitation is powerful? Absolutely. Do I think that hiring Velocity Work is the only way to success? No, absolutely not.

You could do this on your own. If you do a retreat on your own, and you do make some plans, just make sure to constrain down to a few things. Once your retreat is over, that you have set aside for yourself; maybe that's four hours, maybe that's two days.

Whatever it is, once you've made some decisions about exactly what you're shooting for in terms of goals, numbers that you are going to hit, and exactly what you're going to implement in order to bring those numbers to life, then you put your head down and you go.

It's a discipline to stay focused on what you named. That is the job. There's a time for planning and there's a time for execution, you do not blend the two of those things. Keep planning and execution separate. If you commit to that, then you will have a much higher likelihood of staying focused on the things that you said you need to get done, in order to make your goals possible or easier or with less friction along the way.

But then, on top of that, the other thing you need to do… You're increasing your execution by constraining down. Then, you need to increase your awareness of what is going on with the health of the business. That is just checking in on the numbers, key numbers. And, just only the goals that you set. If you just do that...

Are there a bunch of numbers you could look at? Yes. Do they have meaning? Yes. But you start somewhere. Look at one to five key numbers, and that is it. You'll look at it every single week. Those numbers will bring awareness and make sure that something isn't flying by you. That you're not in the dark about something. You stay connected because you have a practice of every week looking at them.

The third thing, is intentionality. You increase your intentionality by sitting down and being thoughtful about your upcoming week. Making sure that you identify your priorities, and you know how you're going to get those done in the upcoming week, because it's the right thing for your plan.

So, by increasing your awareness, increasing your intentionality, and increasing your commitment to execution, you will put yourself on a path that will create Velocity towards where it is you want to go. It is the work that creates Velocity.

I'm offering this here in case this is helpful for any of you listeners; that you pare down. You make all kinds of plans, the planning is messy, and at the end of it all you distill down to the things that are most important. When your planning session is over it is time to implement. It is time to execute on all the things that you said you were going to do.

Through that process, through those 90 days, let's say, that you are going to be executing, you need to make sure your awareness is high around the numbers and health of the firm. You need to make sure that you are being intentional, week to week, with how you're going to spend your time to line yourself up with where it is that you say you want to go.

If those three things happen, you will be a different person, a version of yourself, on the other side. I don't care if you have $100,000 firm, if you have $500,000 firm, if you have a million-dollar firm, if you have a $5 million firm, if you have a $10 million firm, and up, that is true. It just looks different with the priorities and the execution, and what you're trying to keep high level of awareness on. Your intentionality and how you are going to spend time on things, that will look different.

But that practice, those three things, do not change. It doesn't matter what size of firm you have, period. So, take these three things; awareness, intentionality, and execution. Find your way with those. How are you going to make sure you're successful with those things?

The ways that I encourage these clients to be successful with those things, is to look at their numbers every single week. That increases awareness. If you have a different way you want to increase awareness about the health of the business, go for it.

Increase intentionality. The way that I encourage them to do that looks like sitting down every week, looking ahead at your next week, and making plans on how you're going to get your priorities accomplished in a way that aligns with where it is you say you want to go.

If you have a different way that you want to infuse an activity that will increase your intentionality, that's fine. I'm just giving you what I know works. It doesn't mean it's the only answer. But you need to increase awareness, you need to increase intentionality, and you need to increase execution.

You need to constrain down and just do the thing. Get it done all the way across the finish line. Not almost done, done. Entirely done. You can use accountability to help with that. You can calendar time that you're going to get those things done, when you're sitting down to be intentional. Do what you got to do, but increase awareness, increase intentionality, and increase execution.

All right, everybody. Thank you so much. Have a wonderful week. I will see you here next Tuesday.

Hey, you may not know this, but there's a free guide for a process I teach called Monday Map/ Friday Wrap. If you go to, it's all yours. It's about how to plan your time and honor your plans. So, that week over week, more work that moves the needle is getting done in less time. Go to to get your free copy.

Thank you for listening to The Law Firm Owner Podcast. If you're ready to get clearer on your vision, data, and mindset, then head over to where you can plug in to Quarterly Strategic Planning, with accountability and coaching in between. This is the work that creates Velocity.

Latest Episodes