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Melissa Shanahan

#259: From Maxed Out to Manageable: How to Reconnect with What's Most Important

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If you’re like most law firm owners, you run hot all the time. Your calendar is full of obligations, weekends are far from relaxing, and it’s causing you pain, even if this is normally how you roll. It’s rare for anyone to keep up this pace, and the truth is it’s going to eventually hurt your firm, team, personal life, and the quality of your work.

The reality is you can’t care about everything equally. They can’t all be a top priority, so where do you maybe need to back off your plan? Melissa understands how defeating it can be to feel like you can’t get your head above water no matter how hard you try, and this is an invitation to start doing things differently.

If you want a higher quality of life as your firm gains success, you’re in the right place. Melissa is highlighting the ways law firm owners expect themselves to operate at an unsustainable pace, the downsides of doing so, and how the Monday Map process helps you pull the plug of this way of being so you can play the long game.

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. Join the waitlist right now to grab one of the limited seats when enrollment opens again!

Show Notes:

What You’ll Discover:

• The problem with expecting yourself to operate at an unsustainable pace.

• Why Monday Mapping is vital and why people struggle with it.

• How one of your most important jobs is to honor your plan.

• The importance of claiming your priorities.

• How using Monday Map gives you a leg up and helps you feel the momentum of progress.

Featured on the Show:

Create space, mindset, and concrete plans for growth. Start here: Velocity Work Monday Map.

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Join the waitlist for our next Monday Map Accelerator, a 5-day virtual deep-dive event.

Schedule a consult call with us here.

On to the Next One by Jay-Z

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Full Episode Transcript:

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I’m Melissa Shanahan, and this is The Law Firm Owner Podcast Episode #259.

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.

Hey everyone, welcome to this week's episode. We are digging into a topic today that I hope will provide relief for many of you listening. Because here's what I know. Many of you listening feel like, despite your best efforts, you are all over the place. You can't keep up with yourself. And with all the things going on in your world, not just with work, but with your life as well, it can feel very defeating and deflating over time if you feel like that for an extended period.

And it's bad enough just to have a day like that, where you feel like you can't quite catch up, you just can't get your head above water. It's defeating and deflating. So, many of you, I know, don't just have a day like this. You have weeks, months, and maybe years like this. And as I say that, I can feel pain in my chest. When I said “years” I thought, “Well, that's true.” That is true for people I meet. That is true. I know it is for some of you.

It doesn't have to be that way, I promise you. I promise you. I work with too many people that shift out of that mode. Now, here's why I want to do this episode. I think there is this misconception that people that I work with shift out of that mode and then it's all just perfect. Their schedule is laid out beautifully, and they follow up beautifully.

Some do, some get there, but it takes time. It isn't just a light switch that you flip on. Monday Map/Friday wrap, it's a process. You practice the process. It's not just a switch that you flip on and everything is hunky dory once you start. What I'm going to offer you today is a version of Monday Map, a sort of segment of how to think about Monday Map. And it's important.

I have touched on this in some ways before, but recently I've had some conversations that have given me language that I think I can use here that hopefully will be useful to you all as listeners. And certainly for myself even, as I think about my own world, and how I am prioritizing, etc. I think this episode will be useful.

So, every week, we hit the week and we have a lot to do. And whether you calendar it or not, most everyone listening to this does have some version of either not planning well enough, or it just doesn't go according to plan. There are a couple of reasons your schedule, and the way that you operate, are not going according to plan. Sometimes we're thrown off by world circumstances.

Now, if you follow Monday Map, you have a buffer to account for those times, because they are inevitable in your profession. But sometimes, it's not just that. Maybe you do have a buffer and things do get thrown off, but you have space to work with it. But then, you don't honor your plan. You indulge in something else that sort of surfaced, that truly doesn't need to go first, but you do it first.

And you knock something else out of your calendar that should have been done, because you said you were going to do it at that time. But then, you don't. You let something else win. It didn't need to win, but you let it win. So, that can be another version of what it looks like to not honor the plan.

Now, none of this is worth judgment at all. Someone who gets their schedule thrown off because of external circumstances, it doesn't mean that you suck and that you should be doing this differently. You could do it differently, there's an invitation to do it differently, but it doesn't mean anything about you as a human. It doesn't mean anything about you and your abilities, or your worth, quite frankly.

The reason I'm saying that, even if it sounds harsh to say “your worth”, there are people that get so down on themselves, they are so hard on themselves, for not sticking to a plan even if they tried really hard, and that is just not helpful at all ever. And so, that's what I mean.

There's no reason for any judgment here. There isn't room for it. It creates inefficiencies with all of this. So, for the sake of efficiency and effectiveness, can we just set it down any judgment you have, and let's just work with the facts here. That's what I want to try to help you guys do, with sort of a minimum effective dose. So, that's what we're going to get into.

Monday Mapping is important. I believe in it wholeheartedly. If you don't have your hands on that guide, you can go get the guide. But listen, it's a guide. It's not a Bible, I don't mean that like you idolize it in any way. It's just that there's no perfect blueprint for every single human. But what I tried to do in that is make it principle based. There are some principles you should think through for yourself. And I try to provide a guide to do that.

Now, people struggle with this because it is oftentimes such a flip from the way that they have been operating. It can feel overwhelming. And so, even though… and this is what I was saying at the top of the episode… there are so many of you that have the best of intentions, and you really do try to get your hands around your schedule. Around how you manage your time, how you move through time, and what your calendar looks like. That is all worthy work. I think it's important work.

But sometimes when you don't feel enough progress, you end up scrapping it and then maybe getting motivated later down the line to try again. But then, when you don't feel enough progress… that's subjective, but to each their own… when you don't feel enough progress then you scrap it.

Also, I think it helps to have some sense of accountability or guidance through me, through Velocity Work, because I can offer you insights that allows you to see your progress, so that you don't just throw your hands up. But oftentimes, when I look at your schedules, if you plan out your time and you set your calendar to honor all of the things that you say are important, that need to get done that week, I look at it, and I think, “God, I don't know if I would want that.”

That is not a suggestion. I mean, truthfully, if you're taking time to plan this out, this shouldn't be a suggestion. It should be your boss. That's how you should run through your day, by whatever your calendar is telling you to do, because you used executive functioning to make that plan. But when I look at it, I think, “Oh, my goodness.”

Sometimes I do this my schedule. And when that starts to happen repeatedly, I do what I'm offering you guys today. But when I look at that, I think, the rigor that it takes to stick to what you have planned is almost impossible. I say that… Maybe it's possible for someone who's super experienced and just on the money. They have a lot of control over things; over their time, over emergencies. They are really protected from the outside world.

But I mean, really. Really, when I look at some schedules, I'm thinking, “This is going to blow up.” Even if you have a little bit of buffer time, the way that you have all of this stacked, and the perfection that you're going to need to exemplify throughout this day in terms of staying on track, there are variables. Right? There are variables within the work that you are doing.

It's not just about new things flying at you. It's about variables in the work that you are doing that you might not be able to foresee. So, there's zero space. There's no margin for error at all. And so, that is very deflating for people. It is not something that's recommended unless you are an expert at this. And It takes a long time to be really good at this.

Quite honestly, I know better than to stack myself like that. It's not going to happen. I cannot sustain that rigor throughout my day, and I'm teaching this. So, where do you maybe need to back off your plan, when you think about the plan that you have for your day? And if you don't calendar, if you're just running off a to-do list, try to put that to-do list in your calendar and see what happens. You're probably not going to have time to get it all done.

And if you do put it in your calendar, when you look at that, are you being realistic? There is a hip-hop song that I love to think about when I am in a mode where I need to move, I need to stay on point, I need to be hardcore about no distractions. Like put my head down and go-go-go-go. It's a song by Jay-Z, “On to the Next One”. That song has a rhythm to it that sort of puts me in the mode of ‘on to the next one.’ And it repeats itself, “On to the next one. On to the next one.”

That's as far as I'll go with that, I will spare you. But I love it. I love it for this kind of work. It feels like the pace I need to keep, the focus I need to keep. It is on to the next one. Do not lift your head, stay focused. It is that kind of mentality. And I love hip-hop, so that’s kind of par for the course. I'm sure many of you have your own anthems. What do you love? What do you listen to? What puts you in the zone?

I've definitely heard people talk about, before they walk into court, they have a song or playlist that they'll listen to. But when you sit down to do work, and get serious about the work, is there something that can sort of put you into a zone?

Now, here's why I'm bringing this up… Although it's fun to talk about with people. But here's why I'm bringing this up. People expect themselves to keep that pace, that hyped pace, like ‘on to the next one-on to the next one-on to the next one,’ all day, every day. You look at their calendars, and you see that that's what they're supposed to do.

Let's look at your calendar, and you see that that's what you're supposed to do. It's just the way you live, it's the way you work, it's the way you operate, ‘on to the next one-on to the next one.’

The problem with this, is you cannot sustain that for a full eight hours. I would even argue you can't sustain it for five consecutive hours. So, how do we need to think about setting ourselves up for success when it comes to this mentality of, ‘go-go-go’? This rhythm of work that can't stop, the pace is fast, we have to keep going or else, right? That rhythm needs to be contained.

When I think about periods I've had for my own world, there have been phases where I can look back and see that that pace has not been contained, and that pace is expected all day, every day. I say ‘all day, every day,’ but I am thinking about the workday, all day, every workday. But the truth is, I have things to do outside of that. Work ends, and then I'm on to the next one. Whether it's a dinner I've been invited to, taking my kids to soccer, or being at the soccer fields.

Whatever presence looks like with my family and with my kid, I'm not just relaxing in that. It's on, you’re being on. And so, ‘on to the next one’ really doesn't end at the end of the day, it rolls into other responsibilities and obligations. But obligations I choose, like “I choose to be a part of these things.” And then, after that ends, maybe I would have needed to open my computer again.

You guys have all been where I'm talking about. We have all been there; where the weekends are not relaxing, they're full. And so, I say, when I think about ‘on to the next one,’ I am thinking about the work calendar. But the truth is, we run hot all the time. Not just eight to five and then whatever, whatever extra work you do on top of that. That's not when we're running hot.

We are running hot most of the time, most of the hours of our day. This can cause a lot of pain even if it's normally how you roll, like you are on to the next one all the time, that is how you roll. It's very rare that it doesn't keep that pace. The problem with that is, you are essentially living out a statement for, a vote for, caring deeply about all of it, caring intensely about all of it.

Which sounds noble, but that is not the way it goes. Because when you care intensely and deeply about all of it, and you're on to the next one-on the next one-on the next one-on the next one, that pace is not possible to be kept. I don't care who you are. I don't care how hard you work. I don't care what your history has been like, and what you can show me and point to me that you are able to do that. It isn't possible to sustain.

We are playing the long game. You are a law firm owner who has a lot of responsibilities. And if you don't play the long game you are shooting yourself in the foot. You are going to hurt your firm. You're going to hurt the quality of the work that's being done inside of the firm. It's going to take a toll on the team. It's going to take a toll on you and your personal life. You have to pull the plug on that way of operating, on that default mode.

Listen, I just can hear some of you, and your butt's, as I'm saying this. Like, “Yeah, but… Yeah, but that's not really me. I'm not that intense. I've always done it this way. And it's not easy, but…” but-but-but-but-but. Can we just stop? Do you want a higher quality of life as you gain more success in your firm? You determine what success looks like; I'm not just talking about growth for the sake of growth. What matters to you?

I have a private client right now that does not want to grow. They want to grow, but not much more. They're going to round out, and they want a high quality, boutique…. And that requires a lot of strategy, more than you think. More strategy than just growth for the sake of growth, I'll tell you that. And so, it's not just about growth for the sake of growth. I want to make sure everybody hears it when I say that.

It is about you playing the long game with and for your firm, which is with and for yourself. And so, when you were thinking about your week and about what you're going to get done, naturally, of course, there are all these things that float to the top. And when you think about Monday Map, a part of doing Monday Map is a brain download. Or having a place where all the things are stored that need to be done, and you can add to it.

But sitting down to make sure that is all out of your head and onto paper or in a digital format, so that you aren't holding on to it in your head, is a very important step. Your brain is meant for processing, not for storage. So, get it out of your brain. That is a super important step of all this.

Now, once you do that, what I encourage people to do, and there's an organized way that I have you get it out of your brain. You put it into buckets, it sort of allows you to think through in an efficient way of categorizing things, that it's easy for you to schedule or delegate, or whatever.

Okay, but for this episode, what I want to say is that when you look at your brain download, and you look at all the things that are in front of you, you have to pick the most important things. The most important things. I'm talking like three to five for the entire week. And if you have less, that's fine. What are the most important things? And you center your scheduling and your effort around planning, and planning extremely well, for those things only.

Come time, next week, to honor your plan for what you said you were going to do, your job is to honor that plan and around those top priorities. And that is it. Your job is to show up and do what you said you were going to do. The rest of the time, even if you don't schedule it, you can run off your to-do lists, you can run your same game that you've been running, but not with the most important things.

So, there are two positions that you might be standing in right now. One is, you don't plan anything ever, you just hustle your way through every single week, for the most part. What I'm asking you to do is get more intentional, and at least put in the top five or less things for your week. Schedule time for those to give attention in the ways that needs to be given. So that you can either make immense progress, or complete it.

Plan which one. Is it progress or is it completion? Figure out what you're going to have to give in terms of time; how you're going to have to show up, when you're going to have to show up, in order for those things to get done. Actually calendar it. And when you calendar it, you do not get to back off. You do not get to change your mind.

If you said 11 o'clock on Tuesdays is when you're going to do this thing, when it's 11 o'clock, you do that thing. Do what you said you were going to do. The reason this is so important is because you're not asking yourself to do that all day long, you're asking yourself to do that around what you said was top priority. So, honor it.

Now, there's another position some of you might be in, which is where you do calendar everything, and you fail at it and you struggle with it. Because you can't get it all done. It never works the way that you think it's going to work. Some of that might be because you're not planning hard enough. And some of it might be because you're not honoring your plan, there's a problem on that end.

Well, here's what I'm suggesting, it doesn't matter. Can you just take the approach, instead of planning out as hard as you have been with as many things as you have been? Let's back up, and let's just focus on calendaring, appropriately, time, all of it, with thoroughness, the top priorities. That's it.

Now, here's what will happen. You will hit that week, you will have a bunch of open space on your calendar that you didn't schedule that you could have scheduled stuff into, but you didn't. You only scheduled the top priorities, and that's it.

And so, your job is to only honor those things and do what you said what you planned to do. And the rest of the space that's open, and doesn't have anything calendar in it, well, in that space have a place that you can go to if you're not sure what to work on next. If there isn't something in front of you that you need to do.

But you don't have to calendar it. You can just fill the space. Do so as intentionally as possible. Have a list of things to do, a to-do list somewhere, or a task list in your software or something, and just fill it in a way that seems like it makes the most sense for you.

The top priorities, those are calendared, and you honor them, period. And as you're getting ready to hit that window, it's like this contained amount of time when you are going to have that energy of ‘onto the next one-on to the next one-on to the next one. I'm supposed to be doing this. I'm not lifting my head. Distractions are shut off. I will not be pulled away from this. I'm going to finish this. I'm committed to this. I'm dedicated, Head down,’ that energy that you're bringing to it, you only have to do in these shorter bursts of time.

And the rest of the time, you can still be “productive” in a much different way, in a less structured way. Now, the structure is something that you can improve upon. You can get more structured with more of your time as time goes on, but God, we need to get a win here and we need to get our priorities in line.

And so, by you claiming certain things are priority, you calendar them and you honor those, everything else will take care of itself. Everything else will take care of itself. You will get stuff done. Just calendar the most important things. This gives you a leg up. This gives you the opportunity to feel success and feel momentum that matters.

Because the truth is, you cannot care equally about everything that you're supposed to be doing. It can't all be “first”. It can't all be in the top five. So, what is in the top five?

Listen, it's a lot, you're juggling a lot, and you're doing a good job. Even if you don't feel like you are, I mean think about it, you are. You do not have the right perspective to be able to judge if you are not doing a good job, or if you are doing a good job. I do have perspective. I talk to people of all kinds about this topic.

And listen to me, if you have a willingness, you're doing better than most people. It doesn't mean there's not room for improvement, of course there is. Of course there is. You're not going to get to a place where there's not room for improvement.

But give yourself a break here, and really lean into this idea of progress, not perfection. And using this tool to only calendar the top priorities. And you honor the crap out of those. Those are not up for debate. You do those things. Everything else you can do in a flow.

But if you can do this, it will change your relationship with yourself. You will gain more trust, that you will do what you said you were going to do, because you're not asking yourself to do it for a bunch of hours a day. You're asking yourself to do it for this chunk in the day, and that's it.

And the more that you honor it, plan it and then you honor it, you plan it and then you honor it, you plan it and then you honor it, you start to build up this notion that you are someone that does what they say they're going to do when they say they're going to do it.

Just live in that space for a while, and then you can start to add on. Maybe you schedule an additional type of item, with specificity, and you honor that, in addition to the top five priorities, right? You can keep moving in a good direction with this.

But I think some of you just need a win. This is a way to get a win, and  doing so intentionally. Lining yourself up and focusing on what matters the most to you when you are planning this.

Now, one last thing I'll say with this, is that it can't just be work. You have to think about yourself, too. And some of you have been in this ‘on to the next one’ mentality, and hustling hard, for many hours a day for a while. And what happens with that is you leave yourself in the dust. So, do not exclude yourself when I'm asking you what are the top priorities. You are one of those things.

So, what needs to go in your calendar that you need to honor, so that you are taking better care of yourself, so that you can handle more things in a better way inside of the firm? It's important for your wellbeing your mental health, your emotional health, and physically. What do you need to do? What do you need to do that takes care of you?

Don't leave yourself in the dust with these things. This isn't just about work; this is about you as the human. And we are playing the long game. So, what I ask you, considering all that, what is top priority in this phase that you're entering, in this phase that you're in over the next 30-90 days? What is most important?

Schedule for those things, and everything else, just let there be open space and you can be busy and productive with it. You can move through as you want to move through. But these things, they go first, and they get done.

Alright, everybody, I hope this helps. I think there's easy wins here to be had. But you have to have discipline. You have to actually do what I said to do here in order to make some headway. And if there's something you want to tweak, tweak it. But sit down and get intentional with what matters the most, calendar time for that, tee yourself up for success during those times, and do not not honor those things.

And then, you can run your game for the rest of the open space. Just see how that makes you feel. You will feel like a different person at the end of every week. you will feel more accomplished. Productivity is doing what you say you're going to do, so don't over commit. Don't say you're going to do so much that you can't honor it. Just do the most important stuff.

If you can do that… and I don't care if it's an hour a day, on average, that you're doing this. I don't care how long it is... But if you can do what you said is most important, you're giving yourself an edge. You're moving in the right direction. You're becoming a person that actually does what they say they're going to do. And setting yourself up to win at that.

Alright, everybody, push the reset button for yourself. And have an anthem. By the way, I went to ChatGPT and got a whole bunch of songs. I asked, “What if people aren't into hip-hop? What are some other anthems?”

It gave some for different genres, like for rock, pop, classical, electronic, indie, alternative country, R&B and soul. And then, I asked for hip-hop/rap, for anybody who's into that, and it gave me a list for them as well. So, I will have this put into the show notes. But it’s pretty cool to see all the songs. I agree with most of them, that they could give a similar vibe.

And so, when you sit down to do what you said you were going to do, or when you're driving in and you're getting ready to work on the things you said you were going to do, your top priorities, maybe listening to a song that puts you in a mode can be really helpful, and it's a bit more fun.

Alright, everybody, 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.

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