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Melissa Shanahan

#194: How to Plan Effectively in Times of Adversity

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If you’ve been a listener of the show for any length of time, and certainly if you’ve ever worked personally with Melissa, you will be familiar with a practice called Monday Map/Friday Wrap. This is an invaluable process that helps you gain control in terms of how you spend your time, which in turn, creates velocity in your business.

As Melissa keeps practicing Monday Map/Friday Wrap herself and showing her clients how to plan effectively, there’s something she hasn’t talked about before in relation to this topic: planning when you’re in survival mode. If you’re working towards true productivity and progress, but you’re often panicked, cramming more in, and figuring out how to make it happen, listen in.

If you find yourself flying by the seat of your pants and trying to stay afloat in your business, the truth is, no matter how much you plan, you cannot thrive in that state. That’s why Melissa is showing you what happens when you aren’t honest with yourself about what’s truly possible, and how to plan effectively when you’re in survival mode.

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:

Why Monday Map/Friday Wrap is a practice that doesn’t require perfection.

How this practice is the work that creates velocity in your business.

What planning looks like when you’re in survival mode.

How to be intentional about how you plan your time for the week.

What happens when you are lying to yourself about what’s possible as you schedule your time.

The importance of acknowledging that you are in survival mode.

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

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Full Episode Transcript:

Download Transcript PDF

I’m Melissa Shanahan, and this is The Law Firm Owner Podcast, Episode #194.

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. You know, we have a practice that you've likely heard of if you've been a listener for any length of time, certainly if you've worked with me, called Monday Map/Friday Wrap. And this process is a practice, there is no form of perfection with it. I teach this stuff and I'm not perfect at it. That's not the point. It is a practice to plan how you're going to spend your time, and then you honor that plan.

Understanding that planning, the working definition of planning that I use, is making decisions ahead of time. This is being proactive instead of reactive. And as you know, it's so easy to be reactive; to move through your weeks and days in a reactive way. If you want to truly be productive, and if you want to feel less stress, and if you want to feel less chaos, more organization, more peace of mind, then you need to be proactive instead of reactive.

But not everybody knows how to do that for themselves. Which is why I created the PDF guide to Monday Map/Friday Wrap. Because it is an invaluable process that is a practice for people to get control where they have control, when it comes to their time and how they spend their time and the kind of work that they do and when they work.

And so, there's so many good things that come out of the practice of Monday Map/Friday Wrap. And one, is awareness. Just truly, awareness of what is going on and how you're spending your time and why when you make plans to do all these great things in a week, you can't stick to it. You start to see the reasons why you can't stick to it.

Sometimes it's just discipline. But sometimes it's nuts and bolts things that you can't stick to. You were wrong about your estimates on how long something would take, right? There's a whole bunch of reasons why maybe your plan wasn't as good as it could have been, because you were overlooking certain things or not taking certain things into consideration.

All of this is a really good awareness, because then you can actually do something with it. But usually we're just running, running, running, and we don't take space to actually plan ahead of time. And then, our job is to execute on that plan. And then, evaluate hmm, why didn't that plan work? Why couldn't I stick with that? Was it truly discipline? Or, was it just that you didn't make a good plan, because you didn't take all these things into consideration.

So, this practice, more than anything else, will get you honest about the reality, your current reality, on what's possible, what's not possible. And, it takes time to get there because we feed ourselves a bunch of b.s. We make this plan that we can't honor, and then we don't get it honored. And when you do take space to reflect, which is a part of the process…

That's part of what we do inside of Mastery Group. You take space to reflect on why it didn't work, then you start to uncover answers and have a deeper awareness. And then, you can do better in the next week. And then, with the same practice, you look at what worked, what didn't work, and what are you going to apply differently next week.

And so, not only do you keep improving, there's progress being made, but also it's the work that speeds you up. It is the work that creates velocity. This is worth doing. Sometimes we have to slow down to speed up.

Now, there's something that we haven't talked about in relation to this before. And I've had more and more and more realizations around this when I'm working with members and clients. And that is, when you are in survival mode, planning your week looks much different than when you are not in survival mode and you're planning your week.

I'm noticing that so many people who are in survival mode are planning their weeks like someone who is not in survival mode. I think, generally I attract law firm owners who have people that they can delegate to. At least one person that they can delegate to; sometimes several.

And we do also have true solos that enter into Mastery Group. However, they don't stay true solos for very long. They get an assistant of some sort, so that they can get things off of their plate and they can do more of the thing that they should be doing as a lawyer and as a business owner.

So, if you are a true solo out there listening, it's not that you're not welcome in Mastery Group, but if you want to be smart about owning a business, you're going to need help. We help people prioritize getting that help for themselves, so that they are freed up to do that stuff that they should be doing. But generally speaking, most people coming in have help of some sort.

Now, even if you have help, sometimes things happen. You might slip back into a mode where somebody key has left, or for whatever reason, your help has decreased. And so, all of the work comes back on you or some work comes back on you. If you are running a business and it is all coming back to you, that is survival mode. You cannot thrive in that state.

However, typically, your expectations don't shift when you're in survival mode; you're just taking on more work. It's like you're in your own world, and you're just going, going, going. And then, something happens and you get work put back on you, and you just keep going, going, going.

But your expectations when it comes to time management, when it comes to planning your week, when it comes to Monday Mapping, it doesn't shift. And sometimes what that looks like is it gets thrown out the window. You stop planning your week because you just have to run as fast as you can. That is survival mode.

And the expectations you have on yourself when you're in survival mode are typically totally unreasonable, and you are doing that to yourself. People aren't awake to how they are contributing to their own sense of defeat and chaos. Now, as a business owner, stuff is going to happen that will rock your world, that will piss you off, that will be really tough to handle; that's a part of being an owner. And no one can remove that adversity for you 100%. But you can do things to help yourself and to decrease the adversity that you do feel.

But what's crazy, and this is what I really want to hit home on today, is that when you hit those times of adversity, you throw out any sense of intentionality and slowing down to speed up. Because there's a part of your brain that tells you, “You don't have time to slow down to speed up. You don't have time to plan your week. You don't have time to do anything. You have to hustle. You have to grind. You have to work until the next person comes in here.”

Now, while there is some truth that you have to grind, you have to hustle, to get people in to be able to help, once again, but that doesn't mean that you get to stop being intentional. And taking that space to plan your time, but doing it from a place where you're recognizing that you're in survival mode. And so, the only thing that matters is X, Y, X; you name it for your practice and for your world.

If you were to do that, then it helps you make a plan for the week that is probably not going to be fun, right? It's probably not going to result in you just flowing through your week, sauntering through your week. But it will result in realistic expectations of yourself, so that you know for sure what will get done and what will not get done.

So that you know for sure, what will be priority and what is getting booted for the time being. What expectations need to be reset. You are helping yourself, while you're in survival mode, be able to survive this mode. Be able to survive this, period. And, people don't do that.

What I encounter is people who, for whatever reason, they are experiencing a sense of survival mode, but they are treating their calendar as if they are supposed to be a superhuman. And, that will set you up for failure. And you'll wonder why it's taking you so long to get off of Struggle Street. And taking you so long to be able to take a full breath without feeling like an elephant is sitting on your chest.

The reason is, is because you are perpetuating your survival mode; with the hustle, with the grind, with the running on all cylinders full-speed ahead without taking space to be intentional and get realistic about what is actually able to be produced by you and what is not.

Here's another way to think about it. When you sit down to be intentional and plan your time for the week, I want you to do it, I train people to do it, is to think about actually using your prefrontal cortex. It's a part of your brain that helps you make decisions. It's in the front, it's between your temples; up at the front of your eyes.

The prefrontal cortex is a part of your brain that helps you make decisions. Plan ahead. Control your behavior. It's like the conductor of an orchestra, making sure all the different parts of your brain work together smoothly, efficiently. Just like a conductor needs to be skilled and experienced, your prefrontal cortex also needs to develop over time, through practice and learning.

And so, using this part of your brain is very important for your development as a business owner. When you sit down to make plans, you are using your prefrontal cortex; that's the part that you want to call on. But if you're sitting down in survival mode and you aren't deliberately using this part of your brain, like really thinking strategically about planning ahead and decisions and controlling your behavior, then you're going to cut yourself short.

What people do, if they're in survival mode, is they will often sit down and they will still be hustling from this lower part of their brain that's like, “Okay, all these things need to be done.” And they're writing down this list of all the things that they're supposed to fit into a week, and then they go schedule all the things. And they notice, “Oh, I don't know if this is possible, but we're going to do it anyway.”

It's just like this grinding mentality that is not coming from your prefrontal cortex. That is not coming from your higher brain. That is you trying to hide from the truth. That is you trying to hide from yourself. And so, you're letting this lower brain, who's been running and grinding all week through execution and just trying to do what they can in survival mode, you're allowing that part of your brain to attempt to plan. But it sucks at planning.

So then, when you go to honor your plan, it's literally impossible. You are not using your prefrontal cortex. There is a part of your brain that is meant for planning, making decisions, evaluating, and deciding things ahead of time, so that it sets you up for success.

And, if you are hiding from yourself. If you are lying to yourself about what's possible. If you aren't actually scheduling in a way that's smart, that makes sense, that allows you to move through things. That considers the barriers that might be hit. That considers all the active client calls you're going to have to return. That considers all of it, like, really looking at the plan; is this going to work? Then you aren't using the right part of your brain.

Something that can be helpful is when you sit down to plan your week, take a deep breath and just think about it for a minute. “I am going to use the higher part of my brain. I have this to use. I have it to practice, because it gets better and faster at making these good decisions and at planning really well. I'm not going to plan from this chaotic place, this lower brain that is in survival mode.”

We aren't going to do that. Because you know that by doing that you are perpetuating survival mode. And I know it's like, well, I could see people saying, “How am I supposed to know what part of my brain I'm using when I sit down?” There is a difference in how it feels when you're planning.

If you feel stressed and a bunch of pressure and anxiety when you're planning your week, and you're just going to shove it all in anyway, do you think that your higher brain is doing that? No. There is a different part of your brain that is activated, that is lit up, that is working, and it is working against you. But you're running with it because it's been your normal.

This is what I meant by it before, I mean, you guys are lawyers. You are sort of trained and built to handle a lot. But this is the wrong idea of what that looks like, for true productivity and progress towards where you want to be. This is kind of like carrying this load and just cramming more in and figure out a way to make it all happen; is not how you want to operate. It will keep you in that state.

You have to take a breath. And when you're planning you have to really think about your higher brain, which is much more objective than your lower brain or the brain that's just chaotic and running this panicked pace.

So, some of this may feel dramatic to you, too. I'm listening to myself do this and I'm thinking, “You know, some of this may be too dramatic for some of the listeners.” But there is a version of this for all of us, as business owners. There is a version of this where it gets so hustling and so busy that you start to lose track of intentionality. And you start to lose track of what's actually possible, and you're just running at things.

You can be very good at that. But there's a problem with it. And it's that if you keep doing that you will never get yourself on a track that is truly productive, gets you the help you need inside of your business, forces you to delegate so that your calendar has more freedom to focus on more important things that only you can do.

Like, all of this is a cycle. And it starts with sitting down and planning, and using the higher part of your brain. Not the part of your brain that's taking the hit when you're in survival mode; this reactive part of your brain. It is a way of operating.

And so, another way to think about this is… I can see it when I'm working with people, and I can sniff it in myself when I start to lean the way that I don't want to lean. It’s that people are either operating from their prefrontal cortex the majority of the time, or they're operating from the survival part of their brain most of the time.

And if you are in survival mode, the first thing you have to do to get yourself out of survival mode is having an awareness that you are in it. Having an awareness that you are in survival mode. And this can be hard to spot for some people because this is just where they live. They're always in survival mode. They're always hustling. They always have more to do than what's possible. But they don't have an awareness. There's no objectivity.

I'm asking you to look down on your situation and recognize that you might be in survival mode. And if that is true, you have to adjust the expectations when you are planning your time. You have to get honest about what is realistic in terms of what is going to get done that week, with the time that you have, by yourself.

When you add another person, when you get help, that allows you to think differently about your week and about the expectations of what gets produced that week. But until you have help, you have to pare it way back. And, no one wants to hear that. No one wants to deal with that. No one wants to slow down. No one wants to readjust expectations and fall short on their own expectations.

But you got to do what you got to do. Until you wake up, and until you get honest and see the truth of the situation, you will perpetuate the state that you're in. So, I think the question becomes, every listener can ask themselves, how am I perpetuating a state that I'm in that I don't like, that I don't love? How am I perpetuating it?

There is a quote by Jerry Colonna that I love. And it's a question that he poses, “How are you complicit in creating the conditions that you say you don't want?” If you answer that, when it comes to your expectations of yourself and that you can't get it all done and you feel like you're running through the week. Answer that question; how are you complicit in creating the conditions you say you don't want?

I would write down your answers. And then, I would also write down a few steps that you're going to take to shift out of that mode. Planning your week is extremely important. So, if you aren't doing that, you need to do that. If you are an entrepreneur, if you're a business owner, and you're not planning your time, you are certainly wasting time. There is no doubt about it.

You need to plan your time every week. You need to know what you're getting ready to hit. You need to have thought through the barriers. You need to account for all the things that don't currently live on your calendar but you have to do and you have to give time to. You have to get proactive about this and plan your time. That is number one.

The second thing that you can do, is to work on the plan and evaluate at the end of the week, if you did, in fact, honor the plan. And if so, or if not, why? Then take that information and take this experience that you have, and the new awareness and level of understanding that you have, and when you plan the next week do it from a really high level place.

Where you're making decisions, very objectively making decisions. Not getting caught up in hustle and grind and cutting corners and being reactive and just flying by the seat of your pants. That's not what we're doing here.

You know, some people are truly addicted to chaos. They are addicted to this way of operating. And it's partially because it's the only thing they've ever really known. It is their normal. It is their default way of being, is coming from a really chaotic place and running.

And if you're listening to this podcast and you're a business owner, I invite you to start to shift out of that. Because you can grow in survival mode, it's not that you're never going to grow, but you are operating from a place that will have you hitting a wall at some point, and it will have your business hit a wall at some point.

The sooner that you can wake up and have awareness to the fact that you are acting in survival mode, despite the growth that you might see around you, you're in survival mode. Then it starts to allow you to make decisions from very different place.

And the last thing I'll say here, I've mentioned this before and I'll mention it again, that the practice of Monday Map/Friday Wrap is a practice of really getting honest, and making calls from really honest place. And if you really do have an intentional practice week over week, it gets harder and harder to hide from yourself and to hide from all the unwritten things; the things that aren't on your calendar that you have to give time to.

When you're evaluating week over week, you start to get more and more honest about, “Oh, I actually do spend time on these things, but there's no calendar time allotted for it. So, I'm just supposed to magically do it, when I'm scheduled for these this other stuff.” And so, the honesty kicks in.

And sometimes it's slow growing. And sometimes it's painful, because we don't want to look at all of that. But looking at that is the very thing that will free you. So, when you look at things and you realize how not doable your schedule is or all the things that you have to do, then you have to make some decisions.

Some of those are around delegation. And if you need to, some of them are around hiring. You do have to do the math. Like, if you get this time back, can you produce real money in the business? Then it's worth it. You should get off your plate. You should, as a lawyer, get everything off of your plate, except for what you can do; the sooner the better.

And it's okay if you want to wait a bit and be conservative with that, but you have to understand the cost to it. You have to understand the consequences. The sooner you can get on board and the sooner you have the numbers to back up the rationale for making the hire so that you can produce more money for the firm, then you will start to make these decisions more and more and more quickly.

But that's the prefrontal cortex; it comes back to that. When are you giving your prefrontal cortex space to do its job? For many people, it's offline. And you need to bring it back online, because it will serve you. We're the only species on the planet, by the way, that has a prefrontal cortex. We should use it.

And you should evolve it. And by evolve, I mean, develop it. Because if it's not ever tapped in the way that it should be, then you're behind the eight ball with that. There is a learning curve, and it's going to be slower at first to really practice deliberately thinking from that part of your brain. But it's worth it. And, you deserve it.

You deserve to have that part come online, and help you get out of survival mode. It doesn't mean it's going to feel good, that's irrelevant. It's going to make the right calls for you to start to shift out of a mode that you've been in. So, I'm hoping that this episode is useful for many of you who just feel like you're running and you can't catch up.

You have got to start thinking differently about your time and about planning for it. And it really comes down to being extremely honest with yourself about what is possible, and what is not. And if there's stuff that is impossible to get done, then what are you going to do about it? You need help.

But you'll never get to that conclusion, not from an objective planning standpoint. Maybe from a reactive, “I'm just going to hire because I'm so swamped.” That's not what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about looking at exactly what doesn't fit in your calendar, and making a decision about how you're going to get it all done as quickly as possible.

This is not going to happen overnight. But maybe you make a decision that by X date, you're going to have someone hired that is going to be able to free you up in ways, little by little by little by little, as they get onboarded and trained, that is going to create a very different experience for you in your firm.

Not just of your experience in terms of what's possible in your calendar, so you don't feel so defeated. But your experience of your firm; like it gets to make more money, you get to serve more clients, all of that. There's so much good that comes from getting help. But you want to do it, not just reactionary, go hire because you're swamped.

No. You want to sit down. You want to look at things objectively. Figure out what are all the things that you're going to do this week, what are all the things that didn't make the cut because there literally isn't time. And instead of just running through the week and closing your eyes and getting to Friday and realizing what didn't get done.

And so, then there's a sense of deflation. And maybe some people around you are disappointed because they thought you were going to hit a deadline and you didn't hit a deadline. Because you just thought you were superhuman, and you would get it done somehow, magically.

That's a game you’ve just got to stop playing. If you aren't familiar with Monday Map, go get it. At the end of this podcast there's always an invitation to go download the PDF guide. It is a guide, and it’s high level, but it takes you through steps that will ensure that you're more intentional. I highly recommend it.

And you can always join me inside of Velocity Work so that we can practice this stuff together. Enrollment is not open as this airs. So, if you're interested in this, then get yourself on the waitlist for the next enrollment window, which will be in May.

But I think joining Mastery Group for this alone, for the practice of Monday Map alone, planning your time and honoring your plan and figuring out how to make that work for you and your firm, is worth more than the cost of what Mastery Group costs. I mean, we do a lot more than that in Mastery Group. But if that is just the one thing you come for and you want to master, it's worth it.

And whether you join Mastery Group or not, just line yourself up with a real result that you want. Stop playing a game. Stop running your game that you run, because we fooled ourselves into thinking we can handle so much more than we actually can. Just, enough already. Let's go. Let's work on this. You deserve it. You deserve it. You deserve it. That's the whole reason I did this episode.

All right, everybody. 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 into Quarterly Strategic Planning, with accountability and coaching in between. This is the work that creates Velocity.

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