What To Do When Things Feel Stale


Knowing when to quit is healthier – and wealthier – then leechlike tenacity. – Martha Beck

I’ve had a frustrating couple of weeks.  Lately, I’ve had several interactions with potential new clients, none of which have come to fruition.

One potential client needed some very customized and complicated work yet from the outset she continued to insist her situation was “straightforward”.  She demanded that I charge only my minimum estimated fee.  I diplomatically told her that I would not be working with her.

Another referral source tried to get me to do work for a client I had not yet spoken with, without any fee agreement in place.  This same referral source had called a few months ago and asked question after question about a potential client matter.  When I said I needed the client to hire me officially before I answered any more questions, the referral source ceased communications.

Then, a relative of an existing client contacted me for possible representation of a fairly large matter.  I admit I was tempted by the amount of work being thrown my way, but ultimately, due to the very toxic personality of the relative, I declined the work.

I’ve had my busiest year since I started practicing law and I’m certainly thankful for that.   But, I have never experienced a couple of weeks worth of potential clients falling through before.  I felt like carrots were being dangled in front of me and then yanked away.  I haven’t changed my marketing, my network, my fees or my personality at all.  So, why was this frustrating phase happening?

When there is no apparent rational explanation for something, I look to see if there is a spiritual one.  What is the “universe” trying to tell me?  What am I supposed to learn from this experience?

Once I sat quietly and cleared my mind, I felt like I needed to shake up my practice a bit and do a little spring cleaning.  Then, I was going to take some time off.

I tackled the list of my open matters and set to work to wrap up those that had been lagging for too long.  I sent out reminders to everyone.  I also spent the next couple of days getting through all of the items on my “To Do” list that I was avoiding.  As is usually the case, I had spent far more time dreading these tasks than it took to actually complete them

Then, I reorganized my office.  I have always felt a curious need to reorganize my space when I feel like my energy is ebbing.  There is something about decluttering and cleaning up that makes me feel like I’m giving myself a fresh start.

It turns out my habit isn’t so crazy.  The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, the runaway best-selling book about organizing, details her philosophy of decluttering in order to surround oneself with things that spark joy, resulting in not only a organized home and workspace, but allowing transformation in one’s business and personal life, as well.

I know that when you get rid of what is old and stale, you leave space for new and exciting things to show up.  Clearing out one’s time, by reorganizing my open matters, and clearing up my physical space was already making me feel like I was lighter and more energetic.

Finally, I blocked out a few days on my calendar to take off.   Like many other Type-A personalities – in other words, control freaks – I catch myself clinging too hard to my practice, caught up in the belief that I alone can make it run smoothly.  One of the few downsides of being self-employed is that it is too easy to have some aspect of my work seep into my personal time.  It had been quite some time since I had truly disconnected from my work for even a weekend. I felt that I needed to shift my focus completely away from work for at least a few days.  I knew once I returned, I would have a fresh outlook.

Studies have shown that people who watch a 20 minute entertainment video in the middle of their workday are more productive than people who doggedly try to work all the way through.  People who take vacations are more efficient and produce a better work product than those who sit chained to their desk, 52 weeks a year.  I learned in college that the brain shuts off after about 8 hours of work, so any work in the hours after that is pretty much “crap”.  When I first started my job, I worked with a woman in her forties, who blamed her age for the feeling that her brain begins to shut down in the later afternoon.  She handled all of her complicated reasoning for the morning hours.  Unfortunately, I can now say I know exactly what she was talking about.

All work and no play makes for a dull and stale work environment.

It seems as if my response has worked its magic.  To no great surprise, while reorganizing and preparing for my time away, three matters arose out sources who had never referred business in the past.  The clients are appreciative of my expertise, willing to pay and the matters are interesting.  I’m looking forward to getting started.

Once again it seems I have been reminded that loosening my grip over my business, taking  a few days off, decluttering and organizing my matters and workspace, clears out old stale energy, allowing fresh and new work to flow my way.


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