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On Balance

Crushing the Intimidation Factor in Your To-Do Items

By Megan Zavieh

If you find yourself intimidated by something you want to do in your practice, I suggest tackling something that intimidates you that isn’t work related. Prove to yourself that thing isn’t nearly as scary as it seems, and take that lesson back to the office. Then set out to crush the intimidation factor at work.

Identify What Intimidates You at Work

If you look at your to-do list and see something that remains there week after week (or month after month), it may not be getting done for one of two reasons. One, you don’t actually need to do it — in which case, cross it off and move on with your life. Or two, something is holding you back from doing it — if that something is intimidation, the sooner you accept it, the sooner you can tackle it.

Once you identify an intimidating task sitting on your to-do list, it is time to identify what it is, exactly, about this task that intimidates you. Maybe your list says “Find upcoming CLE presentation opportunities.” Meaning, you want to give a CLE talk to bolster your resume and name recognition. Only, maybe you actually don’t want to give a talk. Is it public speaking that has you intimidated? Perhaps it is “imposter syndrome,” because you’re afraid you may not know what you’re talking about?

Another example: Maybe “Build a new website” keeps sitting on your list. Why hasn’t that happened yet? Are you uncertain of the questions to ask a developer? Intimidated to talk shop with a designer because you don’t know the lingo? Do you want to build the site yourself but you’re intimidated by a process you don’t understand?

Whatever the task, identify the root of the intimidation factor that is holding you back.

How Does Intimidation Grow?

Most of us have plans, or at least aspirations, for growing our law practice. Yet we get tied up in the daily grind and often let our plans grow moss. Even if we actively think about them and intend to get to them, the passage of time allows those plans to grow into giant mountains we don’t believe we can scale. You might think you are unique in this issue, but you are not. It is a universal problem. Intimidation grows with each day of inaction.

Put a Pin in It

If intimidation grows each day, how can you deflate it back to the minuscule role it played on the first day you planned your project? Start over. Erase the intimidating to-do from your list. Take a fresh look, reinvent the idea and replace it on your list.

No longer is it an aging task that has grown into a mountain; it is a new, fresh idea ready to be tackled with energy. Even a slight rewording can help.

Go Home — Overcome an Intimidation There to Grow at Work

Now that you have identified and analyzed what work projects have intimidated you, walk away. Go home. Find something else, outside of work, that intimidates you.

In my house, that thing was baking French macarons. I put off trying it for weeks because I was afraid the “resident baker” in our house and I would fail at making something so complicated. I was, in a word, intimidated.

However, children’s enthusiasm and lack of intimidation is a beautiful thing, and our resident baker happens to be a fearless 9-year-old with a talent in the kitchen and unstoppable drive. So, off to macaron baking we went. And you know what? They turned out pretty good. We have some plans to do things differently next time, but the process is totally demystified and no longer intimidating. In fact, the resident baker’s next round is going to involve multiple colors and flavors and a tower presentation.

Whatever you choose to tackle to prove it to yourself outside the office, just go tackle it. Run a mile. Run a race. Finish an old project waiting for your attention. Pick something that’s been lingering and just do it. Then take that feeling of accomplishment back to work.

Make Tackling Intimidation a Habit

The feeling of accomplishment that comes from tackling something that has intimidated you is empowering and addictive. Let that feeling carry over and apply it to that project that’s been holding back your law practice.

You can’t talk to website developers, but you just ran a race? Of course, you can talk to a developer!

Concerned about speaking to a group? You just [fill in the blank]. Of course, you can do it.

When you make tackling intimidating projects a habit, various projects that can advance your practice will stop aging so long on your to-do list. Then your practice can grow to its true potential.

Illustration ©; photo courtesy of Megan Zavieh.

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Megan Zavieh Megan Zavieh

Megan Zavieh is the creator and author of “The Playbook: The California Bar Discipline System Practice Guide.” At Zavieh Law, she focuses her practice exclusively on attorney ethics, providing representation to attorneys facing disciplinary action and guidance on questions of legal ethics. Megan is admitted to practice in California, Georgia, New York and New Jersey, as well as in multiple federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. Her latest book, “The Modern Lawyer: Ethics and Technology in an Evolving World,” (ABA 2021 ) covers how to run a modern practice while staying in line with current ethics rules. She podcasts on Lawyers Gone Ethical, blogs on ethics at California State Bar Defense and tweets @ZaviehLaw.

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