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Docket Your Business Development Time: Neuroscience Agrees!

This article was originally published in Canadian Lawyer.

I can’t tell you how much time I spend encouraging people to docket their business development time.

I have varying degrees of success with this. Some people do it just because I tell them to, but lawyers aren’t naturally particularly compliant, so most of them won’t do it without something more to satisfy them that it isn’t just an additional burden I am placing on them.

So, I’m going to share with all of you two reasons for my conviction that docketing your business development will improve the return on investment you get for that time.

Both reasons are grounded in neuroscience: i.e., how your brain works.

1.    Get your RAS working for you

One of the most fascinating systems in our brain is called the reticular activating system.

 Our RAS governs our awareness of what is around us. It acts like a sorting office, evaluating and prioritizing the millions of bits of information that flood our attention every moment and determining what we will notice or focus on and what will pass us by.

There is no way any of us could actually cope with all of the information we receive without our RAS filtering it and extracting what is important at any given moment.

Have you ever noticed that when you buy a new car, it suddenly seems that every other car on the road is the one you bought? That is your RAS at work. The action you took has been fed into your RAS identifying that kind of car as important information and your RAS is using that to filter all the cars on the road in a way that prioritizes the type you bought and causes you to notice it. The numbers of that particular car have not increased since you took that decision. Rather, your filtering system is in action, altering your perception so that car is given more priority.

Writing down or taking some kind of action on things that you have decided are important to you transmits the message to your RAS that you want information related to this action to be prioritized. Basically, it is a means by which you can manipulate your RAS so it works to help you make your perception of the world consistent with the goals you have for your life.

Writing down your business development activity will cause your RAS to prioritize information relating to your business development activity and you will start to notice more things that are connected to it — more ideas, more opportunities, more things that will help you improve your business development competency.

Consistently making decisions to engage and actually engaging in business development activity will also stimulate your RAS in a similar way, but, unfortunately, especially in the early stages, lawyers aren’t very consistent with their activity. Writing down what you are doing, and even what you are thinking of doing, will help you wire your brain toward consistent business development activity, even when you aren’t yet managing to take action consistently.

2.    You get what you measure

In his best-selling book, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, Dan Ariely relies on a number of well-regarded psychologists and economists, as well as numerous anecdotal examples, to support the proposition that:

[H]uman beings adjust behavior based on the metrics they’re held against. Anything you measure will impel a person to optimize his score on that metric. What you measure is what you’ll get. Period.

You can use this element of human nature to your own advantage in relation to your business development.

Having a written record of your goals, activity and results will give you the data you need to see and measure your progress not only in each year but year over year. This is the data that will tell you if the time you are spending at any given point is turning out better results than you saw before, if you are spending less time on things you don’t enjoy or aren’t demonstrating high potential for you, etc., and it will drive you to make  better decisions in future, which will again turn out better results.

Write down your objectives, docket your activity, review your dockets and results annually and compare them year over year. You will get better results.


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