I have this wonderful colleague, a super bright young man with great drafting skills, who says about any acceptable document written by someone else that “well, it’s not AWFUL.” That’s how I feel when I read news reports about the so-called economic recovery: it’s not AWFUL. But it isn’t great either. Perhaps the optimism is simply relief that things aren’t getting worse. I have learned some things in the last few years, lots of us have, and I can’t afford to forget them because this not-AWFUL economy may continue for awhile. Perhaps even when boom times rebound, I shouldn’t forget what I’ve picked up during the downturn.
I’ve learned that I must accomplish more for my clients with less, i.e. less time, less administrative support and less waste and duplication. But this lean approach does not mean that I should work in a silo and forego collaboration with colleagues. It is far more efficient for me to find someone who already knows what I need then to learn it from scratch myself. Note to clients: look for counselors who come with a great team behind them; it’s more efficient in the long run.
I’ve learned to get to the bottom line more quickly with government agency staff, opposing counsel and the entire project team. It’s part of accomplishing more with less. When I have long-standing relationships with these folks, I still have time to be friendly, but truly everyone is under this same pressure and seems to appreciate hearing the “ask” first.
Finally, I’ve learned not to fear discussing costs with my clients … well, to fear it less, at least. Ultimately, it improves our working relationship, mutual trust and shared sense of accomplishment when the matter is successfully concluded.
Here’s one last thing I’ve picked up in the downturn of a more personal nature: I’ve learned to shed the “bloat” in my life. Looking over the first half of my adulthood, my choices reveal a constant goal to acquire more things, and spend more time and money planning for my things, caring for my things and storing my things. Eventually, I had little choice about how to spend my time, energy or money, because it was committed to the upkeep of my things. Similar to the way I feel after a visit to an oriental buffet, I felt bloated and vaguely resentful about the situation in which I had put myself. I’ve learned to consider what I need rather than what I want. I’ve learned to picture the potential purchase in my garage in a few years, covered in … garage dirt, needing to be moved before I can reach the hurricane shutters as the winds are starting to pick up. This change to more deliberate spending habits has had one additional major effect: our charitable giving has increased significantly. My family was able to choose how to spend our money because our committed spending to support the “bloat” stopped. Choice feels good, and helping our neighbors feels even better.
What have you picked up in the downturn? Whatever you’ve learned, hold on to it. It’s valuable.