Managing Self Practice Management

The wisdom of taking a pass

Written by Allison Wolf

Our lives are so full.

We all have to do lists, business plans, goals, and schedules full of commitments. We learn to be great at adding more and more to our days and proving the maxim “if you want something done, give it to a busy person.” The result is that we all feel like we don’t have enough time.

I have learned that what is vital in the fast paced rush of getting things done is to pause and consider what do you want to let go of?

I will always remember the words of leadership consultant and writer Margaret Wheatley: “What do you want to walk away from in order to walk towards?” She recognised that in order to honour what is most important for us we also have to learn to let go.

William Ury puts this another way in his book The Power of a Positive No. What are the values, needs, and priorities that you wish to say yes to, and that cause you to need to say no to a particular situation or opportunity?

Letting go is hard. It’s hard because our best intentions have us wanting to support others, give of our time, take responsibility for, carry-out, and follow-through. With so much going on in our lives it’s not enough to let go of the things we don’t like to do, what is also important is to let go of some of the activities we want to do but maybe just not quite as much.

I have a friend, Suzanne, who is a senior partner with a significant administrative role at her firm. After a couple of hard years she has learned that to be most effective she has to be highly strategic about what she takes on. This means paying close attention to what is requested of her, and asking herself “is this mine to do, or can it be also well handled by someone else?” This sounds easy but she has an instinctive need to help out and so when someone comes with a request her first instinct is to assist them. She has learned to stop and consider and weigh the request against all other things she has on the go.

I had a similar struggle at the end of 2013 when I considered the year ahead. I had a number of large projects starting up and a year-long training course to attend. I knew something was going to have to go. In the end I decided to let go of my role on the board of an organization I was deeply committed to. It was a difficult choice and one I have not regretted. Walking away from the board position allowed me to turn to the new projects with enhanced energy and capacity.

The taking a pass strategy starts with examining your priorities. What is most important to you?

Finding activities that are rewarding across two or more areas of your life is a great way to achieve more with less time. For Jason, coaching his daughter’s hockey team is a family activity, but as he also loves the sport and coaching it also fulfills an important personal need. Janet enjoys skiing and takes her clients out to the slopes twice a year in an activity that is rewarding both personally and professionally.

Beware of your good intentions! Carefully examine the commitments that you do out of a feeling of obligation. Pay attention to what you have on your plate. Are you doing it because it feels like something you “should” do? Because this is “a good thing to give time to” even though it takes more time than you have?

Our lives are constantly changing. What is most important to us will change from year to year. Take a quick inventory of your commitments, what can come off your plate to leave you more room for what’s most important?

About the author

Allison Wolf

I am the founder of AWAL and one of the most senior coaches for lawyers in North America. I have helped countless clients over the past fifteen years, develop thriving legal practices and before that served as director of marketing for award-winning law firms. My specialty is uncovering the thinking traps and gaps holding clients back and helping them acquire the mindsets, skills, and habits for growing successful and rewarding legal careers. After a career in legal marketing and business development with law firms in Beijing, New York, and Vancouver, I was trained as a coach in 2004 at Royal Roads University and now coach clients from across North America. You can reach me at or learn more about my coaching practice from the coaching section of the Attorney With A Life Website.

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