Getting More Done with Sarah Tetlow

In this episode, Alay Yajnik and Sarah Tetlow, owner of Firm Focus, discuss:
• Why productivity is critical to business development success
• The five D’s of task management: Do, Delete, Delay, Diminish, Delegate
• The value of being intentional and creating a business development plan

Alay Yajnik: Welcome to Lawyer Business Advantage, your source for biz dev tips, wisdom and inspiration. I’m your host, Alay Yajnik. We’re unleashing your inner rainmaker in three, two, one….

Alay Yajnik: It’s my pleasure to welcome to the program, Sarah Tetlow, owner of Firm Focus. Sarah, welcome to Lawyer Business Advantage.

Sarah Tetlow: Thanks for having me. It’s nice to talk to you.

Alay Yajnik: It’s great to talk to you again as well. You and I have chatted quite a few times through providers and you have a couple of mutual clients together. So tell the audience a little bit about yourself and the AHA moments along the way that led you into this role that you do now.

Sarah Tetlow: Sure. So my company is called Firm Focus and I do legal productivity coaching, consulting and speaking engagements, and I created this company because I had a desire to help lawyers and legal professionals with time management, task management, attention management, organization and overall trying to reduce burnout and overwhelm.

Sarah Tetlow: I was a litigation paralegal most of my career. I spent about 15 years doing that, and it was during that time that I landed on wanting to help lawyers with time management.

Sarah Tetlow: It was something that I always felt and heard back from the attorneys I worked with that I was very good at, the last minute rush without the overwhelmed. So that’s what landed me starting Firm Focus and wanting to give back to the industry that helped me grow to who I am.

Alay Yajnik: Absolutely, Sarah, and you know, this is a show about business development and inspiring attorneys, so we’d love to hear your perspective on the connection between time management and business development.

Sarah Tetlow: Yeah, so obviously, it’s a huge component of a lawyer’s practice and I would almost break it down into they obviously have the work that they need to do, so servicing the existing clients. Then they always have some administrative stuff to do, some some managerial tasks that they deal with. And then business development and marketing is a huge component to what they need to invest time into to grow their practice and succeed in their business. And as you probably know, Alay, when you’re working with clients, one of the biggest push backs or excuses that you get from lawyers about anything related to business development is that they just didn’t find the time to do it. Time management is a huge part of a lawyer’s practice and being able to increase their productivity and their priorities and ensure that they can carve out time for the important part of business development in their practice.

Alay Yajnik: So when you hear that, when a lawyer tells you, you know, “Sarah, I’m sorry, I just don’t have – I just didn’t make the time for business development.” What goes through your head when someone says that to you?

Sarah Tetlow: It’s not a priority, that’s what it really boils down to, is that they just haven’t found time to make it a priority. And some tips around that are:

Sarah Tetlow: One, and this is where you would come in and be able to help, is to first just be crystal clear on where you need to develop business, who’s your target market, where are your clients, where are they hanging out? And that way you can ensure that when you are conducting business development that you’re doing so in the right area. And therefore it doesn’t feel as time consuming because it likely isn’t as time consuming. And then the last thing around that, too, is to not overthink business development. If you’re A. Paying attention to the right market and B. Carving out time to hang in that market, making that a priority, then business development really doesn’t need to be this separate box in your practice. It’s really then just becomes part of why you show up every day, why you continue to deliver great service to your existing clients and continue to enhance and improve the relationships with the potential clients and your referral base. To grow your book of business.

Alay Yajnik: OK, so I’m an attorney, right? And I’m telling you, “I don’t have the time to do business development.” Some of it may be that I don’t want to do it, or it’s avoidance behavior, procrastination or lack of prioritization skills. But other times there’s honestly things that are sucking up in attorneys time. And these are things that shouldn’t be taking up their time. But yet attorneys continue to do those things anyway. And I know that’s an area where you help out. So I’d love to hear about some of the key time traps, or time sucks, however you want to call it, that you help attorneys overcome so that they can have the time for business development.
Certainly. Well, a lot of those are those administrative tasks that maybe they shouldn’t be doing, but they just do them because maybe it was poor planning and being able to delegate or they think I can do it better, faster, smarter. There’s also just wasting time on things like your email instead of having the systems to support automation. Trying to manually read or sort or handle e-mail throughout the day can be a huge time suck. I’ll tie it in with there’s really what called “the five D’s.” There’s only one thing you can do with any email or any task that you have on your plate.

Sarah Tetlow: You can 1. Do it. So you actually handle the email or the handle the project or the tasks.

Sarah Tetlow: You can Delete it.

Sarah Tetlow: You can Delay it.

Sarah Tetlow: You can Diminish it. Break it down.

Sarah Tetlow: Or you can. I just spaced on the fifth one.

Alay Yajnik: Defer it.

Sarah Tetlow: Thank you. Defer it. So schedule it out later. So when you think about anything that’s wasting your time or taking up your time, and if you apply one of those five D’s to it, help break it down, therefore being able to delegate some of it out or defer it till a later time when you can draw your attention to it. But having systems in place that support you and allow you to do that so that you remember, it’s a tickler reminder to come back up at a point in time when you need to handle that particular task or project. And then, as I mentioned, this is also highly effective for being able to delegate it out to other people so that you’re not doing those non billable tasks that you don’t need to be doing. And someone else on your team may be able to help support or handle that or even billable tasks for that matter, maybe take a look at what it is that you’re doing and while you have perfected it, that you can do it quickly and with minimal error, maybe it’s time to train someone else on your team to start taking that redundant project over and taking the time now to train them so that two months from now, six months from now, it’s a polished, polished system that they can help support you on that particular mundane task.

Alay Yajnik: That is really interesting because there’s so many attorneys that aren’t able to get to that end where they actually are able to smoothly delegate tasks and they have good processes, a great team and a real machine working behind them so they can really reclaim their time. We’d love to hear about maybe a recent story that you’ve heard of a client, a great client that you’ve recently maybe wrapped up with or has had a recent breakthrough. When you started working with that client, what were some of the real challenges that they were looking to get your help.

Sarah Tetlow: I’m actually going to talk about a newer client, but we’ve already seen significant progress. So she reached out to me…well, let’s see….We’ve been in COVID for about seven, six months now. So I would say it’s been about three months. And she was really struggling to stay focused on some of the issues were a lot of multitasking, a lot of distractions, especially with the news and social media and things happening with it. And her billable hours were very, very low to the point where she reached out on the verge of fear that if she didn’t take control of it, that she may not have a job soon. And within two months we saw – or even in the first four weeks – in the systems that we were setting up for her, we started to see her billable hours improve. And now in the three months, I would say we’ve been working together, she’s almost doubled her billable hours. And as I said, they were shockingly low. But the amount of work she has put into it and with the small changes that I make with my clients, we meet weekly so that it’s habit forming and healthy habit forming. And we can make those changes just like tightening the nut of the chair a little bit each time just to enhance their practice, but not overwhelm them with big changes that are not going to be sustainable.

Alay Yajnik: Wow, and so with this client, what were some of the key shifts that she had to make that you helped her make?

Sarah Tetlow: Prioritization was one of the big ones, so we definitely started with building in sort of a reward system. She was not to check news at all each day until she emailed me her top three and that was how we started that off. So she would identify the top three, three to five tasks. And I’m her accountability partner, which is part of my service. So I’m an ear waiting to hear what are the top three. In her case, that was a need that she had. So identifying what the top three was before she could even look at the news and then making some changes to how she handles her emails. So we’re still working on the overall improvement of that. Email is a very voluminous monster in all of our daily lives, but especially lawyers, where there’s a lot of important information coming from email and then there’s a lot of really low urgency stuff coming. And it’s very challenging for the busy mind to separate out those line items without some systems in place. And so that’s something that I also work with my clients. As to that, when I mentioned the automation earlier, let’s settle the brain a little bit and let Outlook (or G suite) do some work for you to support the ease of the mind and being able to distinguish between what really is high urgency from what may be lower or medium urgency. But like I said, that’s something that we’re still working on the full picture of that. But even just to start, what we’ve done today is just kind of changing her practices in mindset on looking at email, not letting it control her day. But again, just like not looking at the news, not looking at email until she’s identified the top three to five, sent them to me and then made sure that nothing else takes priority to what she identified as her intent for the day.

Alay Yajnik: And those are top three to five things that she has committed to getting done for the day, right?

Sarah Tetlow: Correct. Yeah.

Alay Yajnik: Well, I love what you do because, in some sense, you’re working with attorneys to do less, you know. They’re doing less, but they’re doing the most important things.

Sarah Tetlow: You know, I’ve never heard it put that way and I think that’s brilliant. Can that be my answer at the beginning? I’m working with attorneys to do less. I love it! Yes, that’s exactly right.

Alay Yajnik: And I love that you’re able to focus them in that way. And sounds like you’ve got some pretty specific ways that you work with them. You have some bright line rules that you put in place and that that really helps, I would think not only immediately, but those bright line rules will help build really good habits over time that will stand the test of time.

Sarah Tetlow: Correct, yeah, and so I usually start with, obviously, a deep dive discovery with my client, so we meet initially for 90 minutes and so I can get the full gamut of what does their day look like, what does their practice look like? What does their firm or or team look like? What is their mind look like? And from there, even though my roadmap takes us through establishing some goals, some organization of the mind and the physical space and then productivity systems, overall, it’s really customized to my clients, my clients needs and their experience. So I have a general road map for the time that we work together, but I’m going off the road sometimes when there need shift, when we’re experiencing someone who’s really struggling with procrastination in the moment or multitasking or perfectionism, then we can spend a little bit more time in each of those areas to start to diagnose and then solve those issues and then come back to the overall plan of how to make some healthy changes and habits for them and improve it.

Sarah Tetlow: In March when COVID hit, and of course, it took a little while for everyone to shift, but now that we are in this “new normal,” I look at it as a really great opportunity to start developing newer, healthier habits because our environments have changed and habits are formulated by our environment. And now that that’s changed. But now more permanent for a little while. It’s a really great time to implement some healthier habits in your workday.
Alay Yajnik: Because the end of the day – you know, time management is a topic I’m passionate about too, Sarah – my perspective on it is, look, time is life and life is time at its essence. That’s what it is. It’s our most precious resource. It can’t be saved up. You can’t get more of it. It’s perishable. It’s going away every second. It is, without a doubt, our most precious resource. And the great news is that a lot of attorneys recognize that because they’ve been trained to track their time in point one increments throughout the day. So they get that. What I love about what you do is you really help them optimize and be intentional about how they’re investing their time to get things done over the course of the day. And it is about focusing them on the vital few things that are going to move them forward.

Sarah Tetlow: Exactly.

Alay Yajnik: Well, and so as you work with them, what are some of the the common mistakes that your clients have already made before they start working with you?

Sarah Tetlow: Yeah, so kind of going back into the email is letting me help guide them through their day. So when they’re starting an email and that sometimes is eyes open, finally turn the snooze off and grab your phone and look to see if any magical work email came through overnight and other times that maybe you get a little bit further in your day. I was just reading this morning a Deloitte study said Forty four percent of Americans check their email within five minutes. I not remembering the exact numbers, it’s something like sixty two percent within 30 minutes. And eighty eight percent of Americans check their email within the first hour of waking up. And, so in kind of what I said, and there’s so much more to it than this, but to sort of bring it down to a few sentences, knowing what you’re going to work on for the day before you look at your email is crucial in being able to feel, even just feel accomplished. At the end of the day, feel like you’ve got done what you needed to get done and not let other people’s needs – that’s what email is, right? Other people’s needs – control your day. And I mean, certainly, as I said, there’s a lot more to that. If it’s a client that we need to respond to, there’s some parameters around that and some healthy support around that to be able to respond to them within a reasonable time. But certainly you don’t need to respond to them within five minutes of waking up. And chances are you’re probably not. You may be reading that email and then thinking about it as you are in the shower and doing your workout and eating breakfast with your family. And so it starts to take over your thoughts for the day. And it’s really hard to then identify what else you need to do.

Sarah Tetlow: So I strongly encourage to leave that phone outside of your room, spend 10 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour without looking at it, enjoy who you are for the start of the day. Just get into your own head and your own thoughts and then decide what workwise you need to accomplish for the day and then check email. And by doing it in that order, it helps support you becoming a whole productive person, because being productive is not just about the output of hard work, but sleep, healthy eating, exercise, taking breaks and then the output of hard work as well.

Alay Yajnik: With sheltering in place, this has got to be harder to do. People can walk six feet and get to their office and have that email come in. When you’re eating breakfast or when you’re eating dinner and you check it, it can really disrupt, I would think, the relationships that you have a meaningful time you’re spending with your family and with your friends. While maybe not so much friends right now, but certainly with your family, it would really disrupt that and throw you throw it off. So I appreciate you bringing up that aspect that it’s not just about the productive hours, it’s about your overall life as well. And so so, yeah, email, email is a big one. And are there other big common mistakes that you see clients are making before they start working with you?

Sarah Tetlow: Yeah, and and it’s hard for me to tie it to the word “mistake”

Alay Yajnik: Maybe bad habits?

Sarah Tetlow: Yeah, well, it’s a bad habit or just never really knowing how to be organized is a challenge that a lot of lawyers have, right? We spend I think it’s four hours a week searching for documents or emails or things that we need – lost notes. And so that disorganization makes it really challenging to prioritize, know what you’re going to work on each day. And so that’s another – I mention that when we get kind of my roadmap into the organization, we’re setting up mental organization as well as physical organization. So how can we create a workflow or processes that can support you and help you to learn how to be a little bit more organized? I was really fortunate to be born organized and also grew up in a family where my my parents were pretty organized as well. And so it’s something that has been instilled in me. But I also can see ways in which to help others learn how to become more organized.

Alay Yajnik: If attorneys are looking for papers or redoing work, that’s my pet peeve, is when they redo the same kind of work, they’re just redoing it over and over again from scratch. That wastes a lot of time for sure. And so this this all comes back to business development because it’s about finding the time and prioritizing the need for building your book of business. And so what tips and advice do you have for attorneys who are either looking to build a book of business from from a very low level or who are looking to level up their business development?

Sarah Tetlow: Well, certainly take the time to consider what you do, who you serve, who your ideal market is, and if that’s hard for you to answer, talk to someone that can help you identify that a little bit more. And and then once you’ve identified a little bit more about your target market and how how you’re going to service them, then it’ll become a little bit more apparent where to spend your time. What I wouldn’t recommend is just starting to sign up at random, throwing darts at different events, writing an article and once a year or maybe throwing a webcast out there once a year or twice a year and just seeing what sticks to the wall. There really needs to be a strategy and some intent if you want to spend less time on business development, yet have it be way more effective to your practice.

Alay Yajnik: That is excellent advice and words of wisdom, so I appreciate that. As you look at your firm, Firm Focus, your business and how it’s grown and what lies ahead, what really excites you about Firm Focus?

Sarah Tetlow: Yeah, so what I do, what Firm Focus offers really is that customized experience to help the lawyers and I also work with legal professionals, paralegals, admin and even other – I have a wealth adviser. I have a marketer who is a client of mine. So it is kind of industry-agnostic, although I did design it working with lawyers because I spent many years inside law firms. But I really helped them make small, manageable and sometimes challenging but small manageable changes to experience less overwhelm, increase their business and revenue, increase their sleep and reduce their burnout. And so what excites me is to be able to help my clients achieve that healthier practice and a healthier life overall.

Sarah Tetlow: So, I mean, every day just knowing when I’m meeting with a particular client and catching up on what we talked about last week and hearing what’s worked and sometimes just having to make some small changes to what maybe didn’t work for them really excites me just to continue to help them grow effortlessly in a way.

Alay Yajnik: That is that’s really inspiring, so thank you for sharing that with us. Clearly, you love what you do and you’re really passionate about it. And it means a lot to you, which is exactly the way it should be. You shared with us a lot today. If people want to contact you to see if you might be a fit for their needs or to get more, how should they do that?

Sarah Tetlow: LinkedIn is great. I’m always open for connecting on LinkedIn. So Sarah Tetlow and I would be happy to connect there. You can also email me: and the website is the same URL: and phone number is 925-808-9995.

Alay Yajnik: Sarah, it’s been a real pleasure, thank you so much for joining the show.

Sarah Tetlow: Thanks, Alay. Really appreciated it.

Alay Yajnik: Look forward to talking to again soon. Take care.

Sarah Tetlow: Take care.

Alay Yajnik: And that’s a wrap! To get more episodes, webinars and free stuff, visit My name is Alay Yajnik. Thank you for listening. And remember, there’s a rainmaker inside everyone, including you.

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