Robin Hensley, Raising the Bar Robin Hensley, Raising the Bar

There’s an old saying attributed to Mark Twain that serves as great motivation to knock out your difficult tasks: “Eat a live frog first thing every morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Twenty years ago, that advice meant to stop procrastination—do the most uncomfortable thing in your day early, and the rest of the day will be easier. In today’s world, where we are constantly bombarded by emails, tweets and phone calls, it also means working smarter and minimizing distractions.

Bill Dillon, managing partner of Dillon Law Group and a 25-year veteran of the U.S. Department of Justice, says “eating the frog” has helped grow the Atlanta white-collar defense firm he founded in 2012 after retiring as a prosecutor.

From the outset, Dillon had a vision for his firm: It would not turn away anyone who needed legal advice. This was great in theory, but these “frogs” kept landing on his desk and got in the way of developing his practice. “If someone came in, I was going to listen to their story and find someone to represent them if I couldn’t. Some months, I spent a lot of hours working for people who wouldn’t become our clients,” Dillon explains.

Generating clients wasn’t something he had to worry about at the DOJ, where cases went from an FBI agent’s desk to his. He took Twain’s advice—well, not the part about actually eating frogs—and started doing the difficult tasks in the morning. He arrived at the office at 6:30 a.m. and dedicated himself to clearing his desk. It worked. He found that he was better organized, and that left more time to focus on developing his practice and bringing in paying clients.

He still stays true to his vision of not turning anyone away but is quick to refer them to another lawyer in his network if the legal work isn’t a good match for his firm. That network also has sent business his way. “It really comes down to the law of karma,” Dillon says, meaning that the good you do for others will result in good fortune coming your way.

Dillon advises his partner, Deana Timberlake-Wiley, and his associates to buy into the “eat the frog” philosophy. He coaches his staff to ask themselves: What needs to get done in the first hour Monday morning to make the week go well? What chore is in the “critical path” for the firm this week?

“You put out fires and react to client crises, but you also have to focus on the long game,” Dillon advises. “The easiest way to do that is to just come in, tune out and get it done.”

Robin Hensley’s column is based on her work as president of Raising the Bar and coaching lawyers in business development for more than 25 years. She is the author of “Raising the Bar: Legendary Rainmakers Share Their Business Development Secrets.”