Is hard work the key to success? Umm, no

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Everyone and his brother says that hard work is the key to success. But is it?

I can point to many times in my life when I was successful without hard work. In fact, many of my successes came with little or no effort.

I can also point to times when I worked my fingers to the proverbial bone and accomplished nothing. Goose eggs. Bupkis.

I’m sure you could say the same thing.

A mentor of mine once said, “If you’re not having the success you want, there are only two reasons. Either you’re not doing something right, or you’re not doing it enough.”

No mention of hard work.

“Doing it enough” implies persistence, but that isn’t necessarily hard. In fact, the more you do something, the easier it usually gets.

“Doing something right” is important, of course. With a little practice, you can usually improve your skills (and your results).

Let’s flip around the phrase “doing something right”. Could this also mean “doing the right things”? Yes it could. In fact, I think doing the right things is the key to success.

It’s the 80/20 principle that I talked about recently. We are much more successful at some things that others. Choose the right things to do, and you will have more success.

Don’t tell anyone, but I found law school and the bar exam to be relatively easy. I have always been good at exams, especially essays. Essays are a “right activity” for me.

Other things, not so much.

Ever meet someone who seems to lead a charmed life? They don’t work hard and yet they go from one successful outcome to another. They have a great career, and everything seems to come to them quickly and without a lot of effort. Is it talent? Luck? Magic spells?

Maybe. Or maybe they’ve simply made the right choices.

I’m not saying “don’t work hard”. Working hard is a way to hedge our bets, in case we’re not as good as we think, or in case we haven’t chosen the right activity.

Work hard if you want to. Just don’t depend on it.

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The perfect time management system

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If you ever find yourself emotionally caught up in the need to get organized, if you continually try new techniques or apps only to abandon them in favor of something else, if you are on a never ending quest to find the perfect time management system, stop.

Just stop.

The perfect time management system doesn’t exist.

There are many productive, happy people in the world who use almost no system at all.

The have a calendar. They make a list of what they need to do for the day. They have files they can turn to when they need something. And. . . that’s about it.

The don’t make elaborate lists, with tags and contexts for every task. A post it note is usually enough.

They don’t obsess over goal setting. They might not set any goals at all.

But their system works. They don’t forget things. And they never worry about having too much to do.

Their system works because they trust their subconscious mind. They know that it knows what’s important and will tell them what to do next.

Don’t hate on them. Learn from them. They’re right, you know. Your subconscious mind knows what you need to do.

I know, you’re life is complicated and you need more. You can still use your favorite tools and techniques. Just don’t obsess over them, or spend so much time tweaking them that you don’t have time for anything else.

The new year is almost upon us. That’s a good time to re-think your system. Get rid of things that aren’t serving you and simplify everything else.

You might want to mentally start over. Pretend you have no system. One by one, add back things that work.

No system is right for everyone. Find the one that works for you.

What me worry? Nah, I use Evernote to organize everything.

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What are you afraid of?

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What are you afraid of? What do you know you should be doing but don’t because of fear?

Not because you don’t know how. Not because you don’t have the time or other resources. Simply because it scares the crap out of you.

It might the act of doing it. Public speaking may terrify you.

It might be possible outcomes. You’re afraid that if you start a blog, nobody will come.

It might be fear of failure or fear of success. Fear of rejection or fear of being ridiculed. Fear of losing your investment, or fear of being different.

We all have issues. The question is, what can we do about them?

We can make a decision. No, you can’t choose to not feel the fear. It’s there. Acknowledge it. Don’t fight it or try to reason with it. Let it go. It is what it is.

You can’t choose to not have the fear, but you can choose what you do about it.

You can allow your fears to stop you or you can choose to do the thing despite the fear.

Sometimes the best way to do that is in small increments. Baby steps. You may not be ready to do the keynote address at your bar meeting but perhaps you can introduce the speaker. If that’s too much, maybe you can introduce the guy who introduces the speaker.

Sometimes the best way to handle fear is to close your eyes and jump in.

A client owes you money. You have to call them to see if they’ve mailed the check they’ve promised. You don’t want to do it. It’s unpleasant. It makes you nervous. Stop thinking about it, grab the phone and start punching in numbers.

Some things may always scare us. Things that never get any easier. We feel the fear and do them because they must be done.

Other times, perhaps most of the time, we beat the fear. Things that once scared the juice out of us are no longer an issue. We did it, and it wasn’t as bad as we thought. Or we did over and over again and eventually got used to it. The thing we used to avoid doing is now a part of our repertoire.

Mark Twain said, “Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain.” So what are you afraid of? And what are you going to do about it?

Clients owe you money? I can help you Get the Check.

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I’m dying and so are you

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In a galaxy far, far away (in the 1970’s) I attended my first real estate investing seminar. I was young and ambitious and had no money, but I had spunk. Mr. Grant may have hated spunk, but it was going to make me rich.

Yes, I was scared. I’m sure most of the people in the room were, too. The trainer knew this, of course and spent time encouraging us. He suggested we adopt the “I.G.D.S.” philosophy. That stands for, “I’m gonna die someday” and is meant to suggest that we get on with life because it will one day be over.

What are you waiting for? This is your life, not a dress rehearsal. Do or not do, there is no try. (Okay Star Wars wasn’t out yet. I got a little ahead of myself.)

Years later, Steve Jobs echoed this sentiment when he said,

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Over the years, I’ve reminded myself that I’m gonna die someday and I had better get on with things. Sometimes, this helped me do just that. I overcame inertia, stopped researching and planning, and got things done. Some big things, too.

As I have aged and thought more about my mortality, I realize that the clock is still ticking and there are many things I still want to do. I.G.D.S. and I had better get on it.

I also know there isn’t enough time in the day to do everything. But I have a plan.

My plan is to give myself permission to dabble. A taste of this and a taste of that. I don’t have to be “all in” with every project on my bucket list. I can sample things, not with the intent to build something big necessarily, but to savor the feeling of doing it.

Of course the challenge is that I will fall in love with what I’m doing and get completely sidetracked. But I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. As Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure, or it is nothing.”

Steve Jobs dreamed big dreams and took big chances. He make lots of mistakes and more than a few enemies, but no matter what anyone says about him, I think we can all agree that he left a huge footprint in the sand.

So, how about it? What have you been putting off until “someday”?

Life is short and so is Danny DeVito. He didn’t let that stop him, and neither should you.

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Are you doing “Positive Thinking” the right way?

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Many studies prove that positive thinking is good for us. It can improve our health, help us live longer, improve our performance and productivity, and improve our lives in many other ways.

Other studies show that positive thinking can sometimes make things worse.

If you imagine a goal, for example, but ignore the obstacles that lie between your current reality and the achievement of that goal, you’re not going to do what needs to be done to achieve it.

I’m not an expert. I don’t even play one on TV. But I’m going to clear this for you, my friend, based on what I have learned about the Law of Attraction.

I know, many people think LOA is a lot of nonsense. Indeed, there are a lot of aspects of it that make me scratch my head. But some parts make sense to me and that’s what I’m going with.

According to the Law of Attraction, “like attracts like”. When you think about something, good or bad, those thoughts attract similar thoughts, ideas, people, even circumstances. I won’t get into the quantum physics aspects of this, because I don’t really understand it, but supposedly, it has to do with the fact that all matter vibrates at a sub-atomic level, our thoughts are energy and energy is matter.

If this sounds too flaky for you, just think of it in terms of the subconscious mind which uses the Reticular Activating System (RAS) to filter stimuli, protecting us from harm and improving our awareness of the world around us. (You just bought a new car, now you see that car “everywhere”. That’s your RAS at work.)

Anyway, back to positive thinking.

When we think about something we want but don’t have, what we really think about is the fact that we don’t have it. Your dominant thoughts are not about the goal, they are about not having that goal (and all of the reasons why). The Law of Attraction says that like attracts like so we attract more of “not having it”.

If you set a goal of earning $10,000,000 and you’re not even close to achieving that, the more you think about the goal, the more you think about not having it. You think you’re moving towards the goal but you’re doing just the opposite.

We don’t attract what we want, we attract what we think.

Does that mean we should only choose goals that are realistic? No. Long term “dream” goals are fine. It can be exciting to think about your magnificent future. But only briefly, to set your course. Don’t dwell on it.

Instead, think truthful thoughts about your current reality that are connected to your big goal.

How do you know you’re doing it right? Your feelings give you the answer. If the thought feels good, you’re moving in the right direction.

When you think about having $10,000,000 and realize you’re not even in the ballpark, it feels bad. You might tell yourself that the goal is exciting and feels good to think about, but when you’re that far away from it, your thoughts are primarily about how far you have to go.

Choose thoughts that feel good when you think them.

For example, you might think about how you’re good at your work, and getting better every day. That’s a thought that is both true and feels good and moves you a step closer to your goal. (If you’re not that good yet, take a step back and think about how you are working on your skills. True? Feel good? You’re doing it right.)

Then, reach for another truthful thought that feels good. Maybe you realize that you know some sharp business people with exciting projects you might be able to get involved with. True? Feel good to think about? Likely to move you forward towards the big goal? If so, you’re doing it right.

Perhaps after that you think about how well you get along with some of these folks. You’re spending more time with them, learning about their business, contributing ideas. These truthful, positive thoughts that feel good when you think them continue to move you forward, step by step, towards your long term goal.

Eventually, your current situation will be such that when you think about your goal it actually feels good. It feels imminent, not far away. At that point, you are on the brink of achieving that goal.

Doesn’t this make more sense than simply clinging to a thought we know isn’t true?

Thoughts lead to action and action leads to results. Continually reach for thoughts that feel good about your situation and you will continually be lead to actions which move you towards your goal.

Think about what you want, not what you don’t want, because whatever you think about, you attract.

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Doubling down on success

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Before you know it, you’ll be doing some planning for the new year. Setting some goals, writing out plans.

When you do, there’s something you should think about.

If you make a list of everything going on in your life, you’ll note that some things are great, some things are bad, and most things, perhaps 80-90%, are “okay”.

You might look at this way:

Bad: problems, weaknesses, issues, trouble, pain
Great: working well, profitable, easy, pleasurable
Okay: works most of the time, rarely needs attention, neither great nor terrible

Okay, you get the idea.

So, you sit down to set some goals and contemplate your future. Where do you begin?

Most people start by fixing problems. If you’ve got troubles that are causing you sleepless nights, and you can do something about them, that makes sense. Get those issues off your plate so you can think, and sleep.

But if have problems that aren’t causing you pain and loss, they are simply weak areas in your life, fixing them is probably not the best use of your time.

Instead, look for areas that promise the biggest opportunities for growth and happiness. You’ll find them on your list of  things that are already great.

Take what’s working and make them even better. As Thomas Edison put it, “There’s a way to do it better–find it.”

Let’s talk about your practice. What’s working well?

You’re getting lots of new clients every month. How can you get more? How can you get better clients and bigger cases?

Your cases are settling nicely. How can you settle them faster, for higher amounts and at lower expense?

Your employees work efficiently. How can you help be even better?

Your biggest opportunities for growth are in those areas where things are already working well. You’re doing it right. You’re successful. There’s always a way to do it better.

In blackjack, when you’ve got a ten or eleven, depending on the dealer’s up-card you don’t just play the hand and take the likely win. You double down and maximize your winnings. You don’t settle for good when you can have great.

Go through your list, find your good hands, and look for ways to make them better.

Want a simple marketing plan that really works? Get this

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Apparently, you’re not as busy as you think you are

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Interesting article on Inc.com on the subject of busyness. Apparently you’re not as busy as you think you are.

Why do we think we are so busy? According to the author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, it’s because we’ve talked ourselves into believing it.

We wear our busyness with pride, telling ourselves and everyone else how much we have to do and that there’s no time for anything else. We come to believe it and becomes a way of life.

This unrelenting feeling of overwhelming busyness is not good for our health or productivity. We become anxious. We sleep poorly. We rush to complete things because we’ve got so much more to do. Relax? Vacation? Maybe later. There’s too much I’ve got to do first.

Stop telling yourself that you’re too busy. You have more than enough time to do what you’ve got to do.

The other thing we can do to stop feeling so busy is to “reduce the fragmentation in your life by scheduling uninterrupted free time”.

Because we are so connected to our work and other obligations–our smart phones and tablets are always on and always with us–it’s difficult to let go. We’re always reminded of what we’ve got to do and this jeopardizes our ability to relax.

Schedule quiet time. Time to relax and do nothing. Time away from your calendar and lists, texts and emails. Time to go for a walk and listen to music, not podcasts, or time to read fiction instead of work-related material.

I’ll admit, I’m not very good at this. I’m always working on and thinking about my current project, and my next one.

On Thanksgiving, I’ll make the effort. No work. Just family, fun, and relaxation.

As for the rest of the year, I’ll have to check my calendar and get back to you.

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Things successful people don’t say

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Successful people have different philosophies than unsuccessful people. Successful people, for example, generally don’t say, “I don’t know how.” According to this Entrepreneur article, “Instead of automatically shutting down solution-finding, successful people learn what they can in order to succeed in a project or in their career.”

Another phrase you won’t hear successful people say is, “I did everything on my own.” Successful people surround themselves with smart, talented people, the article notes. “Recognize those that have helped you or made an impact and you’ll continue to earn success and recognition yourself.”

Go through the 15 phrases in the article. Do you find yourself saying or thinking any of these things? If you do, you probably won’t change by simply telling yourself to “stop thinking that way. You’ll have better luck replacing the unsuccessful thought with a related thought that is both true and success oriented.

For example, I know many attorneys hold the belief that, “If our competitors don’t have it, then we don’t need it,” number 14 on the list. If you share that belief, you’re limiting your growth. A successful person would think, “We can gain an advantage in our market by doing what our competitors don’t do.” The latter statement is both true and more likely to lead to growth.

The author says, “Copying competitors is one of the many possible deaths for most companies. True innovation comes from the flip side: figuring out what competitors aren’t doing and fill that niche to answer a need in the industry.”

If you have negative or limiting beliefs, turn them around and find a positive version of the idea. Anchor your new thought with ideas and information that support and “prove” your newly adopted philosophy.

To support the statement that you can gain an advantage by doing what your competition doesn’t do, you might read profiles of companies and leaders in industries outside of law who dominated their market by figuring out what their competitors weren’t doing, and doing it.

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Would you like to get started today or is next week better for you?

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In sales, the “alternative choice close” is a well known technique for getting the client to buy something, rather than nothing. You ask them if they want “A” or “B” and no matter which one they choose, they’re buying something.

“Credit card or check?” “Deluxe package or basic package?” “Would you like to come in at noon or 4:30?”

Clients want you to help them make a decision. They know they might procrastinate and never get the work done. When you help them take action and get the benefits they want and need, you’re acting in their best interest.

And did I mention you’ll also get more clients?

Anyway, you can also use the “alternative choice” concept to improve your own decision making and productivity. It can help you reduce procrastination.

The idea is to always have more than one project you’re working on, or could be.

Writer Geoff Dyer put it this way:

Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it’s a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It’s only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other.

If you find yourself procrastinating on Project A, you can turn to Project B. Or Project C. When you find yourself resisting something, work on something else.

You probably do this now with client files. When you are frustrated or bored or unsure of what to do next on a given file, you put it aside and work another.

I do this with blog post and other writing projects. I’ve got lots of irons in the fire and when I run out of steam on something, I’ve always got something else I can work on.

I also do this with reading books. I have thousands of books in my Kindle and I usually read two or three of them at a time. When I find myself losing interest with one, I turn to another.

You can use the “alternative choice” concept for anything you’re working on, or should be. Calls, letters, documents (drafting or reviewing), even errands. Always have something else lined up, because doing “A” or “B” will always be better than doing nothing.

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Success is not the key to happiness

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Albert Schweitzer said, “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you’ll be a success.”

If you don’t love what you’re doing, are you doomed to fail? What if you don’t love your work but you don’t hate it, either?

The way I see it, if you’re miserable, you probably need to get another gig. If things are okay but you’re not completely happy, you’ve got a couple of choices.

The first is to find some aspect of your work that does make you happy and focus on that. Surely you love some part of your work. (Yes, but don’t call me Shirley.)

I didn’t love practicing law, and after more than twenty years, I moved on. While I was practicing, I focused on the things I enjoyed such as how good it felt when a client said thank you. I liked writing creative demand letters and getting judges, juries, and arbitrators to rule in my favor. I also liked the money and what it allowed me to do.

The rest of my work I found boring, stress-inducing, or otherwise unrewarding. Research (before computers) seemed unending. Discovery was a drag. Dealing with nasty opposing counsel was enervating.

But there were enough things I enjoyed doing and they allowed me to handle the things I didn’t.

If your work doesn’t provide you with enough joy to make up for the things that drag you down, the other thing you can do is find your happiness outside of work.

Time with your family may make your heart sing. You may have a hobby or side project that you are passionate about. Charitable work may give your life meaning. Whatever it is, spend more time doing it, thinking about it, and looking forward to doing it. Let your work support your passion.

I did this, too. For several years prior to my transition out of a law practice and into a publishing and consulting career, I worked on creating the marketing course that was to make that new career possible. I worked on it at lunch, in the evenings, and on weekends. It was hard work and I didn’t know if it would be successful, but I was happy working on this project and thinking about my future.

Your work may not make you happy or successful, but if you have enough happiness in your life outside of work, then you have a happy and successful life.

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