Maybe we’re not using our calendars enough

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Most people use their calendar to record appointments and deadlines and little else. Followers of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology see the calendar as a place to record the “hard landscape” of their life, meaning only those things that need to get done on specific days and times.

We might want to start using our calendars more liberally.

In an interview, Stanford professor, Jennifer Aaker, author of The Dragonfly Effect, said that, “people who spend more time on projects that energize them and with people who energize them tend to be happier. However, what is interesting is that there is often a gap between where people say they want to spend their time and how they actually spend their time.”

Those gaps, she says, occur primarily because we don’t write down those activities. Adding them to a to do list is good; scheduling them on a calendar is even better:

“When you put something on a calendar, you’re more likely to actually do that activity–partly because you’re less likely to have to make an active decision whether you should do it — because it’s already on your calendar.”

If you want to get in shape, for example, instead of merely planning to exercise after work, put it on your calendar.

I have long recommended scheduling marketing time (even 15 minutes a day) on your calendar as an appointment. If you do this, you know it makes it much more likely that you will do it. Of course you have to treat it like a real appointment, a “must do,” and not a “would be nice to do”.

In a nutshell, using our calendars to schedule time for people and projects that energize us and are consistent with our goals can make us happier and more productive.

What might you add to your calendar?

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Do you have time for sex?

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In consultations with lawyers, after I’ve recommended a course of action, they sometimes say, “I don’t have time for that,” when in truth, they just don’t want to do it.

“Do you have time for sex?” I’ve been known to respond. Of course they do, because sex is important to them. “Then you have time to do what you want to do, don’t you?”

There is no shortage of time. We are awash in it. We choose to allocate our time based on our priorities. So when someone says, “I don’t have time for that,” they’re really saying, “That’s not a priority”.

Be honest with yourself. It will empower you to make better choices. Instead of telling yourself you don’t have time for something, say, “I have the time, but this isn’t one of my priorities right now”.

When you receive advice you don’t want to follow, don’t hide behind a glib lack of time, admit that you don’t want to do it. It will help you achieve clarity about what direction to take. If you make a bad decision, you’ll find out soon enough and can correct course.

When someone asks for your help with something that doesn’t support your priorities, you should be tactful about declining, but decline you must. Of course if maintaining a relationship with the person who is asking for help is a priority for you, then giving them some of your time is part of the equation.

In short, you have enough time to do what’s important. Being honest with yourself and others will not only help you decide what’s important, it will help you stay focused on doing what’s important.

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The key trait Steve Jobs had that most lawyers don’t

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In a recent talk, author Malcolm Gladwell said that there was one trait that distinguished Steve Jobs more than any other. It wasn’t intelligence, creativity, or resources. It was a sense of urgency.

Gladwell told about the time Jobs saw the prototype for the first computer mouse and was told it was still in the very early stages of development. Jobs got excited and demanded his team build a mouse and graphical user interface, even though they told him it couldn’t be done. They did the impossible and the result was the Macintosh computer.

His sense of urgency made Jobs nearly impossible to work for, but heralded his monumental success. He approached life like a little kid, demanding what he wanted, when he wanted it, no matter the cost or risk.

His refusal to settle for anything less changed the world.

Lawyers are often demanding of themselves and others but I don’t think you could say we have a well-developed sense of urgency. We’re too caught up in the risks, the costs, and the illogical nature of doing the impossible. And yet each of us is capable of summoning this sense of urgency when we need it.

Look at what we’re able to accomplish in the days and hours leading up to a vacation. Weeks of work gets done, our desk tops are finally clean, and we’re able to delegate a mountain of tasks and responsibilities we were previously convinced nobody else could do.

Can a sense of urgency be developed? I think it can, but only if we are willing to re-evaluate our priorities. As long as “avoidance of risk” is job one, we’re never going to find out what we’re capable of. As long as “thoroughness” trumps immediacy, we’ll always find ourselves one step behind.

To develop our sense of urgency, we have to be willing to let go of our beliefs about what’s possible. Start with little things. If you believe something will take two weeks to complete, for example, set a deadline of one week and get it done. Once you believe in the impossible, your team will start believing.

Of course Jobs didn’t merely demand urgency, he also demanded near perfection. More often than not, he got it.

Was it because he believed that what he wanted was possible? Did he just declare what he wanted, hoping his team would figure out how to make it happen? Did he have a gift for seeing abilities in others they could not see in themselves? Did his team do the impossible because they didn’t want to suffer his wrath?

I don’t know. All I know is, life is short and without a sense of urgency, we will never truly know what’s possible.

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Marketing your legal services as if your life depended on it

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Many lawyers tell me they’re doing the best they can to bring in new business. But they’re not. Not even close.

How about you?

Be honest. Are you serious about marketing or is it something you do here and there? Do you do it every day or do you wait until you’re in a slump?

Okay, let’s play “what if”. C’mon, it’ll be fun.

What if you had to bring in ten new clients by the end of this month or. . . you would die? Literally. If you don’t have ten new clients signed up by the close of business at month’s end, terrorists will behead you.

For realz.

If this was true, what would you do? Would your attitude towards marketing your legal services be different? How much time would you spend on marketing? How much money?

The clock is ticking. What would you do?

What are you not doing that you would start doing immediately?

What would you do more? What would you improve?

Would you drain the kids’ college funds and run a bunch of ads, even if you’ve never advertised before? Would you get your ass out the door and get to some networking events? Would you personally call every former client you’ve ever had to see if they have any work or referrals?

If your life depended on it, what (exactly) would you do?

If you’ve ever told yourself you’re doing the best you can to bring in new clients, now you know the truth. If you’ve been honest with yourself, you know you could do more.

Now you have to make a decision. Business as usual, or something different? Your life might not depend on it, but your future sure does.

For a simple marketing plan that really works, get The Formula

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Maybe you should procrastinate more

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There are countless articles and books about overcoming procrastination, offering hundreds of techniques for doing so. But maybe procrastination has been given a bad rap. Maybe it’s not something we must always defeat.

We procrastinate because it serves us in some way. We resist doing things for a reason. Maybe we’re not ready and need more information. Maybe we need help. Or maybe we would be better off letting someone else do it.

If you procrastinate, ask yourself why? What’s the message? What is your subconscious mind telling you? If you need more information, go get it. If you’re not ready to address the jury or give the speech, practice. Burn the midnight oil. Do what you have to do.

If procrastination is hurting your reputation or income, you need to do something about it.

Otherwise, don’t sweat it.

In school, I routinely put off writing papers and studying for exams until the last minute. But I got them done and got good grades. No harm, no foul.

Okay, maybe I could have gotten even better grades if I didn’t put things off. But I enjoyed the challenge of getting a good grade on a paper I wrote in two hours that other students wrote over six weeks.

Plus, procrastinating gave me a great excuse in case I did get a bad grade. “Hey, I barely studied!”

But I was a kid. I’m not recommending this strategy for operating a professional practice. “Sure, we lost the case, but hey, we did pretty good considering I did no discovery.”

Yeah, not so much.

If procrastination is hurting you or your clients, fix it. Immediately. Otherwise, when you find yourself putting off something, figure out why and learn from it. Listen to that inner voice. It’s trying to protect you and guide you towards a better future.

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Use the two-minute rule to beat procrastination

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In “Getting Things Done,” David Allen speaks about “the two-minute rule”. He says that as you go through your list of tasks, anything that can be done in two minutes or less should be done immediately. Don’t schedule it for later, do it now. The time you would take to schedule a task or make notes about it could be used to get the thing done.

I do my best to follow the two-minute rule and find that it not only aids my productivity, it is also very satisfying. It allows me to clear my plate of “open tasks” and it feels good knowing I’m getting things done.

Part of the appeal of the two-minute rule is that psychologically, two minutes seems like no time at all. We don’t get caught up in thinking about what we have to do, we just do it.

Get ‘er done!

I use the two-minute rule in a different way, to beat procrastination when I find myself stalling on bigger tasks and projects. I know I’m not going to get the thing done in two minutes, but I can get it started, and getting started is the most important part.

So, I give myself two minutes to do something, even if it’s just re-writing the list of the tasks I’m not doing. I might make some notes, grab a link to a website to check out, or create an index page to the Evernote notes I’ve been collecting on the subject.

I might free-write for two minutes. Now that I think of it, I started this post with a two-minute stream of consciousness. I didn’t know what I would say on the subject, but once I started writing down my thoughts, I was on my way.

In two minutes, I might set up a new folder on my hard drive and add documents to it. Or prioritize my task list by putting tasks in numerical order.

Two minutes of activity also sets the stage for another two minutes. I might grab my newly prioritized tasks list and do two minutes on item number one. Or I might skip down to number eight and do two minutes of outlining, research, or brainstorming.

It’s all good. And it’s all just two minutes.

I suppose one could argue that any project could be completed in two-minute increments. All I know is that once I’ve started a project with one or two two-minute drills, I usually keep working on it.

Learn how I use Evernote for Getting Things Done. Go here.

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When the yogurt hits the fan

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You might lose a huge case. Or have your best client fire you. It might be an injury or illness, a financial disaster, or a drug or alcohol problem.

I don’t know what it might be, but whatever it is, it doesn’t have to destroy you. There are two other possibilities:

1. You will survive. You will come back,bigger and better than before. You’ll learn from the experience and be stronger person because of it.

Or. . .

2. You’ll start over. If the worst case scenario rears it’s ugly head, as long as it’s not fatal, you will start a new chapter in your life.

You may lose your license, but you won’t lose your knowledge and abilities. You’ll do something else for work. Maybe something better. Maybe something you’ve always wanted to do but didn’t have the courage or the time. Now you do.

Life goes on.

It’s not the bad things that happen to us, it’s what we do about them. We can let them hobble us, or we can see them as lessons and opportunities. We can wallow in self-pity or we can suck it up and get back in the game.

Alexander Graham Bell had many failures in his career. But he didn’t let those failures define him or decide his fate. He didn’t dwell on the past, he kept moving forward, and he encouraged others to do the same:

“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”

If you have something bad going on in your life right now, figure out what you can do about it and do it. If there’s nothing you can do, move on. Start again. Or do something else.

Yes, you might fail again. Things can get worse. But they can get better, too. F.W. Dupee said, “Progress always involves risk; you can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.”

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Yes, it is your fault

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We all know people who live a life of blame. When bad things happen, it’s someone else’s fault. It’s the economy. It’s the government.

I got screwed by the judge. The other side’s attorney is an [expletive]. My client didn’t listen.

But as long as you blame someone or something else for what ails you, you can’t improve anything. Stuff happens and it’s not your fault.

But it is your fault. And that’s good because it means you can change things.

Jack Canfield says, “If you want to be successful, you have to take 100% responsibility for everything you experience in your life.”

If you don’t take responsibility, you relinquish your power. You become a victim. You go through life letting things happen to you because, of course, there’s nothing you can do about it.

But we all have a choice. We can choose to say, “oh well, that’s just the way it is,” or we can choose to accept responsibility and reclaim our power.

Sure, bad things happen. There is evil in the world. Sometimes the bird of happiness craps on your head. But you don’t have to accept any of it.

Canfield says, “If something doesn’t turn out as planned. . . ask yourself, “How did I create that? What was I thinking? What were my beliefs? What did I say or not say? What did I do or not do to create that result? How did I get the other person to act that way? What do I need to do differently next time to get the result I want?”

Okay, so people are out of work and can’t afford to hire you. Those are the circumstances. You can’t change them. But you can change what you do about it.

You can do things to attract clients who are working and have money. You can change your practice area. You can get set up to accept credit cards. You can do a better job of marketing than other lawyers in your market.

There are many things you can do, but only if you first accept responsibility.

Better billing and collection practices: go here

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Hard work: what is it and why is it important?

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Everyone and their brother says that hard work is a key to success. But can someone tell me what hard work means and why it is important?

Is hard work defined by effort or number of hours worked? If you aren’t exhausted at the end of the day, does that mean you can’t be successful? If you are successful anyway, does this mean you don’t deserve it?

Does hard work mean doing things you don’t like or aren’t good at? What if certain things come easily to you? What if you love your work? Do those not count?

Does hard work mean persistence? Does it mean continuing to do things that aren’t working? So we can never admit defeat and try something else? We can’t get help?

Hard work, eh? Does it mean taking work home with you every night? Missing your kid’s soccer games or piano recitals and feeling bad about it? Does hard work mean pain, regret, and sacrifice?

I don’t know what it means. Or why it’s important.

What’s wrong with working smart instead of working hard? What’s wrong with getting lucky, having the right connections, or even marrying the right person?

Wait, I get it. Hard work is for those who aren’t naturally skilled, don’t know how to work smart, and never seem to have any luck. It’s a fail safe. When nothing else works, work hard.

Whatever that means.

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When you want “out” but can’t afford to quit

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You want out. You can’t take the practice anymore. But you’re making too much money and can’t see a way to replace it.

You’re stuck.

No, not really. You’ve got two options.

The first option is to do something on the side. A small business, something you could do part time. If it takes off, in a few years, you could have your ticket out.

That’s what I did when I wanted out of my practice. Over a period of three years, I wrote a marketing course and started selling it. It took a long time to get everything in place, but once I did, I was earning enough income to wind down my practice.

Today, the Internet gives you many more options. You can run a business from your smart phone, with little or nothing invested up front. This allows you to get into profit a lot quicker than a traditional business.

You may not have any idea about what kind of business you could start, and that’s okay. Use your lunch hour to begin exploring.

The second option is to take up a hobby. Seriously. Find something you enjoy doing and start doing it. Let your hobby provide the sustenance that is missing in your practice. See your practice as a way to finance your passion. No matter how bad it gets during the day, you know you have something you love to look forward to at the end of the day.

Maybe you love to paint. Do it. Take classes. Meet other painters. Go to art museums. When you find yourself stressed out at work, paint something. When you have a spare moment or two, read art magazines. Fantasize about being a great painter, or owning a successful art gallery.

There’s no pressure to earn income from your hobby. You do it because you love doing it.

But here’s the thing. Many a new career has been born from the pursuit of a passion. Don’t expect it, or try to make it happen. But don’t be surprised if it does.

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