Get better results by asking better questions

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Yesterday, I spoke with an attorney who wants to increase his income and is transitioning into a new practice area. It turns out that if he had a choice, there’s something else he’d rather be doing career-wise and it’s not practicing law.

I slammed on the brakes and asked him to write a one page, “ideal life” scenario dated five years from today. I said there were no rules, he didn’t have to follow logic to explain how he got there, “just describe your life as you want it to be five years from today.”

Because you can completely re-make your life in five years.

Write your scenario in the present tense. It’s already happened. You’re living the life you want, doing the things you want, being with people you want.

What does your typical “ideal day” look like?

I’ve given this exercise to many people, and done it myself. I’ve found that people often have trouble being honest with themselves about their ideal day. They don’t believe that what they really want is possible so they choose something different, something they think is possible, or something they think other people in their life would approve of.

When you do this exercise, you must forget possible. Ignore “how” (for now) and simply describe “what”.

The idea is that once you have described your ideal life, you’ve got something to work towards. “Start with the end in mind,” and work backwards to make it so.

Anyway, today I was clicking my way through the Interwebs and found a blog post that asked readers a provocative question I thought was on point:

What would you do with your time if you weren’t allowed in your house from 8am – 7pm, didn’t have to work, and your children were being taken care of?

Answering this question can help you describe your ideal life scenario.

Once you have done that, once you know where you want to go, the next thing you have to do is figure out how to get there. You do that by asking yourself another question.

In the post, the author says

The better questions we ask ourselves, the better the answers will be. . . Your subconscious mind. . . will start working out ways to answer your question.

So, if you constantly ask: ‘Why do I never get what I want in life?’ Your subconscious mind will go to work to help you find the answer and it will always be negative. Whereas if you constantly ask yourself ‘How can I make this possible? your subconscious mind will get to work and start looking for ways to get what you want.

To get better results in life, first ask, “What do I want?” Then ask, “How can I get it?” Your subconscious mind knows the answers.

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Thank you for reading this

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I don’t know about you but I get annoyed with people who don’t say thank you. As a kid, the importance of saying please and thank you was drilled into my head. Today, I wouldn’t dream of forgetting my manners.

I expect others to be equally polite and appreciative. When they aren’t, I notice.

Saying thank you isn’t just good manners. It’s also good for business, and for our personal relationships.

When you say thank you, you make the other person feel appreciated. As a result, they are more likely to like you because you made them feel better about themselves.

Saying thank you also makes it more likely that someone will continue doing whatever it is they did to earn your appreciation. When someone sends you a referral, for example, telling them thank you, and meaning it, makes it more likely that they will send more referrals.

Saying thank you also makes you look good. Good manners suggest good upbringing. It makes you appear considerate, mature, and trustworthy.

Saying thank you is especially powerful when you do it for someone who was simply doing their job. If I hire you and pay you, we’ve had a fair exchange. Still, I will go out of my way to say thank you for a job well done.

Finally, saying thank you makes you feel good about yourself. When you put a smile on someone’s face and tell them you recognize what they did and appreciate it, it doesn’t get any better than that.

So thank you for reading this. I appreciate it. (I really do.)

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When zombies invade your law office

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You say you’ve got problems? Watch a couple episodes of “The Walking Dead” and say that again. Now those people have problems. Their lives are a living nightmare. The world they once knew is gone forever. Every minute might be their last.

So unless a horde of zombies have invaded your office, don’t tell me you’ve got problems.

You don’t have problems, you’ve got situations. Challenges. Opportunities to improve. Whatever is it, deal with it. Come up with a plan. Find a solution.

Can you write a check? Great, no more problem. You don’t have the money? Put it on a credit card and get back to work.

What if it’s something you can’t fix? What if someone you love has a terminal illness?

That’s sad, but unless you have a cure, all you can do is be there to comfort them and promise to take care of the ones they leave behind.

Years ago, I gave up using the word “worry”. The word comes with too much emotional baggage, so I sent it packing. Today, I may be “concerned” about something, but never worried.

Life is too short to dwell on anything negative. Worrying is a worthless emotion. It never solved a problem. Not once.

The characters in “The Walking Dead” don’t worry. No time for that. They’re too busy surviving. They are scared and tired and hungry and vigilant, but never worried.

If you have a problem, don’t worry or complain or dwell on the worst case scenario. Do something about it. And count your blessings. Things could be one hell of a lot worse.

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Don’t die with your music still in you

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I received an email today from a marketer friend. It started with a quote from Anne Frank:

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

My friend noted that we also don’t need to wait a single moment to improve ourselves. He said, “If we wait for the “perfect moment,” you can bet it will never come. Life gets in the way. We create more excuses. Our goals keep getting shoved to the back burner. So forget about waiting for the perfect moment to begin, because that moment is NOW.”

This struck a nerve with me. I’ve put many goals on the back burner. I’ve often told myself I’ll do something later, when the time is right.

How about you? What have you put off doing until the time is right?

Wayne Dyer said, “Don’t die with your music still inside you. Listen to your intuitive inner voice and find what passion stirs your soul. Listen to that inner voice, and don’t get to the end of your life and say, ‘What if my whole life has been wrong?”

You don’t need to wait a single moment more. The right time is right now.

If you’ve been waiting for the perfect time to start, wait no more. Start today.

If you think that what you want might not be possible, start and find out.

If you think you need more money, start anyway and trust that it will come.

What’s nice about starting is that you can do it by thinking a thought or writing down an idea. There, you’ve started. What’s next?

Don’t die with your music still in you.

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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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