Slowing down to speed up

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Stop running. Yes, I know you have to get to court, crank out a new agreement, and meet with your new client. I know you’re busy and this is how you earn your living. I know that if you don’t do the work you won’t get paid.

Slow down anyway. Better yet, come to a complete stop.

At least for a few hours.

Slowing down allows you to refine what you’re doing so you can do it better, and faster. Just as a race car needs pit stops, so do humans. By taking a break periodically, we can ensure that everything is working properly and that we are on course and on pace. Taking a break allows us to recharge our energy and clarify our focus. It allows us to go faster, assured that we are going in the right direction.

Take some time to evaluate what you are doing and the results you are getting. Are things moving in the direction you want? Is there anything you could do better? What’s working well that could be expanded?

Take some time to look at your calendar. How are you spending your time? What else might you do? Is there something you are doing that you don’t really need to do? Is there something that takes you two hours that could be done in one?

Take some time to rest and reflect on the bigger picture. What big ideas could you start working on that might help you take a quantum leap? Where do you want to be five years from today and what could you start doing today to help you get there?

Take some time to get rid of clutter and distractions. If it doesn’t serve you in some way, eliminate it. Simplify your life so you can focus on what is important and valuable.

Take some time to read things you don’t usually read. Look for ideas and inspiration. Have some fun. Goof off. Go to the movies in the middle of the day. Take your best friend for a long lunch.

And take some time to give thanks for all that you have. When you appreciate the goodness in your life, you attract more of it.

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Save time by not filing email; study proves search is quicker

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Filing emails in folders, or adding labels to them, doesn’t make them quicker to find. According to a study by IBM Research, it’s quicker to find them by searches.

“Finding emails by searches took on average 17 seconds, versus 58 seconds finding the emails by folder,” the researchers concluded. “The likelihood of success – that is, finding the intended email – was no greater when it had been filed in a folder.”

The time spent filing email, in addition to the added time spent retrieving it, can add 20 minutes a day to your workload, the study concluded. A comment to the article questions whether this is true under real world conditions:

In the majority of scenarios, searching is more efficient, however if you forget. . . the metadata [key words]. . . related to the email, then your search efforts are going to be quite difficult. On the other hand, if you remember that you simply filed the email under the “important” folder, then odds are you may only be a few clicks away. In a black and white world, yes searching is more efficient, however there are still valid purposes to using folders.

My plan to achieve email inbox zero calls for me to get rid of all but one label and rely on Gmail’s search capability. I’m pretty sure I won’t miss having more labels since I don’t use the 50 I currently have. But my view is colored by my use of Evernote to file important emails and to manage tasks and projects.

In Evernote, I tag everything (and sometimes also add key words to the body of the note). The difference though is that I don’t “file” all my email this way, just the actionable or otherwise important ones which constitute less than 5%.

I found most interesting the researchers conclusion that most people don’t file emails in folders to make it easier to find them so much as to remove from view the overwhelming volume of email. They pare down the inbox so that they can use it for task management, which the study implied was not efficient.

If they used Evernote like I do, they wouldn’t have to spend as much time filing all of their email in the right folders, they could simply send the important ones to Evernote and archive the rest.

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How to keep your name in front of prospects all year long

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My recent post on holiday greeting cards elicited a comment from Bruce Brightwell, an attorney who sends his list a magnetized refrigerator calendar. “People love the calendars, and I am in front of them for the whole year,” he said.

This is smart marketing. A practical gift that keeps your name and contact information in front of clients and prospects that is inexpensive and effective.

Calendars are a great year end gift. What can you do the rest of the year?

Do a search for “advertising specialties” or “ad specs”. That’s what they are called in the trade. You will find a mind numbing array of possible items you can offer:

  • Pens
  • Key chains
  • Calendars (wall, refrigerator, desk, wallet)
  • T-shirts
  • Baseball caps
  • Book bags
  • Book ends
  • Paper weights
  • Coffee mugs
  • Thermoses
  • Book bags
  • Mouse pads
  • Business card cases
  • Book marks

I like pens. You can get them in bulk for under .25 cents, and nice ones for under a dollar. People use pens and carry them, and if they lose one, someone else will pick it up.

I also like note pads. They are very inexpensive (any printer can make them for you) and you can get them in different sizes. Real estate agents send them pre-printed with lines for a grocery list. This is good for consumers. For businesses, I like a 4 by 5 1/2 size that can sit on a desk or next to a phone. While taking notes, your prospect looks at your name and smiling face at the top of the pad, draws a mustache and eye glasses and darkens your teeth. It’s a note pad and a game!

A disadvantage of note pads is that once they have been used, they’re gone. But this gives you an opportunity to get in front of clients and prospects several times a year to replenish their stock.

In choosing an item, keep in mind the amount of room available for printing. A pen has very limited space; a calendar has much more. More space lets you include an “advertising” message: your practice areas and/or an offer, e.g., “‘Free Report: How to save 20 to 50% on legal fees this year’ at www.mywebsite.com”.

You can, of course, have more than one gift item. You could mail everyone a calendar at year end, give coffee mugs to visitors to your office, and give a more expensive item (e.g., Polo shirt) to new clients.

Have you used ad specs to market your practice? Did it bring you new business?

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Ten ways attorneys can use a newsletter to grow their practice

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For many attorneys and law firms, newsletters bring in a lot of business. If you don’t have a newsletter, here are ten reasons you should:

  1. To get more business from current clients. A newsletter is an effective way to let clients know about your other services and show them how they can benefit from those services, without being “salesy”.
  2. To get repeat business from former clients. People who hired you once will hire you again–when they’re ready. A newsletter is a great way to stay in touch with them until they are.
  3. To add value to your services. A newsletter can provide an added benefit for clients. Give clients “subscriptions”. Put a price tag on the newsletter but send it free to current clients.
  4. To educate prospects. A newsletter that provides prospective clients with valuable information helps them make better decisions, allows you to demonstrate your expertise, and provides a mechanism for staying in touch with them until they are ready to hire you.
  5. To generate word-of-mouth referrals. Newsletters have pass-along value. A good newsletter will be shared with an average of three other people, even more online.
  6. To build your contact list. You can offer visitors to your web site a subscription to your newsletter in return for providing their email (and other contact information). When speaking or networking, you can offer to send your newsletter to people who provide you with their business card.
  7. To establish expertise and credibility. Your writing helps prospects, publishers, reporters, meeting planners, and referral sources see you as the expert you are.
  8. To provide content for, and traffic to, your web site. Your newsletter can drive traffic to your web site or blog. Your newsletter content can be re-used as content on your web site or blog, generating additional traffic from search engines and social media.
  9. To shorten the sales process. People who respond to your newsletter are better informed about what you do and pre-sold on your ability to do it, in contrast to people who come to you via advertising.
  10. To serve as a networking tool. Your newsletter is a tool to reach out to other professionals. You can interview them for an article, conduct a survey, ask them to write an article, or ask permission to put them on your mailing list.

A newsletter requires an investment of time, and possibly some capital, but the return on that investment can be substantial. If you want to grow your practice, a newsletter is one of the most highly leveraged marketing activities you can do.

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How to stay focused when you need to get things done

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You’ve got work to do, deadlines to meet, things that must get done, and you know you need to focus but it’s difficult because there are so many interruptions.

How do you cope?

“6 Ways to Minimize Interruptions When You Need to Focus,” offers some ideas:

  1. Close the door while you’re working
  2. Wear headphones to prevent colleagues chatting
  3. Say, “Could you come back in ten minutes?”
  4. Let your phone go to voice-mail
  5. Turn off Skype, Email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. . .
  6. Get into the office early

In short, these tips remind us to, “avoid outside stimuli”. That’s why we went to the library to study for exams, isn’t it?

Interruptions by others are easy to fix, if you want to. But do you really want to? I think we enjoy interruptions–we like the respite they provide from the tedium of our work.

I’ve found that when I really do need to shut off outside stimuli, because of a deadline, for example, I do it. The fear of loss of the looming deadline motivates me to do what we need to do–and I do it.

The greater challenge is not with outside stimuli or interruptions by others, it is with interruptions we impose on ourselves.

When we’re working, we’re also thinking about other things we have to do. Our neurons are firing, reminding us of promises unkept, other tasks that must get done, thinking about the game tonight, and imagining what will happen if we don’t meet our deadline. It is this internal chatter that is so hard to turn off.

So, how do you focus when your brain keeps interrupting you?

One way to do that is by removing all of those tasks and reminders from your brain and putting them into a “trusted system” to be processed and done at a later time. The term “trusted system” comes from the Getting Things Done™ (GTD) system which I’ve written about before.

Another technique for increasing focus is to give yourself short segments of time during which you are committed to working on the task at hand. Twenty-five minutes, fifteen, ten, or two, whatever you can handle. No matter how busy your brain may be, it can focus for two minutes. Once those two minutes are up, you are allowed to do something else or think about something else for, say, another two minutes. And then, you return to the work you were doing in the first segment, or onto something else.

It’s called, “The Pomodoro Technique.”

The most common implementation is a twenty-five minute block of time, followed by a five minute break. A timer is set, and when the bell sounds, you take your break. Kinda like prize-fighting. After the break, you return for the next round.

The technique was originally promoted via the use of a kitchen timer resembling a tomato (“pomodoro is Italian for tomato”) , like the one depicted above. I use something a bit more high tech.

On my PC’s desktop is an icon to launch an app that takes the place of a kitchen timer. There are many apps that do the same thing. The one I use is called, “Focus Booster,” and it’s available for free for Mac and PC.

Give it a try. Start with a twenty-five minute pomodoro. When you’re done and you’ve taken a break, go for another. If you can’t stay focused for twenty-five minutes, start with ten. Or one.

Have you tried the Pomodoro Technique? How has it worked for you? Do you have a favorite app or do you use a kitchen timer?

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The best way to deal with things you don’t want to do

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In “6 Ways to Tackle Boring or Irritating Tasks,” the author presents common sense tips for handling unpleasant tasks. I use several of these tips myself. For example, when I have to make a call I don’t want to make, instead of thinking about it or putting it off (and thinking about it) I simply grab the phone and dial the number. By doing it as soon as possible I avoid unnecessary anxiety and I get the job done.

It’s like jumping into a cold swimming pool; the more you think about it, the more anxious you become. Dipping your toes in, trying to acclimate yourself to the change in temperature, often makes things worse (and makes you look like a sissy). Jump in and your anxiety and discomfort will soon be behind you (and you’ll look like a stud).

But while these tips are effective, I’ve found that often, the best way to deal with things you don’t want to do is to not do them at all.

You may disagree. You may believe that life is a series of unpleasant tasks and ignoring them means shirking responsibility, self-sabotage, or squandering opportunity. I’ll admit that this is sometimes true, but most of the time, it isn’t. Here’s why:

  • Not everything must be done. I find that not doing things rarely leads to permanent and serious harm or the loss of significant opportunity. The 80/20 principle tells us that “most things don’t matter” (the “trivial many”) and by not doing them, we free ourselves to focus on the “precious few” that do.Ask yourself, “what’s the worst that could happen if this doesn’t get done?” Most of the time the answer will be “not that much” and you can safely cross it off your list.
  • Not everything that must be done must be done by you. Just because something needs to be done doesn’t mean you are the one who must do it. Have an employee do it. Or an outside contractor. Or your partner. Whenever possible, do what you are best at and want to do and delegate everything else.
  • If it must be done and it must be done by you, it doesn’t always have to be done immediately. How many times have you put something on your task list only to find that out later that it no longer needs to be done? The problem worked itself out, someone else took care of it, or it really wasn’t as important as you previously thought. I find that happening to me all the time. Therefore, by not doing some things immediately, by intentionally procrastinating on things I don’t want to do, I safely eliminate many unpleasant tasks.
  • Not everything that must be done, by you, and immediately, must be done completely. The 80/20 principle also tells us that 80 percent of the value of a project, for example, comes from 20% of the tasks that comprise it. Therefore, when you have to do something you don’t want to do, look for ways to curtail it. Do only what is essential and of high value and avoid the rest.

There will always be unpleasant tasks in our lives we must do. A eulogy for a loved one, confronting a child who is going down the wrong path, or creating a household budget to drastically reduce expenses come to mind. But most tasks don’t fall into that category and can be avoided, delegated, deferred or reduced in scope.

The negative feeling you get when facing an unpleasant task are there for a reason. Your aversion to doing something is your subconscious mind (higher self, God, instincts, etc.) trying to protect you.

If you’re staring down a lion and facing death, don’t ignore your fear, run. Do it immediately and as completely as you can. But if you have a call to make, perhaps to a client who is behind in payment, and you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to “feel the fear and do it anyway”. Feel the fear and have your secretary do it.

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Are you ignoring prospects who don’t have a computer or smart phone?

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There are billions of people in the world who aren’t able to read this.

No, not attorneys, although I’m sure there are still a few who haven’t evolved into the 21st century. But they aren’t my target market.

Would I like to communicate with them? Sure. But I’m willing to lose, say, the 5% who aren’t connected, in favor of the economics of reaching the 95% who are.

How about you? Is your target market connected? Do you know how many are not?

If a significant percentage of your target market isn’t online and you do most of your marketing online, you obviously need other ways to communicate.

But what if the bulk of your target market is online? Can you safely ignore the few who aren’t?

If you’re just looking at the numbers, sure. But there are some situations where it makes sense to have other options.

Take business cards, for example. There is a trend today towards the digital business card whereby you collect the other person’s information digitally in your smart phone, via a a “bump” or other method, and they collect yours as well. You don’t need to carry paper business cards, all you need is your phone.

There’s nothing wrong with a digital card, of course; it does save the effort of manually transferring information from paper to your electronic database and it’s kind of cool. But what about the prospect who doesn’t have a smart phone or the right app to collect your information? If all you have is a digital card, you may have squandered an opportunity to make a potentially lucrative new connection.

Whether or not you’ve gone digital, you still need to carry (paper) business cards. And, if you do carry paper cards, you shouldn’t assume the people you give them to can read your QR code. Have your practice areas and other information printed on the card as well.

I love technology and use it extensively; you may, too. But we shouldn’t assume that everyone knows what we know. I’m not saying you have to translate all your marketing documents to print or do a print newsletter in addition to your ezine, unless most of your target market is offline. But with something as inexpensive and effective as a business card, there’s no excuse for not having them.

High tech marketing may be the future but low tech will always work–and you never have to worry about a dead battery.

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How to read more and get more out of what you read

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Attorneys read a lot. Still, there’s always more we want to read, if only we had the time.

I was reading an article, yesterday, “7  Tips for becoming well-read,” and it has some good tips for reading more, things like starting small (e.g., 15 minutes during lunch) and minimizing distractions. But I didn’t think the tips went far enough so I came up with my own:

  • Be ruthless in what you select to read. Spend a few minutes with a book candidate and decide whether or not it is worth your time. Read reviews, the book’s cover, excerpts, and ask the person who recommended it. A few minutes spent in this process could save you hours of wasted time.
  • Skim. You don’t have to read the entire book, cover to cover. The 80/20 principle tells us that 80% of the value of a book is contained in 20% of its content so look for that.
  • You don’t have to finish it. If you don’t like it, stop reading it. Don’t waste time on books that don’t resonate with you.
  • Learn to speed read. Why spend five hours reading something you could read in 30 minutes?
  • Subscribe to book summaries services. Their editors summarize the books for you. For most books, that’s all you’ll need but if you like what you see in the summary, you can put that book on your list to read in its entirety.
  • Delegate. An employee can read for you, present a summary, and/or bring to your attention those books or articles he thinks you would want to read.

This will allow you to read more by eliminating a lot of marginal choices. You’ll have more time to read the “best of the best”. When you do, here’s how to get more out of what read:

  • If a book is truly high value, you may want to read it more than once. When I was in high school, I read, “How to Read a Book,” by Mortimer Adler. He presents a process for reading a book several times, each time with a different purpose. I don’t think every book qualifies for several readings but when you find one that does, a second or third reading could have immeasurable value.
  • Highlight. If you think you might read the book again, highlighting passages will make the second reading faster because you can, if you choose, read only the highlighted passages. (If you don’t think you will read the book again, or use it as a reference, there’s not much point in highlighting). For the record, I use a yellow highlighter on my first read and, usually, a red or blue pen on the second read.
  • Take notes. You’ll learn more about what you’re reading if you think about the words while you are reading them. Put the ideas in context, ask yourself questions, speculate on the options, and write it all down. It takes longer but you’ll get more value out of what you read. You’ll remember it better, too.
  • Read (and take notes) as though you had to teach the subject tomorrow. This will force you to zero in on the essence of the material, and master it.

So those are my tips for reading more and getting more out of what you read. By the way, none of this applies to fiction. We read fiction to escape, to learn about exotic places, to solve a mystery, to feel emotions, to have fun, or to learn about the human condition. Not something you want to speed up or delegate.

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“What can I do in the next two minutes to grow my law practice?”

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I know, you’re busy. I also know you have lots of ideas for getting more clients and increasing your income that you aren’t doing. You’re so busy with work, there’s no time for anything else. But actually, there is.

It’s called, ‘marketing in the moment”.

It doesn’t require you to set aside a half day, a weekend, or even an hour to work on marketing projects. Marketing in the moment means taking advantage of the little snippets of time we all have throughout the day to do the “little things” that, in the aggregate, help your practice grow.

The idea is simple (as all great ideas are). Throughout the day, as often as you can, ask yourself, “What can I do in the next two minutes to grow my practice?”

There are lots of things you can do in two minutes. You can

  • Call a client to ask if he knows about your new Facebook fan page
  • Send an email to a prospective referral source
  • Review your notes for your upcoming speech
  • Jot down some thoughts for an article
  • Brainstorm ideas for a new report or seminar
  • Write a list of new key words for your web site
  • Check in with someone who’s working on a project for you
  • Check out a competitors web site
  • Read the comments on a book you’ve been thinking about ordering
  • Read another article on this blog

Periodically throughout your day, between phone calls, while you’re driving, while you’re eating lunch, or whenever you think about it, pause and ask yourself, “What can I do in the next two minutes to grow my practice?” (You may want to write the question on a sticky note or index card and put it where you can see it.)

You’re asking your subconscious mind, of course, and it won’t disappoint you. While you’ve been working and sleeping and doing all the things you do, your subconscious mind has been working on your ideas and coming up with new ones, and, because you asked, it will deliver those ideas to you in bite-sized, two minute chunks.

You’ll remember people you may not have thought about and you’ll call them or email them. You’ll open your bookmarks and see a web site you’ve been meaning to look at. You’ll jot down ideas for your newsletter or blog. You’ll do a lot of things you may never have done had you not asked that question.

Try it. Ask yourself that question right now. Then go do it.

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