Search Results for: getting things done

Getting things done when you don’t have to do them


I’ve talked about this recently. You’ve got your day planned out. Appointments, documents to prepare and review, people to call, emails to send. You don’t have to think about what to do–it’s on your desktop, on your calendar, or in your email.

Most of it gets done because you have to do them. There are deadlines, due dates, and penalties for not doing so. You have people reminding you to do them and causing problems if you don’t.

Actually, it’s a pretty good system.

But what about discretionary tasks.? Things you should do or want to do that aren’t on your calendar or sitting neatly on your desk waiting for you. Things nobody will remind you to do it or ask you why you haven’t done them.

Many of these tasks are important. They will help you achieve your goals. But they reside on a long list. Overwhelmingly long. Which is why most of these tasks aren’t getting done.

The day ends, you’re tired, and you think, “I’ll start tomorrow.” But tomorrow the story is pretty much the same.

So, here’s what I suggest. Every day, choose one task on your “discretionary” list and do it before the day ends.

Just one.

It can be small. One phone call, jotting down a few notes for a writing project, reading an article. It doesn’t matter. Get it done, cross it off your list.

One discretionary task a day and you’re done.

By setting your goal low, almost ridiculously so, you will get that task done. Every day, you’ll make progress on something important.

And you’ll feel good about that. You’ll have a little dopamine party in your head and go home with a healthy high.

Who knows, you might wind up getting addicted to that feeling and do a second task.

How to get referrals from other professionals


Getting things done by re-thinking the definition of a to-do list


No matter what task management system you use, or even if you don’t use one at all, the odds are you have a seemingly endless list of things to do.

You might keep them in an app. You might keep them on paper. You might keep them in your head. But there’s your list, a mile long and growing every day, overwhelming you to the point where you don’t want to look at it anymore.

Okay, maybe that’s just me.

But I have a new weapon in the battle of wits between my lists and my sanity and you may want to use it.

It starts with thinking about a to-do list as simply a list of things to do TODAY.

Not tomorrow or next week. Today.

It is a list of 3 to 5 tasks you are committed to doing today because they are urgent or important.

Take a deep breath and imagine a list of ONLY 3 to 5 tasks. That’s a list you can and will do.

If you find yourself resisting a task, break it up into 15-minute bites. You’ll be less likely to procrastinate when “it’s only 15 minutes”.

You can also use 15-minute increments for bigger projects. I’m working on something right now that’s tedious and will take many hours to complete. I had put it off for a long time but I’m doing it now because my task list only commits me to 15 minutes. I can do more than 15 minutes if I want to, and I often do, but only if I want to.

Yay me.

Now, what do you do if you have more than 5 important or urgent things to do today? You keep them on a second list.

Your first list (today) has your most important or urgent tasks on it. Your second list is what to do after you’ve taken care of those tasks.

Your second list has no more than 15 or 20 tasks on it. It includes other things you need to do today, and things you need to do in the next week or so. Or things you’d like to consider doing.

When you have completed the tasks on your today list, you look at list number two and choose additional tasks.

Two lists: 3 to 5 most important tasks you are committed to doing today. 15 to 20 back-up or “next” tasks.

Check your today list frequently throughout the day. Check your second list once a day, after you have finished your today list.

Put everything else–all of the someday/maybes, ideas, things you’re not committed to doing–on a third list. Check that list once a week. Skim through it and find things to put on your first two lists and then put your third list away until the following week.

I’ve been doing this for about a week and it’s making a big difference in how I feel about my lists and in my overall productivity. My lists are much more manageable and much less daunting.

And, you can use this with any other task management system because it’s basically a way to combat overwhelm by limiting the number of tasks in front of you and the amount of time you commit to doing them.

One more thing.

While your first two lists are purposefully limited in number, list number three (everything else) will no doubt grow to hundreds of entries, many of which don’t need to be considered each week. To keep list number three from overwhelming you, at some point, you’ll want to segment it so that you don’t have to look at every task or idea on it every week.

You can do that by creating sub-lists or by using software to label or tag items to consider at some point in the future or under certain specified conditions. I have a list of more than 1000 blog post ideas, for example, but I only look at that list occasionally.

How to use Evernote for getting things done


Getting things done by giving yourself less time to do them


In an interview, author Jodi Picoult was asked about her approach to writing. She said:

“I don’t believe in writer’s block. Think about it — when you were blocked in college and had to write a paper, didn’t it always manage to fix itself the night before the paper was due? Writer’s block is having too much time on your hands. If you have a limited amount of time to write, you just sit down and do it. You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”

Yep. That just about sums up my thoughts about writer’s block. It’s also a good metaphor for other things on our plate, especially things we’ve been putting off or have struggled to complete.

What project would you like to do but have told yourself you don’t have the time? The truth is, you might not be doing it because you have too much time.

I’ve found this to be a bigger issue for me since I stopped seeing clients and started working from home. Not having appointments and deadlines and due dates has resulted in my continually “not having enough time” to do things, and the things I have done have taken much longer than they should.

There’s one project I’ve had on the back burner for an eternity. I wasn’t close to starting, let along finishing. But about a week ago, I gave myself a deadline to finish it before the end of the month. With that due date looming, in one day I was able to make enormous progress and I am certain I will finish on time.

Parkinson’s Law says, “Work expands to fill the time allotted for it’s completion,” or something like that. The trick, then, is to allot less time. Perhaps a lot less.

Pretend you’re back in school and everything has a due date and serious consequences for missing it. Choose something on your list that you think might require a week or a month to complete and commit to doing it this weekend.

You might not finish it but you will surely make a lot of progress. You also might surprise yourself and get it done.

Get more things done by getting better at delegating. This will help


Yes, you’re busy but are you getting things done?


You keep a list of things you need to do each day, right? If you’re good at this list making thing, you highlight the two or three (or five) most important tasks of the day. Even better, you write your list the night before so you can hit the ground running the next morning.

Good stuff. You’re getting things done. Important, valuable things that create value for you and your clients and advance you towards your most important goals.

Or are you?

Some list-makers aren’t that good at deducing their most important tasks and spend too much time putting out fires and doing whatever else is put in front in front of them. Others are good at making lists of important tasks but not so good at getting them done.

If that describes you, even a little, I have a suggestion. At the end of the day, before you write your list for the morrow, write down what you did that day. A “done” list, that shows you what you actually did.

Actually, if you’re especially clever (and unafraid of the truth), instead of writing down what you did, write down what you accomplished. Because being busy isn’t worth squat.

At the end of the day, ask yourself, “What did I achieve today?” If you like the answer, great. You will be motivated to accomplish more the following day. If you don’t like the answer, if you realize that you’re keeping busy but you’re not accomplishing important things, you’ll either do something about that or you’ll stop writing a list of accomplishments and go back to just being busy.

Because success is a choice.

Building a successful law practice starts with having a plan


Getting addicted to getting things done


I’m about to finish a book project and it feels good. Not just because I will have another tool I can use in my business, not just because it represents another source of passive income, but because it really does feel good to get things done.

You know this is true. When you wrap up a case or finish something you’re working on, you have a pleasurable sense of satisfaction. Finishing feels good.

It turns out that there is physiological explanation for this feeling. When we finish a task, our brains release Serotonin, the so-called pleasure drug. This motivates us to take on more tasks, and bigger tasks.

We can use this to condition ourselves to be more productive.

“What we want to do if we want to set ourselves up for increasing productivity is put minor or smaller challenges in front of us so we build up that ‘done’ moment,” psychologist Leslie Sherlin says.

One way to do this is to break down your tasks into smaller chunks. Instead of writing an entire 90-minute closing argument, for example, write just the outline. It feels good to finish this and you are motivated to take the next step.

You can also break up your work into smaller increments of time. Instead of planning to work two hours on something (and trying to find the time to do that), do it for ten minutes. (Consider the Pomodo Technique where you use a timer to work 25 minutes, followed by a five minute break.)

Smaller tasks and shorter time intervals gives you more opportunities to “finish”. The more you do, the more you want to do more. You are literally addicted to getting things done, and that’s probably a good thing.


Getting things done in burst mode


I read an article recently about the work habits of a novelist. He said that he works best when he doesn’t write every day, as conventional wisdom suggests. Rather, he gets more done in “burst mode” (my term) where he will write up to 8,000 or 10,000 words in a day.

His job (full time as I recall) and family obligations make it difficult to carve out sufficient blocks of writing time during the week. He found that an hour a day wasn’t long enough to find his writing mojo and get up to speed. Give him eight or ten hours on Saturday, however, and he could knock out an entire book in record time.

The point is that each of us works differently and we need to honor what works best for us.

As you know, I advocate setting aside time each work day for marketing your practice. You can get a lot done in as little as 15 minutes a day, if you do it consistently. But I acknowledge the value of working in bigger blocks of time, especially on bigger projects. In fact, I do it myself.

In my practice, I would often show up at the office on a Saturday and plow through a pile of files. In a few hours of undisturbed time, I would do more work than I might do in an entire week.

In school, instead of studying every night, I often crammed for tests the night before and wrote entire term papers in a weekend. That’s how I liked to work and I got good grades. In fact, I’ve read that we often do our best creative work when we do it quickly.

All hail burst mode!

In school, we have deadlines and due dates. The same goes for most legal work. But that’s not true with marketing. So, if you want to do marketing in burst mode, you need to schedule the time in advance and stick to that schedule.

You might schedule one Saturday each month for marketing. In a few hours of undisturbed time, you could create a new seminar or produce a month’s worth of articles, blog posts, emails, or social media content.

Getting things done in burst mode doesn’t necessarily mean doing nothing throughout the week, however. The above mentioned author uses snippets of time throughout the week to take care of administrative and less demanding tasks related to his writing. You can, too.

During your Saturday marketing session, you might plan out the people you want to call that month. With your plan in hand, you can take a few minutes each week day to make those calls.

You can also use your weekdays to make notes and outlines and collect research material in preparation for your Saturday session.

Being productive is simple. Figure out what you want to get done this week or this month. Look at your calendar and decide when you’re going to do it. Then, do it.

As long as you’re getting important things done, when you do them probably isn’t that important.


Finding time for getting things done


Spinning plates. Putting out fires. Treading water. Does this sum up a good portion of your day?

Lawyers are paid to solve problems. Other people’s, not our own. If you’re spending too much time solving your own problems, you won’t have time for things that advance you towards your most valuable goals. Like getting paid by more people to solve more of their problems.

Solving (your) problems is important. When someone quits, you have to find someone to replace them. When you are audited, sued, or charged with an ethical violation, you have to respond. But responding to problems like these only helps you keep the machine running. It doesn’t bring in new clients or additional revenue. Peter Drucker said, “Results are gained by exploiting opportunities, not by solving problems.”

One good thing about problems is that they tend to repeat. It may be a few years before you have to deal with something again, but knowing that it will happen again allows you to prepare for it:

1. Make a list of problems that occur periodically. Small ones and big ones. Hiring and training new employees and temps, equipment leasing and purchasing, hiring vendors, moving offices, record retention, website security, and the list goes on. Add to your list throughout the year.

2. Create a system for handling each problem. Document your efforts to resolve the problem and minimize its consequences. Create checklists, forms/letters, and instructions.

3. Go through the list of problems and see which ones can be handled, at least in part, by someone else. Delegate responsibility for handling those problems (at least partially). Instead of running ads when you need to hire a new employee, for example, you might hire an employment agency.

It’s worth investing extra time in this project because it will save you time and headaches in the future. You’ll have more time for getting things done that help you grow your practice, instead of merely keeping the doors open.


Getting things done by getting rid of your to do list


No matter which method of task management we use, the challenge we all face is having a task lists that has become unmanageable.

Right now, I have over 600 “next” items on my list. (I keep everything in Evernote using tags.) That’s too many.

The “Getting Things Done” (GTD) system requires us to go through our lists once a week, to update our priorities for the following week. But my list is too big and it’s been a long time since I have done a weekly review.

Please don’t tell anyone.

The weekly review is what makes the whole system work. When you stop, you no longer have a task management system, you have a library.

How do I fix this?

I’m thinking about doing something drastic.

I’m thinking about starting over. Clean out the list and start a new one.

Yep, get rid of all of my “next” items and start from scratch.

What’s the worst that can happen? I’ll forgot something I haven’t thought about in months? It couldn’t be that important, could it?

Don’t we pretty much know what’s important? Aren’t we already working on what we need to do right now? Don’t we also know what we’ll probably do after that?

And we’re got our calendars for anything with a deadline.

A clean slate sounds like it would be delightful, doesn’t it? After you add back a handful of “next” tasks you remember or that come up this week, your weekly review will be quick and easy. You won’t avoid it. You’ll start getting things done.

But letting go is hard to do for a lawyer. Too many “what ifs”.

So here’s an safer alternative:

Move all of your tasks to a temporary folder or apply a temporary tag. Then, go through everything one time and decide if it should still be on your next list. If so, add it back. You will probably delete a good portion of your list this way.

Of course the danger with this safer method is indecision. We have too many things we are sure we need to do, and we can’t eliminate them.

Being a lawyer can be a royal pain in the arse.

Okay, if you can’t decide, move those tasks to “someday”. Keep your next list lean and mean.

Yes, we’re also supposed to go through our someday list during our weekly review. But if you don’t, if you go through it every six months, or every once in awhile, I won’t tell anyone. Pinkie swear.

See how I use Evernote to manage tasks and projects. Click here.


The power of one: getting things done for procrastinators


Are you a black-and-white kinda guy or gal? I mean, do you have things you’d like to do but haven’t started because you’re not ready to give them your full attention?

You know what I mean. You either do things full force, or not at all. You don’t want to start a newsletter or blog, write a book, or join a networking group because of the perceived immensity of the task or the ongoing commitment.

You’re a perfectionist. And you aren’t getting things done.

Of course you know that by not doing certain things, you’re losing some great benefits. How many new clients, new cases, and new opportunities are you missing out on by putting off these things?

But what can you do?

I’ll tell you what you can do. You can stop thinking about the big picture (and avoiding it) and just do “one thing” to advance the project.

Instead of writing an entire book, write one page a day.

Instead of becoming a networking ninja, set a goal to meet one new professional this week.

Instead of putting off calling all of your former clients to say hello, make one phone call today.

One is a powerful number. It is the difference between not doing and doing.

You can do one.

One page, one idea, one phone call. Progress, not perfection.

So figure out one thing you can for each of your important projects and do it. One thing a day, one thing a week, one thing a month, or just one thing for now.

If you can do that one thing, even once, you can do it again. Before you know it, the project will be complete or, if it’s an ongoing project, well underway.

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Getting things done the way that works best for you


I just read an article about the four different personality types or thinkers and how we each go about getting things done. We make our lists differently and approach them differently.

Structural thinkers create a traditional to-do list every day and check things off as they do them. They take an organized, linear approach to managing their tasks.

Analytical thinkers consider the value of what they might do, and how much time it will take to do it.

Social thinkers seek input from others and consider how different tasks relate to everything else they might do

Conceptual thinkers don’t keep a traditional to-do list; they use an intuitive approach to getting things done

I don’t know how accurate these four types are or which group I fall into. Trying to figure it out made my head hurt. The author acknowledges that we might be a combination of types, and I’m sure that’s true for me.

My approach varies. It depends on the project, how I’m feeling that day, deadlines, and what I feel drawn to do. Some days, I work through a list and cross things off. Other days, I don’t look at anything, I just go with the flow.

I have a very large list of tasks and projects and someday/maybes, in Evernote, and each has one or more GTD tags that identify and prioritize the task or project. But to be honest, once I’ve assigned those tags to my tasks, I don’t refer to them every day.

I do what’s on my calendar. I do anything I’ve tagged as an “MIT” (most important task). The rest? I usually know what’s “next”.

I get things out of my head and off of scraps of paper and into my “trusted system”. It’s all there for me, in Evernote, so nothing will be lost or forgotten. I can search and find things, by tag, or I can browse. And yet, strangely, I usually don’t. I just know what I’m going to do.

But then my work life is a lot less complicated today than in years past. If I were still practicing, I would undoubtedly have a more structured approach to my day.

I think the big takeaway is that we are all different and we have to do what works best for us. We can use a complicated system, or no system. We can analyze and prioritize, or we can trust our gut. We can manage our lives with GTD, Franklin Covey, Kanban, or Eisenhower, or we can grab a pen and jot down a few things we want to do today.

Use what works best for you, even if it’s just your calendar and a post-it note.

My modified GTD system is detailed in my Evernote for Lawyers ebook