How to make an effective ‘today’ list

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Last week we talked about the value of making a list of tasks for today (or tomorrow). Here are some tips for doing that.

  • Give yourself a few more minutes than you think you need to prepare your list. 15 minutes planning might save you an hour of doing.
  • Your list should include important tasks, eg, goal-related, and less important but necessary tasks like errands and admin.
  • Consider your day. What’s on your calendar? Will you need travel or prep time? Have you overbooked? Is it mentally or physically demanding work, or does the day look relatively light?
  • Look at your projects and goals lists before you plan the day. What do you need to work on to advance your projects? What’s coming up soon that might need some attention now?
  • Don’t overwhelm yourself. We’re often too optimistic about what we can do in a day. 5-10 tasks is a good number for most people. If you finish early, you can always find more to do, or call it a day.
  • Consider how you feel. If you’re sick or dragging, schedule a lighter day. Also consider how you feel about the tasks you’re planning to do. If you don’t like something (and can’t delegate it), consider moving it to another day, or schedule it first to get it over with.
  • If you find yourself consistently unable to finish the tasks on your list, break them up into smaller, easy-to-do steps, and/or reduce the number of projects you’re currently working on.
  • Prioritize. Do your most important tasks first. Put them on the top of your list, when you have the most energy; errands can wait.
  • Allocate more time than you think you’ll need. I schedule one hour to do my blog, even though I usually get it done in less than 30 minutes.
  • Allow buffer time between tasks or appointments, in case you need more time than you thought, or you need a break.

In sum, an effective ‘today’ list is not too hot and not too cold. It’s a list you feel drawn to start, and drawn to complete, and when you’ve completed it, you know you’ve had a good day.

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Will you be ready for year-end?

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I was scrolling through my backlog of unread articles when I found this Year-end Law Practice Checklist It has some good advice about things to do or review at the end of the year that might be easy to forget, like archiving closed files, tax prep, CLE, and updating your processes (client intake, billing, etc.)

I’m sure you use checklists in your work, as do I; I want to encourage you to use more.

My goal is to use a checklist for almost everything, especially for recurring tasks.

I recently revised my daily schedule checklist and set up a new checklist for a certain project I frequently do. I also revised my weekly review checklist.

These checklists help me get the job done more quickly, avoid errors or omissions, and provide peace of mind that once I’m done, I can put the task or project out of mind until the next time I do it.

Checklists can be useful for

  • Your morning routine (so you get everything done before your workday begins)
  • End of day shut down process (so you remember to plan tomorrow before tomorrow begins)
  • Travel packing (. . .that time I went to a convention and forgot to pack neckties. . .)
  • Blog/newsletter (Where to find ideas, what to include, where to share it)
  • New client intake (What to ask, what to tell them, what to give or send, when to follow up)
  • File closing process
  • Preparing for arbitration, negotiation, or settlement conference
  • Preparing the client for deposition, etc.
  • Demand package checklist
  • Scheduling and conducting a Zoom conference (don’t forget to wear pants)

Start by brainstorming a list of checklists that might prove helpful and schedule time to flesh out a new one, or revise an existing one.

I often edit my checklists on the go, adding additional steps, removing steps I don’t use, and re-arranging the order to streamline the process.

What checklists do you use? Which new ones are you going to work on?

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The (second) best way to get a reply to your letter

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It’s frustrating to send a letter or email to someone who doesn’t reply.

Did they get my email? Did they read it? Maybe I said something wrong. Maybe I’m not important to them. Maybe they’re out sick.

I’ve got a situation like that right now. I need to know if my accountant got my email and it’s been over a week.

I wrote again, but in the past, my emails have gone to his spam folder and he has a bad habit of not checking.

It’s about a tax matter and I really need to know, so today, instead of gnashing my teeth, I’m going to do the unthinkable. I’m going to call.

Talk to him or his staff, tell them what’s up.

Yeah, I’m going old school. Simple, isn’t it? Problem solved.

Unless I get his voicemail and he doesn’t check that.

I know a lawyer who is having a similar problem with an adjuster. He’s emailed, called and left messages, but the adjuster hasn’t contacted him and the Statute is coming up.

In that case, I’d recommend the number one way to get a response: file and serve.

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A daily habit that massively increased my productivity

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Right now, you’re reading these words. What will you do after that?

I know what I will do. I decided that last night and wrote it in my plan for today.

The habit of planning my day before it begins, in the morning (good) or the night before (better), has made me much more productive. I know what I will do first each day, and what I will get done before the day ends.

The habit of planning my day not only helps me to have a full day, it helps me get my most important tasks done.

When we don’t plan our day, we tend to fill it randomly. Sometimes, we get important tasks done, often we waste time with unproductive activities. Or we spend a good portion of our day “reacting” to whatever is in front of us—calls and emails and requests for our time and attention. Our most important tasks get pushed to the end of the day, when we may be too tired to do them, or pushed off to another day when we repeat the cycle.

I know. That’s what I did before I started planning my day.

Long-term planning has value. So does planning your week. But I’ve found that nothing is more important than planning my day because that’s when the “doing” takes place.

When I’ve checked off the last item for the day, I feel a sense of accomplishment and look forward to planning tomorrow.

If you’re not doing this consistently, give a try. Take 10 minutes at the end of the day to plan your tomorrow. Do this every day for a week and you’ll never look back.

Do you have a plan to get more referrals?

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Two clarifying questions from David Allen

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I spoke to a lawyer yesterday who told me he wants to continue building his practice (which is doing well) and find something he can do on the side that might one day lead to bigger and better things.

He has an itch and wanted me to help him scratch it.

Most of our time was spent talking about ways to find ideas. For now, that’s what he’s going to focus on.

At some point, after he does a lot of exploring and researching and thinking, if and when he finds an idea he wants to pursue, he’ll need to decide what to do about it.

When that time comes, I’d tell him to do what David Allen suggests in Getting Things Done:

“Ask yourself two questions: What’s the successful outcome? And, What’s the next action (logical next step) to make it happen?” Allen says, “These provide fundamental clarity for Getting Things Done, and they lie at the core of most everything I teach.”

These questions are equally valuable for parsing a task or project list as they are for choosing your future.

Whether you’re starting a new chapter in your legal career, a new work project, or a new business, ask yourself what “done” looks like for you.

As Stephen Covey said, “start with the end in mind”.

In my work, especially when I’m struggling to start a project, or complete it, asking myself, “What’s the next action?” has been a game changer.

I ask that question and it helps me figure out the best (or easiest) place to start. I come back and ask that question again and again, and it helps me figure out what to do “next”.

Go ahead, think about something you need to do that you’ve been avoiding. Look at the list of all of the tasks you need to do and ask yourself, “What’s the next action?”

Start there.

How I use GTD in Evernote

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You can read this anywhere: a few thoughts about GTD contexts

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Getting Things Done (GTD) teaches us to identify our tasks by context—location, people, tools, and so on—so we can do things when and where we’re best equipped to do them. 

I stopped using most contexts a long time ago, since I can do just about anything from just about anywhere.

Calls, emails, reading, writing—I can do all of these from the office in my pocket. 

I still use the @waiting context, but not much else. 

I’m going to take another look at my use of contexts, however, based on a short video I saw last night, which makes the case for contexts based on “time plus energy”.

GTD has long recommended contexts for time and contexts for energy, but I like the way the presenter combines them:

  • Short Dashes: Tasks that can be done in more than 2 minutes and less than 15 minutes. Most calls and emails fit here, don’t they? 
  • Full Focus: Tasks requiring maximum energy, no distractions, and longer periods of time; deep work.
  • Brain Dead: When you can’t do anything that requires a lot of thought.
  • Routines: Your weekly review, exercise, writing a blog post. 
  • Hanging Around: Tasks that don’t require a lot of time or energy and don’t have a deadline, e.g., Light research, organizing notes, buying something online.

What do you think? Do any of these appeal to you? Do you already use something similar?

I like “Brain Dead” or “Hanging Around,” especially for things I can do after I’ve shut down work for the night. I’ll give this some thought later today. 

But first, I have some “Short Dashes” to take care of. 

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Marketing deliverables

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Marketing deliverables are printed and/or digital materials you give to prospective clients, to educate them about their problems and available solutions, and/or to provide an incentive to or reward for doing something, e.g., making an appointment, subscribing to your list, following you on social, sharing your link, etc.

Things you can hand out, mail, or make available for download.

They are used to build your list, get more appointments, get more sign-ups for your event, and stimulate referrals as people share them with friends, clients, or colleagues.

You can also use them as an “excuse” to re-connect with prospects, former clients and professional contacts, e.g., “Just checking to see if you need more. . .”

I’m not talking about brochures or business cards. They’re certainly useful, but they don’t have any inherent value.

I’m talking about things like

  • Reports
  • Tip sheets
  • Checklists
  • Planning guides
  • Resource lists
  • Referral cards
  • Coupons
  • Free consultation certificates
  • Case studies
  • Ebooks
  • Print books
  • Courses/videos/audios
  • Invitations to “limited seating” events
  • Private website/page or channel
  • And so on

Some are used to educate prospective clients, some are pure incentives, and some have elements of both.

You don’t need to use all of these; one or two may be enough.

But they need to be good.

They should have high perceived value, something a prospective client might be willing to pay for. You want them to be so good, when a prospect for your services sees what it is and what it can do for them, they immediately say, “I want one” or “I know someone who needs that”.

You can use these for a multitude of marketing purposes, so make sure you keep them in inventory, and get them into the hands of people who might need your help or know someone who does.

Marketing legal services made simple

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Marketing advice for new lawyers

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It’s been a minute since I was a new lawyer but I remember that time like it was yesterday.

I rented an office, bought some furniture, printed some stationery and cards, and I was ready. Unfortunately, I had no clients and know idea how to get any.

The struggle was real.

If I was starting out today, I would start marketing before I opened my doors.

For starters:

I’d set up social media profiles, and find online groups where I could “network”.

I’d set up a simple website or landing page with basic information about me and my background, and feature an email list. I’d offer a report or checklist or other lead magnet as an incentive to sign up, and ask everyone I knew to share the link to my report with people they know.

I contact other lawyers who do what I planned to do, introduce myself, tell them when I would be open, and ask if I could call on them if I had a question, or I had a case that was too big for me to handle.

I’d choose a niche market and study it. I’d identify businesses and professionals who serve that niche market, learn what they do, identify what they want, and look for ways I could help them.

I would build momentum before I opened my doors so that when I opened my doors, I could hit the ground running. If you’re planning to launch a new practice, that’s my advice to you.

On the other hand, don’t do what a lot of new lawyers do–spend a year or more “preparing” to open.

At some point, probably sooner than you might like, you’ve got to go for it.

Open your doors before your ready.

Because there’s nothing better than the need to buy groceries for getting your rear in gear and bringing in some paying clients.

Marketing a law practice is easier when you know this

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Easy is as easy does

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You’re a professional. You done this many times before. You know what to look for, what to ask, and what to do.

Let’s face it, most of the work you do is easy for you.

And you want it to be that way.

When your work is easy, you don’t have to think about it, you just do it.

You do it quickly, without second guessing yourself, making errors, or eating yourself up with stress. You get better results and happier clients, and you make a good living.

And that’s a good thing.

But you don’t want all of your work to be easy.

If things are too easy for you, you’ll get bored. You want at least some of your work to be moderately challenging, because that’s what keeps things interesting and allows you to grow.

Cases of first impression, opening new markets, new marketing initiatives, writing a book, hiring new staff, starting a new business or investment, things that take you out of your comfort zone–this is how you take your practice to a higher level.

And some of your time should be dedicated to that.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing every day that scares you”.

If you’re fresh out of ideas, write and publish something. Put yourself out there for the world to see.

It will get your juices flowing and could be your ticket to the next level.

How to grow your practice with a simple email newsletter

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Inbox 20

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The average office worker spends 2.5 hours a day reading and responding to an average of 200 new emails each day. 

That’s on top of thousands more that fill their inbox. 

An out-of-control inbox can lead to missed deadlines, poor productivity, and a stressful day.

Many people seem to handle the chaos. Many more recognize the need to do something about it. Thus the concept of “Inbox zero,” the goal of emptying one’s inbox every day. 

For years, I lived with an inbox filled with tens of thousands of emails, many of which were unread. One day, I decided to go for “zero”. 

You can do the same, in just two steps:

Step one: identify the previous 30 days of emails, scan through them, reply to those that need a response, and flag or star anything else that needs you to do something. 

Step two: archive everything else. 

Anything older than 30 days can safely be put to bed. Archive it or use the snooze function, or forward it to your note app or task management app.

All the emails you archive will still be available to you. If you need something, you can find it via search. 

And, if someone replies to your email, it will show up again in your inbox. 

Soon, you will be looking at a pristine inbox. Enjoy the feeling. It won’t last long.

But here’s the thing. 

Inbox zero is the goal, but for many of us, “Inbox 20” is usually good enough. An inbox with 20 emails in it at one time won’t crush you. You can probably get through them by the end of the day.

20 is the new zero.

I forward project-related emails to Evernote

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