A to-do list by any other name

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The other day I watched a video that promised to show me why I should ditch my to-do list. The presenter said that to-do lists don’t work. Hmm. He said that instead of preparing a to-do list, I should prepare an “outcome” list, a list of things I want to accomplish.

Okay, I’ll bite.

He said that once you know the outcome, you should decide the things you need to do to achieve that outcome–and write those down.

Does something smell funny here?

Half the comments were along the lines of,”Awesome,” “I’m going to do this immediately!” and “Brilliant”. The other half said what I was thinking, “WTF, it’s still a to-do list”.

Click bait aside, what is this guy thinking?

I agree that you should create a to-do list based on your desired outcomes. That’s better than just randomly writing down whatever comes to mind. As Stephen Covey said, “Start with the end in mind”.

But wherever you start, it’s still a to-do list.

This morning, I was sent an article along the same lines. The title said something like, “Forget to-do lists, do THIS instead”. The author had interviewed wealthy and successful people who reportedly said they stay productive by time-blocking everything, that is, putting everything on their calendar in 15-minute increments.

“If it’s not on my calendar,” one said, “it doesn’t get done”.

I’m all for setting aside blocks of time dedicated to specific projects or groups of tasks but the idea of blocking out your entire day sounds like hell to me.

And, at the risk of stating the obvious (again), it’s still a to-do list. You’re simply deciding in advance when you will do it and writing that down.

(Hold on. . .)

Okay, I’m back. I only allocated 15 minutes for this post and the time ran out. I had to re-arrange my schedule so I could finish.

Here’s the thing. I don’t see how you can block out your entire day or week with that degree of granularity. Other than appointments, or a list of regular tasks that have be done each week, there are too many variables.

Things come up and need to be handled. Priorities change. Your energy level changes. You have to wait on other people.

You have to be flexible. Well, at least I do. I need my space, Jerry.

But hey, if it works for them, my hat’s off to them. (Hold on. I’m back. I had to look at my schedule to see when I’ll have time to go buy a new hat. . .looks like three weeks from never. . .)

Anyway, the fact is that while not everyone admits it, everyone makes to-do lists. Some write them on paper, some put them on their calendar or in an app, and some keep them in their head. But whatever they call it and wherever they keep it, it’s still a to-do list.

So I’m going to do what works for me and I suggest you do the same.

Okay, I’m off to work on a writing project. Or maybe I’ll work on something else. Hmm, I could get a sandwich first. I don’t know, I’ll see how I feel and then I’ll decide. Because that’s how I roll.

Need more clients? Here you go

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Running out of things to do

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What if you woke up one day, looked at your to-do list and there was nothing on it. No tasks, no projects, nothing to do or update or learn–nothing. Bupkis. A blank slate.

Relax, it’s never going to happen. But imagine for a moment that it did.

It would be weird, wouldn’t it? Since pre-school, we’ve always had things to do. Now, nothing? It would be frightening. And exciting. You can do whatever you want.

If you had to fill your list from scratch, what would you put on it? Tasks and projects, big and small, now or next–what would you put on your list?

When I began my recent “Kanban” task management experiment, that’s what I asked myself. I emptied my head and wrote down everything I could think of. Then I went through my lists in Evernote and added more items.

Well guess what? Between my “deferred” and “backlog” and “ready” lists, I have a grand total of 59 tasks and projects. Comparing this to the many hundreds in Evernote, it’s shocking.

When I look at my new list, I get a little nervous, thinking I must be forgetting things. But I also feel good. Like I’m starting a new adventure.

Starting over is liberating. It gives you a fresh perspective on your priorities. And, like cleaning out closets and paring down to the essentials, it makes room for new and better.

Of course, I’m not done. I haven’t gone through everything. Not even close. My Someday/Maybe list alone has hundreds of additional ideas.

But I’ve got to say, so far, my little experiment is a huge success. I look forward to looking at my options. I enjoy choosing–and doing–the things on my list. And, I’m getting a lot done.

Come on in. The waters fine.

Now, I’m not suggesting you jettison whatever it is you use to collect and manage your tasks and projects unless you want to. I suggest you experiment, like I am, and start some new lists.

If you use a new app or system, do like I did and start adding the most obvious or pressing matters. If you use the same app, move everything to a single (temporary) folder or file and start adding things back.

If your lists have grown too big and unwieldy, if you find yourself ignoring many entries (like the hundreds of Someday/Maybe items in my system), if you find yourself slacking off from a weekly review, this might be just the thing to jump-start the new, better organized and much more relaxed you.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

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What’s in your “done” column?

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You plan your day before it begins. During the day, you “do”. At the end of the day, before planning tomorrow, you review what you did today to see what you did well and how you can improve.

A good way to examine your day is to review the things in your “done” column or list. As you do, ask yourself these four questions (and write down the answers):

  1. What did I do well today?You want to focus on the positive. Train yourself to focus on your strengths and your progress. Reinforce this by giving yourself credit for a job well done.
  2. What can I do better?Be honest with yourself. What would do differently? What would you avoid doing? What could you improve?
  3. What problems did I encounter?Identify stumbling blocks, distractions, or barriers that slowed you down or threw you off track. Note when they occurred and how you can prepare for the next time.
  4. What did I learn?What did you discover about yourself or about your work? Did you get any ideas for future projects or for improving your current systems? Did you find a new method or tool?

Asking and answering these four questions about your day, and periodically reviewing your notes, will help you continually achieve better outcomes. Over time, the effect will compound.

Schedule time each day to plan, do, and review.

Schedule time to get more referrals

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Why use one list when you can use eight?

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I’ve been reading about Kanban boards and experimenting with how I manage my tasks and projects. Kanban boards, whether physical (e.g., a whiteboard or sticky notes) or digital, usually begin with three lists (or columns): To do, Doing, and Done. You can add to these basic lists depending on your workflow.

Right now, I’m using eight lists:

  1. Ready
  2. Today
  3. In progress
  4. Done
  5. Backlog
  6. Deferred
  7. Someday/maybe
  8. Waiting

Here’s what goes on these lists and how I use them:

1. Ready (aka “To do” or “Next” or “Options”)

This is a list of things that I plan to do as soon as I finish what I’m currently working on. It’s a list of options to choose from, depending on how much time I have and my current context and priorities. I limit this list to 20 items and check it daily. As I do the things on this list, I go to my “Backlog” list (below) and add items to the Ready list.

2. Today

First thing in the morning, or the night before, I go to my “Ready” list and choose 3 tasks for the day. When I get these done, I can add more tasks from the Ready list or call it a day.

3. In progress (aka, “Doing”)

When I begin a task, I move it to the “Work in Progress” or “Doing” list. I also limit this list to just 3 tasks (at a time). This list keeps me focused; I work on what I planned to work on and do my best to finish it before moving on to other things.

4. Done

As soon as I complete a task, I move it to this list. I used to delete done tasks; now I collect and review them, at least temporarily, as a way to see my progress and learn when and how I work best. This can also show me when I’m working too much on one project or type of task and not enough on others.

5. Backlog

These are tasks and projects I plan to do but I’m not ready to start and probably won’t be for a week or two. When I am ready, I’ll move tasks from this list to the Ready list. I check this list weekly.

6. Deferred

These are tasks I will probably do but not anytime soon. I check this monthly. When I’m ready, I’ll move these to Backlog or Ready. Otherwise, I may delete them or move them to Someday/Maybe.

7. Someday/maybe

I don’t know if I will do these or not. They are more ideas than anything I’m committed to doing.

8. Waiting

Tasks or projects where I’m waiting on someone to do something or for something to happen before I can start or continue.

These lists give me enough to do at any one time but not more than I can handle, which is key. By limiting my “work in progress,” I can focus on finishing what I’ve started rather than starting something new.

I also use gtd tags such as, “Area of Focus,” “Context,” etc., which allow me to filter the lists, group tasks (e.g., all calls, errands, etc.) or find more tasks to add to my Backlog or Ready lists.

It’s early yet, but I’m liking this. I get my work done and don’t feel overwhelmed.

What do you think? Do you use Kanban or work with multiple lists? Do you limit your work in progress so you can focus on getting things done?

Here’s how I use Evernote to get organized and get things done

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Is this a new definition of success?

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How do you define success? Here’s the definition I’ve used for a long time: being able to do what you want, when you want, with whom you want.

Under this definition, success means having the freedom to choose how you want to live your life. You can use your time and your money as you see fit. You can be altruistic, self-indulgent, or anything in between.

Bottom line, you can spend your days on earth doing what you love all day, every day.

Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it?

How do you get there? Well, this morning I read a somewhat different definition of success that may give us a clue.

YouTuber Casey Neistat said, “What’s the ultimate quantification of success? For me, it’s not how much time you spend doing what you love. It’s how little time you spend doing what you hate.”

I like the sound of that. How about you?

If you hate traffic, changing your work situation to eliminate your daily commute would clearly be a measure of success. If you’re like me and you’ve had your fill of work travel, not having to do it anymore would also have to go in the success column.

Hmm, I think we have a plan.

Instead of looking for ways to get more of what we want and thus adding more work to our already busy schedules, we should first get rid of the things we don’t want. The things that make us uncomfortable, waste our time, distract us, enervate us.

Each time you do this, you score a double victory. You get rid of something that sucks the life out of you and simultaneously free up time and energy to do the things you love.

Don’t put more on your plate. Clear your plate to make room for more.

Yes, there will always be things you can’t eliminate. But maybe you can find ways to do them quicker or less often. Or make them less unpleasant.

So, yes, we have a plan. Make a “don’t do” list and start checking off the boxes.

What will you eliminate first?

Does your website regularly bring you new business? Here’s how to make it so

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The simplest way to build self-confidence

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Ever see those folks who, no matter where they are in life, are brimming with self-confidence?

They may be lacking in fundamental skills or knowledge. They may have a spotty record of achievement. They may not be charming or good looking or have a pleasant personality. And yet, somehow, they always have a “can do” attitude about life and it serves them well.

What’s their secret? How did they develop this self-confidence? More importantly, how can we?

The answer is simple. Do hard things.

Getting up early to plan your day is hard. Exercising is hard. Opening your own practice is hard. Giving up time with your family so you can network is hard.

Doing hard things leads to confidence.

Confidence means knowing that you can rely on yourself. That you’re good enough, strong enough, worthy enough to do the job and get what you want.

One of the reasons we go to school is to develop self-confidence. We learn that if we can do math and chemistry and learn a foreign language, if we can try out and make the team, if we can ask someone out on a date, if we can do these things we can do anything.

Are you more confident about your work today than when you first started practicing? You got there through hard work, overcoming challenges, and learning from your mistakes.

Doing hard things provides a reservoir of experiences to draw on, reminding you that no matter how difficult the task, you can do it.

If you want to be more confident, go do hard things. Lots of them. The harder the better. Do something you’ve never done before or do something you’ve tried and given up. Do something hard and prove to yourself that you can do anything.

One thing that’s not hard: getting referrals

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If you want to be rich, do this

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I’m sure you’ve heard this before: If want to be rich, look at what everyone else is doing and do the opposite. Or, conversely, find someone in your field who is rich and do what they do. Or did.

Since most people aren’t rich (or however you want to define success), doing what they are doing pretty much guarantees that you won’t achieve superior results.

If you do what the average person does, you are likely to achieve average results.

The five or ten percent at the top do things differently. Emulate them, not the masses.

Okay, why is this common sense so uncommon? Why do most lawyers continue the tradition of doing things the way everyone else does them? Why are they so adverse to change?

Fear. They’re afraid of looking different. Or messing up.

What will my colleagues think? What will my clients think? What if I try something different and it doesn’t work?

Remember in school how most kids slouched in their seats and hoped they wouldn’t be called on? Remember the kid who sat in the front and always raised their hand?

They don’t want to be that kid.

If you don’t want to be noticed, if you don’t want to take chances, if you like the idea of being like all the other kids in the courtroom or boardroom, fine. If you want to do better, you can do that, too. All you have to do is raise your hand.

Use this to learn how to earn more and work less

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Give your practice a little push

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If you’re doing things right, your practice grows primarily by attracting new clients, that is, clients find you, you don’t find them.

They find you online, respond to an ad, someone refers them, or they’ve hired you before and come back when they need you again.

Clients show up and are “pulled” into your legal machine, with very little effort on your part. Once there, you deliver high-quality services (and high-quality service) to keep them happy and ensure they return and refer, and generally speaking, they do.

Sure, you have to do maintenance, making sure your systems are working well, your content is fresh, and you have sufficient resources to do your job. But other than that, you don’t have to do much else to keep your practice running and profitable.

On the other hand, you can’t rely on this dynamic forever. You can’t expect to always be able to attract clients and pull them in, you must also do some pushing.

Clients die or no longer need you. Businesses fold or get bought out. People move away. Clients can no longer afford you or find another attorney who charges less. No matter how well you do your job, there will always be attrition and you need to do something affirmative to keep your funnel (and your bank account) full.

And let’s not ignore the fact that there is a continual wave of competition. New lawyers, better-financed lawyers, and more aggressive lawyers eager to eat your lunch.

Bottom line: you can’t rely on pulling in new business, you have to do some pushing.

Pushing means reaching out to prospective clients and referral sources and centers of influence in your niche market or community. It means trying new strategies, networking with different people, and creating new types of content.

Pushing means expanding on what’s working and eliminating or changing what isn’t. It means continually upgrading your client base, replacing good clients with even better clients. It means never getting complacent and assuming that what was will always be.

The world changes. Make sure you keep up with it.

Give your practice a little push with this

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The easy way to stand out from your competition

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“Most lawyers offer the same services and deliver the same results. There’s no advantage to hiring anyone in particular so you might as well hire the cheapest one”.

That’s what many clients think, isn’t it? And the client is always right.

Most lawyers look alike and sound alike. Their websites are nearly interchangeable. Swap the name and contact information of lawyer A with lawyer B and you would never know the difference.

That’s also true with ads. Presentations. Podcasts. Videos. Social media posts. Brochures. Newsletters. Articles.

Lawyers wear the same clothing. They have offices on the same street. Their waiting rooms, desks and chairs, and wall adornments all look a movie set.

Welcome to Blandville, where everyone is the same.

If clients can’t perceive any difference between you and your competition, how do you expect them to notice you, remember you, and choose you?

It’s a problem but it is incredibly easy to fix.

There are many ways to differentiate yourself from the competition. Many ways to show clients why you are the better choice.

One of the best ways is also the easiest.

Do this one thing and you will no longer be McLawyer, serving the same (dull) food as everyone else.

The missing element? The magic potion? The easy thing you can do to stand out?

It’s you, my friend.

Your personality is what’s missing from your marketing and your public persona. It’s the one thing no other lawyer has or can copy.

Put your personality, your style, your stories, your opinions on your website and in your emails, articles and presentations. You are unique. There’s only one “you”. Let that uniqueness shine through the boilerplate and the legalese and you will instantly stand out from the masses of legal humanity.

I know this may be tough for you. You play your cards close to your vest. You don’t like to share anything personal. You do good work and expect your work to speak for itself.

It doesn’t. It needs a spokesperson. It needs you.

Give this a whirl. Start with something small. Put a little you into your next email to a client.

Add a P.S. and share something that doesn’t belong in that email. Mention something you did recently or something interesting you saw or read. Ask for their opinion about something other than the subject of your email. Ask if they’ve seen an article you posted on your website. Or if they’re a fan of a program you’ve been binge-watching on Netflix.

Go ahead, try it. You may like it. I know your clients will.

More ways to differentiate yourself found here

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Would you Invest $1000 to earn $1500?

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Looking for a great investment? One that has the potential to bring you big returns?

I’m talking returns of 50%, 100%, or more. Perhaps a lot more. Over time, you might earn ten or twenty times your initial investment.

What’s that? You put your money in savings, not investments. You don’t like to “gamble”? Well, you might want to re-think that position in this case because the investment I’m talking about is “you”.

Your practice. Your career. Your future.

I know you make a substantial investment each month run your practice. Money to keep the doors open, money to protect yourself from liability, money to help you serve your clients. And money on marketing, to make sure you continue to bring in new clients.

I’m suggesting you consider spending more.

Add another $1,000 per month to your budget, to invest in your practice. If that’s too much, start with less, but start with something because if you invest wisely, that $1,000 or $5,000 or $100, will result in a handsome profit.

What should you invest in? Well, what do you need? What’s working now that might work better? What can you expand?

What could you invest in to attract more clients? What could you invest in that might help you meet new referral sources? Where might you put some dollars to improve your skills or help you deliver a better client experience?

Here’s a list to help you brainstorm the possibilities:

  • Advertising
  • New employees, virtual assistants; incentives
  • Outside services
  • Second office/better location
  • Signage
  • Furniture and equipment
  • Personal and professional development
  • Software
  • Consultants
  • Networking
  • Websites/content
  • Accounting/financial planning
  • Training courses

As you ponder this list, also consider areas where you might spend less. Where could you eliminate waste? What could you do to free up cash to invest in things that bring you a better return?

What’s that? You don’t have any cash to invest in your practice right now? That’s why you need to take this seriously.

Find the money. Borrow it. Get a line of credit. Sell something.

Remember, you’re not increasing your overhead, you’re investing in your business.

Let me guess, you’re thinking, “What if I do this and it doesn’t work?”

My answer: “What if it does work?” What if you invest $1000 and it brings in an additional $1500? You would want to do it again, right? You’d want to increase your investment so you can increase your profit, yes?

Look, don’t throw money at anything that moves. Be judicious. Reasonable. Careful. Smart.

Sure, there’s risk. You might lose money on the path to earning more. But there’s an even greater risk in doing nothing.

Truth.

You really do have to spend money to make money. Go figure out how you can spend more.

Improve your website 

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