What do you do when you have too much to do?

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I’ve got lists. Lots of tasks and projects. Things I’m working on and things I plan to work on. Everything is organized in Evernote. I follow my own version of GTD. Every task or project has at least one tag to identify it as something I plan to do Now, Next, or Someday.

But while everything is organized and tagged, I still have too much to do. It’s overwhelming. So I find myself avoiding my lists and doing what is nagging at my brain, which defeats the entire purpose of having a task management system.

Currently I have 54 Now tasks, 531 tagged for Next. I’m supposed to look at everything during my weekly review, but with that many tasks on my list, I find myself procrastinating.

What do you do when you have too much to do and your weekly review isn’t working?

You declare task bankruptcy.

You get rid of everything and start over. A fresh start with your tasks.

While I had never heard the term “task bankruptcy” before, I’ve done it before. I did it to achieve inbox zero with my email. I did it when I stopped using one online task management app and started using another and there was no way to export/import my tasks. I can attest to how good it feels to wipe the slate clean and start over.

Starting over doesn’t mean throwing out everything. I will refer to my lists in the process of creating new ones. But every task will be scrutinized and will have to earn it’s way back onto my lists.

First, I will move all of my tasks and projects into a temporary notebook. My main notebook, where I keep all of my tasks and projects will then be empty.

(NB: In Evernote, I use one notebook for all of my notes. I use tags to identify when I will do something (Now, Next, etc.) and for reference purposes. Multiple notebooks leads to confusion–Which notebook should I file this note in? Which notebook DID I file that note in?)

Next, I will go through all of my tasks and projects in the temporary notebook. Anything I know I want to do (or have to do) will get moved back into my main notebook. Anything I’m not sure of, that doesn’t call out to me and inspire me, will go.

The objective is to have a lean and mean Now and Next list. I will still have my Someday/Maybe list, but I will be ruthless in paring this as well.

I guess you could describe this as a periodic review. You go through everything and make decisions about whether you still want to do something and if so, when. That’s what should be done during the weekly review. But when the whole system gets bloated, it makes sense to periodically re-boot.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by everything you have to do, if you find yourself procrastinating on your weekly review, you might want to declare task bankruptcy and get a fresh start.

But be careful. Once you have zeroed out your task obligations and created new lists, those tasks might start accumulating again. Fortunately, you won’t have to wait seven years before declaring task bankruptcy again. You can do it any time you want.

If you want to see how I organize everything, check out my Evernote for Lawyers ebook.

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The virtue of wasting time

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“Quit goofing off and get back to work!” Have you ever said that to your kids or your employees? I know you’ve said it to yourself.

We seemed to be obsessed with the idea that wasting time is a bad thing. I know, “wasting” implies “no value,” but is that really true?

Me thinks not.

Playing video games, checking in or posting on social media, watching football, or whatever you like to do when you’re not doing what you think you’re supposed to do, is not wasting time. I can think of several reasons why it is good for you. And if its good for you, then its good for your work and other aspects of your life.

  • It helps you relax. Stress is a major health risk. Goofing off helps us forget our troubles and lower our blood pressure. Laughing has been proven to improve mental and physical health.
  • It helps you think. When our conscious minds are distracted, our subconscious minds come up with ideas, solve problems, and help us make decisions.
  • It improves skills. Gaming can improve hand-eye coordination and sharpen critical thinking. Watching sports can teach you about leadership, strategy, and team effort. Social media can help you learn about pop culture, which can be used in conversation and writing.
  • It helps you meet new people. With many hobbies and personal interests, you get to meet new people–at the game or the sports bar, online, at the concert, or the convention. New people bring new ideas, new contacts, new business.
  • It affirms life. The purpose of life is joy, not work.

Is there such a thing as spending too much time “wasting time”? Our bosses, parents, and spouses may think so, especially if they’ve seen us spending an hour or two on a site like this one. But it’s really the wrong question.

Better to ask, “Are you getting your work done?”, “Are you making a contribution to the world,” and “Are you happy?”

If you can answer those questions in the affirmative, I don’t think the amount of time you spend conquering pretend kingdoms or contemplating your navel really matters.

Earn more so you can goof off more. Here’s how.

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Is it time to put your practice on a diet?

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Yesterday, I did a strategy session with an attorney who was thinking about getting out of practicing law. After several decades of practicing, he said, “I don’t have the enthusiasm for my practice I once felt. I’ve had difficulties staying focused on my practice and delivering my work product in a timely fashion.”

In other words, the thrill was gone.

He does tax and estate planning, trust and estate administration, and tax compliance. Much of his malaise was centered on a feeling of being bogged down in administrative minutia. As a sole practitioner, there was simply too much to do and too much to keep up with and he was overwhelmed.

I asked him if there was any part of what he does that he liked. He said he enjoyed working with individuals and helping them with estate planning. I said, “If you could have a successful practice doing nothing but that and none of the other things you’re currently doing, how would that be?” “That would be great,” he said.

Problem solved.

He didn’t need to get out of practicing. He needed to put his practice on a diet.

By getting rid of practice areas (and clients) that weighed him down, he could have a leaner, more robust practice doing what he enjoyed doing. I told him there was more than enough business available for the kind of estate planning he liked and that he didn’t have to do anything else.

Many attorneys suffer from “practice bloat,” a term I just made up but which seems to accurately describe what happens over a period of years. You start out lean and mean, excited, and enjoying the process of building your practice. At some point, you take on additional practice areas because the work falls into your lap or because you want to have another profit center or something to fall back on. In time, your practice no longer resembles the one you started. You have too much to do, too much to keep up with, and you start falling behind. At this point, many attorneys start thinking the law is not their calling and they start looking for something else.

Some attorneys start out doing too much. I did. I took anything that showed up. I thought I had to because I needed the money. Soon, I was overwhelmed and frustrated, convinced I’d made a mistake in becoming a lawyer.

In both cases, the answer is to put the practice on a diet.

Get rid of practice areas you don’t enjoy. Get rid of clients who drive you crazy. Get rid of work you’re not good at but continue to do because “it’s part of the job”.

The vacuum you create by getting rid of things that do not serve you will soon be filled with work that you love and are good at. You’ll breathe life into a moribund practice, attract new clients, and increase your income. Most importantly, you’ll look forward to going to work every day.

There are more than enough clients available who want and need what you love to do. If your practice is bloated and the thrill is gone, it may be time to put your practice on a diet.

Does your practice need fixing? A new focus? Do you have marketing questions? I can help.

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Don’t Worry, Be Happy

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In 1988, Don’t Worry, Be Happy reached number one on the Billboard music charts, a position it held for two weeks. Bobby McFerrin’s a cappella hit had us singing (or whistling) along, buoyed by it’s upbeat message. Right now, there’s a whole lot of worrying going on in the world and it might do us all some good to listen once again.

“In every life we have some trouble. When you worry you make it double. Don’t worry, be happy……” (lyrics)

A long time ago, I eliminated the word “worry” from my lexicon. Worry is not a helpful word, or emotion. All it does is make you anxious. Today, I might be “concerned” about something, but never worried. I find I can deal more clearly with things when I’m not caught up in the emotions surrounding them.

Worrying about a problem will never fix it. Creative thinking, asking for help, taking action–these can fix a problem, but not worry. So stop it. Stop worrying about your problems. Get yourself a big box and put all your worries in it. Set that box on fire. Burn it up. You don’t need what’s in it, so get rid of it. (At least put it in storage. You can come back later if you really miss your problems.)

“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” –Mark Twain

While you’re at it, throw into your box all of the things you worry about that aren’t problems. Stuff that never happened and probably never will. That includes all of the “missed opportunities” that nag at you. All of the shoulda’s, coulda’s, and woulda’s.

What good is it to worry about your web site and all of the search engine traffic you’re NOT getting, for example? Let it go. Stop thinking about it. In fact, what if you never had to think about SEO again? How would that feel? You wouldn’t have to think about it or read about it or spend money on it.

Release it. Let it go.

There are other ways to get traffic (and clients) that have nothing to do with search engines. Sure, it’s nice when you get them through search but wouldn’t it be nice to know you don’t have to depend on it?

Relax. Everything will be fine. Don’t worry. Be happy.

“Here is a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note
Don’t worry be happy

Now that you’re feeling better and you have more free time, you can explore SEO if you want to. But only if you want to, not because you have to. No worries, no “have to’s,” just an opportunity. Do it or don’t do it.

Make a list of things you’re thinking about right now. Projects, ideas, things you have to do. Make sure you add anything that you’re worried about. Get them off your desk and out of your head. That alone feels good, doesn’t it?

Then ask yourself, “How many of these things could I cross off my list?” If you can’t cross them off, label or tag them with “someday/maybe” and file them away, out of sight.

Spend your time thinking about things that are important, and things that feel good when you think about them. No, you can’t ignore your responsibilities or pretend you don’t have any problems. But you don’t have to worry about them, either.

Need clients? Don’t worry. Get The Attorney Marketing Formula and be happy.

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How self-employed attorneys can avoid burn out and increase their income

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One of my Facebook friends posted today: “Totally. Burned. Out. In desperate need of a day off, but then the work won’t get done. Ugh.”

He’s an attorney and works for a firm. I assume he is salaried. I assume he cannot give the work to someone else to do. He has to do it because the work is assigned to him or nobody else is capable of doing it.

Either way, he’s stuck. That’s the way it is with most jobs.

But most self-employed people say the same thing. They either don’t have any employees or partners to whom they can give the work or nobody else is capable of doing it.

Either way, they’re stuck, too.

The employee understands the trade off. They exchange their time for dollars and don’t have to deal with the administrative and marketing demands of being self-employed. They give up some of their freedom in exchange for “security” (or so they think; there are no secure jobs). The self-employed person values freedom above all and is willing to take on the additional responsibilities and longer hours, in order to “be their own boss.”

For most of my career, I have been self-employed. I worked for my father for a year out of law school and I didn’t like it. I wanted to “do my own thing” (that’s how we described it in the ’70’s). I was willing to take on the additional responsibilities and long hours and give up the “security” of a job to get it.

But only to a point.

After a few years, I got Totally. Burned. Out. I wanted to take time off, but the work wouldn’t get done. I was stuck, and that’s when I made a decision to change what I was doing.

I realized that “if the work won’t get done unless I do it,” I didn’t own a business (practice), it owned me. I worked hard but if freedom was my goal, and it was, and I couldn’t take a day off when I wanted to, or six months when I wanted to, I might as well get a job.

I decided that I would hire more people and delegate to them as much of the work as possible. I supervised them and did the legal work that nobody else could do. I soon found out that there wasn’t much legal work that nobody else could do and while that may not have been good for my ego, it was very good for my well-being and my bank account. It meant I could concentrate on marketing and building the practice, and that’s what I did.

And then, I was able to take lots of time off because I owned a business (practice) and it no longer owned me.

If you are self-employed and “the work won’t get done unless you do it,” you should consider making similar changes. Hire more people, outsource, associate with other attorneys. Do what you have to do to lesson the need for you to do the work.

Not only will you avoid burn out and increase your income, you will have more time to post on Facebook.

Your time is precious. Learn how to leverage it to earn more and work less in The Attorney Marketing Formula.

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Put your contact list on a diet

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I’ve written before about the value of creating a “Focus 30” list–a list of your most important clients, best referral sources, and other people to whom you want to give your time and attention.

Keeping that list in front of you will remind you to call, write, and engage with the people who contribute most to your success.

I didn’t say so then, but I should mention that you can include on your Focus 30 list people who are important to you outside of your professional life. Friends, spiritual leaders, and others you influence you in positive ways also deserve your attention.

If your Focus 30 list is the cream of the crop, the tip of the top, there are undoubtedly people in your life who are just the opposite.

You know the ones I mean.

  • People you don’t like
  • People who waste your time
  • People who are abusive to you and others
  • Takers/users

You get the idea.

Your relationship with these people does not serve you. You should take steps to either reduce the amount of time you spend with them or completely eliminate them from your life.

Of course some people (i.e., clients, close relatives) you may have to put up with to some extent. But this should be a conscious choice you make, not something you do merely out of habit or a sense of duty.

The easiest way to put your contact list on a diet is to go through the list, one name at a time, and rate each person. If you don’t recognize a name, or you don’t communicate with that person often enough to matter, you can skip them. For everyone else, assign a number based on how you feel about them:

1 = Positive
2 = Neutral
3 = Negative

That’s a lot quicker and eaiser than trying to figure out why you don’t like someone. Trust your gut.

If you’re not sure about someone, give them a 2.

Anyway, don’t agonize over anyone and don’t spend a lot of time on this.

When you’re done, go back through the list. 1’s and 2’s are okay. (You may see some 1’s you want to add to your Focus 30 list).

You need to do something about the 3’s.

Some you’ll stop seeing and taking their calls. Cross them off your list. Eliminate them completely from your life.

Others, you’ll reduce the amount of time you give them. If they are a client worth keeping, give the task of dealing with them to someone who works for you. Get away from them as much as possible. If that won’t work, you’ll need to decide if the negative feelings you get from being around these people are worth the money they pay you.

Or, look at it this way: How much more would you earn by getting rid of your negative, anxiety-causing, slow-paying, trouble-making, pain-in-the-ass clients?

Now, as for your relatives. . .

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Build a more profitable law practice by relaxing and doing less

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Yesterday, I spoke with an attorney who is on the verge of burnout. I could hear it in his voice. After thirty years of practice, he’s struggling to attract clients, he’s stressed out and he doesn’t know what to do.

He tells me he’s competent and people like him when they meet him. “Put me in front of someone and they’ll sign up,” he said. He doesn’t do a lot of networking and admits he doesn’t get in front of enough people.

He has a web site and a blog for each of his five practice areas. He’s spent considerable time and money creating content for his blogs and optimizing them for search engines. Unfortunately, the clients who have contacted him through his site have had little money or were looking for free advice.

Within a couple of minutes, I could see his problem and told him what I thought. I could do that because his “ailment” is so common. Like many attorneys, he’s spread too thin and trying to do too much.

I told him he needed to slow down and get focused. Choose one practice area, the one he likes and is best at, and stick with it. His background is in business law. He doesn’t like doing divorces but that’s the kinds of clients his web site seems to be attracting so he added that to his repertoire. While you can’t ignore what the market wants, you are never a slave to it.

I also told him to specialize in the kinds of clients he represents. Some clients are better than others. They have more money and more legal work, the kind you enjoy doing, and you should concentrate on attracting them. Choose an industry or market niche where you have some knowledge and experience and own it. Everything is easier when you do.

His blogs have a lot of content but I suspect it is content created for search engines more than for real people. When you write for SEO purposes you often wind up with content that is mechanically correct but lifeless. When your content is organic, coming from your experiences with real clients, you attract similar clients who resonate with your message.

The process I recommended was one of subtraction: getting rid of most of what he was doing and starting over with a clean slate. Most of his good clients had come through referrals and that’s where they will continue to come from, once he stops trying so hard.

Marketing professional services should be a natural outgrowth of who you are. It starts with knowing what you want and giving yourself permission to have it, choosing your clients instead of letting them choose you.

Relax, do less, but do what you are, not what an SEO expert says you should be.

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Save time, reduce anxiety with a DON’T do list

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It is said that successful people make up their minds quickly and change their minds slowly, if at all. As someone who often spends waaaay too much time thinking about things, that’s not what I wanted to hear.

But when you’re intelligent, you can see many possible outcomes. Things are rarely black and white and we should never decide anything important without taking time to reflect.

At least that’s what I tell myself.

Actually, what I think happens is that we often do decide quickly, but as human beings with ingrained self-doubts, and as lawyers trained to see both sides, we go back and forth challenging our decisions in an effort to justify them. We’ll go through the motions of trying to find fault, but usually, we’ve already made up our minds.

I don’t think we can’t change the way this works. We can, however, eliminate much of the anxiety and time wasting that occurs by re-thinking and second-guessing our decisions.

One way to do that is with a “don’t do” list.

If you’re married or otherwise monogomous, there are certain things you don’t do. You don’t go to single’s bars for example. In fact, you don’t spend any time thinking about single’s bars. It’s on your mental “don’t do” list. Why not create a similar list for other areas of your life?

For example, as you read this blog, you are presented with many ideas for marketing your legal services. Some ideas you like. Other ideas you have considered and rejected. They’re not for you. And yet you continue thinking about some of those ideas. Even though you have rejected them, you continue reading about them, you download apps, and you talk to other lawyers to see what they think.

I suggest you make a decision and be done with it. Put it on a “don’t do” list.

Open a text file or an Evernote note and start recording a list of things you’re not going to do. Once something is on the list, don’t read about it, don’t think about it, and by all means, don’t worry about it. You considered it and made your decision. Move on.

Your list might include advertising, for example. Your practice area might be one where many attorneys advertise and you’ve thought about it. Make a decision–will you or won’t you?

Maybe “advertising” is too broad. It might be something you can see yourself doing at some point. No problem. It doesn’t go on your list. But perhaps you’ve decided that yellow pages advertising is something you aren’t going to do (or no longer do) and you can put that on your don’t do list.

Maybe you don’t like social media and have decided you’re not going to have anything to do with it. Fine. Think of all the time you’ll save by not reading about it, exploring the different platforms, or actually engaging in it. You should feel good about your decision.

You see an article about lawyers getting clients through Pinterest. Tempting, eh? But you’ve already explored it and put it on your don’t do list. Not for you. So you don’t read the article or ponder the issue (“maybe there’s a new angle to this. . .”). Next subject. . .

On the other hand, social media marketing can produce a lot of business and just because you don’t have time for it right now or you don’t want to do it right now, you might not want to write it off completely. Don’t put it on your list. But if you’re camera shy and you know you don’t want to make youtube videos, put that on your list.

This doesn’t mean you never re-consider your decisions. I do many things today I never saw myself doing a few years ago. People change, technology changes, circumstances change. So, periodically, perhaps every six months or once a year, re-visit your don’t do list and see if there’s anything you want to remove.

Every day we are confronted with issues that require a decision. The less time we spend deciding, and the less time we spend re-considering our decisions, the more time we will have to do the things we’ve decided we want to do. A don’t do list can help.

So, what’s on your “don’t do” list? I know, I know, you want more time to think about it.

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What are you focused on right now?

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We all have problems. Some people dwell on their problems, some focus on solutions. Guess what? We get what we focus on.

Focus on the mess you’re in and you get more mess. Focus on what you can do, how you want things to turn out, and you can work your way out of that mess.

I have a mantra, something I say to myself every day. It keeps me focused on solutions, not problems. It helps me move forward with a positive expectancy, instead of being held back by concerns and regret. I don’t know about you, but I don’t do my best work when I’m worried about something. I’m at my best when I’m hopeful and excited and looking forward to a positive outcome.

What do I say to myself? I remind myself to, “Think about what you want, not what you don’t want.”

When I do this, I feel better about the situation. Instead of worrying and shutting down, I stimulate my creativity and attract the resources, people, and ideas I need. Thinking about what I want brings me closer to getting it.

Why does this work? I’m not sure. Some say it’s the “Law of Attraction” or quantum physics doing it’s thing. Others say it’s your subconscious mind which understands your thoughts as a command which it then executes. Some say it’s the hand of God.

Whatever the reason, it does work. Try it and see for yourself.

When you think about what you want, you feel better, more in control, more creative. Your mind comes up with ideas instead of being mired in negative emotion. You are inspired to take action, guided to the next step and the step after that.

Because we get what we focus on.

I do have a caveat. Sometimes, when you think about what you want you’re really thinking about the absence of what you want–why you don’t have it, why things went wrong, why you’re not able to find a solution. All that does is attract more negative outcomes. When you focus on “not having” you get more “not having”.

I know, crazy, right?

How can you tell you’re doing it right? If you think about what you want and that thought doesn’t feel better than your previous thought, you know you are focused on “not having”. If the thought feels better, if there’s an emotional uptick, however small, it means you’re moving in the right direction.

Think about something you want but don’t have. How does it feel? If you feel frustrated or angry or disappointed, change the thought to something that feels a little bit better. From there, you can reach for an even better feeling thought.

The better you feel, the closer you are to getting what you want. When you feel excited and joyous and positive about what you want, what you want is just around the corner.

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If Goldilocks went to law school

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You can’t blame us for feeling the stress of our jobs as attorneys. After all, we deal with other people’s problems all day long. Some problems have life or death consequences. Others hold us accountable for every word in a fifty page document. A single omission could cost millions.

There are unrelenting demands on our time and we are under tremendous pressure to perform. Some attorneys find it difficult to cope with the stress. We read about them in the back pages of our bar journals. Most attorneys find acceptable ways to handle the pressure, however, and some even thrive on it.

What about you? Do you have too much stress in your life?

When Goldilocks ate the first bowl of porridge, it was too hot. The second bowl was too cold. She found the third bowl was just right and “ate it all up.” I think stress is like that. Too much stress can lead to burn out. There are warning signs and ways to cope, but while there may be ways to handle the stress you have to ask yourself, “Is it worth it?” If not, it’s time to make some fundamental changes in what you’re doing.

If you have no stress in your life, however, if the porridge is too cold, it’s likely that you’re not growing. If you never try anything new, never get outside your comfort zone, at best your routine will become boring. At worst it will lead to stagnation and eventually, the death of your spirit.

Your challenge is to find a level of stress in your life that is “just right”. Not too hot, not too cold. You don’t need to read books or go to therapy to figure this out. All you have to do is regularly ask yourself a simple question: “Am I happy?”

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