A different take on Areas of Focus

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Most people who use a task management app or system separate their Areas of Focus (or Areas of Responsibility), so that when they’re working, they only see their list of work-related tasks, and when they’re not working, they see tasks or errands related to their personal life.

Many people use just two top-level categories—work and personal. Others break down their responsibilities into narrower categories.

I have 3 businesses and separate my tasks according to which business they belong to. I have a fourth category for personal matters. This works well for me but I’m always looking for different methods, especially since there is a lot of overlap between the things I do.

The other day, I watched a video by someone who separates her tasks not by job or business or other area of her life, but by the activities she performs.

To illustrate, using her activity-based approach, a practicing lawyer might categorize his or her responsibilities into these 7 areas:

  1. CREATE (blog posts, newsletters articles, podcasts, videos, social media posts, books, ads, presentations, etc.)
  2. CONNECT (interviews, networking, joint ventures, social media)
  3. LEARN (marketing, CLE, productivity, personal development, writing, etc.)
  4. MAINTAIN (admin, risk management, IT, client relations, bill paying, investing, etc.)
  5. ROUTINES (planning, processing, calendaring, training; personal routines and chores–exercise, meditation, journaling, self-care, shopping, etc.
  6. LEISURE/SPIRITUAL (rest, fun, family, miscellaneous interests, charitable, etc.)
  7. WORK (cases, client work)

This got me thinking. I’m not yet committed to changing my top-level Areas, but I am looking at using tags or labels to identify my different activities and responsibilities so I remember to schedule and do them.

I thought I’d pass this along to you in case you’d like to do the same.

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The need for speed

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I’m a simple man with simple needs. I don’t need a powerful computer because I don’t edit videos or images, work with complicated databases, or play games. I work with text and use a handful of simple apps to manage my work. 

I could do that on just about any piece of silicon, and as long as the gear I’ve got is still working, I usually wait until it dies before I replace it.  

The thing is, we don’t know what we don’t know and I didn’t know I was long overdue to replace my laptop, which I finally did after Calvin (yes, named after Calvin and Hobbes) recently bit the dust. 

Today, I’m a new man with a new computer. 

A fast processor, a fast SSD, and a new perspective on the value of upgrading even when you don’t think you need to.

I knew Calvin had slowed with age (he was 7 at time of his passing), but I didn’t realize how bad off he was. I blamed Evernote when I should have blamed Calvin. 

Now, Evernote flies. It launches in seconds, notes open as soon as I click them, and everything works the way it’s supposed to. 

All my apps work that way. I don’t have to wait for anything to launch, pages to load, or functions to engage. 

Who knew?

And, what else don’t I know?

Whether it’s computers, workflows, or the people in our lives, we get used to them and often can’t see their flaws. We don’t realize how much we might improve our situation if we change them. 

We need to train ourselves to periodically stand down from our daily routines and take inventory. Examine where we are and what we’re doing and see how we can improve.

What we’re doing might be working but something else might work better. 

Or faster. 

So that’s my story. I’m a new man with a new computer and I like the new me. 

There’s just one problem. I haven’t decided what to name my new baby. Hey, how about Barry? You know, Barry Allen, aka “The Flash”?

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Learn more, remember more

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The other day I mentioned the value of spaced repetition for learning and retention. You review the ideas you’ve learned and want to remember at a later date, often more than once, to help you better understand and remember the material.

There are other ways to enhance your comprehension and retention, however, and you can use them with or without spaced repetition.

Instead of merely re-reading your notes, use one or more of the following techniques to learn more and remember more:

  1. Add meaning. When you read a book or watch a video presentation, you’re taking in someone else’s ideas. You can enhance your comprehension and retention of those ideas by adding context from your own thoughts or experiences. Add your opinion, your doubts, your questions, or your own examples, to further explain or differentiate the material.
  2. Review other sources. What do others say about the subject? Add their ideas, examples, and stories to your notes. Note how they describe things, where they agree or disagree, and their reasons.
  3. Explain it. Test your understanding by imagining you’re explaining the concepts to a friend. Recite what you got out of the article, book, or video, what you want them to understand and remember.
  4. Use what you learned. Connect the material to one of your goals or projects. If you’re preparing a new presentation, for example, find ways to add some of what you learned to that presentation.
  5. Create an “executive summary”. Re-read your notes, think about them, and write a few sentences or paragraphs representing the most important takeaways.

Instead of just re-reading what someone else wrote or said, or your notes about what they wrote or said, go deeper. Add your own thoughts about the information. Put it in your own words. You’ll understand it better and remember it longer.

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Leave your baggage in the trunk

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If you’ve done a lot of networking, you may have heard the expression. It means “don’t bring your problems into the meeting”.

If you had a bad day, nobody wants to hear about it. They don’t want to see your grumpy face or listen to your complaints.

Your clients and prospects and professional contacts may know, like and trust you, but they have problems of their own and don’t want to hear about yours, any more than you want to hear about theirs. Unless it’s a legal problem and they brought their checkbook, of course.

The same goes for your partners and employees. Nobody wants to work with a Debbie or Dennis Downer.

Leave your baggage in the trunk. If you’re meeting online, put on your happy face before you turn on the camera.

This doesn’t mean you can never display emotions. You don’t have to be like Mr. Spock. Your emotions are part of who you are and you would be wooden and unlikeable without them.

But if you’re in a dark place, filled with anger or sadness or feeling sorry for yourself, don’t ask anyone to join your pity party. Reschedule the meeting or send someone in your place.

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Do you have a re-reading list?

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I read an article the other day I’d read a few months ago. It was as if I was reading it for the first time. I saw things I could have sworn weren’t there the first time I read that article.

That’s why it’s important to re-read good articles and books and reports, re-watch videos, and re-listen to audios.

If you got something out of it the first time, read it again. Highlight your highlights. Take notes on your notes. You learn more and remember more when you do that.

Isn’t that what we did to prepare for exams in school?

If the subject is really important to you, re-read it several times. You’ll get something out of it each time.

But don’t this immediately. Wait a few days or a few weeks or even longer, before you go through the material again. “Spaced repetition” is a key to learning and remembering.

Why? Because as time passes between reads, you forget what you read and what you thought about what you read. On your next read, you notice ideas you didn’t notice before, because you are a different person now than you were when you first read the material.

How so?

With the first read, everything was new to you. On subsequent reads, you’ve had time to use the information, or think about it, or to read other ideas on the subject, all of which provide you with context you didn’t have the first or tenth time you read the material.

Clearly, many things we read or watch aren’t worth a second glance. More than a few aren’t even worth finishing. When you find something exceptional, however, something that opens your eyes to new ideas or new ways to use old ideas, put it on your re-reading list and read it again.

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Why is more important than how

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I’m big on “how to”. I like learning how to do things and getting good at doing them. To be the best that I can be so I can accomplish my goals, feel pride in creating things and changing people’s lives.

So I read and study and practice the how-tos

But while “how” is important, it’s not as important as “why”.

You say you want to grow your practice by one-third this year? Why do you want that? What will you do with the money?

Pay some bills? That’s probably not enough to motivate you to do what you need to do to achieve your goal. Money in, money out, another day, another dollar.

On the other hand, if the reason you want to earn more money is to help your aged parents finally retire, because they worked hard all their lives and are still working to pay their bills. . . that’s a big reason why.

That’s the kind of “why” that will motivate you to make the calls or start a newsletter or do other things to bring in more business. It’s what will keep you trying new ideas, staying the course when things get tough, get past rejection or disappointment or fatigue that might otherwise cause you to give up.

Ask yourself what you want. And then ask yourself why you want it.

When you have a big enough why, you’ll figure out how.

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What would you buy?

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It’s been a rough year for a lot of folks. A lot of belt-tightening, deferring purchases, raiding retirement accounts. A lot of resistless nights, fatigue-filled days, and worries about the future.

Stimulus payments and PPP loans may help, but they’re not a long term solution. Building your practice is a long-term solution. For many lawyers, however, the client-pool isn’t quite as deep these days, given that many would-be clients have had an equally bad year.

And yet, there is more than enough business out there for you. I don’t know about the other guy, but for you, there’s plenty.

You just have to find a way to attract them.

I’m not talking about marketing. Yes, that’s part of it, but it might not be the key ingredient for attracting more clients.

What is that key ingredient?

You.

If you want to attract more business, you need to become more attractive.

When you’re feeling nervous about the future, worried, confused, skeptical, scared, or you are otherwise in a bad place mentally and emotionally, it’s difficult to attract anyone, least of all, people who are similarly situated.

Clients come to you because you give them hope for a better future. They need to feel like you can take them there.

It’s not just what you say or promise to do. It’s your music. How you feel and how you make them feel.

If your “music” isn’t attractive right now, you’ve got to change your music.

A simple way to do that is to use your imagination.

Humor me. This is the real deal.

Imagine what your life will be like when things are the way you want them. Or remember what it was like before lockdown living became the norm. Imagine a time when you have lots of clients and cases and money comes in like clockwork.

Get quiet and imagine a better future for yourself. A time when you don’t have to tell yourself you “don’t need that” or you “probably shouldn’t spend that”. A time when money is plentiful and you don’t have to think about it.

In that future, what would you buy? Where would you put some cash?

Would you upgrade that ancient laptop you’ve been lugging around? Hire another assistant? Advertise more?

Would you get some new clothes? Fix up your house? Give more to charity or help out a needy friend?

Would you start a passion project, get braces for your teeth, or hire someone to clean your house once a week?

Think about what you would do when you have plenty of money. More importantly, think about how you would feel.

Take a deep breath and imagine it.

Feels good, doesn’t it? Warm and fuzzy. That tightness in your gut is gone. You feel relaxed, centered, confident. You feel like anything is possible and you’re excited about the future.

Yes or yes?

The only thing left is to find a way to feel that way now, because that feeling is what will take you from where you are to where you want to go. It’s what will make you more attractive to clients who want that, too.

That’s crazy, you say? Woo woo nonsense. It’s just wishful thinking and you need a plan, something you can do that will bring in more money.

I just gave you that plan.

Give a try. Meditate once a day for ten or fifteen minutes and imagine things the way you want them. Do that for 30 days or 90 days. Make it a part of your daily routine.

Worst case, nothing changes, but for ten minutes a day, you take a mental vacation and feel great.

Best case? You change. Your confidence grows and you start taking action, inspired by your wishful thinking.

Your music changes. You become more attractive to people who need your help and they find their way to you.

Because the Law of Attraction is real.

If this is a message you needed to hear right now, if you are inspired by these words, realize that you attracted them to you. What will you attract next?

When you’re ready to take action, here is a great option

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What to do when you don’t know what to do

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You’ve got a situation. A problem, something you need or want and you can’t figure out how to get it. You’re confused and frustrated and don’t know what to do.

We have a situation like this in our family right now. A close relative is ill and we’re trying to sort out the medical, legal, and financial options. It’s all been a bit overwhelming.

When you have a problem and you don’t know what to do, your feelings aren’t going to help you, you have to focus on action.

Here’s how:

1) State the goal

Where do you want this to end up? What would be a good outcome? How would you define success?

You need to know the destination before you you know what to do to reach it.

2) Write down the facts

What do you know about the current situation, and what do you need to find out?

What are the options? What can you do? What are the problems, issues, and obstacles stopping you from reaching the goal?

3) Choose the “next action”

Once you know the facts, it’s time to take action. Not just any action, however, the logical “next action,” in Getting Things Done terms, meaning something you can do to move the situation forward.

If you’re having trouble getting started, choose something small and easy to do:

Write down a list of questions. Make a call. Do some research.

Once you’ve done that, ask again: “What’d the next action?”

And do that.

If the next action is too big, break it down into smaller steps and find one you can do.

If you have several next action candidates and don’t know which one to choose, your next action might be to talk to someone or to weigh the pros and cons of each option so you can decide which one to choose.

We did this with our family situation and while it’s been a bumpy ride, we’ve moved forward from a place of not knowing what to do to knowing what to do (next).

And we know that if we continue asking, “What’s the next action?” and doing it, we’ll get through this difficult situation and eventually reach our goal.

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How to defeat ‘Productivity Shame’

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‘Productivity Shame’ is the feeling that you haven’t done enough.

You haven’t accomplished enough, you didn’t work hard enough, you’re not good enough.

In part, it’s caused by believing you “should” accomplish at a certain level or pace. You should work as hard as others do and accomplish as much as they do, and if you don’t, you’re weak and ineffectual.

So, we push ourselves to do more than we’re able to do and set ourselves up to fail.

We do that by setting unrealistic goals or schedules for ourselves, because humans tend to underestimate the amount of time needed to complete a task, and/or overestimate our ability to complete a task in that amount of time.

How can we change this?

First, stop comparing yourself to others.

We all have different goals, responsibilities, and energy. What someone else does (or says they do) may inspire you to attempt to do more but if that doesn’t work for you, stop it and allow yourself to do what you can do.

Because you can only do what you can do.

Your body needs time to rest and recharge and time to do other things. You have to stop beating yourself up because you can’t (or don’t want to) live up to someone else’s standard.

Pushing ourselves when we’re exhausted leads to bad decisions and bad outcomes. Things take longer to do because we’re tired, make mistakes and need time to fix them.

If we keep pushing, it can lead to burnout.

On the other hand, when you work at a pace that’s suited to you, you get more done in less time and you get better results.

Second, focus on what’s important and let go of everything else.

There is never enough time to do everything. Determine your priorities and get them done.

When you do that, when you get your most important tasks done each day, the things you didn’t do don’t matter.

Look at your list of tasks and choose the most important one. Ask yourself, “If I could only get one thing done today, what would it be?”

This doesn’t mean you can’t do more. It means that if get your most important task done, your day has been productive and you have nothing to be ashamed of.

Finally, celebrate your accomplishments.

When you have a good day, meaning you accomplished one or more important tasks, pat yourself on the back, forget about everything else, and don’t look back.

Think about what you did, not what you didn’t do.

Feel good about yourself and reward yourself for having a productive day.

Whatever you do, stop caring about what other’s think. What they think is none of your business.

The Quantum Leap Marketing System for Attorneys

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Daily notes: a journal by a different name

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I’ve tried keeping a journal and find it useful (and fun) to record my thoughts but the habit hasn’t stuck.

I’d like to try again and may have found a way to do that.

There’s a new breed of note taking apps (Roam, Obsidian, and others) and I’m trying out one of them.

One feature is a “daily notes” page that automatically appears (unless you turn off that feature), with the date and plenty of room to write. You can also set up templates to prompt you to record whatever is important to you.

Yes, it’s really a journal with a different name. But it might work because the daily notes feature is built into the app. I don’t have to stop what I’m doing to go write in my journal, I can simply add some thoughts or notes on my daily notes page when they occur to me throughout the day.

In that sense, the daily notes page work like an inbox—a place to deposit ideas and notes to be sorted, filed and worked on later.

A daily notes page also works like an “outbox”.

At the end of the day, you can record notes on what you did, what you thought, and what you plan to do later. Because it’s built into the app, it’s easy to drag or copy/paste notes written elsewhere onto the page.

What can you record in your daily notes? Anything you want:

  • What you did today, what you learned today, what you want to remember
  • Goals, plans, ideas
  • Quotes from books you read, a list of books you want to read
  • Websites and apps you want to check out
  • Questions you have about something you’re working on
  • Habits you want to track
  • New clients, new prospects, new marketing campaigns
  • Earnings, expenses, debts you need to pay, money you need to collect
  • Ideas for new projects, notes about improving your workflow, your attitude, your skills, or your well-being

Anything you did or want to do, anything you want to remember, in as little or as much detail as you want.

Some days, you’ll write hundred of words. Other days, you might write a single sentence, or nothing at all.

This morning, I wrote a few questions about the notes app I’m trying, and a few thoughts about the concept of daily notes.

At the end of the day, you can add comments and additional thoughts, and tags or labels or links to related notes. You will no doubt want to move some of those notes to other folders or pages or other apps.

Daily notes allow you to memorialize your journey and build a repository of information you can go back to help you manage your work or personal life.

Daily notes also help you hold yourself accountable to doing what you said you would do, and what you need to do to achieve your goals.

When I look at what I did and didn’t do last week, I see what I’m doing right and what I need to improve.

Yeah, I’m not sure I like that part.

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