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Ripping the bandage off slowly

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What do you do when you have to do something you don’t want to do?

We’ve been taught to rip the bandage off quickly and get it over with. The pain will only last for a moment. Pulling it off slowly is worse.

That’s usually good advice. But not always.

I’ve started a project I’ve been putting off for years. I’m getting rid of books in my home office, closet, garage, and at our storage facility. I hate it. I love my books. But it has to be done.

Thinking about carting off my prized possessions to the library bookstore in one fell swoop has caused me to avoid doing it. But I’ve kept that particular bandage on my finger for too long.

But, rather than doing it all at once (and getting it over with), I’m doing it slowly. In stages.

The first pass was easy. I removed books that are outdated–old software manuals, for example, books related to business ventures I’m no longer involved with, and books I’ve never read and know I’m never going to.

Second pass (which I haven’t started yet) will be to pare down what’s left. This won’t be too difficult because I will know I don’t yet have to make the hard decisions.

The third pass will be tougher. I plan to remind myself that, “If I ever need or want this book, I can buy it again.”

How many books will I keep? That will depend on how much room I have left on my shelves. I’m committed: No more boxes, no more garage, no more storage.

I’ll get it done. I have to. Tripping over books, dusting books I haven’t looked at in years, storing books I used for projects 20 years ago, just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Anyway, I thought I’d pass this along to you in case you’re a book lover and need to make room somewhere (maybe for new books!), or in case you have anything else you need to do but don’t want to.

Instead of waiting for referrals to happen, make them happen

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Maybe you need a babysitter

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After yesterday’s post about scheduling time to do things you’re not getting done, (in this case, reading time), a subscriber wrote: “I’ve TRIED something like this many times, but I always just ignore the scheduled thing. Any tips for getting my ass to stick to the schedule? It’s quite frustrating.”

My advice: “Don’t ignore the scheduled thing.”

I’m serious. Annoying, but serious.

We all make choices about what we will and won’t do. If we choose not to do something, even though it’s good for us and we say we want to do it, even though we put it on our calendar, the truth is we really DON’T want to do it.

Because if you wanted to do it, you would.

So, remove it from your calendar or agenda until you want to do it. Or until you decide you must do it.

Here’s what I mean.

If we consider all of our tasks and projects, ideas and someday/maybes, read/reviews, we can break them down into three categories: Must-do, Should-do, and Could-do.

We do a good job of getting our must-dos done because penalties ensue if we don’t. So how about creating a new list or tag for “must-read/review” and scheduling time just for this?

Everything else? I say, don’t worry about it.

If it’s not something you must read or review, read it if you want to and don’t if you don’t. And don’t beat yourself up about what you don’t read.

What about “should-read/review”? I think it’s overkill for discretionary reading, but it’s up to you.

Okay, a couple more ideas for “forcing” yourself to stick to your schedule. Here are two taken from the Kanban world:

  1. Limit your work in process (WIP). In the case of reading, limit yourself to three articles (for example). If you finish those and have room for more, you can go get more. If you don’t, move on. If three is too many, start with one or two.
  2. Make it visible. Put your reading list/folder on your desktop or as a top-level bullet or tag in your master list or a column (or swim lane) in your Kanban. By keeping your list in front of you, you’ll continually be reminded that this is something you’ve decided to do and you’ll be one click away from doing it.

Okay, one more: Get a babysitter.

Still serious.

Designate someone to hold you accountable for whatever it is you’re resisting. It could be your spouse, your secretary, your partner, a colleague, or anyone else. Have them check in with you to find out if you did or didn’t do what you said you would. Implement some kind of penalty if you don’t and maybe a reward if you do.

If you designate your secretary for this role, for example, and you don’t do your daily reading or marketing or whatever, they get to take the rest of the day off.

Something tells me stuff is gonna get done.

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The tyranny of the urgent

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What’s the most important thing in your professional life that you’re not doing? Or doing enough?

Something that can take your practice to a much higher level. Help you accomplish a major goal or change your life in a significant way.

Whatever it is, you’re probably not doing it because while it’s important, it’s not urgent and your day is filled with urgent matters that get first call.

Deadlines, due dates, promises made to clients that have to get done on time. Or problems that need to be addressed today, lest they lead to even bigger problems tomorrow.

There are many things you can do to “find more time” for important work but in my experience, nothing more effective than blocking out time for it on your calendar.

How much time? Probably not as much as you think.

You can make appreciable progress on a project if you work on it for as little as five or ten minutes a day. The key is to do it every day.

Pick a number of minutes. I suggest 15. If that’s too much, start with ten.

Schedule time on your calendar for that project, five days a week. If possible, make this your first task of the day. Get it done before you start your other work when your energy is highest and distractions and interruptions are likely to be fewer.

Get it done first and then no matter what else happens that day, your day will have been fruitful.

Make it a habit. A part of your daily ritual. Try it for two months and see what happens. I think you’ll like what happens.

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The power of a daily habit

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When I began walking for exercise I usually walked three days a week. Some days, I didn’t feel like it and had to force myself out the door. Some days I simply forgot.

Now I walk six days a week and I do it without thinking about it.

My walks are longer, because I’ve built up my strength, and I enjoy them. Not only are they good for my health, I use the time for thinking, dictating, or listening to podcasts.

Because I walk every day, I don’t have to be reminded to do it or talk myself into it. It’s part of my routine. And I (usually) look forward to it.

I had a similar experience when I started writing a daily email/blog post. Before I wrote daily, I wrote once a week. It was easy to do but what’s easy to do is also easy to not do. Miss a day and it could easily turn into a week. Before you know it, a month has gone by and you’re on your way to not doing it anymore.

Am I saying it’s easier to write every day instead of once a week? Yes.

If you write a newsletter, blog post, or article once a month or once a week you have to plan for it. When the day comes, it’s easy to postpone it. “Hey, I’ve got the whole month”. But do you? Without a deadline, it’s easy to blow it off.

If you write once a week, or every day, it becomes a natural part of your workflow.

So, write shorter pieces but more often. Make it a habit and you’ll get it done.

Whatever it is you’re thinking of doing, whatever habit you want to create, start where you need to start but look for a way to transition to doing it every day. Because every day really is easier.

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Overcoming overwhelm

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I was reading through my blog feed this morning, bookmarking articles to read later. There were easily 20 articles I wanted to save but I didn’t do it. I’ve already got hundreds of articles in my bookmark app, plus hundreds more saved in Evernote waiting to be read.

I stopped and closed the app. Enough. I can’t handle it all. Mommy.

When you have too much to read, too much to do, too many fires to put out, and you are feeling overwhelmed, how do you handle it? The best thing to do is distract yourself long enough to allow your brain to reset.

Sometimes, taking a few hours off is all we need. Sometimes, we need to get more sleep. Some folks listen to music, some write, some play sports, some watch movies, some have a good cry with their best friend.

Exercise helps. When I come back from my walks I’m usually ready to get back at it. That’s what I did today.

Do something to interrupt your thought patterns and you’ll usually find the feeling of overwhelm begins to subside. If it doesn’t, if you can’t shake the feeling, you might need to do something more radical to eliminate whatever it is that’s overwhelming you.

You may need to hire some people. You may need to find new tools and methods to streamline your workflow or take some training to learn how to better use what you already have.

When all else fails, all we can do is surrender to the reality that there will always be too much to read and too much to do and we’ll never get it all done.

Because we won’t.

The things we don’t read today will still be there tomorrow, even if we don’t bookmark them. (It’s called the Internet.) You don’t have to feel guilty about the things you didn’t do. Tomorrow is another opportunity to start fresh.

Let it go.

Life is messy. Uncertain. Out of our control. But that’s okay because most things don’t really matter.

Once you accept this, you can focus on the things that do.

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Thinking on paper. Sorta.

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The other day I mentioned that I was thinking about scheduling regular time for thinking. I said I thought it would help me solve problems, make better decisions, and help me move closer to achieving my goals.

Well, I’ve done it. Five minutes every afternoon is now dedicated to the task. It’s right there on my daily checklist.

It’s just five minutes. With no agenda other than to see what I think.

To make it easier, I’ve started journaling again. Thinking on paper, or in this case, typing on a computer screen, helps the process. It allows me to capture my thoughts so I can come back to them after doing research, talking to someone, or just letting the idea incubate for a spell. I’ve created a #thinking tag for that purpose.

Writing things down also helps improve my thinking. As the words appear on screen, I can see where I’m going and where I need to go.

I didn’t schedule thinking time to brainstorm ideas but to contemplate ideas I’ve already recorded. Nevertheless, I’m finding that ideas are coming to me and that’s okay. You’ve got to learn to trust your mind and let it take you where it wants to go.

I haven’t kept a journal for a long time. I’m starting to realize that I missed it. If you haven’t tried it, or have moved away from doing it, give it a try. If you do keep a journal, I’d love to hear how you use it and how it has helped you.

A good place to keep your journal: Evernote

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Scheduling time to think

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I’m thinking about scheduling time for thinking. Putting 5 minutes each day or 30 minutes once a week on my calendar, dedicated to thinking.

What would I think about? My goals, my plans, my work in progress, ideas, anything that’s on my mind or on my list.

Use the time to figure things out. Make decisions. Figure out what went wrong.

Contemplation is important, especially for cerebral and creative types like you and me. And we don’t do enough of it.

Scheduled thinking time should be used just for thinking, not for brainstorming ideas. We can do that at another time. Thinking time should be used to evaluate ideas we’ve already had, not create new ones.

Thinking helps us to weigh consequences, evaluate plans, and solve problems. It helps us to decide to go forward, incubate further, make changes, or cross things off our list.

True, our subconscious minds do a lot of this for us. We think about something, let go of it, and suddenly, somehow, we know what to do.

And, we do a lot of thinking while we’re doing other things: driving, showering, exercising, washing dishes.

But I want to build some regular “contemplation” time into my schedule so I can do more of it. (I have a naval. I might as well use it.)

So, what do you think about my idea? Are you going to try it?

I know, you need to think about it.

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You should be saying THIS a lot

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You’re busy. Good at what you do. And you get asked for lots of favors.

Information, advice, appearances (at events), endorsements. You get asked to share content, review proposals, add a link or authorize a guest post on your site.

All day, every day, people want something from you. If you’re not saying no to most of these requests, most of which are not a priority for you, you may not have time for the handful that are.

Not to mention time to get your own work done.

You delete most of the email offers and requests from people you don’t know. At least I hope you do. You are not obligated to reply.

But what do you do about a request that comes from a client, a colleague, or a friend?

How do you say no?

If they want your time, you can say, “Sorry, I have a prior commitment.” And that’s true. You have a commitment to spend that time doing client work, doing something for the handful of people you want to help, or doing something for yourself.

Because you’re no good to anyone if you’re not taking care of yourself.

What if the request isn’t time-bound? They want you to review their article, for example, and tell them what you think. No hurry. You could provide a cursory response. “Looks good. I like the donkey story.” A few minutes won’t break the bank.

But if what they ask requires more than a few minutes, or they ask you to do something you don’t want to do, you’re going to have to come up with something else.

The truth is a good option. If you’re uncomfortable doing something, if you don’t have time to do something, tell them. And tell them why.

You don’t want to hurt their feelings. You don’t want to come off as a jerk. But you have to say no to most requests because every time you say yes to something that’s not a priority, you say no to something that is.

Referrals should be one of your top priorities

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Do something, even if it’s wrong

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Yesterday, I pontificated about how much information is “enough” to make a decision. Subscriber John S. agreed with my message and told me that his high school football coach used to say, “Do something, even it’s wrong”.

Coach wanted them to move, not just stand there. John said that if they waited too long, analyzed every option, the opponent could run by them and score.

If you’re like me (and you are,) you are often guilty of over-thinking, over-analyzing and procrastinating while you figure out the best thing to do and the best way to do it. It goes with the job.

But let’s face it, while our analytical tendencies are valuable in many contexts, they often keep us from doing things that could dramatically improve our lives.

As Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing.”

So, yeah. My new motto is, “Do something, even if it’s wrong”.

Nobody is ever going to describe me as impetuous, but I’m putting the habit of taking action at the top of my list. Okay, number two. Maybe three. Gotta keep it real.

So thank you John S. And, if you ever see your old coach, thank him for me, too.

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When you should trust your gut and when you shouldn’t

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One thing that always bothered me about legal research was knowing when to quit. How do you know when you have enough citations or enough arguments to win?

If you are exhaustive, you risk turning off your reader. If that reader is a judge (or law professor if you’re still in school), you’ll hurt your cause instead of helping it.

How much is enough but not “too much”?

Unless there are rules dictating the length of a document, you don’t know for certain. All you can do is use your best estimate. Fortunately, that usually works. Your instincts and experience tell you when you have enough and usually restrain you from including too much.

Why don’t we have that same Spidey Sense when it comes to making important decisions?

Decisions about marketing, managing, and building our practice. Financial and health decisions. Decisions about the direction of our life.

Instead of using our best estimate, we often procrastinate. We tell ourselves we need more information because we’re afraid of making a mistake.

But we often do have enough information. We don’t need to be 90% certain. According to Jeff Bezos (in a 2016 letter to Shareholders), 70% is enough:

“Most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow. Plus, either way, you need to be good at quickly recognizing and correcting bad decisions. If you’re good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure.”

In an article referencing Bezos’ comments, it was noted that Colin Powell also weighed in on the subject:

“You should make a decision when you have between 40% and 70% of the possible information… Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range, go with your gut.”

Powell said that if you have less than that, you’re likely to make the wrong decision. But he agrees with Bezos: “If you wait until you have more than 70%, by the time you make the decision, it will be so late that you will have missed the opportunity.”

How about that? Actual numbers.

Now, if we could just figure out how much 70% is.

Here’s more than enough information about how to get more referrals

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