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

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You have a problem. An unanswered question. A big decision to make. You want something but don’t know how to get it. 

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

Here are five ways to figure that out:  

(1) Research  

Let’s start with the obvious: Sometimes, you just need more information. More facts, more ideas, more examples to look at and sift through. Learn more about the problem, the risks, and the options. Let what you find dictate the best course of action.

That’s where I usually start. You too, I’m sure. But sometimes, more information doesn’t help, it leads to more indecision. 

(2) Write it out (e.g., in a journal) or talk it out (e.g., into a recording app) 

Sometimes, the answer is already inside us, we just need to give it a voice. Speak or write your thoughts, your ideas, your fears, your questions. Get them all out of your head. 

What do I want? Why do I want it? What will it do for me if I get it?

Is there another way to get that? What information do I need to know? What skills do I need to develop? What are my strengths? Who is doing/has done what I want to do?

If that doesn’t give you the answer. . .

(3) Talk to someone  

Talk to a friend, a colleague, someone who has been in your shoes or someone who can be a sounding board for you and help you talk it out.  

Or, hire an expert, a consultant or coach. Someone who can advise you and help you sort through the options and make the right decision.  

Or, talk to a lot of someones, e.g., your clients. Conduct a survey, find out what they think, what they want, what they’re willing to pay for.  

Or, talk to God. 

(4) Do what you want to do, not what you think you should do  

Damn the facts, do what you want to do.  

Imagine yourself choosing different options and see how each one feels. Not the solution or result, the “doing”. Your gut will tell you which one feels right, and your gut is usually right.

(5) Do nothing

True, making no decision is making a decision but sometimes that’s the best decision. Leave things where they are. What’s the worst that can happen?

Doing nothing might give you space and time you need to let the right answer come to you. Walk away for a day or a month and come back to the question with a fresh perspective. 

Your turn. What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

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How I stay sane in an insane world

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Dwight Eisenhower said, “Never waste a minute thinking about people you don’t like.” 

Yeah, but there are so many of them, says I. And so many ideas I don’t like, too. 

Truth is, unless I have a very good reason for thinking about negative things, I don’t do it. 

I’ll admit, this takes practice. It’s only natural to get angry when some buffoon says something that flies in the face of logic or tradition or denigrates someone I like and trust. Unfortunately, as someone who reads the news every day, this kind of buffoonery is omnipresent. 

What do I do? Mostly, I read or listen to people who are paid to deal with the dark side and let them summarize it for me. 

I dive in, get the gist of the story, shake my head, and go back to whatever I was doing before. I stay aware of what’s going on in the world but I don’t allow it to consume me. 

I spend little time on social media. I’ve blocked the blockheads and rarely comment, post, or share. Mostly, I check out what my daughter has been up to and peruse group posts on subjects I follow. 

If there’s someone I want to talk to, I’ll email them. 

And I keep busy, learning things I want to learn, working, reading, binge-watching Netflix, and spending time with my wife.

I also spend a lot of time thinking. 

I think about all the good in my life and the bright future that lies ahead. I think about what I want, not what I don’t want,  where I’m going, not where I’ve been.

When a negative thought intrudes on my mind, I replace it with the positive equivalent. If that doesn’t work, I distract myself and let the negative thought drift away into oblivion. 

And that’s how I stay sane in an increasingly insane world. 

How to use the Internet to make your phone ring

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How to get yourself to do something you don’t want to do

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Alrighty, you have a plan. You have written some goals and made a list of actions you need to take to achieve them. You’ve scheduled time during your day to do them.  

What do you do when you get to something on your list you really don’t want to do?

It happens to all of us. You feel resistance and procrastinate or find excuses for not doing it.

How do you get yourself to do things you don’t want to do?

One thing that works for me is to take the activity and carve it up into even smaller pieces. Something I can do that will only take five minutes, for example, or one simple step on a longer list. 

Sometimes, I just suck it up and do the dreaded thing anyway. If need be, I give myself permission to do it badly because there is value in crossing things off your list and because I know I can come back later and fix it. 

What if the problem persists? What if you’re trying to stick with an exercise routine, for example, or you have a big project and every time you sit down to work on it you feel like doing something else? 

Me? I bribe myself. 

My daily walks are part of my routine now but in the beginning, when I resisted getting out the door, I rewarded myself by listening to podcasts I didn’t have time for during the rest of the day. 

When I’m having trouble making progress on a writing project, I’ll do something similar: give myself ten minutes to watch a video channel I like after thirty minutes of writing.

I’ll bet you do something like this, too. 

It turns out this technique has a name. It’s called “temptation bundling”–pairing something you love to do or would prefer to do with something you’re trying to get yourself to do. 

But this is nothing new. Our parents taught us this. Remember, “No dessert until you eat your veggies” and “No TV until you finish your homework”?

Yeah, like that.

Which reminds me, now that this is done I can go get my second cup of coffee.

Marketing is easier when you know the formula

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How to get better ideas

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As lawyers, we tend to spend less time and energy on getting ideas than performing due diligence on other people’s ideas. And yet, we need ideas to grow.

We need ideas for marketing and managing our practice, for personal development, and for creating content (articles, blog posts, videos, emails, etc.)

And, although we rarely develop new services (or products),  getting ideas for these can help us improve our existing services.

So, ideas are good. Now, where do we get ’em?

Read a lot. And take notes. 

Observe what other people are doing, in your field and in other fields or businesses, and take notes.

Talk to people about what they’re doing. Yep, more notes. 

And then, put those notes away, forget about what you’ve read or observed, and let the ideas come to you. Let your subconscious mind find them and bring them to your attention. 

Take walks. Take vacations. Play games, watch sports, get some sleep. The ideas will come because your subconscious mind never sleeps. 

It will sift through your thoughts about the things you read and observed and wrote in your notes and find ideas that are in sync with your goals and desires and vision for the future. 

In other words, it will show you your best ideas. 

When those ideas don’t come, after a period of time I re-read my notes. Sometimes, the idea pops out at me. Sometimes I put the notes away again and come back to them later. And sometimes, the ideas don’t come, probably because I’m not ready for them, so I keep reading, observing and making notes.

The key to getting better ideas is getting lots of ideas. And then letting the best ideas come to you. 

Ideas for marketing your services

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Why I turned down law review

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In law school, I was invited to join law review. I turned it down, much to the chagrin of my father who thought I was making a mistake.

I did it so I could concentrate on school and the Bar exam.

I worked for my father in law school and the plan was that I would continue doing so after I graduated. So I didn’t need to add law review to a resume to get a job.

I got good grades and passed the Bar the first time. I don’t what would have happened if I’d had the additional burden of law review eating into my schedule.

Writing for law review would certainly have improved my research and writing skills, which could have helped me as a practicing lawyer.

So, did I make a mistake?

To answer that, I have to be honest about another reason I said no: fear.

I remember thinking, What if I’m not good enough? What if I can’t handle the work?

Yes, I knew I had been recommended by a professor who apparently thought I could handle it, but it wasn’t his ego on the line.

Unfortunately, I’ll never know if I could have handled it, so to that extent, I regret turning it down.

Throughout my career, I’ve successfully navigated more than a few challenges. Once I opened my own office, for example, I had to figure out how to bring in clients.

I had to do it, so I did.

Which makes me wonder, What if I hadn’t had a job waiting for me out of law school and needed to add something like law review on a resume?

What are you not doing because you don’t have to?

How to get maximum referrals

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Breakage

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Retail stores allocate a percentage of their revenue for breakage, to cover losses due to damaged, defective, or stolen inventory.

They also use it as a warning signal. If they allow 2% for breakage, for example, and they have a month or a quarter with 3% breakage, they know they have a problem with something (or someone) and can look into it.

Lawyers should also have a breakage fund. Your accountant may have already set this up for you under “contingencies”.

Contingencies cover uninsured losses: claims, deductibles, lost deposits, bad checks, embezzlement, write-offs, and so on.

If you don’t already have this, consider it. Allocate, say, 1% of your net revenue, to cover contingencies. Deposit the money in a separate account, to prevent yourself from dipping into it.

If you sustain a loss, you’re covered. If you don’t, you can move the funds into savings or another account.

There’s another type of contingency fund you might consider.

Call it a “mad money” account. Or a “don’t worry so much” account.

You can use it to buy the deluxe version of something you want when you can only justify the basic version.

You can use it to buy things you want but don’t need.

You can use it to cover a loss when you buy something you never use or that breaks and can’t be returned.

Without guilt. Without giving it a second thought.

If you’re the type that beats yourself up when you make a mistake, this might be for you. If you’re typically tight-fisted about your budget, this might be for you.

Put $100 a month or $200 a month or $500 a month into a “I don’t care” account and use it to cover mistakes, flings, extravagances, and losses.

Take some chances. Live a little. Don’t worry so much about mistakes.

Breakage happens. But now, you’ve got it covered.

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How to finish what you start

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You know that business project you started last year and never finished? That great idea that had the potential to multiply your income or significantly change your life?

Yeah, me too.

We’re good at coming up with ideas and starting things, aren’t we? Why aren’t we good at finishing them?

Lots of reasons. Fear is a biggie.

But rather than psychoanalyze ourselves, we’re better served figuring out what to do about it.

How can we finish more of the things we start?

One of the best solutions I’ve found is to make sure you have some skin in the game.

Put your reputation or your money on the line so that you are compelled to finish. Let fear work for you instead of against you.

Investing a lot of money into a goal creates an emotional commitment to the goal. Your fear of losing your investment will push you to see it through.

Sign up for a class and get someone to take it with you. They’ll hold you accountable to show up when you might otherwise find excuses to quit.

Announce your project to your email list, friends, or colleagues, and promise to provide regular updates. When you find yourself slacking off, you’ll remember that you’re going to have to explain yourself and pick up the pace.

Projects are easy to start and just as easy to abandon. As Jim Rohn put it, “What’s easy to do is also easy to not do”.

Get some skin in the game and make it not so easy to not do.

A simple way to get a lot more referrals

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What successful people do with their time

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I just read an article about time and how we use it. “Unsuccessful people spend time,” the author said. “Successful people invest time.

“Spending time means consuming it by watching TV, playing games, hanging out with friends. That much is clear. What is not as clear, and wasn’t addressed by the author, is the idea that we also consume time when we do our work.

Meeting with clients, drafting documents, arguing motions, and everything else that defines being a practicing lawyer consumes time. Yes, we earn income when we do that but, by and large, that’s all we earn. It’s an equal exchange–our time (and work product) for money.

Investing time is different.

Investing time means doing things that can provide a bigger return relative to the time invested. Building relationships with influential people is a good example.

What is the value to you of a new referral source or business contact who provides information or leads, sends traffic to your website or introduces you to influential leaders?

Incalculable.

Investing time also means doing activities that build key skills and knowledge. Improving trial skills, speaking skills, networking skills, and sales skills, for example, can provide you with value far beyond the time you invest in acquiring those skills.

But it’s not just the increased value we derive by investing in people and skills. It’s that the value we get compounds.

One relationship leads to two. Two leads to ten. Improved marketing skills bring you new clients, repeat clients, and higher paying clients. It can quadruple your income in a short period of time, as it did for me.

How much of your valuable time do you spend each week? How much do you invest?

The answer will predict your future.

How much time do you invest in learning how to bring in more referrals?

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Screw motivation

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You don’t feel like calling that client, writing that article, or researching that motion.

So what?

You don’t need to “feel” like doing anything to do it. You just do it.

You do it because you have to. Because bad things will happen if you don’t. Because as Steven Pressfield writes in The War of Art, “At some point, the pain of not doing it becomes greater than the pain of doing it.”

Ah, but what about all the optional stuff? The things you need to do to accomplish your goals that don’t have immediate negative consequences if you don’t do them?

Like marketing.

You know you have to do it because if you don’t, your income will shrink or you won’t achieve the goals you (say you) want. But you still procrastinate.

The answer–the way you get things done without motivation–is to establish systems and habits that align with getting those things done.

When you schedule 15 minutes a day on your calendar for marketing (or whatever) and commit to it, you will see progress. Even if you don’t feel like making the calls or scratching out the words, you’ll do it because the alternative is to sit quietly, thinking about what you’re not doing.

(Note, if 15 minutes is still too much for you to handle, start with 5 or ten.)

Checklists can play a part in your systems. It’s easier to do something you don’t want to do when you have a pre-determined sequence in front of you that leads off with easy tasks that help you start.

Breaking up tasks into bite-sized pieces can help. Ten minutes of assembling and organizing your notes and ideas (while you’re watching the game) will make it easier to take the next step.

Ask yourself, “What could I do to help me get [whatever] done?” Would coming in an hour early twice a week help? Would hiring someone to do the most difficult or disagreeable parts help?

There are answers. You can get things done without motivation. But only if you have enough internal motivation to do it.

15 minutes a day can help you get more referrals

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A daily habit for people who think too much

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My wife and I are talking about getting a new car. We’re considering a hybrid, talking about features, costs, and gas mileage. My wife asks me a question. “I think better on paper,” I tell her, and reach for a pad and pen.

By writing things down, I see things more clearly. I can weigh the pros and cons, do the math, and figure out what I think. That’s harder to do when everything is still in my head.

Author Joan Didion said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

Yeah, me too.

While back, I talked to you about “keystone habits,” positive habits that have a ripple effect on other areas of your life. Regular exercise, for example, doesn’t just improve your physical health, it can improve mental well-being, give you more self-confidence and more self-discipline to develop other positive habits.

Journaling is another keystone habit. It can help you see what you think, work through problems, explore ideas, and clarify priorities. Benjamin Franklin kept a journal. So did Mark Twain, Thomas Edison, and many other great thinkers.

Take five minutes a day and write something in a journal. It might not make you a great thinker but it can help you figure out what you think, what you’re looking at, and what it means.

Earn more, work less. Start here

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