Let’s play tag

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I add tags to all my notes and tasks and projects. They help me identify things and find things and organize everything into a workable system.

I have action-related tags, contextual tags (for people and places, etc.), tags for each Area of Focus, e.g., Work, Personal, and reference tags. Each project has it’s own tag.

I use @ and # and other symbols or numbers to group tags together, allowing me to nest tags under top-level categories (in Evernote).

I often experiment with different tags, to see which ones I like best, which ones I use most, and which ones fall into the “it sounded good at the time” category.

Sometimes, and by sometimes I mean all the time, I find myself having too many tags. I create a new tag for something only to discover that I already had it, or something very similar. For this reason, I periodically go on a “tag cleanse” to tidy things up.

Anyway, if you’re into tags like I am, or if you do something similar with labels or notebooks or folders, I thought I’d share a few of the tags I use, or have used, because you might find something you like.

For the sake of simplicity, I won’t include reference tags and I’ll use only #hashtag symbol:

  • #incubate (something to think about and come back to)
  • #decide (similar to #incubate)
  • #checklist (#weekly-review, for example)
  • #daily, #weekly, #monthly, #yearly, and #recurring 
  • #emergency (if I get locked out of the car, I can quickly find the number for road service)
  • #needs-reply
  • #remember (things I want to remember–quotes, mantras, habits)
  • #r/r (read/review)
  • #defer-to-do (something I plan to do later and don’t want to look at until then) 
  • #defer-to-review (something I don’t want to consider until later)
  • #wip (work in progress, so I can find things I haven’t finished)
  • #bm (bookmark; external or internal, ie., within the app.–links, sites, phone numbers, etc.)
  • #due, #pay, #buy, #amazon
  • #mit (most important task)
  • #on-hold, #pending, #planned (for projects)

I also use (or have used) some of the usual gtd-type tags:

  • #today or #t 
  • #next or #n
  • #soon
  • #later
  • #now
  • #waiting
  • #s/m (someday/maybe)
  • #errand
  • #call
  • #name (people I know or work with)
  • #computer, #home
  • #tickler and #calendar 
  • #do
  • #doing
  • #done
  • #mon, #tues, #wed, etc. 
  • #jan, #feb, #mar, etc. 
  • #5-min, #15-min, etc.
  • #high, #medium, #low (energy level needed for the task)
  • #1, #2, #3, #A, #B, #C (priority)

So, there you go. I’ve shown you mine, how about showing me yours? Because you can never have too many tags. 

My Evernote for Lawyers ebook

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Clumping, bunching, bundling and blocking

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Let me look at my calendar. . . this morning, as soon as I get back from court, I have an appointment with a new client. That’s all I have scheduled so the rest of the day, I’ll review files, do dictation, and catch up on calls and email.

Sound familiar?

It’s nice. We like having a flexible schedule, don’t we? And a little variety keeps things interesting.

But is it the most efficient way to work?

Some people say no. They group their tasks together into clumps or bundles or blocks of time. They’ll make calls for one hour, for example, and then turn to something else.

If you look at their calendar, you’ll see blocks of time throughout the day and week: one hour mid-morning for email, two hours in the afternoon for client meetings, and so on.

They say there are advantages to “time blocking”:

  • You know in advance what you’re going to work on so you’re ready for it
  • You avoid the loss of momentum associated with “context switching”
  • You can schedule time for “deep work”–research or writing, for example, without distractions or feeling like you should be doing something else
  • You are in charge of your schedule; you can pace yourself and your energy
  • You don’t fall down the rabbit hole by checking email all day

Some take this a step further. They dedicate certain days of the week (or half-days) for specific tasks. For example, they might schedule Mondays and Wednesday afternoons for working on files, Tuesdays and Thursdays for seeing clients, Fridays for admin.

Some people schedule entire weeks for specific projects. The second week of each month might be dedicated to all things marketing, for example.

Is time blocking more efficient? Yes. Clearly. But that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.

You may have limited control over your schedule. Your work may naturally have periods of feast and famine–signing up clients every day for a week and then no new clients for the next three weeks, or a two-week trial followed by no court for a month. Or you might simply enjoy a more free-floating approach.

I prefer a less rigid schedule, but I often work in bunches. After I send this, I’ll go through all my email before moving onto something else.

Do what works best for you, even if it’s not “best practices”.

Some people use todo lists, some put everything on their calendar, and some (most?) use both.

But there are outliers who don’t use either one.

They must spend a fortune on sticky-notes.

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What’s next for you?

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It’s the middle of the year. It’s also the middle of the month and the middle of the week. For some, it’s also the middle of the day.

You’ve accomplished some things this year, yes? The question is, “What’s next?”

What project are you working on now? What do you plan to start soon?

It may be vacation time for you and your clients. Things may be slow. But that won’t last. Before you can say, “motion granted,” the holidays will be here and we’ll be on the cusp of a new year.

My advice: use this time to figure out what’s next for you (if you haven’t already done that) and begin working on it.

Get thee ready for the coming storm.

You should do this even if things aren’t slow right now because you have to stay ahead of the game.

Where do you start?

When I start a new project, the first step I take is to write down the desired outcome. What do I want and why do I want it. Nothing fancy.

This may change. The project may expand in scope, contract, or the entire idea may become something else.

Then, since I’ve probably been thinking about this for awhile and have some notes, I gather up those notes and divide them into three categories: Tasks, Resources, and Notes.

Tasks are things I have to do or might have to do, even if that means thinking about something or doing a little exploratory research.

Resources are links and docs or people I might need.

Notes is for everything else.

And with that, the project is begun.

I give myself permission to put it aside, however. If I’m not ready to move forward on a project or I find something else I want to (or need to) work on, I put the project aside.

I have more than a few of these residing on my hard drive, ready for me to pick them up again.

Grab a legal pad or digital device and flesh out a project to work on over the next few months. If you have several options, choose the one that excites you (scares you) because that’s probably the one you should be working on.

If you decide you’re not ready for it, put your notes aside and flesh out another project. And don’t dillydally. It may be the start of summer but I can already hear the sound of sleigh bells in the distance.

I keep my notes in Evernote. Here’s my Evernote for Lawyers ebook

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Fix what’s broken

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If you’re like me (and you are), you have one or more habits that often lead to problems or wasted time.

Back in the days when I was making a lot of calls, I had a habit of waiting until I finished the calls before scheduling the follow-ups. I liked to get through the calls as quickly as possible, and then do “paperwork”.

With some people, the follow-up was two days. With others, two weeks. It depended on the situation and the conversation.

The problem was, after the calls, even an hour later, I often couldn’t remember enough context to decide the best time to follow-up and had to go through all my notes again to make that decision.

Sometimes, I got busy with other things and the follow-up fell through the cracks. I would up with a bunch of people I needed to contact but no schedule for doing it.

The fix was simple.

I decided I would take a few seconds after each call to record a follow-up date. It might be a specific date or just “3 days” but I wrote something down before I went onto the next call.

Problem solved.

How about you? What do you often do inefficiently? Do you have any bad habits that slow you down or lead to errors?

Do you forget to put things on your calendar? Avoid dealing with certain types of situations (clients, emails, problems) and find them getting worse? Do you misfile things and have trouble finding them later?

These are relatively easy to fix, and worth fixing.

Create a new habit, a checklist, a reminder, or delegate the task to someone who can do it for you.

Figure out what you need to do and do it. You’ll save time and have fewer things to fix later.

Does your marketing need fixing? Here’s what I recommend

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Greased lightning

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I woke up with the words “low friction” in my head. To me, this means reducing complexities and removing bottlenecks in what I do, so I can get things done more quickly and with less effort.

I guess I’m thinking about this because I’m on (another) simplification binge.

I look at what I’m doing and ask, “How can I make this (app, process, tool) simpler or work better?”

Sometimes, the answer is to use one app to do a job instead of two. The second app might be better at what it does, but I have to weigh that against what I gain by not having to learn it, update it, and use it.

Sometimes, it means getting back to basics.

As you may know, I use a version of Getting Things Done to manage my tasks and projects. I’ve gotten sloppy about a few things, leading to a mind like mud rather than a mind like water.

Instead of doing things the way they’re supposed to be done, I fell into shortcutting the process and wound up complicating my life.

To fix things, I’ve gotten back to writing “next actions” the way they’re supposed to be–the single next action I can do to achieve the desired result or advance the project.

It only takes a few seconds to write down the task in “verb plus noun” format, and this really helps. Before, when I scanned my “Next Actions” list, I wasn’t sure what to do next.

Frankly, I didn’t want to look at my list at all.

When I look at my list now, instead of feeling resistance and confusion, I feel drawn to do things.

I’m also taking a little more time to flesh out projects by asking, “What’s the desired outcome?” and “What’s the next step?”

Doing this has helped me realize that some of the projects on my list shouldn’t be there. By moving them to the someday/maybe list, I have less stress (friction) and more time to focus on a shorter list of things I’m committed to doing.

Finally, I’m getting back to doing a weekly review. Now that I’m more intentional about next actions and projects, the weekly review is no longer the big mess it had become. It’s actually enjoyable.

No matter what apps or systems you use, if you find yourself lacking clarity, feeling resistance, or failing to get things done, I encourage you to simplify what you’re doing and how you do it.

Slow down (and assess what you’re doing) so you can speed up.

And if you don’t know what to do, go back to the basics.

The fundamentals of effective attorney marketing

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I’m up!

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I really don’t like “push” reminders. When I’m in the middle of doing something and I get a text or a pop-up from my calendar or an app (or both), reminding me that I should be doing something else. . .

Kinda annoying.

Like your dad reminding you to get up and get dressed for school. Or you’re watching your favorite show and your mom barges in and reminds you to finish your homework.

Yeah, that kind of annoying.

I still use reminders, but I’m thinking about turning them off for everything except appointments (and maybe for those, too.)

What’s the alternative? To do what I do every day for all of my tasks:

In the morning (or the night before if I remember to do it–hmmm, maybe I need a reminder for this. . .), I go through my calendar and task list and my projects and decide what I’m going to work on that day, and put this on a “Today” list.

I usually have 3 to 5 items on the list. Today, I have 7 tasks on the list. Some days, I have only one or two.

Once I have my “Today” list, I close up everything else and keep that one list in front of me. Keeping it visible is the only reminder I need. If I go out, I have that list available to me on my phone.

If I finish my list and I want to do more, my “next” list is always nearby, but not in front of me.

One list, no distractions or interruptions.

It’s a digital version of what I used to do in my law practice with file folders. I’d make a stack of what I needed to work on that day, start at the top and work my way through it.

I also had a desk calendar to see the day’s appointments.

No annoying reminders.

Yes, my secretary would remind me if I forgot something, but only if I forgot something (which I usually didn’t).

As I write this, I think I’ve convinced myself to turn off reminders.

And with that, I’m off for another cup of coffee. No reminder necessary.

Evernote for Lawyers ebook

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Organizing books and files

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I have no life. That’s what some people would say if they saw me reading an article about the different ways to organize your bookshelves.

Behold a few of the ways:

  • Alphabetical, By Title
  • Alphabetical, By Author
  • By Genre
  • Chronologically
  • By Publication Date
  • By Why You Read them
  • By How Much You Like Them
  • By Color
  • By Size

What’s missing? Right, no mention of the Dewey Decimal System. Who are these whipper snappers?

Okay, I don’t use the Dewey Decimal System. I very loosely group books by topic. But since I’ve reduced my physical book collection from thousands of books down to one bookcase, it really doesn’t matter.

I do have thousands of digital files (and Kindle books) and for those, I rely primarily on search and tags.

I also organize digital reference files alphabetically. That way, I can browse through categories. That helps when I don’t know what I have (so I don’t know what to search for) or I’m looking for ideas.

In my law office, I filed client files alphabetically. I tried other systems but alphabetical (client last name, client first name; for litigation, client name vs. (or adv.) opposing party) was simple and effective.

I also set up a file number system–two digits for the year, followed by a hyphen, and then a four digit sequential number, starting with 1001.

The 25th file opened this year would have this file number 19-1025. I’m not sure how I came up with this but it gave me another way to track “come ups” (ticklers) and statutes in a paper calendar.

I know, fascinating.

Actually, it is. I think most people are interested in how others organize things.

So, what do you do?

How do you organize your client files and reference files (paper and/or digital)?

Okay, I’ll bite: how do you organize your books?

I’ll bet more people organize their books by color than by The Dewey Decimal System, but you never know. Steve?

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Stop now, what’s that sound?

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You know that little voice inside your head that tells you to stop playing Fortnite or whatever it is that you’re doing instead of what you should be doing.

That, that voice.

When you hear that voice, and listen to it, all is well. You get back to work (or start doing what you should be doing).

What about when you don’t hear that voice?

For times like that, you need a prompt.

Maybe a recurring task that comes up when you’re planning your day. Or a sticky note on your monitor that says, “Procrastinating?” Or an alarm or reminder on your phone.

Whatever it is, it should prompt you to focus–so you can get your most important tasks done.

Some suggestions:

  • “What is the most valuable use of my time right now?”
  • “What is the most important thing I need to do today?”
  • “What is the ONE thing I can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary” (from The One Thing)

Of course, there’s another way to go about this. Instead of a reminder to focus on what you should be doing, what if you had already done it?

What if you did your most important (difficult, unpleasant, valuable) task first?

Mark Twain said:

“If it’s your job to eat a frog — it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat 2 frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

If you do that, you’ll have the rest of the day to play Fortnite. Or Frogger. Or read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

If your ONE THING is to get more referrals, here’s how

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Gotta minute?

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I did something different today. I added a few time-oriented tags to my task management set up: #5min, #10min, #15min, and #30min.

That’s nothing new in task-management world, but it is for me. I’ve previously avoided using a time-estimate tag because I’m notoriously bad at estimating how long something will take.

I think organizing some notes will take ten minutes and an hour later, I’m still at it.

So, why am I re-thinking this?

Because I realized that if I allocate ten minutes for something and after ten minutes I’m not even close to finished, it doesn’t matter. At least I’ve worked on the thing for ten minutes.

So, instead of thinking about these tags as “estimates” I’m going to think about them as “allocations”. “How long I’ll work on this task” instead of “how long I think this task will take”.

In a way, this is a form of time-blocking, using very small blocks of time. Five minutes to check email, ten minutes for brainstorming ideas, 15 minutes for research.

Maybe after I do this for a while, I’ll get better at estimating. I hope so. Because when I’m sitting in a doctor’s office and I have five minutes, I’d like to be able to call up my list of 5-minute tasks and actually get one of them done.

Allocate some time to get more referrals

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Do you take work home with you?

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I read an article about how a manager at Microsoft organizes the home screen on her smart phone.

She groups the apps by the way she uses them, as I’m sure most of us do, and by color, which sounds challenging.

She also uses a separate phone for work, so when she’s working, she’s not looking at, well, other stuff.

I’m guessing you don’t have a separate work phone, but do you do anything to keep your work separate from the rest of your life?

On your phone, do you have folders or screens set up for work apps, and if you do, do you assiduously avoid them when you’re not working?

On your computer or tablet, do you have groups of apps or browser tabs for different parts of your life?

Do you have a separate work computer? If you work in an office, do you often take work home with you?

Me? One phone, I work from home, and I don’t draw any hard lines.

You might find me playing a game in the middle of the day, or doing work at 1am. I might take a day off in the middle of the week, or work through an entire three-day weekend.

That’s just how I roll.

I can see why people need to keep things separate. Work when they work, shut it off when they go home.

My daughter does that. But then, she has a separate work phone and computer. And she’s not an attorney.

Just saying.

How to get more referrals from other professionals

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