What are you working on?


Every lawyer should be able to answer this question quickly, and they can if they make a simple list of their current projects, cases or clients.

You probably know this, but are you doing it? Is your list up to date? If not, have a seat and start writing. You’ll thank me later.

Your list should be brief. No more than perhaps 5 or 10 current projects or cases, because you can’t do your best work if you’re juggling dozens of projects at the same time. Everything else should go on another list.

Your list should be available on all of your devices, or in a journal or notebook you keep with you, or even a page you keep in your pocket, so you can continually remind yourself of your priorities and not overlook anything.

And your list should identify the “next action” for each project, case, or client, so you always know what to do, ahem, next.

Your list will help you plan your day and your week, help you avoid taking on too much work at the same time, prevent you from falling behind or feeling the need to rush anything, and help you be more proactive about your work (and life).

One more thing.

Besides your list, you also need support material that you link to or can easily access.

You may have extensive documents, notes, and other materials in a case file or project file, but you shouldn’t have to go digging every time you need to know something.

So, for each project, case, or client, create a one- or two-page summary of notes, resources, and upcoming tasks.

Now you have a system for getting and staying productive. You’re welcome.


By the inch, it’s not a cinch; by the mile, it still might take a while


Taking massive action on a project is a great way to get it started. If you’re launching a new business, for example, you’ll be able to see if your idea has legs and is worth pursuing. You might see things you hadn’t expected and be able to correct course. And if you make a lot of progress, it can give you the confidence to continue.

If you don’t, you can move on to something else.

But we don’t always have the time to take massive action, which is why some people advocate doing a little at a time.

Do something every day, they say. Eventually, you’ll reach your goal.

The problem with this is that things usually take longer than we imagine, and if we don’t see much happening, we can get discouraged or distracted by other things.

So, what’s the best approach?

Sometimes, you should run, sometimes you should walk, and sometimes, you should do both. Run like crazy to get things going and then pace yourself.

And if you’re not sure, tiptoe and see if you want to continue.

How do you decide? Consider how much you know about the subject, what resources you have available, and how much else you have on your plate.

But that’s only part of it.

The biggest factor is how you feel about the project.

Is it something you’re excited about? Can’t stop thinking about? Is it keeping you up at night or is it something that sounds good but you’re still not sure?

Trust your gut, my friend. It got you this far and it can take you the rest of the way.


The novelty effect and writing


A writer says that when he is blocked or stuck or unmotivated to work on or finish a piece, he knows he has to come at it with fresh eyes.

One way he does that is switch to a different “word processor”—computer or phone or tablet.

I do that, too. It works.

The author thinks it is the “novelty effect” which was first discovered in the 1930s during an experiment at a factory where researchers changed the lighting levels to see if it would improve the productivity of the workers.

When they raised the lighting level, productivity went up. When they lowered the level, it also went up.

Which told them it wasn’t the lighting, it was the novelty of the changed environment.

The author says, “It almost doesn’t matter what type of change you make to your work environment — just so long as you make a change. So long as it renders your work slightly askew, you get a novelty effect.“

I agree. Our brains like novelty. It helps us focus. This is true no matter what the task, project, or goal.

If you’re stuck, change something—about the task or how you do it. Changing the place, the tools, the time of day, the order of the steps—anything different can trigger the novelty effect and help you move forward.

For writing projects, another writer has an interesting idea. He says he does all his writing “one sentence per line”.

Sentence, hit return, next sentence.

(Note, this is for his eyes only. He doesn’t publish his writing like this.)

He’s been doing it this way for 20 years and cites several benefits to writing this way.

He doesn’t specifically mention the novelty effect, but the next time I’m stuck, I’m going to try it.


Audit thyself


Once a year, or at least once in a while, sit down with your bad self and figure out how things are going.

Take inventory of what you have, what you want, and what you do, and see if you are on track to meet your goals.

Start with how you spend your time.

What do you do every day and every week to produce value for yourself and your clients?

Look at your calendar, task list, projects, and your plans for the next few months. What could you eliminate or combine with other activities? What could you delegate, outsource, or automate?

Cut out the fat and you’ll have more time to do things that produce more value, or more time for yourself.

Then, do the same thing for your expenses.

What could you cut out or cut down? Where should you consider spending more?

Changing these two areas—time and money—might allow you to claw back a few thousand dollars a month or free up several hours a week.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

You should also inventory your cases and clients. Some are worth more than others in terms of revenue and overall profitability. Which ones should you focus on? Which ones should you consider letting go?

Are you employees worth what you pay them? Maybe you should pay them more, or maybe it’s time to have that talk.

Examine the tech you’re using. Is it time for an upgrade? Are you still using something that is long overdue to be retired? Could one piece of tech replace two?

Examine your workflows. Go through your checklists, forms, and templates, and look for ways to make things more efficient and more effective.

Auditing your practice (and personal life) will help you reduce overhead, simplify (and shorten) your workday, and help you get more results with less effort.

That’s an audit you can look forward to.


Forget about it


Contrary to popular advice, you don’t need to write down all of your ideas. In fact, it might be better if you don’t.

David Allen says, “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” He says we should record our ideas in a “trusted system” so we don’t use conscious energy thinking about them, but we won’t “forget” them.

And we all do that, don’t we?

But there’s an argument that says we’re wasting our time.

The theory is, if you can’t remember an idea, it’s not the right idea for you. So instead of writing down your idea, forget about it. Turn it over to God or the universe or your subconscious mind.

If you never recall the idea, it probably wasn’t worth the grey matter it was written on.

The best ideas either stick with you or come back to you. In fact, when an idea is right, and the timing is right, you won’t be able to stop thinking about it.

As Victor Hugo put it, “Nothing else in the world… not all the armies… is so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

Besides, when was the last time you checked your repository of ideas and actually used one?

It happens. But the best ideas don’t need you to find them, they find you.

You know that idea you can’t stop thinking about? Oh, you might get busy for a while and think about other things, but then suddenly, you remember it—and get excited.

Yeah, that idea. That’s the one you should run with.

Ideas come and go. But some ideas hang on. Your job is to listen. And when you can’t let go of an idea, wrap your arms around it and hold it close.

Until then, forget about it.


Murder your darlings


Relax, it’s a literary metaphor, suggesting that when you edit your writing you cut out some of your best passages, your ‘darlings,‘ to leave room for the even better ones.

Make your writing lean by removing the fat.

That’s good advice for everything we do. A romantic version of the Pareto Principle (aka, The 80/20 Rule)—prioritizing the “precious few” over the “trivial many”.

If you’re like me, things often take longer than they need to. Projects that might be completed in a weekend are still in the planning stages weeks or months down the road.

Sometimes, it is our inner perfectionist bedeviling us. Yeah, we should murder him, too.

But it might simply be we have too much on our plate.

The simple solution—do less.

When doing research, focus on the key cases and arguments. Give yourself two hours to distill the essentials, not two weeks to categorize the entire library.

With tasks and projects, choose a few (at a time) and put the rest on the back burner.

Use fewer tools or systems to do the job and don’t get seduced by productivity porn.

When we have fewer options, fewer things going on in our life, we can focus on the precious few and do them well.

We can accomplish more and have plenty of time to attend our darlings’ funeral.

If you only use one marketing strategy, make it this


Focus on what you can control


With marketing, or anything else, there are things you can control and things you can’t. Do your sanity a favor. Don’t focus on, measure, or worry about things you can’t control.

You can’t control how many prospective clients will book an appointment after they see your presentation or read your email. But you can control how many presentations you do and how many emails you send.

You can’t control how much traffic you’ll get to your blog or how many visitors will share your content. But you can control how many posts you write.

You can’t control how many bloggers will say yes to your offer to write a guest post. But you can control how many you ask.

I know, you want to sign up more clients, get more followers or subscribers, and put more butts in seats. You want to get more referral sources, bring in more six- and seven-figure clients or cases, and live the freak’in dream.

But you can’t control any of that. You can only control what you do, not what you want to happen as a result.

You can ALSO set a results-based goal—to sign up 5 new clients this month, for example—but keep that in the back of your mind.

In the front of your mind, and in your daily or weekly planner, focus on how many ads you’ll run, how many emails you’ll write, or how many people you’ll talk to.

Here are lots of things you can do


Thinking is working


Writers say this a lot because they think a lot. They think about what they’re working on and how to improve it and they think about new ideas they might want to use. This is their process.

So when someone accuses them of goofing off, they might take offense. They know they are working—because they’re always working, even if they’re not putting more words on the page.

Hey lawyers, why can’t we do the same? Thinking is part of our process, too.

We don’t have to always do things people recognize as productive. We don’t have to get off our duff and call someone, write something, or review something.

We can stay on our duffs and think.

We can go for a walk or a drive, take a long bath, meditate, listen to music, or go outside and get some sun on our face, and let our brain do its thing.

No guilt. No justifying. No agenda. Just thinking.

Because thinking is working.

One suggestion, though. Make sure you have something with you to record your thoughts. You’ll want to see them again, to see what you thought and note what you thought about what you thought.

Throughout his life, Jim Rohn kept a journal. He said it wasn’t a diary, just “a place to record ideas”.

If you’ve ever had trouble keeping a journal, maybe you were asking too much of it. Maybe it would be easier and more valuable to you if you thought of it as simply a place to record ideas.

Because we both know you have a lot of them.


When good habits go bad


You’ve got a morning routine to start your day and another for shutting down in the evening. A routine for opening new files and a routine for closing them. A routine for interviewing new clients, writing articles, and posting on social. 

You do them the same way every day, and those routines serve you well. They save you time because you don’t have to think about what to do or how to do it.  

You just do it. 

And because you do it over and over again, you get better at it. 

But the strength of your routines and habits is also their weakness. 

When we do things repeatedly, without thinking, we typically don’t look for ways to improve what we’re doing. If what we’re doing is working, why should we? 

We should because the world changes. There are new tools and processes that can help us do things faster or better. 

And because we change—we’re not the same person we were when we started the routine or acquired the habit. 

Which is why we should periodically review our habits and routines and look for ways to improve them. 

I did that recently when I started my day re-writing my digital task list on paper, in order to be more mindful about what I was doing. I only did it for a few days before realizing I didn’t like it or need it, but I learned something about what I was putting on my list and changed it. 

I realized I was trying to fill my day with too many tasks and was often left scrambling to finish them or disappointed that I hadn’t. I put fewer tasks on my list now and have more time and energy to do important things. 

I may not have realized what I was doing had I not experimented with re-writing my list. 

I regularly try different apps, tools, and websites. I get lots of ideas that way. Sometimes, I find a better tool than the one I’ve been using and replace it.

Trying new things can also be fun. We are curious creatures and enjoy novelty. It makes the world a more interesting place. 

Yes, trying new things can also be a distraction from doing our work. But who says all distractions are bad?


You need all 3


You’ve got a new case, project, business, or idea and you want it to be successful.

You create a plan—what you want to accomplish, the resources you’ll need, research to do, the first step and the steps after that. Your plan might be a simple list of tasks or ideas, but but the process of thinking it through and writing it down helps you clarify what you want and what you need to do to get it.

“Doing” is obviously the most important part. The actions you take and how well you do them are the mechanism that delivers your results.

Most of us do the first two well enough. We plan and we do. Where most people drop the ball, myself included, is with what we do after that.

Once we have some results, we need to review what happened.

Reviewing means:

  • Noting the size and scope of the outcome. How many leads or subscribers, how many new clients, how much revenue? Did you hit the goal? Make a profit? Get what you expected?
  • Thinking about the process. What did you do well, what could you have done better, what will you change?
  • (Optional): Getting feedback from others. Talk to your client, staff, partners, and other stakeholders. What do they think about the process and the results? What suggestions do they have for the future?
  • Using what you’ve learned to create a better plan or decide to kill the idea and try something else.

The review process might only take a few minutes, but it’s key to achieving sustained growth.

Plan, do, review. You need all 3.