Keys to effective goal setting


Despite all that has been written about the importance of goal setting and how to do it properly, many people get it wrong. For a long time, I was one of those people.

When you follow “the rules” and are continually frustrated with your results, its easy to think, “Why bother?” and give up. Which is what I did.

Eventually, I figured out why my goals weren’t working for me and made some changes. Those changes made a world of difference and I offer them to you:

  1. Set behavior goals, not outcome goals

It’s fun think about all of the goodness that awaits us once we achieve our goals, and it’s okay to do that. It’s okay to dream. But while dreams might point us in the right direction, they don’t help us to get where we want to go.

That’s because we can’t control our results. We can only control our behavior.

You can’t control how many clients will hire you or how much they will pay you, no matter how much effort you put into marketing. You can only control what you do.

So, set goals based on your activity–the actions you will take and how often you will take them.

Instead of goals based on increased income or how many new clients you’ll bring in, for example, set goals on:

  • The number of articles, presentations, or episodes you will create
  • How often you will email your list
  • How many introductory calls or emails to professionals you want to connect with
  • How many “touching base” emails you will send to former clients

When you build goals based on your own behavior, you have nearly complete control over those goals.

  1. Not too hot, not too cold

We like to think big, don’t we? We often set goals that are too big for us to handle.

If you find yourself regularly skipping days or weeks, postponing scheduled activities, or failing to put a check mark in the done column, you’ve probably chosen an activity goal that’s too big (or otherwise not right for you).

Your goals should be doable. A stretch, just out of reach, but not so difficult you almost never reach them.

But don’t go the other direction and set goals that are too small. That’s fine when you’re getting started and want to create the habit, but eventually, you need goals that allow you to make significant progress.

  1. Short-term is better than long-term

One year goals are too far down the road to be meaningful. Choose goals for the next 90 days or less.

What are your goals for this month or this week? What is your goal for today?

We live and function in the present. Day to day, week to week. That’s when we “do”. Long-term goals are dreams and we tend to romanticize them. Short-term goals are action-oriented. We either do them or we do not and you know this almost immediately and can correct course if you need to.

  1. Simple is better

The best plans for reaching your goals are short and simple. One page, one index card, one sentence on your daily calendar.

If your plan is complicated, you’ll spend too much time tinkering with it, or making excuses for why you’re not ready. You need to do more research, check out another resource, re-write or re-record one section.

Been there. Done that.

If your plan is simple, you can’t hide behind it and you’ll be more likely to take action.

At least that’s the plan.

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My latest productivity hack you might want to use


You’ve heard me say, “Plan tomorrow before tomorrow begins”. Make a list of what you intend to do each day so you can focus on your most important tasks, instead of being distracted by whatever might come up.

Sometimes I do that in the morning. Usually I do it the night before, when things are quiet and I can think about what I want to do. The next day, I know what’s on tap and I can immediately get to work.

I get my important tasks done early in the day, which means that no matter what else I do (or don’t do) the rest of the day, every day is productive.

As you know, I write a blog post/newsletter article every weekday and have done so for many years. Writing the post doesn’t take long. I can usually crank out a first draft in a few minutes. What takes time is figuring out what I want to talk about.

And sometimes, that can take a minute.

Recently, I made a small change to my workflow that makes things easier. I choose the topic for my blog the night before.

I go through my notes and choose an idea. I jot down a line or two or some bullet points, things I want to say about the topic. I might also add a working title.

That’s all. But that’s enough, because the next day I don’t have to do any of that, I can just start writing.

I get my post done quickly and I’m on to other things.

Anyway, you can use this idea even if you don’t write a blog or newsletter. You can use it to flesh out any project or case you’re working on.

Gather up your notes and resources and make a list of tasks or steps to do the next day.

Who will you call? What will you say? What do you need to research?

When you plan and organize your day the night before, your subconscious mind works on your project or post while you sleep.

Which is why the next day, your work is easier to start and quicker to finish.

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Maybe you should go on a diet


If you’re like many people, your work and personal life may have gained a lot of weight lately. And by that I mean you have too much to do that’s not getting done–because you have too much to do.

Too many tasks on your daily task list. Too many projects you’re working on or plan to work on soon. Too many commitments, responsibilities, and priorities.

You work hard but often end the day feeling like you got nothing done.

If this sounds familiar, you might want to put your life on a diet.

Once a year, or more often if you think it would help, schedule a quiet day to review your life and see what you can eliminate from that big plate of yours.

What are you doing that doesn’t need to be done? What can you do less of, or do less often? What can you delegate, automate, or do faster?

Look at the people in your life, the tools you use, and the processes you follow. There’s “fat” in there and you’ll do yourself a big favor by cutting it out.

Start by taking inventory. Make a list of everything you do in a typical day and week and note the amount of time you take to do it.

When your list is done, look at everything and make some decisions.

Nothing on your list should be sacred. Make every task and tool earn the right to continue in your life.

If you’re not sure, if you find yourself arguing to keep things the way they are, you might enlist the eyes and ears of someone who can be objective. Someone who might see things you can’t see, or don’t want to.

Make several passes through your list. On the first pass, add a label to indicate things that you can safely eliminate. Tools you don’t use, projects you are unlikely to do in this lifetime, people you really don’t want to speak to again.

On subsequent passes, identify projects you could move from “active” to “someday” or schedule to review them at a later date.

Think big. Cut your current projects or goals down to one or two in each area of your life and put the others out of sight.

But don’t ignore the small things. Collectively, they can take up a lot of time and energy.

Go for “lean” and “simple”. A small list of easy tasks and important projects, things you’re excited about and look forward to doing.

Favor projects with big potential. One big project that could transform your life instead of ten projects that probably won’t.

To get there, ruthlessly cut things you’re not certain you want to keep. For now, you’re just thinking and writing. You haven’t actually cut anything in the real world and you can always add something back if you change your mind.

There’s no right or wrong way to do this. Listen to your heart as much as your head. Favor things that make you happy as much as your most sacred obligations.

When you’re done, you should feel good about what remains. And feel good about all the time you reclaimed that you can now use to do important things and achieve your biggest goals.

If you “diet” day is successful, there’s just one more thing to do. Schedule your next diet day because if you’re like most of us, you’re going to gain back some of that weight.

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The need for speed


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”?


The problem with keeping a journal–and a surprisingly simple solution


Many of us who have kept a journal in the past, or are trying to do that now, face the challenge of keeping it up.

We get caught up in our day’s activities and don’t seem to find the time to do it. At the end of the day, we’re tired or have forgotten what we wanted to say. We miss a day and then another and soon, we’re not doing it anymore.

Which is a shame because a journal is a powerful tool for improving productivity, creativity, mindfulness, and more.

A journal can help us:

  • memorialize our days accomplishments
  • gain clarity about our goals and the path to achieving them
  • record ideas
  • improve our writing skills
  • prioritize our day
  • plan the future
  • make better decisions
  • track how we spend our time
  • track our daily state of mind
  • track our habits
  • record inspiring thoughts and ideas
  • and so much more

The solution? Instead of scheduling time to write in your journal, write in between your other tasks. It’s called “interstitial journaling” and for me, it’s just what the doctor ordered.

As you go about your day and think of something you need to do or want to remember, or you want to reflect on something you did well or something you want to improve, take a minute to write it down–in the moment.

No need to wait until it’s time for journaling.

Nor do you have to write it in an actual journal. Write it down in whatever you have available to you–your notes app, your task app, your legal pad, or your calendar.

Capture the thought or idea and get back to what you were doing. Do this throughout the day and at the end of the day, your journaling is done.

You might be recording notes about a file your working on when you have an idea about your upcoming presentation. Record that idea alongside your other notes.

No need to switch apps if you won’t want to, or wait until you’re working on the presentation.

Won’t those ideas get lost or buried under your other notes?

Not if you do this digitally and tag your thoughts or tasks or ideas. When you want to review your journal notes, click the tag or link to call them up. You can then transfer your journal notes to other apps if you want to, or keep them where they are.

When you get in the habit of journaling this way, you’ll find yourself doing more journaling than you ever thought possible. I write “journal” notes every day now, something I’ve never done before.

I don’t schedule time to write in a journal. I spend a few seconds, a minute or two, throughout the day writing a few lines here and there, between tasks or appointments or calls, or whenever I take a break. I write what I thought, how I felt, what I did and what else I want to do.

Not only has this made me more productive, it’s also liberating to be able to empty my head any time it fills up.

Keeping a journal this way is simple because your journal isn’t a special notebook, you don’t have to allocate time to write in it, and you don’t have to worry about having anything to say.

Write in between the cracks of life and you might be surprised at how much you have to say, and how easy it is to record it.

Do you keep a journal? Have your tried interstitial journaling?


More is better, unless it isn’t


The more books you read, the more likely you are to find the information you seek. The more people you know, the more likely you are to develop valuable relationships. The more marketing strategies you try, the more likely you are to find the one that works best for you.

All true. Unless they aren’t.

Because there’s a lot that can get in the way.

Reading a lot of books is a waste of time if they’re not the right books. The more people you engage with, the more opportunities there are for arguments and bad decisions. The more marketing strategies you use, the more opportunities there are to become distracted or spend time or money best spent on something else.

So, it depends.

Successful people get a lot done because they don’t try to do everything.

They reject most projects. Avoid most tasks. Take on fewer commitments.

Fewer projects started means less time spent on research, less money spent on failed ventures, and fewer projects abandoned. Fewer unfinished projects leads to more clarity and better results.

Fewer books read means fewer hours wasted reading things you already know or don’t need, and fewer opportunities to follow bad advice.

Fewer marketing strategies means less time spent learning and doing and supervising, and less time wasted trying to improve things that provide too little return.

The lesson?

Be selective, not exhaustive. Focus on high-value activities and high-potential projects. Take on fewer relationships, read fewer books, do fewer activities that don’t align with your most important values and goals.

Do less so you can accomplish more.

If you find yourself trying to do too much, working too hard and making too little progress, don’t increase your workload, reduce it.

Take a page from the most successful people in the world and regularly ask yourself, “What can I stop doing?” and “What or who can I avoid?”

Develop the habit of saying no to most things.

Because when you use the right strategies, cultivate the right relationships, and do the right things with your time and money, the results you achieve can be so much more.

Leverage is the key to bigger and better results.


Subscription fatigue is a thing


I watched a video by a guy who presented 5 reasons why he switched to a new app, replacing two others he’d been using. He did so, he said, “because subscription fatigue is a real thing.”

His first reason was cost. One app is cheaper than two and a free app (which he now uses) is cheaper still.

An app might only be $5 per month but $5 here and $5 there and before you know it, you might spend $1000 per year.

Of course the bigger cost of using too many apps, or the wrong apps, is the cost of our time.

Time to learn how to use the app, update it, hack it and customize it to our liking, watching videos about how others use the apps–is time better spent doing work.

Or is it?

The time we spend in app-land might be well spent if it allows us to get more out of those apps. If they help us save more time than we spend tweaking them, or help us earn more money, that’s a win.

There’s also the fun factor. I enjoy using some apps more than others. I’m sure you do, too. We probably use those apps more than others, and probably get more out of them.

Clearly, using one app instead of two, or simpler apps instead of more complex ones, provides less drag on our day. Some apps may do a better job at some things than others apps do, but we have to consider the extra overhead of using multiple apps.

When we look at other apps and compare them to the ones we use, we have to consider other factors:

  • Future proofing. Some apps are locked into propriety data formats, some aren’t. Some make it easy to export (and use) your data, some don’t.
  • Platforms: Can you use the app on all your devices? Mobile, tablet, desktop, cloud?
  • Security/redundancy: How safe is your data? What are your options if the site goes down or you can’t log in?
  • Features/development: Does it have what you need and want? Are new features being regularly added?
  • Speed: How quickly can you enter new information; how fast is search?
  • Support: Can you get help if and when you need it?
  • Training: Do the developers and/or user base show you how to use the app and how to incorporate it into your work?

I’ve tried a lot of apps and do my best to use as few as possible. When I find something I like, I stick with it, but continue to take new apps out for a spin.

Which means I spend way more time than I should, in pursuit of the perfect app.

It’s a blessing, and a curse.

Evernote for Lawyers


Learn more, remember more


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.


The game is afoot


One way to get more work done, especially work you aren’t otherwise inspired to do, is to make a game of it.

Jerry Seinfeld was said to have done this early in his career when he promised himself he would write at least one new joke each day.

Although he later disputed the details, he was said to make a game of it making a big X on his wall calendar for each day he met the goal. Eventually, he had a long chain of consecutive X’s, giving rise to the expression, “Don’t break the chain.”

The prize for winning this game? A massively successful career.

You can gamify your work with “achievement” goals, e.g., winning the case, signing up 5 new clients this month, or earning $500,000 this year.

You can also do it with “activity” goals, e.g., emailing 5 former clients a day for 90 days, writing one blog post each week for 12 consecutive weeks, or calling 3 professionals in your niche each week for a month.

Achievement goals provide their own reward. You won the case or signed up the clients. Be proud and enjoy the additional income.

Activity goals are a means to an end. Making those calls will eventually bring in more business. In the short term, you can also reward yourself for reaching them by taking some time off, buying something you have your eye on, or treating yourself to a steak dinner.

You can increase the odds of hitting your goal by competing with a friend, partner, or professional contact, to see who can reach the goal.

You can also increase your odds by making your goal public: mentioning it in your newsletter or on social media or telling your friends and asking them to hold you accountable.

Your goal might involve quantity (how much, how many), quality (5-star reviews, six-figure settlements), speed (getting it done by a certain date), or a combination.

Making a game of a goal can help you:

  • Overcome procrastination
  • Get more done
  • Get better results
  • Gain bragging rights
  • Challenge yourself
  • Have fun with your work

And don’t forget the streak dinner you promised yourself for reaching your goal, or, even better, the steak dinner your partner pays for when you reach the goal before she does.

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Take a break and read this


When you’re trying to work, getting distracted by a phone call, an alert, or your own thoughts about doing something else, can ruin your momentum. It can take many minutes to get back to where you were before that distraction, and let’s face it, too often you never do.

That’s why God created the phrase, “I’ll finish it tomorrow”.

And so, legions of productivity writers and speakers preach the value of eliminating distractions in your work day. Turn off your phone, close the other tabs on your browser, put on headphones and listen to white noise, they say, so you can focus and get your work done.

By and large, they’re right. I do some of these things myself.

But distractions aren’t entirely bad.

We watch sports or videos or play games or read fiction, in part, to distract ourselves from our problems, the news, and our own negative thoughts that sometimes plague us.

And that’s a good thing.

So, a few thoughts about the subject.

First, don’t feel guilty about taking breaks from your work or other responsibilities, to play a game or watch a video or three. If you enjoy doing it, do it. It’s good for your mental well-being.

Second, watch the time. Don’t play all day when there is work to be done. Yeah, that’s obvious, but we’ve all been guilty of telling ourselves, “one more video” or “one more game” and before we know it, it’s dinner time and we didn’t get much done.

Especially when working from home.

The solution is simple. When you take a break, set a timer and when the time is up, go back to breaking bricks.

Third, schedule regular breaks on your calendar. Time to play or goof off or close your eyes and do nothing. When we take scheduled breaks, we don’t feel guilty about playing for 20 minutes in the middle of the day.

When we don’t schedule breaks, however, when we allow distractions to just happen, that’s when we can get into trouble.

We want to do deep work but find ourselves in deep doo doo.

So, there you go. Break time is over. Thank you for spending it with me.

What’s next? You get back to work and I go watch a video. Or three.