Lazy or busy?

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No doubt you’ve head the expression, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person”.

Why would you give it to a busy person? They have no time.

Maybe you’ve heard another version, “If you want something done, give it to a lazy person.”

Why give it to a lazy person? They’re… lazy!

But both versions make perfect sense.

Busy people and lazy people seem to be at the opposite ends of the productivity spectrum, but they’re actually on the same page.

Both want to get things done quickly and efficiently, with as little time and effort as possible. Busy people don’t have time to waste. Lazy people have time but don’t want to waste it.

Being busy (or lazy) forces you to be (a) more selective about what you do, and (b) more creative about how you do it.

Both lazy people and busy people avoid taking on projects that aren’t the “highest and best” use of their time.

They’re both good at delegating.

Both use shortcuts, templates, forms, and checklists.

Both look for ways to leverage their efforts, such as re-purposing content and (in the case of professionals) prioritizing repeat business and referrals over marketing to the cold market.

And both say no to good ideas to make room for great ones.

In short, both are effective and productive, because they’ve figured out how to make the most of what they have.

If you want to be more productive, be lazy. Or busy if you like that better. Either way, you’ll get more done.

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You can always add more plates

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Next year will soon be this year, and this is a good time to do some planning.

New goals, new projects, updates, changes.

Do yourself a favor. Make it a short list.

Conventional wisdom tells us to shoot for the moon. Big goals, lots of projects, run hard and do as much as you can do. Cut your plans only if you run out of time or energy, because if you start small, you won’t accomplish as much.

For me, it’s the other way around.

If I start big, I find it easy to get overwhelmed. I prefer to start out with too little rather than too much. A few key ideas, projects, and goals.

When I look at my list, I want to feel good about what I see. I want to be inspired, excited, ready for the adventure ahead.

Some people like a schedule that’s filled to the brim. They want to always be busy. I prefer a schedule that’s relatively open, and fill in the blanks with whatever I’m drawn to.

I like to have a general idea of where I want to go, not a detailed itinerary with every moment thought out in advance. I like to add things as I think of them rather than subtract and postpone things because I didn’t have enough time.

Adding is fun. Subtracting isn’t.

I know that when I have too many projects and tasks, I’m busy working but not necessarily doing the things that matter most. When I have too many plates to keep spinning, eventually, I don’t want to look at my plates any more.

I like to get a couple of plates spinning, see how it’s going and how I feel about adding more.

Because you can always add more plates.

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Growth happens

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Some days, you open your task app, look at your today list, and think “I’ve got this.”

Your list looks do-able. It feels about right—not too long, not too difficult. It calls to you and says, “Let’s get this done!”

Other days, you open your list and think, “Crap!” There’s too much to do, everything looks important and difficult, and you realize you’ll never get it all done today.

Your list is overwhelming. You don’t even want to look it let alone get to work.

We do our best to avoid loading up our lists with too many tasks. But we’re human and often bite off more than we can chew.

Our weekly review helps. But over time, we tend to add new tasks faster than we finish old ones, so our lists are perpetually growing.

Which means, despite our best efforts, sometimes our lists get out of control.

When that happens, it’s time to do some maintenance and repairs.

Which is what I did this past weekend.

I knew it was time because I found myself deferring more tasks each day than I was actually doing.

That’s called a clue.

The first thing I did was go through my lists, cut out tasks I knew I wasn’t going to do, and consolidate duplicates. That probably reduced the total by 15% or 20%. Not a bad start.

I usually keep 4 primary lists: Today, Next (this week), Later, and Someday/Maybe. The next thing I did was go through my lists again and “downgrade” tasks.

I moved some Today tasks to Next, Next tasks to Later, and Later tasks to Someday. Doing that means I won’t have to look at as many tasks each day and each week.

And that makes a huge difference.

When “Today” has no more than 10 tasks on it, I know I can get that done. More than that and I feel resistance.

It wasn’t a complete task reset. More like grooming my lists and making them more presentable. A long overdue shave and a haircut.

Moving forward, there are two things left to do.

First, I still need to go through my Someday/Maybe list and give that a trim. That’s scheduled for the end of this month.

The other thing I need to do to keep my lists manageable is schedule a new recurring task, to do what I did this weekend every 60 days.

Coincidentally, we had the trees in our front yard trimmed this weekend. We’ll have to do that again next year.

Because growth happens.

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The first (and only) rule of prioritization

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You’ve got a lot of options. Goals, plans, ideas, things to do. And you want to prioritize them so you know what to focus on.

But you can’t prioritize a list of options. You can only have one priority.

One project, one goal, one thing you decide is most important to you right now.

Everything else? Not your priority. Everything else has to wait.

Many people understand this conceptually, but don’t do it. They work on too many things in parallel and disperse their energy in too many directions. They usually take longer to finish things this way and are more likely to get poorer results.

Imagine if you worked on only one thing at a time and gave it all of your brain power and physical energy. “I’m doing THIS,” you say, you get to work on it and continue until you finish.

Think about how liberating and empowering this would be, and how good it would feel to focus on “Plan A” and not even think about “Plan B”.

Yes, you have other obligations, other things you need to do in the course of your day. You can’t spend all your time on your priority.

No. But you can commit to never letting a day go by without doing something related to your priority. And it if you have chosen the right priority, you will.

If building a successful law practice is your priority, you will work on marketing every day

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Quick, write this down

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I don’t know if David Allen originated the idea of ubiquitous capture, or merely popularized it (and I’m too lazy to look it up), but it’s something I do and recommend.

In a nutshell, it means being able to capture ideas and thoughts and things to do, wherever we are and whatever else we might be doing—so we don’t forget them.

Because we will forget them if we don’t.

I know, some say that if it’s a good idea, we’ll think of it again. They also say most of our fleeting thoughts aren’t worth spit, so don’t worry about capturing everything. But I’m not so sure.

Besides, the more we practice the art of capturing ideas, the more ideas our brain will produce, so even if most of our ideas aren’t useful, we’ll get more that are.

I don’t know if there’s a scientific basis for this, but it sounds good to me, so that’s what I’m going with.

So, I have apps on my phone and computer which allow me to jot down or dictate the idea and save it to my notes program or task program, for later processing and action. I’m sure you do, too.

I also keep a pad of paper and pen nearby my desk and side chair, because it’s often quicker to capture an idea the old-fashioned way.

But here’s the thing. The ideas I capture with a pen often feel different from the ones I capture digitally.

I can’t explain it. There’s something about how it feels to scratch words on paper and the movement of my hand across the page that feels more organic. It’s as though I’m more closely connected to those thoughts; they are the product of a deeper part of my brain.

And no, writing with a stylus on glass isn’t the same. At least for me.

Studies tell us that taking notes on paper fosters better understanding, and those notes are remembered longer, too. So there must be something to it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my apps. I love dictation. I’m a digital guy most of the time. But when I want to get something down quickly, and especially when I don’t quite know what I think or what I want to say, I often reach for a pen to figure that out.

So, boys and girls, don’t throw out your legal pads just yet. But okay, you can get them in other colors.

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4 simple rules for getting more out of the books you read

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Tim Denning, prolific author and blogger and reader of books, answered a question about how to get more out of the books you read. Lawyers obviously read a lot and might want to note Denning’s rules, all of which I agree with and practice.

His first rule is to “stop finishing books”. If you’re not getting anything out of a book, or getting enough, move on.

“Don’t waste your life on crappy books,” he says.

I routinely do this with ebooks that don’t deliver on their promise. In other words, most of them. I’ve donated hundreds of paperbacks to the library bookstore, many of which I barely touched.

I spend a lot on books but following this rule has saved me a lot of time, and I have to score this as a net profit.

My corollary: Books are like a meal. Just because you paid for it doesn’t mean you have to consume it.

Next, Denning says he focuses primarily on the first few chapters of a non-fiction book, where, he says, the author will provide the best bits in an effort to hook the reader. “The rest of a book is filler,” he says.

In my experience, this is mostly true, but not always. If the opening chapters don’t get me, I usually skim the next few and often find some gold; if I don’t, off with its head.

Denning’s third rule is something I do only occasionally but think I should do more: “Go to the table of contents and read the chapters that appeal to you.”

Meaning, skip the chapters that don’t.

Sometimes, I start with the chapters that grab me, and come back to the others.

I like to give the author (and reviewers) the benefit of the doubt. I keep thinking I’ll find a nugget or two in a chapter that seems less relevant, but if I’m honest, it doesn’t happen often enough to justify reading an entire book to find those nuggets.

Last rule: Re-read the books you love.

100% agree.

I always get something new out of a second or third or fifth reading of a good book. I highlight my highlights, make notes in the margins, and write my own “permanent” notes in my notes app.

Books are like a meal. Good books are like a feast.

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You’ve got a friend

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You can’t seem to keep up your blog or newsletter. Your marketing efforts have fallen by the wayside. You stopped writing your book months ago. The only exercise you get these days is jumping to conclusions. . .

You could hire someone to coach you and check in with you, to hold you accountable and keep you on track. Or you could call a friend and ask for help.

Cue music:

When you’re down and troubled and you need a helping hand. . .

Find a friend who is similarly situated and become workout partners.

Share your goals with someone—another lawyer, a business contact, writer, or anyone else who wants and needs someone to hold them accountable. Set up a time to check in with each other, once or twice a week, find out what each of you did that week, and what each of you is committed to doing in the coming week.

It’s motivating to talk with someone who is on the same or a similar journey. You can encourage each other, provide suggestions, and celebrate each other’s victories.

Sometimes, all you need is to hear someone else say ‘well done’.

And, knowing you have someone to report to, can do wonders for lighting a fire under you. You don’t want to disappoint them or embarrass yourself, so you get to work when you otherwise might say, “I’ll start next month”.

If you don’t have anyone to partner up with, search online (social media, blog comments, YouTube, Flakebook groups). Search for “accountability partner,” “workout partner,” or “work with me, write with me, study with me”.

Or, if you want to work with another lawyer, post a comment under this post.

Try out each other for a week and see how it goes. If it doesn’t work for both of you, don’t fret. There are plenty of other fish in the accountability ocean.

And, if you want to pay someone to hold you accountable. . . let me know.

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What to do when you don’t want to do something. Or anything.

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You don’t want to review that big file. You don’t want to call the adjuster. You don’t want to deliver the bad news to your client. Usually, you don’t think about it, you just do it.

But not always.

Some days, when you don’t feel like doing something that needs to get done, you avoid it and busy yourself with other things.

We all have days like that.

We also have days when we don’t feel like doing anything but sitting on the sofa and playing with our phone.

What do you do when you have a file you don’t want to look at or an article you don’t want to write? What do you do when you’re not motivated to do something you need to do?

You start.

Open the file. Find the phone number. Sharpen your pencil and write your name and room number at the top of the page.

Do something related to the task you are avoiding, however trivial, and let nature take its course.

Your brain will see you’ve started and compel you to take the next step.

Action is the solution.

“Getting started is magical,” says psychologist Thomas Pychyl. “Motivation follows action, not the other way around.”

On days when you don’t feel like doing anything, get out of the house and go to the office. If you work from home, go to your home office and sit at your desk, as if it was just another day at work.

Move your body, engage your mind, pick up a file or re-read your notes and momentum will take over.

Unless it doesn’t.

Some days, you just want to sit on the sofa and play with your phone. In which case, maybe you should take the day off.

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Do you have a “getting to work” ritual?

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Before you start your work for the day, or begin another session, is there anything you routinely do just before you begin?

A routine, a habit, a ritual?

Maybe you always sit down with a fresh cup of your favorite hot beverage. Maybe you put on headphones and listen to your favorite jam. Maybe you assemble your notes or review what you wrote the day before.

You might like to check your calendar and task list, clear your email inbox, or dash off some instructions to your assistant, to clear your mind of those tasks so you can work on things that require more focus.

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, said a “getting to work” ritual makes getting started easier and makes procrastination less likely, even if that ritual has nothing to do with the work itself.

Surfing the web, playing a video game, reading a few pages in a novel—a starting ritual could be anything that puts you in a good mood.

“When people talk about procrastination,” Duhigg said, “what they’re usually talking about is the first step. In general, if people can habitualize that first step, it makes it a lot easier.”

It seems it’s not so much what you do, it’s that you do something that signals your brain it’s time to get to work.

Researchers tell us that not only can a starting ritual help you start, it can also help you perform better. No doubt that has a lot to do with being in a good mood.

Whether you call it getting warmed up, clearing the morning cobwebs from your brain, or having a bit of fun before you dive into the challenges of the day, a getting started ritual makes a lot of sense.

Before I wrote this, I played Words With Friends for 5 minutes, scrolled through my YouTube feed and bookmarked some videos to watch later, and got some coffee.

I don’t know if it helped me get started, but it sure put me in a good mood. Yeah, it was probably the coffee.

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The simplest way to be more productive

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If you’re not getting the results you want in your work, you may be trying to do too much.

Which means you might get more done by doing less.

Take a few minutes to examine your schedule and see where you might need to cut down.

Too many commitments

When you take on too many cases or clients at one time and you can’t keep up with the work, the work suffers. To do your best work, you may need to hire more help or be more selective about the cases or clients you accept.

Too many projects or goals

Not everything on your list is equally important. You must ruthlessly prioritize your lists so you can focus on your most important tasks and goals.

It’s better to schedule 3 or 4 important tasks for the day, and get them done, than to complete (or attempt) 10 or 15 less important tasks. It’s better to set one or two achievable goals, and achieve them, than to reach for the stars and fail to get off the ground.

Too many hours

Humans are good for about 3 hours of peak mental performance per day. After that, we start to lose focus and the quality of our work suffers. Schedule two to three hours for “deep work” each day, early in the day if possible, and use the rest of the day for less-demanding tasks.

Working until exhaustion, or “eight to faint” as a friend of mine describes it, is never a good idea. Neither is working without taking breaks.

Many attorneys work too much. They see doing more as the best way to achieve more. Too often, it does the opposite.

If you’re not getting the results you want, you may be trying to do too much. Try doing less and you might find yourself accomplishing more.

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