Little and often

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If you’re trying to tackle a big project and not making as much progress as you’d like, the reason may simply be that you’re trying to do too much too soon.

In his book, Do It Tomorrow, Mark Forster provides a series of fundamental productivity principles. Number three is “Little and Often,” his prescription for handling big projects or accomplishing big goals.

Forster says it’s easier to get things done if you do small parts frequently, instead of attempting to get it all done in a short period of time.

Little and often is how we learn to play a musical instrument or a new language, he points out. It’s how we develop any new skill or habit.

It works because it allows your brain to repeatedly return to and process the subject, assimilate new information and experiences and make new connections between them, providing us with new ideas and different ways to incorporate them.

I’m working on a book right now and while I have the time to power through it and get it done faster, I’m moving slowly, writing for an hour or two a day, and I know the end result will be better for it.

What are you working on right now that could benefit from “little and often”?

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Where I keep things I’m afraid to throw away

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I just started doing something with my digital files and notes I wish I’d done a long time ago. I designated a place to put everything I don’t need now but might need or want someday.

I’ve set up folders and notebooks in my various apps and labeled them “Archives”.

My archives now hold:

  • Closed files
  • Inactive projects (not started, aborted, finished)
  • Notes/docs/audios/videos from old business ventures
  • Old tax, banking, and insurance docs
  • Backups of old blog posts
  • Other backups
  • Old docs/notes that could be mined for useful materials
  • Personal mementos
  • Articles, notes, pdfs that might be useful some day
  • Things I should probably throw out but don’t have time to read to make sure

The kind of stuff we used to put in storage or in the basement or attic. The kind of stuff we are unlikely to ever need but hang on to “just in case” (or because it’s required by law).

One blogger refers to his archives as “Things I’m afraid to throw away”.

Yeah, that stuff.

I used to keep most of this intermingled with everything else. After all, it’s just electrons, right? They don’t take up space?

But they do.

When we search or browse through current project materials, all of our old stuff is mixed in, distracting us and creating mental and visual clutter.

When you put them in archives, they don’t.

I moved more than 4000 Evernote notes into an archive “stack”. In G Drive, I’ve moved many gigabytes of documents, audios and videos into an archive folder. And I’m not done.

Everything is out of sight, but available. Which means all of my current materials are more accessible, easier to organize and use.

Now, about all those old photos. . .

Evernote for Lawyers ebook: get it here

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A simple way to create (a lot) more content

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A common reason offered by attorneys who haven’t started a blog or newsletter is that they won’t be able to keep it up. Either they don’t have the time, or they don’t think they’ll have enough to write about.

But. . .

You’ll never run out of ideas to write about. I promise.

Even if you practice in a very narrow niche, the law changes, the cases and clients change, the strategies change, the ideas change, and your readers change.

Besides, you aren’t confined to writing exclusively about the law, nor should you. (Get my Email Marketing Course and you’ll never run out ideas for your newsletter or blog.)

As for the amount of time it takes to write a new article or post, hear ye, hear ye, if you’re taking more than an hour, you’re doing something wrong.

And, you can save yourself a boatload of time if, when you sit down to write an article, you write two articles. Or five.

Here are some ways to do that:

  1. Instead of writing a 2500-word post, write a 300-word post. Save the rest for tomorrow or next week.
  2. Write different versions of the same article for each of your target markets or practice areas. Use the same basic information, change the examples, stories, and tips.
  3. Create a series. This week explain the problem, next week talk about the risks, the following week explain the law, after that present one of the solutions, and keep going: other options, other solutions, different client success stories, things that don’t work, mistakes to avoid in the future, resources, etc.
  4. Interview (by email) 5 other professionals or experts about the subject: What do you think, how do you handle this, what advice would you give to someone in this situation, etc. Add your comments at the end of each piece.
  5. Answers to FAQs. What do new clients and prospective clients usually want to know? Ten questions, ten answers, ten articles.

Life is good when you know what you’re going to write about six weeks in advance.

Get it here: Email Marketing for Attorneys

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When was the last time you took inventory?

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Of all the things you do, in your practice and personal life, some things contribute more value than others. By taking inventory of everything you do, you can identify your most valuable activities, so you can do more of them.

You’ll have the time to do that, of course, by curtailing activities that contribute little or no value.

Taking inventory starts with choosing an area of your life where you’d like to be more productive or successful. Let’s say that’s your practice.

The first step is to write a list of everything you do in that area–all of your tasks, projects, habits, and routines. For your practice, include the different kinds of client work you do, all of the admin, and all of your marketing.

Add a number to each activity on your list. If there are 50 activities, number them 1-50, so you can identify each one separately.

Next, make a second list. Write down all of your successes in this area of your life. In this case, your practice.

These successes might include things like winning one or more big cases, getting a lot of traffic from a profile of you that appeared in a prominent publication, meeting a well-connected professional who helped you get a spot on a speaking panel, a successful ad campaign, or things you did to reduce your overhead without hurting your bottom line.

These could be one-time wins or things that bring you ongoing benefits.

When your “success” list is done, go through it again and next to each item, add the number of each “activity” (on your first list) that contributed to it.

For example, you might connect “reading blogs in your target market’s industry” and “writing articles for your target market’s publications” with the positive result of being introduced to a major center of influence in your client’s niche, which led to several new clients.

By connecting activities with results, you can see where the things you’re doing are working.

Whatever is left–activities you can’t connect to significant results–should either be eliminated, minimized, systematized, or delegated.

Finally, look at your success list and identify things you didn’t connect with an activity. Ask yourself what you could do to make results like these happen more often.

For example, maybe you met someone accidentally who hired you for a lot of legal work. Ask, “What can I do to meet their colleagues or counterparts?”

When you take the time to link your activities with your results, you’ll be able to see where you should spend more time and resources, and what you should do less of, or not at all.

How to meet and get referrals from other professionals

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Stop the World, I Want to Get Off

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When you’re anxious, stressed, frustrated, fed up, crying like a baby, or ready to hit something (or someone), and you don’t know what to do about it, I have a suggestion.

A little something called “a plan”.

Write down a goal, a deadline, and a list of steps you can take to achieve the goal.

The actual plan isn’t important. The act of planning, however, as Dwight D. Eisenhower famously said, is everything.

That’s because the act of planning helps us to clarify what we think, what we want, and what we need to do. It allows us to funnel our thoughts and emotions in a constructive direction.

The plan itself will change. Many times, no doubt. New ideas, new information, new feedback–the plan you ultimately follow often looks nothing like the plan you start with.

But at least you started. Something you might not have done without planning.

Planning has another benefit. For a few minutes at least, we get to assert a degree of control over our day. We get to decide what we’ll do, and when, what we won’t do, and why.

And it feels good.

Planning allows us to escape our burdens, feel empowered, and get excited about the future.

Some of us do a lot of planning. We love to make lists, re-arrange the items on it, and manage our lists with new apps and new systems.

We enjoy the planning process because it’s a way to avoid the harsh reality of the real world that.

Planning is a form of escapism.

Planning feels good because it doesn’t require a lot of effort, brain power, physical movement, tough decisions, or problem solving. It’s just our thoughts and a piece of paper.

Compared to “doing,” planning is just plain fun.

So, when the world feels like it’s spinning out of control, or you simply have too much to do and don’t know where to start, take a few minutes and create a plan, or grab your list and redo the existing plan.

You still have to take action, of course, but the act of planning will make that a lot easier because you’ll feel a lot better about where you are and where you’re going.

Here’s a plan to get more clients and increase your income

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Clean up on aisle nine

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I’m cleaning up my filing system. Why? Because I’ve got too many digital files (and duplicates thereof), in too many folders, on too many hard drives and in too many cloud accounts.

It’s a mess and I’m in the process of cleaning it up.

The first step is to move everything into one digital pile, to eliminate duplicates and see what I’ve got.

(I still have some paper docs which I’ll scan and upload later.)

I’m using Google Drive but you can use any cloud service, a local drive, or both (i.e., to back up your backups).

My new system reflects the different roles or areas of focus in my life and consists of these top-level folders:

Personal, Business One, Business Two, and Miscellaneous. I also have an Inbox.

Each of the top level folders has sub-folders related to different areas of my work or personal life, or different steps in my workflow.

There are many ways to organize sub-folders:

  • Category
  • Date
  • People (Clients, Partners, Family, etc.)
  • Cases
  • Steps/stages
  • Type of media
  • Projects
  • Subject/topic

I’ll use different organizational structures for different areas of my life and for different projects.

As for file-naming, I plan to be specific but not too specific because it would take too much time to maintain this and because each file will enjoy the context of the folder(s) that house it, meaning I’ll have clues as to what something is by where it is filed.

When I’m done, I plan to add shortcuts to “frequently accessed files” on my desktop (Quick Access menu), and/or by adding a star in Google Drive.

And then, I’m going to re-organize my notes (in Evernote, etc.) with a similar setup.

This is a work in progress and I’m open to ideas. What does your file system look like?

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Focusing is easier when you do this

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Focus is the operative word. Stick with what you know and are good at, and keep doing it. That’s the key to success, isn’t it?

P.T. Barnum thought so:

“Do not scatter your powers. Engage in one kind of business only, and stick to it faithfully until you succeed, or until your experience shows that you should abandon it. A constant hammering on one nail will generally drive it home at last, so that it can be clinched. When a man’s undivided attention is centered on one object, his mind will constantly be suggesting improvements of value, which would escape him if his brain was occupied by a dozen different subjects at once.”

And yet, I encourage you to try lots of marketing ideas. I often talk about other things I’ve done, when I was practicing, and today.

You can do other things, just make sure you don’t do them all at once.

Do one thing at a time and do it as completely as possible before you start something else. Do it until you know it’s a go or a no, then move onto the next idea.

That doesn’t mean you can’t start doing something new while you’re also doing other things.

You can expand your network while you’re creating more content. You can build an email list while you’re working on a new presentation. You can build a side business, write books, or start other business projects while you’re growing your practice.

But don’t start something new until what you’re doing is on solid ground.

How do you’re there? When what you’re doing doesn’t depend completely on you.

You’ve got people working for you. You’ve got systems in place that allow you to get things done quickly and efficiently. You’ve got free time in your day to explore other ideas.

I’ve heard the word focus defined as, “Follow One Course Until Successful”. When what you’re doing is successful, then you can move on to something else.

How to build your practice with email

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A better way to take notes

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In a recent webinar, author and memory expert Jim Kwik taught his audience a better way to take notes.

First, he recommends hand writing instead of typing. Why? “It’s because you can’t write everything down,” he said. Hand writing, “forces you to add a filter and ask yourself questions about how important something is and how you’ll use it,” he said. This aids understanding and retention.

I don’t know that I’m ready to hand write all my notes, but he makes a good point. In a live presentation or meeting, I do use paper. With recorded lectures, I pause a lot to write down my thoughts.

Kwik also recommends adding “notes to your notes” (my term). Adding your own examples and anecdotes, for example, helps you see the information in context and further improves understanding and retention.

I did that when I was studying for the bar exam and found it immensely helpful.

As you write your notes, Kwik also suggest asking yourself 3 questions about the material: “How will I use this? Why must I use this? When will I use this?” Answering these questions will make it more likely that you’ll actually use and benefit from the information.

What if you don’t know the answers to those questions? I guess that’s when you listen to the presentation again.

You’ll want to take lots of notes when you listen to my email marketing course

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2 questions to help you prioritize your work

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You have legal work and admin work. You have urgent tasks and important projects. How do you figure out what to do, and what to do first?

Prioritizing your work doesn’t have to be difficult. You don’t need a complex formula or checklist. All you need to do is ask yourself 2 questions:

(1) “If I could only work 2 hours today, what would I do?”

Pretend you have a medical condition that only allows you to be at your desk for 2 hours a day. You have to choose what you must do and what can wait until tomorrow.

What’s urgent? What’s essential? What’s at the top of your list in terms of importance?

That’s what you should work on today.

But not before you ask yourself question no. 2. . .

(2) “If I could only work 2 hours this week, what would I do?”

This helps you to identify the tasks and projects that are likely to provide you with the most value and advance you towards your biggest goals.

This is where the majority of your time and energy should be invested this week, and also today.

Yes, you’ll have to do some juggling. You can’t fill your day with urgent tasks without taking time away from your most important work, but you can’t ignore things that have to get done today to work on your big projects.

You have to balance them. Get clear on what’s really important.

Which is what these questions help you to do.

The Quantum Leap Marketing System for Attorneys. Details here

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The first rule of productivity

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Productivity isn’t about how much you do, or how fast your do it. It’s about the quality of your work.

But it’s difficult to deliver the kind of quality your clients want and expect when your plate is overflowing.

The first rule of productivity is to eliminate most of what you could do, to free up resources to do your most valuable work.

High achievers say “no” to almost everything. You must, too. You might call this the ‘prime directive’ in the achievement universe.

Cut out most of the tasks and projects on your lists. Say no to most of the requests from others. Do less than you think you could do, so you’ll have time and energy to excel at the few things that matter most.

When you do less, you can do more of what you do best. You’ll have more time to improve your most valuable skills, develop key relationships, and work on your most promising projects.

Eliminate practice areas that don’t excite you. Let go of marginal clients and cases. Stop marketing to “everyone”.

When you do less, your days are less crowded. You may not crank out as much work or close as many cases, but you’ll earn more because the quality of your work will attract better clients and bigger cases.

Years ago, when I decided to do less, it was hard to let go. I thought I could do it gradually, but that didn’t work. What worked was doing it all at once.

I eliminated practice areas and stopped taking certain clients. For awhile, I had much less work to do.

It was frightening, but liberating. I was free to build the kind of practice I wanted. And I did, faster than I thought was possible.

My income multiplied, I had more time for other areas of my life, and I was happier.

If you want to be more productive and more successful, do less.

This will help you focus

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