How to stop being a perfectionist

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Are you a perfectionist? Sometimes? About some things?

Yeah, me too. 

Trouble is, our perfectionism causes us to spend more time on a single task than necessary, to the detriment of our other responsibilities. We get fewer things done and are often miserable as we struggle to do them. 

Perfectionism is a bad habit. Fortunately, habits can be changed. Or rather, replaced with a better habit. 

When I’m involved in a big project like creating a major presentation or writing a book, the weight of the task and my innate tendency towards perfectionism often lead me to procrastinate.  

No bueno

When I find that happening, I repeat a mantra. “Progress, not perfection,” I say to myself. It reminds me to keep moving forward and gives me permission to create a terrible first draft, because I know I can fix it later.

Another thing I might do is schedule a deadline. “No matter what, I’m going to finish the research for this thing this weekend.”

It helps when I share that deadline with someone who can hold me accountable. 

Finally, when I find myself pushing to improve something that’s already good, perhaps editing a draft for the 27th time, I remind myself that I’m not getting any younger and I have all these other things I want to accomplish. 

Does it work? Sometimes. But sometimes is better than never.

Anyway, I don’t think any of us can ever stop being a perfectionist. All we can do is get used to the idea that done is always better than perfect.

How about you? What do you do to combat perfectionism or procrastination?

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How I prioritize my day

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In the past, before I knew any better, I allowed my client work to dictate my schedule. Unless I had a court appearance, an appointment or a hearing to prepare for, my day consisted of starting at the top of the stack of files on my desk and trying to get through as much of it as possible before it was time to go home. 

As my secretary took calls and did the work I had assigned her, she would replenish the stack of files. When the phone rang, when the mail or a delivery arrived, that work got added to the mix.

I got a lot done but every day was chaotic and stressful and every day I went home exhausted. My big projects, therefore,  usually resided on the back burner.   

Today, I prioritize work differently. I do my best to follow two simple rules.

1. Instead of trying to get everything done, I focus on getting the most important thing(s) done;

2. I try to do the most important thing(s) first. 

The most important things are tasks and projects that provide me with the most value. In productivity parlance, they are my “big rocks” and big rocks go in first. (If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, watch this video.)

If I was still practicing, my big rocks would include things that provide my clients with the most value because that usually provides me with the most value.

I don’t always start with the most important work. Urgent matters crop up. Sometimes, I haven’t allowed enough time to finish something that’s due and I have to fit that in. And sometimes, I like to take care of a bunch of small things first, to get them out of the way and free up more time to work on a big project. 

But generally speaking, I prioritize my day by focusing on quality, not quantity. 

If want to do this, start by figuring out what quality means to you, not just at work but in other aspects of your life. If time with your family is important to you, for example, add this “big rock” to your schedule before you schedule anything else.

Because big rocks go in first.

Have you seen my referral marketing course?

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Try this technique with your to-do list?

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Did you notice that the title of this message is phrased as a question? It’s done that way on purpose, to illustrate a “hack” for breathing new life into tasks that are languishing on your list. 

The idea is that by phrasing the task as a question, you will think about it in a different light. You’ll either see the value of doing the task or give yourself permission not to. 

Let’s say you have a task you know you should do but don’t really have to do and have been putting off. Something like calling a professional contact to get caught up.  

On your list: “Call Joe Johnson”. Re-written: “Call Joe Johnson?”

When you read the task as a statement, it leaves you cold. You see it as a chore and your attention wanders off to other items on your list. 

Phrased as a question, however, you may start thinking about an interesting aspect of the task or the value of completing it. 

You may think about a case Joe told you about and be curious about the outcome. You might remember something interesting about his personal life. You might recall your last conversation about football, the referral you gave him last year, or a marketing idea you and he discussed. 

In this light, you may be inspired to make that call. 

In the words of the author of the article, phrasing the task as a question can help “Rekindle the excitement that made you write it down.”

Sometimes, converting a task into a question is as simple as adding a question mark, he says. Sometimes, you need to rephrase the task. And no, this doesn’t work for everything and it is subject to losing its effectiveness if you use it too often. 

But worth a try. Or rather, worth a try?


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Frog legs for breakfast

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Mark Twain said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Brian Tracy expanded on this idea in his popular book, “Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time.”

For Tracy, your “frog” isn’t necessarily the worst task of your day or something you may be avoiding. It’s the task that’s likely to have the biggest positive impact on your life.

Get that done and no matter what else you do or fail to do that day, you will have accomplished something important. 

We’re also encouraged to do our most important task(s) early in the day because that’s when we tend to have more energy. It turns out, this may not be simply because we are more rested in the morning. 

According to a new study, our bodies are more capable of producing the stress hormone cortisol in the early hours of the day, making us better able to handle the stress associated with difficult or important tasks. 

Researchers acknowledge that we are all different and we should consider what works best for us, but if you don’t consider yourself a morning person, you may want to experiment with your schedule to make sure. 

You might find that, like me, “first thing” in the morning isn’t your best and most productive time of the day, but getting your most important work done before lunch makes for a very productive day.

I use Evernote  to manage my tasks

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Drivers, start your engines

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I’m planning a new course. Writing notes,  clipping articles, jotting down a list of questions that need to be answered.

It looks good.

But what I’ve envisioned looks like it’s going to take months to complete and I don’t want that. I want to get this out into the world in a few weeks. 

Over the weekend, I watched a video by a prolific course creator who explained how he produces a two-hour course in six to eight hours. 

Yeah, that’s for me. 

To have a shot at doing this will require me to reduce the scope of the project I had originally planned. I’m okay with that because a finished project is always better than one that never sees the light of day, and I want to get this done. 

So, we’ll see. 

Which leads me to today’s sermon, which shall commence with a question:

Are you spending too much time learning about marketing?

Learning, planning, practicing, are all good. But the only thing that brings home the bacon is the doing. 

If you want to grow your practice (and your income), spend less time learning (researching, planning, thinking, etc.) and more time doing.

You don’t need to know everything. You need to move.

Even with the time lost from mistakes and detours factored in, you’ll be further along in your journey if you start the engine and step on the gas.

All the planning you need is here 


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Procrastinate and grow rich

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Procrastination has become a four-letter word, hasn’t it? Those who admonish us not to “put off ’til tomorrow what you can do today,” are are accusing us of being lazy if we’re not Johnny or Janie on the spot.

Oh, the pain.

“You cannot plow a field by turning it over in your mind,” we’re told. Victor Kiam (the electric razor king), said, “Procrastination is opportunity’s assassin.” Honest Abe reminded us that, “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”

So, am I committing blasphemy when I ask if procrastination is really that bad?

When I’m under the gun with a deadline (or an ultimatum), I tend to get a lot of work done in a very short period of time. That’s being productive, isn’t it?

And, counter-intuitive though it may seem, the work I do when pressed for time is often of higher quality. 

How about you? 

If we are built this way, does that mean that we should sometimes procrastinate on purpose?

It sounds like that’s exactly what I’m saying.  

“If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done,” said author Rita Mae Brown.

On the other hand, having more time to do research, make decisions, or edit and polish our work product are not only advisable, they’re essential. 

Let’s face it, when there’s an impending deadline, it’s easy to cut corners that shouldn’t be cut. We’ might choose the first thing we see simply because we’re running out of time. 

And hey, have you ever paid too much for something because you didn’t allow yourself enough time to shop?

So no, procrastinating on purpose isn’t always the way to go. 

Sometimes, we should start a project immediately. Sometimes, we should let it cool before we dive in. Sometimes, we should start part of it right away and leave other parts for later. 

How do you know what to do?

There are no rules. No checklist. Or at least, there shouldn’t be. Let your gut tell you what’s best.

My point is, we shouldn’t be rigid in how we do everything, nor should we beat ourselves up when we break “the rules”. 

Point of order: when you’re late to court, you might not want to tell the judge about your flexible schedule.  I’m just saying.

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How to get yourself to do something you don’t want to do

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Alrighty, you have a plan. You have written some goals and made a list of actions you need to take to achieve them. You’ve scheduled time during your day to do them.  

What do you do when you get to something on your list you really don’t want to do?

It happens to all of us. You feel resistance and procrastinate or find excuses for not doing it.

How do you get yourself to do things you don’t want to do?

One thing that works for me is to take the activity and carve it up into even smaller pieces. Something I can do that will only take five minutes, for example, or one simple step on a longer list. 

Sometimes, I just suck it up and do the dreaded thing anyway. If need be, I give myself permission to do it badly because there is value in crossing things off your list and because I know I can come back later and fix it. 

What if the problem persists? What if you’re trying to stick with an exercise routine, for example, or you have a big project and every time you sit down to work on it you feel like doing something else? 

Me? I bribe myself. 

My daily walks are part of my routine now but in the beginning, when I resisted getting out the door, I rewarded myself by listening to podcasts I didn’t have time for during the rest of the day. 

When I’m having trouble making progress on a writing project, I’ll do something similar: give myself ten minutes to watch a video channel I like after thirty minutes of writing.

I’ll bet you do something like this, too. 

It turns out this technique has a name. It’s called “temptation bundling”–pairing something you love to do or would prefer to do with something you’re trying to get yourself to do. 

But this is nothing new. Our parents taught us this. Remember, “No dessert until you eat your veggies” and “No TV until you finish your homework”?

Yeah, like that.

Which reminds me, now that this is done I can go get my second cup of coffee.

Marketing is easier when you know the formula

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How old farts get more done

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I read about a study that says people over 40 are most productive when they work three days a week or less.

Great. Where do I sign up?

Actually, I signed up a long time ago when I was still in my twenties. Cutting my work week to three days (from a less-productive, stress-filled six-day schedule) allowed me to multiply my income and start enjoying life.

So, even though I haven’t always worked only three days a week, this idea gets a thumbs up from me.

The question is, what are you going to do with this piece of information?

If you aren’t self-employed and you want to give it a whirl, you’re going to have to negotiate with your employer. See if you can work out a way that you get paid for your output instead of your time.

When I started paying my staff a salary instead of by the hour, I told them I didn’t care how many hours they worked as long as they got their work done.

They did and we were both happier.

If you’re self-employed and you want to cut your hours, sit down and have a talk with yourself. See if you can work something out.

What if you bill by the hour?

Stop doing that.

Try flat fees or package your services in a way that you can get paid no matter how many hours the job takes you.

You’ll work less and earn more. And you and your clients will be happier.

Even if you’re still in your twenties.

Get the check: stress-free billing and collection

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How Ebeneezer Scrooge got rich

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One thing that distinguishes successful (accomplished, wealthy) people from the rest of the folks is how much they value their time. 

Because of this, they say “no” more than they say “yes”. 

They say no to requests for their time or money that don’t align with their mission, values, or plans. They say no to low priority projects. They say no to things that waste their time or that they don’t enjoy. 

Which lets them focus on important things, which is how they get rich.  

If you want to follow suit, you must commit to saying “no” more often. 

On the other hand, Mr. Scrooge was a miserable old coot. He might not have realized this until he saw depictions of the harm he had done and the bleak future that awaited him, but once his eyes were opened, he redeemed himself and was happier for it. 

His dream provided context and allowed him to realize what was truly important.  

Say no more often, say no to most things, so you can say yes to important things. Just make sure you know what’s really important. 

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How to finish what you start

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Yesterday, I said that when I flesh out a new project I usually leave the due date line blank. That’s because most of my work these days doesn’t have any deadlines.

When you have clients waiting on you, statutes of limitations and court rules to abide, deadlines are a fact of life. I’ve tried making up due dates. Usually, they don’t work. As Douglas Adams said, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

Without a due date or penalty for not finishing projects, you may ask how I’m able to get things done.

The first thing I do is to always have several projects going at once. That way, when I’m bored with one or stuck on something, I switch to another. When I come back to the first project, things have usually sorted themselves out. If not, I’ve got others to choose from.

The second thing I do is break up my projects into small parts or next actions. This keeps me from getting overwhelmed by the immensity of what I’ve set out to do. I look at the next step or, at most, the next two or three, and get to work.

It feels good ticking off the boxes as I complete those tasks, which inspires me to carry on and do more.

I also tend to make the initial steps easy ones, to help me get started.

The third thing I do is to keep the big picture in mind. I think about the goal–what I’m seeking to accomplish and how exciting or gratifying it will be when I do it. When I find myself second-guessing myself or getting frustrated by a problem, remembering “why” helps me get back on track.

In sum, I think big but act small. Thinking big supplies the motivation. Acting small allows me to make progress.

Okay, one more. And this might actually be the most important.

I also give myself permission to give up.

I don’t feel guilty about not finishing everything I start or starting everything I’ve planned.

One of the perks of not having a client waiting on me.

How to get other lawyers to send you referrals

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