Are you a perfectionist?

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Many lawyers are obsessed with getting the details right. So are many artists and creative people and business leaders.

Perfectionists often create superior results, but their obsession with making things “perfect” often causes them to procrastinate.

Maybe you can relate.

How do you do good work and get better results without getting ensnared in the net of perfectionism?

The answer isn’t to fight your natural tendency, it is to re-focus it.

Instead of obsessing over every detail, train yourself to obsess about the details that matter.

The things that deliver the biggest return on your investment.

The 20% that delivers 80% of your results.

In your writing, that means giving extra attention to your headlines and email subject lines. They do the heavy lifting by getting more people to read what you wrote.

In a negotiation or a closing argument, you don’t have to win ever point or collect every dollar, as long as you’re getting enough to be able to call it a win.

In your marketing campaigns, you don’t have to attract everyone with a problem you can solve, as long as you’re attracting a preponderance of your ideal clients.

There will always be room to improve, but if you’re getting good results, let go of the things that aren’t important (or delegate them) so you can focus on what’s important and what you do best.

You don’t have to be good all marketing if you’re good at getting referrals

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How to waste time productively (and why you should)

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We’re all bombarded by well-meaning experts telling us not to waste time. They acknowledge the need to take a short break between tasks but remind us that “time is money” or caution us about the need to get back to work.

Truth is, most of us don’t want to follow this advice and most of us don’t.

We’d go nuts working eight hours a day every day focused on nothing but work.

So, offered for your approval is another approach–two ways to “waste time” productively.

When you feel the urge to stop working on whatever you’re doing:

1) Work on another case or something else important.

A bit of research, knock out some emails, make calls, dictate some letters or pleadings, or work on marketing.

You may not be working on your main task but you’re doing something productive.

Keep a list of tasks you can turn to when you tire of whatever you’re currently working on. Your mind craves variety so give it some.

Or

2) Do something mindless and unimportant.

Go have some fun, run an errand, play a game, watch a video.

Distract yourself from your work by taking a bigger break than usual, and don’t feel guilty about it because your “fun” break serves a purpose.

It allows your conscious mind to rest, so you’ll have more energy when you get back to work. And it allows your subconscious mind to work on the problem while you’re “goofing off”.

When you return to work, you may find that the break has allowed your subconscious mind to bring you new ideas and solutions.

Take 20 or 30 minutes to play and do something that doesn’t require a lot of thought or effort.

But do put a time limit on it or you might find yourself spending the rest of the day binge watching pet videos and getting nothing done.

Taking a marketing course is never a waste of time

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How much time do you waste looking for things?

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If you spend just 5 minutes per day looking for things–on your computer, in paper files, on your desk–over the course of a year you’re wasting more than 20 hours.

Non. Billable. Time.

How can you reclaim some of that time?

I do my best to organize files logically so I can find things by drilling down through file category but documents are still filed in multiple directories and use different naming conventions so I still “misplace” things.

So, I use a program called “Everything“.

According to the site, “‘Everything’ is search engine that locates files and folders by filename instantly for Windows. Unlike Windows search “Everything” initially displays every file and folder on your computer.”

I’m sure there are similar tools for other OS’s.

For notes, I use Evernote and Workflowy, both of which have robust search capabilities. I search by tag and/or keyword to find names, dates, emails, phone numbers, and project-specific keywords.

I also make sure to add details to my notes that I might otherwise not record, so I can search and find what I’m looking for when I recall only random snippets of information, e.g., the client drove a Yugo and used to live in Paraguay or opposing counsel wore bow ties.

Paper? Physical files? Not anymore. But if I did, I’d set up a digital index that told me which file, which drawer, which box, contains the document or information.

How about you? How do you find what you’re looking for?

Asking your secretary or assistant to find it for you doesn’t count.

Check out Workflowy; use this link to get extra space

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Watching Netflix all day can actually be productive

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Laura Mae Martin is Google’s in-house productivity expert and just offered some of the most useful productivity advice I’ve ever heard.

Instead of defining productivity in terms of how much we get done, she says, we should define it as doing what we intended.

“If you spent a day watching Netflix. . . that’s a productive day–if you had intended to watch Netflix,” she said.

If you’re tired and need to take some time to re-charge and do something effortless, that’s a good use of your time. But her point isn’t about respecting our need for rest so much as redefining productivity in terms of intent.

If you intend to do legal work but binge-watch Netflix instead, you’re just procrastinating. That’s also true if you intend to do legal work but you bug out of the office to do some networking, because that’s not what you intended either.

“The secret is “knowing what you want to do, intending to do it, and doing what you wanted to do,” she explained.

When we define productivity in terms of doing what we intend, we become more aware of what we put on our plate, and what we don’t. We think about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

Which means we’re more likely to do what’s important, not just what’s next on the list.

At the end of the day, when you look at what you accomplished, ask yourself if you did what you intended. If you did, great. You had a productive day.

If you didn’t, you’ll be more mindful of what you put on your plate tomorrow.

If you intend to get a lot more clients this year, get this

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What’s your DMO?

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Many people use the last few days of the year to plan their next year. If you’re among them, one thing you might want to do is create (or update) your DMO.

Your “Daily Method of Operation” is a list of essential recurring tasks, and a process for handling other things that comes your way. Your DMO helps you make progress on your top priorities and minimize distractions and omissions.

Your DMO might include a list of tasks you want to do every day or on certain days of the week, and lay out the order in which you will do them.

It might include a list of tasks for starting your day and another list delineating how you will end it.

At the start of the year, you can only lay out general plans about how you will use your time–the “big rocks” of your day. One of these should be scheduling time to look at your calendar and list of projects so you can plan the bulk of your day.

One thing you’ll discover is that no matter what your DMO includes today it will surely change tomorrow.

And that’s okay.

Because the value of planning your DMO–or anything else–isn’t in the plan, it’s in the planning.

The Attorney Marketing Formula includes a simple but effective marketing plan

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How’s that ‘weekly review’ thing going?

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No matter what kind of productivity system we use, we can all agree that some kind of weekly review is a good idea.

Examining what we’ve done recently and planning out what to do next just makes sense. A well-planned life is a well-lived life, or something like that.

But. . . it’s so easy to fall off the wagon. (Ask me how I know.)

If you’re thinking about re-starting your weekly review, or cleaning up a list that has become unwieldy, I have a few ideas that might help.

  • If it’s been awhile since you did a weekly review, if you routinely ignore the appointment in your calendar, scheduling a different day and time for your review might help you jump start a new habit.
  • If this is your first day back, don’t try to do everything at once. Limit yourself to reviewing a segment of your list, e.g., current projects, “this week” or “this month,” or limit yourself to a 10-minute perusal to get your feet wet. Easy to start, easy to continue.
  • Consider setting up two new tags or labels: “Defer to do” and “Defer to review”. This will allow you to move tasks and ideas out of sight (for now), giving you more visual space and mental clarity to deal with more important or immediate tasks.
  • If your someday/maybe list is massive, give yourself permission to aggressively delete items. If that makes you nervous, move them to a “probably never” list, and tell yourself you will “probably never” look at that list.
  • If things are totally out of control and you dread getting started, consider the nuclear option: set up a new inbox, move your entire list into it, and start from scratch.
  • Another idea: choose a new app or system and re-enter everything manually. It makes you re-consider what’s important and helps you create a more manageable list.
  • Once you’re back on the wagon and your lists are in decent shape, consider adding a brief “daily review” to your schedule. A few minutes at the end of the day can help you keep your lists tidy and reduce the amount of time needed for your weekly review.

If you use Evernote for your lists, my book can help you get organized

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Does your life need more white space?

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A writer was describing her quest to simplify her hectic life, to reduce her stress and manage her energy. She wanted more quiet time, time to reflect and recharge.

She said, “My life needed white space,” and I immediately understood what she meant.

Most of us are ridiculously busy. We run from appointment to appointment, from task to task.

Our plates are full and yet we continually look for more to heap on them.

We may break for lunch but we often work through it. After work we have errands and chores. Family time? Me time? We never have enough.

And the next day we do it all again.

No wonder we’re exhausted. No wonder we’re stressed.

We’re building these great lives but are we enjoying the lives we’re building?

The solution isn’t all that difficult. We don’t need to radically change our lives. All we need to do is put some space between the different parts of it.

Take a few minutes between appointments. Remove the clutter from your desktop. Work on one file at a time.

Do something unplanned. Make your next project something that feels good instead of whatever’s next on the list.

From time to time, come in to the office a little later or go home a little earlier. Take a long lunch. Go window shopping, go to the ocean, go for a walk.

Take more vacations. Stay a few days longer. Or take a stay-cation and pamper yourself.

And prepare yourself for the days ahead when you might feel pressured or overwhelmed or find yourself falling behind. Make an agreement with yourself that when that happens, you won’t fret or give in to the pressure.

You won’t work harder. You’ll take a break.

You’ll rest and recharge and reflect, even for a few hours or a few days, because that might be all you need.

And because knowing you can do that, in advance, might provide enough white space in your life that you’ll never have to.

Billing is stressful for many lawyers. This will help

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Multi-tasking for the win

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“What’s your best productivity hack?” That’s the question posed to a group of busy executives whose answers were reported in an article I just scanned. (That’s one of my hacks: scan more, read less).

Anyway, a surprising number mentioned a specific type of multi-tasking they do. Several of the respondents use their driving time to make calls.

It lets them use what would otherwise be downtime to get some (billable) work done.

That surprised me because everyone “knows” multi-tasking doesn’t work. You can’t effectively do two things at once.

Yes, but there are exceptions and for some people, talking and driving is one of them.

But not for me.

When I’m driving, I find it difficult to give someone on the phone my full attention. I’m sure I sound distracted because, frankly, I am.

Probably why some states want to outlaw it.

There are other ways to use drive time (or commute time). You can do some dictation, listen to podcasts, rehearse a presentation, or record notes about your current case or project.

I’ve done all of the above, in the car and on my walks. Much easier when it’s just you.

Generally, though, I get my best work done when I concentrate on one thing at a time.

But, there is an exception here, too.

I often do some of my best thinking in the car. I reason my way through problems, brainstorm ideas, and flesh out “the next step” in whatever I’m working on.

But I won’t call anyone to discuss it until I get home.

When you’re ready to take a quantum leap in your practice, click here

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You don’t need a bigger plate

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You know you will always have “too much” to do, don’t you? You’ll never get it all done, no matter how hard you try.

So stopping trying so hard. And don’t worry about what you don’t get done, as long as you’re getting the most important things done.

Instead of getting a bigger plate (so you can work harder), if you’re busier than all hell, figure out what to take off your plate.

Make room to do more of the important things you’re doing now or to do things you want to do but “haven’t had the time.”

Yes?

How do you decide what to take off your plate?

The logical way, the way most people do it, is to use a cost/benefit analysis.

Examine everything, note the amount of time and money and other resources you’ll need to devote to it, and compare that to the potential return.

It’s math. Do this thing, pay this price, earn this amount.

Go over the numbers with your staff or your accountant or your business coach, if that will help, and make a decision.

Ah, but sometimes the numbers don’t add up.

You don’t how much time or effort something is really going to take. Or you can’t project ROI because there are too many variables.

What do you do then?

Forget the numbers and trust your gut.

Your gut may give you the same answer your accountant gave you but it might surprise you.

If you’re really listening to your gut (and not the voice of what you think you’re “supposed to” do), your gut will lead you to what’s best for you.

Things that give you a bigger return than you could imagine or open up new opportunities you didn’t know were there.

Your gut will never fail you. But you might not know that so that’s why you have to TRUST your gut.

So, that’s it. Make decisions based on logic or intuition.

You can use either one, or both.

But a note of caution. If you use logic and it tells you to get a bigger plate, don’t listen.

Because you don’t need a bigger plate.

Make room to do bigger things

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It’s called ‘maybe’ for a reason

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I love hearing how other people structure and use their lists. When I find an idea I like, I try it and see if it works for me. Sometimes, they are a keeper. Sometimes, they don’t work for me and out they go.

And then there are ideas that are DOA.

I read one of these this morning. The author of the article said that he takes the tasks on his ‘someday/maybe’ list and either puts them on his calendar or deletes them.

He says this eliminates a lengthy weekly review of all of the tasks on that list.

I have three issues with this:

Issue no. one: Tasks on my someday/maybe list are merely ideas. I have zero commitment to them. I may do them, someday, but the odds are that I won’t. Why should I schedule anything I probably won’t do?

Issue no. two: When the scheduled date for the task arrives, if the author can’t or doesn’t want to do it, he re-schedules it (or deletes it). Since I don’t see the value in scheduling someday/maybe tasks to begin with, the idea of continually re-scheduling them seems like a poor use of my time.

Don’t they just clog up your calendar or tickler list?

Which leads me to

Issue no. three: Scheduling tasks doesn’t work for me, period.

I know many people do this successfully but unless a task has a due date or I have to get started on it so I can meet a future due date, I don’t schedule it.

Instead, I keep my lists of active tasks nearby and, once a day (usually), decide which of those tasks I’m going to do that day or that week.

I spend no time trying to figure out the priority of tasks I may not get to for weeks or months, and no time scheduling them.

A someday/maybe list does tend to get big and unwieldy, however, and I admit I don’t go through mine every week. I go through it periodically and purge ideas that no longer appeal to me, and move the ones that do to another list.

To save time, sometimes I go through my someday/maybe list and only look at items that have a certain tag or that were added to the list over a year ago.

Of course, the biggest time-saver is not adding ideas (like this one) to the list in the first place.

Ready to take a quantum leap in your practice? Here’s what you need

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