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I read an article about the scientific basis of procrastination  (short answer: we do it because it makes us feel better), and how to stop it.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that one of the keys to overcoming procrastination is to get started. According to research, any progress we make can be a big motivator to keep going.

Of course, getting started is often the hardest part. One way to do it, according to the article, is to “make getting started ridiculously easy”.

Here are 5 ways to do that, including one I’ve never heard of:

  1. Organize it. Gather your notes, open a new file, put a date on your calendar, set up a new “project” template, make a list of steps, etc. Any one of these means you’ve started.
  2. Talk to someone about it. Explain the task to a partner, or friend, ask for feedback or suggestions. Talking about it means you’ve started. It also means someone you know will probably ask you “how’s it going”.
  3. The Salami Technique. Carve up the task into tiny slices, things that you can do in a few minutes.
  4. Use a timer. Give yourself five minutes to work on it. You can do a lot in five minutes.
  5. Sit and think about it. According to the author of the article, “I start by just thinking about the task for a while, until I’m drawn in and can’t help working on it.”

The last one sounds intriguing. I imagine that sitting and thinking about something you’ve been avoiding gets you to start it because doing “something” is better than doing nothing.

Will any of these help you complete a task you’ve been avoiding? I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure they’ll help you get started.

Procrastinating on marketing? This will help you start

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To do: re-think this whole “to-do list” thing

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My wife doesn’t make to-do lists. And yet she gets a ton of stuff every day. She seems to know what to do and she gets it done.

How? You’re asking the wrong guy. I’m the guy who loves to make lists, try out different apps and different systems for managing my lists.

How about you? Are you a list maker? Or are you more like my wife and usually know what to do?

You know what? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we get our most important things done.

There seems to be a growing trend against the primacy of the to-list. I see articles that say “to-do lists don’t work” or to-do lists cause us to emphasize quantity over quality, or we should use our calendar to schedule our entire day.

I say, do what works for you (and quit spending so much time reading articles about lists).

Let’s say this is to-do list for today:

–Call Max to schedule lunch for next week.
–Review/respond to email.
–Pick up dry cleaning.
–Review lease for Smith.
–Meet with Sally about changes to website.
–Prep for Anderson trial.
–Order new desk lamp.
–Review/edit Blackthorne amendments.
–Finish laundry.

It should be clear that prepping for the upcoming Anderson trial is the most important thing on this list.

It’s the “one thing” that has to be done today. Everything else is number two.

And nobody needs an app to tell them that.

Evernote for Lawyers

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I don’t know, stop asking me

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I’m playing around with a “time management” app I used many years ago. It was updated recently and so far I like what I see.

This, after many years of trying more apps than I can count and always coming back to Evernote.

Who knows, I may finally make a “permanent” switch.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about something I’ve been thinking as I transfer tasks from Evernote to the other app.

As I re-create the projects and underlying tasks in the old/new app, I have to make decisions about them.

Lots of decisions–about which projects should be front and center, which tasks should be “next actions,” which tasks should get a due date and what that date should be.

You have to decide what you want to accomplish.
You have to decide what to do next.
You have to decide when you will do it.

You know the routine.

Because you do, you know how easy it is to get overwhelmed with all those decisions.

It’s why we tend to drift away from what we’re doing and look for a better system.

Indecision causes stress and drains energy. In GTD parlance, unmade decisions (or rashly made ones, I suppose), are called “open loops”.

Open loops nag you and call you names. So you keep giving them attention when you should be doing other things.

If this sounds painfully familiar, I have a suggestion: Decide not to decide.

Decide that you don’t have to make a decision right now and schedule a future “review” date, where you will review the task or project and decide what to do about it.

Until then, you won’t think about it.

Assign a “start date” instead of a “due date”. When the start date arrives, do your review.

When you decide not to make a decision you are actually making a decision. When you become comfortable postponing decisions, you close open loops, gain clarity, and reduce your stress level.

Don’t let your tasks push you around. Tell them to go away–for now.

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Don’t get your panties in a festival

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Life is short. And messy. It’s easy to get worked up about little things that don’t amount to a hill of beans. 

Most things don’t matter. As John C. Maxwell put it, “You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.”

So my message to you (and myself) is to let it go. Whatever’s bothering you, put it in a helium balloon and let it float away.

(That’s the image I use sometimes. You’re welcome to use it.)

A few things do matter. Maybe 20%. Maybe less. Probably less. These few things, “the precious few,” account for most of your results and are worth most of your effort.

But they’re not worth any of your worry. Nothing is, because worry is a useless emotion. 

When you feel yourself starting to worry about a problem or poor results, use that feeling as a signal to review what you’re doing (or not doing) and make adjustments.

Ask yourself, “What can I do about this?” If there’s something you can do, do it. That’s your plan. If you don’t know what to do, your plan is to find out what you can do.

And if can’t do anything about the problem? Yep. Let it go.

Marketing made simple for attorneys

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What’s new, pussycat?

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When you’re fresh out of ideas for bringing in more clients, when you don’t have a clue about what to write in your newsletter, if you’re looking for a way to breathe life into your practice or personal life, I have a suggestion.

Stop what you’re doing and do something else.

Something different. Something new. Something you don’t usually do.

Go to a museum, a ball game, or a park you’ve never been to. Talk to people you don’t know. Read a book about a subject you know nothing about.

Change your routine and your atmosphere and watch what happens.

You may be out of ideas but the world isn’t. Ideas are everywhere–you just can’t see them at the moment because you’re caught up in the routine and minutiae of your day.

So, if you’re out of mental gas, especially if you’re feeling down about it, don’t worry. In a few hours or a few days, you can refill your tank and get back on the road.

More good news.

Sometimes, you can do the same thing in a few minutes.

When you’re in the middle of something and feeling stuck or tired or unmotivated, don’t just take a break, do something completely different.

If you’re writing an article, go play with your cat for a few minutes. If you’re reading and taking notes, take a quick trip to the store, walk around the block, or make a couple of calls.

It’s called “pattern interruption” and it can help you refocus, refresh, or find new ideas.

When I’m done sending this to you, I’m going to get another cup of coffee and start working on my next big idea.

When was the last time a client sent you a referral?

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Reducing decision fatigue

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I forget where I read it but it makes sense: we can only make so many decisions in a day before our brains reach “decision fatigue” and the quality of our decisions diminishes.

The upshot is that we should do our best to make important decisions earlier in the day.

We can also reduce decision fatigue by finding ways to make fewer decisions.

One way is by develop more routines.

I’m sure you’ve heard the idea of wearing the same color t-shirt every day. Once you’ve chosen your color and brand, you don’t have to think about it again.

Once you’ve figured out the best route to different courthouses, write it down and you won’t have to think about it again.

Another way to reduce decisions (and speed up your work) is to create checklists for everything.

Checklists for opening and closing a file, conducting a client interview, reviewing and summarizing a deposition transcript,  in case of emergency, and so on.

Templates and boilerplate for writing letters and emails or responding to FAQs also help. So do lists of resources you frequently access or recommend (links, cites, references, forms, notes, etc.)

Start by paying attention to all of the decisions you make today. You’ll probably be surprised at how many there are and how much time you spend making them.

Then, look for ways to eliminate small decisions so you’ll have more time for the big ones.

If you have “referral fatigue,” here is the answer

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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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