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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How I set up a new project

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In sprucing up my Evernote account, I used the new “template” feature to create a new “Project Master Note” template. It helps me flesh out the bones of a new project.

For my first go at this, I used tables and color and channeled my inner designer to make it look pretty. Unfortunately, my inner designer died years ago and it was a hot mess. I went back to my “plain text” roots and now the template is lean (and boring) but functional.

The first line of the template says PROJECT. I give each project a name or title and sometimes a sub-title.

The second line says PURPOSE/OUTCOME. I describe what I want to accomplish and why it’s important.

Knowing the OUTCOME clarifies what I want to do. Knowing the PURPOSE helps me wade through all of my active or planned projects and prioritize what I want to work on today or this week.

The third line is for the due date. I usually leave this blank or write n/a, but sometimes there is a due date or at least a target date.

The fourth line heading is STATUS. This is followed by checkboxes for Idea, Planned, Active, On Hold, Cancelled and Completed.

Next is DESCRIPTION. I write a one or two sentence summary of what I plan to do.

Then, NOTES/BRAINSTORMING. I use bullet points to record ideas, problems, features, benefits, and other thoughts about the project.

The next line says NEXT ACTIONS. Under this heading, I use checkboxes to indicate what to do first, what to do after that, and so on.

Finally, RESOURCES. Here I put links to websites, other notes in Evernote, shortcuts to files and documents on my hard drive, and so on.

Between each of these sections is a horizontal rule to visually separate things.

Unlike my first go at this, my template takes up very little room and allows me to see everything with minimal scrolling.

I’ve used this for a couple of months and I’m happy with it. But like most things, it is a work in progress and will likely change.

Anyway, that’s what I’m doing (and why). How about you?

Do you use a new project template or master note? What do you include (and why)?

My ebook: Evernote for Lawyers

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I feel good. I knew that I would, now

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Albert Schweitzer said: “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”

Actually, science says he’s right. By mapping the brain to identify dopamine production they found that pleasure results in greater productivity.

When you feel good about what you’re doing, you give it more energy. You work harder and get better results.

Are there exceptions? Sure. In the short term, you can make a lot of money doing something you detest. But it catches up with you in terms of poor health, failed relationships, and other negative consequences. So you wind up with money but you’re still not happy.

Why not start with happy and have both?

Stop looking at happiness as the end result or an added bonus and start seeing it as the pathway to success.

Most lawyers who aren’t happy suck it up and continue working until they have enough money, contacts, and ideas to retire or go with plan B.

Some make it. Some don’t.

How about this: If you don’t love what you’re doing, change something–your practice area, partner, job, or methods. Find different clients. Adopt different marketing strategies. Compartmentalize your work so can focus on the parts of your practice you enjoy and delegate or automate the rest.

Because success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.

Get more referrals so you can hire more help and let them do the things you don’t like

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What are your three things?

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“Perhaps the most important personal productivity tool ever discovered is what we call the “Law of Three.” This law says that 90% of all of your results and eventually, your income, come from only three of your daily activities.”

So says Brian Tracy in a post on his blog.

In 80/20 parlance, those three activities are your “vital few”–20% activities that deliver 80% of your results.

And they’re different for everyone.

Tracy used sales managers as an example. He says their three things are recruiting, training and managing.

So, what are your three things?

Of all the things you do in your practice, what three activities create the most value?

Focus on those three things. Do more of them, get better at them, and you should be able to increase your income at an accelerated rate.

You may also find that you can let go of a lot of things that aren’t your top three. This will give you more time (and energy) for your top three activities, allowing you to compound your results.

But don’t stop there.

Once you’ve done this exercise and found your three activities, do the same exercise for each of those three.

If one of your 20% activities is litigation, for example, identify the top three activities that make you better or more successful at it.

If one of your top three activities is marketing (and if it’s not, what’s up wit dat?), make a list of all of the marketing activities you do and from that list, choose your top three.

Which marketing activity brings in the most clients? Which produces your best clients? Which activity do you do best and want to do more?

Focus your marketing on those three things and consider letting go of or doing less of everything else.

You’ll thank me later.

One of my top three: client referrals

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How to finish what you start

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You know that business project you started last year and never finished? That great idea that had the potential to multiply your income or significantly change your life?

Yeah, me too.

We’re good at coming up with ideas and starting things, aren’t we? Why aren’t we good at finishing them?

Lots of reasons. Fear is a biggie.

But rather than psychoanalyze ourselves, we’re better served figuring out what to do about it.

How can we finish more of the things we start?

One of the best solutions I’ve found is to make sure you have some skin in the game.

Put your reputation or your money on the line so that you are compelled to finish. Let fear work for you instead of against you.

Investing a lot of money into a goal creates an emotional commitment to the goal. Your fear of losing your investment will push you to see it through.

Sign up for a class and get someone to take it with you. They’ll hold you accountable to show up when you might otherwise find excuses to quit.

Announce your project to your email list, friends, or colleagues, and promise to provide regular updates. When you find yourself slacking off, you’ll remember that you’re going to have to explain yourself and pick up the pace.

Projects are easy to start and just as easy to abandon. As Jim Rohn put it, “What’s easy to do is also easy to not do”.

Get some skin in the game and make it not so easy to not do.

A simple way to get a lot more referrals

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My favorite productivity technique (this week)

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Of all the productivity techniques I use and talk about, one stands out as my favorite. I use it when I’m feeling overwhelmed by a project and don’t know what to do. I use it when I’m procrastinating, can’t focus, or I want to give up and go play.

It’s nothing new. Nothing I haven’t talked about before. It’s just something I use a lot when I feel stuck.

I used it recently with my Evernote account. (I just passed 10,000 notes, thank you, and revamped everything. I’ll talk about that later.)

Anyway, I’m calling this technique “going micro” and it has two elements.

The first element is to continually break things up into progressively smaller and smaller parts or steps until I find one that’s so small, I can’t NOT do it.

This is key. If you’re balking at updating your website, for example, pick a first task that’s so small it doesn’t feel like work.

That small first step might be gathering up all your notes on the subject and putting them in one place. I did that recently with a new project. It’s big and daunting and my eyes glaze over when I think about everything I have to do.

Break things up into tiny Kindergarten-simple action steps.

My first step was to put 107 notes about the project in a (temporary) new notebook. Small step, big victory. The project has begun.

My next step, also something so small I can’t not do it, is to sort through my notes, tag the important ones, and move the rest back into “gen pop,” i.e., move them back into my Reference notebook.

Easy. Simple. Done.

Next, I’ll go through the newly tagged important notes and make a “Master Project Note,” describing the project and listing all of the “Next Actions.”

You can bet that those next actions will also be small.

Small steps for the win.

The second element of “going micro” is to work in small increments of time. Five minutes to sort through my notes, for example.

Five minutes is something I can do. And because it’s “only” five minutes, it’s not something I will resist.

When five minutes is up, I might choose to continue working (for another 5 minutes), or do something else. I might choose another task in that project or I might do something fun or frivolous, to reward myself for being a good boy.

By giving yourself permission to stop working after 5 minutes, continuing to work becomes a choice, not a commitment. This lessons resistance and allows us to feel good about what we’re doing.

Anyway, it works for me and it’s my favorite productivity technique this week. Next week? Who knows.

My Evernote for Lawyers ebook

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Could you use an extra 20 hours a week?

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Ramit Sethi, author of “I Will Teach You To Be Rich,” described his number one productivity “tool” and how it saves him 20 hours a week.

What would you do with an extra 20 hours?

He said he’d tried all the tips and hacks, tools and apps, everyone hears about. Some worked, some stuck, but nothing he tried did more for him than save a few minutes here and there.

“I needed to save more than just a few minutes — I needed to free up 2+ hours a day,” he said. “And we all know that working harder isn’t the solution.”

I’m liking where this is going. How about you?

Sethi continued:

The most successful people have something in common: People who can help them — a personal trainer, a business coach, a supportive spouse.

I realized I had money but not time — and that, with this money, I could “buy back” my time.

That’s when I hired an assistant.

He then details all of the things his assistant does for him. It’s a long list.

As soon as I read this, I thought about how I was at my most productive when I had people working for me. I could power through a big stack of files and get a lot of work out the door in a matter of minutes.

Decide what I want or need. Dictate. Done.

My secretary would type, make calls and take calls and a crap-ton more. It freed me up to do what I do best.

Yep. Delegation. It allowed me to earn more and work less. To work smarter, not harder.

If you don’t have anyone working for you right now, a good place to start is by hiring a virtual assistant. I’ve mentioned before that attorney Gordon Firemark has a VA in the Philippines that costs him a whopping $75 per week and she works for him full-time.

Full friggin time.

She updates his websites, edits videos, posts on his blog, assists with his podcast, and so on, freeing him up to work with clients and marketing. “I get to have dinner with my kids almost every night,” he said.

That’s what I’m talking about.

Marketing is easier when you know The Formula

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Stay in audit mode

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You’ve started something on your list and realize you would rather do something else.

Do it.

It’s your list and you can (and should) re-write it whenever you want.

Sure, you want to get things done. But you have to be flexible about what you do and when you do it. You’re the boss. Don’t fight with your list.

Gary Vaynerchuk said,

People might be surprised by this: Even though I run a $200 million agency, I’m an obnoxious procrastinator.

But I also get a lot done.

I stay in constant “audit mode.” I’m always leveling up what’s most important and prioritizing it in real time. I’m adjusting to the reality of my life in the moment I’m living it.

Vaynerchuk is a busy guy. He has his finger in a lot of business pies and doesn’t worry about what he’s working on at any given moment.

“As long as I’m executing on something every single day, I know I’m moving the needle. I don’t get crippled by the amount of things I “need” to do, or the number of priorities I have.”

He doesn’t fight his tendency to procrastinate he embraces it and uses it his advantage.

Don’t prioritize your lists in advance. Stay in constant audit mode and prioritize in the moment.

Need clients? Start here

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Eliminate and grow rich

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If you have too much to do and not enough time to do it, if your to-do list is never-ending and continually growing, if your “someday/maybe” list has cobwebs growing on it, the 80/20 rule can help.

Remember, it says, “a minority of causes, inputs, or efforts usually lead to a majority of the results, outputs or rewards.” So, the first thing to do is go through your lists and identify your 20%-ers.

You can do this in one sitting, once a month, or once a day.

Ask yourself, “What can I do today (this week, soon, next) that will deliver the biggest results?” or “What can I focus on right now that will bring me closer to achieving my most important goal?”

NB: The answer will often be something you’ve been putting off.

The next step: take everything else and eliminate it.

Delete or delegate. Or, if you are having trouble letting go of things, bury them–in another app, another file, or somewhere else you won’t see them.

Eliminating things is difficult for most people but it is key to achieving extraordinary results in your life. In Essentialism, Greg McKeown said, “It’s about making the trade-off between lots of good things and a few really great things.”

And you need time to do the really great things.

Warren Buffett put it this way: “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

What can you say no to today?

Say yes to referrals

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Sprint and grow rich

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How many emails do you typically get in a day? And how much time do you spend processing them and responding?

My guess: too many emails and too much time. Time that could be spent doing more important things.

And then there’s the time we spend checking our inbox, to see what’s new. I just learned that the average is 88 times per day. Yikes.

We’re drawn to the inbox because we know it might contain something urgent or threatening, or, at the other end of the spectrum, something pleasurable or distracting.

We’re addicted to checking.

The problem is that each time we check our inbox, we lose time switching from the task we were doing before to the email and then back again. How much time? Up to twenty minutes. Yikes.

Now you know why an entire day can go by and you feel like you got nothing done.

No doubt you’ve heard about the habit of checking email just once or twice a day, at pre-determined times. That can help. When you check, make sure you have the time and energy to deal with what’s come in.

Consider doing an “email sprint”. Set a timer for 15 or 20 minutes, get through as many emails as possible, and stop. That should leave you time to work on anything that’s urgent or important.

Oh yeah, you should probably do the same thing with social media. Just saying.

How about a referral sprint?

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