Do you have a “getting to work” ritual?

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Before you start your work for the day, or begin another session, is there anything you routinely do just before you begin?

A routine, a habit, a ritual?

Maybe you always sit down with a fresh cup of your favorite hot beverage. Maybe you put on headphones and listen to your favorite jam. Maybe you assemble your notes or review what you wrote the day before.

You might like to check your calendar and task list, clear your email inbox, or dash off some instructions to your assistant, to clear your mind of those tasks so you can work on things that require more focus.

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, said a “getting to work” ritual makes getting started easier and makes procrastination less likely, even if that ritual has nothing to do with the work itself.

Surfing the web, playing a video game, reading a few pages in a novel—a starting ritual could be anything that puts you in a good mood.

“When people talk about procrastination,” Duhigg said, “what they’re usually talking about is the first step. In general, if people can habitualize that first step, it makes it a lot easier.”

It seems it’s not so much what you do, it’s that you do something that signals your brain it’s time to get to work.

Researchers tell us that not only can a starting ritual help you start, it can also help you perform better. No doubt that has a lot to do with being in a good mood.

Whether you call it getting warmed up, clearing the morning cobwebs from your brain, or having a bit of fun before you dive into the challenges of the day, a getting started ritual makes a lot of sense.

Before I wrote this, I played Words With Friends for 5 minutes, scrolled through my YouTube feed and bookmarked some videos to watch later, and got some coffee.

I don’t know if it helped me get started, but it sure put me in a good mood. Yeah, it was probably the coffee.

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The simplest way to be more productive

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If you’re not getting the results you want in your work, you may be trying to do too much.

Which means you might get more done by doing less.

Take a few minutes to examine your schedule and see where you might need to cut down.

Too many commitments

When you take on too many cases or clients at one time and you can’t keep up with the work, the work suffers. To do your best work, you may need to hire more help or be more selective about the cases or clients you accept.

Too many projects or goals

Not everything on your list is equally important. You must ruthlessly prioritize your lists so you can focus on your most important tasks and goals.

It’s better to schedule 3 or 4 important tasks for the day, and get them done, than to complete (or attempt) 10 or 15 less important tasks. It’s better to set one or two achievable goals, and achieve them, than to reach for the stars and fail to get off the ground.

Too many hours

Humans are good for about 3 hours of peak mental performance per day. After that, we start to lose focus and the quality of our work suffers. Schedule two to three hours for “deep work” each day, early in the day if possible, and use the rest of the day for less-demanding tasks.

Working until exhaustion, or “eight to faint” as a friend of mine describes it, is never a good idea. Neither is working without taking breaks.

Many attorneys work too much. They see doing more as the best way to achieve more. Too often, it does the opposite.

If you’re not getting the results you want, you may be trying to do too much. Try doing less and you might find yourself accomplishing more.

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How often do you check email?

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I have an addiction. I can’t stop checking my email inbox. All day, every day, I click and see what’s new.

I delete 90% of what comes in, but that still leaves me with a lot of messages to respond to or think about or flag for future action.

True, that’s the nature of email, but when you process your inbox every hour, or several times an hour, you get distracted from other things you’re working on, or should be working on.

A lot of rabbit holes find their entrance in your email inbox, don’t they?

I know I’m addicted and not just busy because when I’m not checking email, I’m thinking about it. Which drives me to check again.

I’ve got notifications turned off, and that helps. But like Pavlov’s dog, I’m already conditioned. Whenever I’m in front of my computer or I have my phone in hand, I click and check.

No matter what else I’m doing, there’s always a bit of underlying tension in my body as I feel the urge to click something.

Enough is enough. Recently, I decided to break my addiction.

I set up two rules for myself:

  1. I keep the browser tab closed. To check Gmail, I have to open a new tab. By making it a deliberate act instead of a reflexive one, I give myself a moment to consider what I’m doing.
  2. I treat processing email as a task and schedule it. Once in the morning, once in the evening.

How’s it going?

I’m having withdrawal systems, that’s for sure. I had to break my rule once because I was waiting for something to come in and if I waited until the evening to check, I wouldn’t have had time to handle it.

But once I’m used to this new schedule, I think my brain will thank me for giving it some time off.

On the other hand, it might demand that I change the rules so I can check my inbox 3 times a day.

Most people check their email often. Which is one reason email is so effective for marketing legal services

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A simple business development productivity system

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You want to bring in new clients and build your practice. You have a list of projects that will help you do that.

You might want to work on your website or start a newsletter, update your social media profiles, consolidate your contact lists, or watch videos about a new note-taking app you’ve heard so much about.

But you’re not doing them.

You scheduled time to work on X this week but when you sit down to do it, you realize you don’t have enough time, you need to do more research, or you just don’t feel like doing it.

So you do nothing.

“I’ll work on that next week,” you tell yourself, but do you?

There’s a simple solution.

Instead of scheduling to do X (today, this week, next), schedule time to work on business development (marketing, operations, systems, etc.), and keep of menu of projects to choose from during that time.

So when you don’t feel like working on X, you can work on Y or Z.

Here’s how you might set this up.

  1. Make a list of 5-10 projects or tasks you are committed to working on soon.
  2. Choose a day of the week to work on “Business Development” for one hour. A Wednesday afternoon, a Saturday morning, or whatever.
  3. Set up a weekly recurring task in your task management system, calendar, or reminder app, or use a free email service like FollowUpThen.com, so that every week you are prompted to work on business development for one hour.
  4. Add your list of 5-10 tasks or projects as sub-tasks, or a link to your list.
  5. Each week, when your system prompts you to work on business development, look at your list and choose something you want to do.

This week, you might write an email or two. Next week, you might outline a new presentation. The following week, you might modify your new client intake form.

You always have several options and it doesn’t matter which one you choose. Each week, you do something related to business development, and that’s better than doing nothing.

Ready to work on a newsletter? Here’s all you need

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Does your life need to go on a diet?

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It was just yesterday that you started practicing. Or so it may seem. The days whiz by, don’t they? Another day, another week, another month, another year, come and gone.

Where will you find the time to do everything?

The answer is to let go of things you don’t need to do or want to do but continue to do out of habit.

A good place to start is by reducing physical and digital clutter. Clean out closets and drawers, delete apps, and cut down on subscriptions.

To do your work, you need a calendar, a place for notes, a list of tasks and projects, a tool for writing, and a system for managing and storing documents.

You probably don’t need much more.

If you do, be judicious about what you add to the mix.

You want to reduce the noise around you and simplify your workflow. You want to focus on the “precious few” instead of the “trivial many”.

The goal is to be effective, with as little friction as possible.

To do that, you need to keep things as simple as possible.

The same goes for the information you consume. Be selective about what you read. Buy fewer books and courses, re-read and study the best ones.

You don’t need every idea; you need a few good ones.

Improve your note-taking skills and habits, so you can better use the information you consume.

How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and How to Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens will show you what to do.

Read broadly but focus on your core skills: your practice area, marketing, writing, speaking, leadership, and productivity.

One thing you should add to your workflow if you’re not already doing it, or doing it consistently, is time for planning.

Spend ten minutes every afternoon planning the following day. Spend an hour each weekend planning the following week.

This habit will help you get the most value out of your limited time.

One more thing.

When you do your planning, make sure you schedule time to enjoy the life you’re building.

Because no matter what you do, the days and weeks will continue to whiz by and you don’t want to look back someday and wonder if it was all worth it.

The only course you need on email marketing

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Time blocking part deux

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I’m trying time blocking again. I hate it but hear so many people having excellent results with it I have to try again.

But I’m being gentle, lest my perfectionism kick in and kick me in the groin.

I’ve watched videos to see how others do it, and try not to grimace at how easy they make it look. I’ve picked up some good ideas and am trying them as we speak.

If you don’t know anything about time blocking, aka time boxing, calendar blocking, et al., it simply means scheduling time on your calendar dedicated to doing specific activities—working on a specific project, for example, or doing a group of related tasks such as making calls, answering emails, writing, or reviewing files.

Time blocking is especially recommended for doing work that requires a lot of focus and concentration, so-called “Deep Work” made popular by Cal Newport in his eponymous book.

When I tried time blocking before, I resisted the idea of scheduling weeks in advance, especially the way some folks (claim they) do it—in five or ten-minute increments.

“How I am supposed to know what I will want to work on for ten minutes three weeks from now?”

I still feel this way, but I’m willing to compromise. So, for now, I’m time blocking one day at a time.

Each evening, I make my schedule for the following day. I know what else I have on tap and this gives me the flexibility I need. I also schedule time for recurring daily tasks, and blocks of time for deep work. I’m writing a book currently, and I make sure I’ve put time to do that on the calendar.

Because I’m new to this, I’ve started with 45 minute blocks—not too long, not too short—and adjust depending on how much I have to do or want to do each day. If I have a lot of calls, I allow more time for that, for example.

I’m also trying to follow the 1.5 rule—allowing 50% more time than I think something will take—because humans are notoriously bad at predicting how long things take, and I’m the poster boy for this.

If I schedule time to “Finish Chapter 7,” for example, and I’m not even close to finishing (see paragraph above), it’s disheartening, so I usually prefer to schedule time to “work on Chapter 7”.

But that’s “creative” work and I allow myself to be a bit of mad scientist in that area. For other tasks like writing my daily email, returning calls, or clearing inboxes, I almost always get everything done in the time allotted.

As for the time of day for each block, well, this is a work in progress. I’d like to be able to get my deepest work done early in the day, but the idea of doing it first thing is a non-starter with me. I get other things done first.

But that may change, too, as I get further along into this dystopian world of blocking my days.

How’s it going? So far, so good, but I still have a long way to go.

My wife just told me she wants me to accompany her to Costco. It’s not on my calendar, I’ve got other things scheduled, but what can I tell you—happy wife, happy life, so we’re off to the store.

Do you time block? Let me know if you have any tips.

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Todo List Triage

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When you have a big backlog of things to do, when your lists are out of control, when you feel out of control, as mentioned in yesterday’s post, the first step is to do a brain dump.

Get everything out of your head and onto one big list.

The next step is to cut that list down to size and to do that, you have to recognize that not everything on your list has to be done.

Many of the “wounded” on your list need to be left to die.

So, you might start culling your list by first figuring out which of your tasks are “must do”.

Mark them or put them on a separate list.

You don’t need to spend a lot of time figuring this out. Your gut will usually tell you the answer. But if you’re not sure about some tasks, asking yourself a few questions should help you figure things out:

  • Is this task aligned with my goals and purpose?
  • Is this a commitment to someone else/Was this assigned to me?
  • Is this important? What would happen if I didn’t do this?
  • Is this urgent? What would happen if I postponed this?
  • What are the benefits for getting this done?
  • Is there someone who is better suited to do this? Can I delegate all or part of this?
  • If I could only do three things on this list today, would I choose THIS task?

These questions should help you identify your must-do tasks and leave you with a shorter and more manageable list.

The next step is to schedule your must-do tasks.

Decide what you will do and when, and add them to your calendar and/or task list, alongside your existing commitments.

Once you’ve scheduled all of your must-do tasks, start or continue working on them. When you make some progress on your backlog, go back to your big list and go through it again.

You’ll pick up some must-do’s you might have have missed or things that have become urgent or taken on more importance. You’ll also be able to identify “nice-to-do” or “want-to-do” tasks you want to tackle next.

Because life is more than just getting your must-do’s done.

Take a deep breath and enjoy the feeling of having a list that’s no longer out of control.

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Bring a dump truck

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If you have too much to do and don’t know where to start, the first step, according to David Allen’s Getting Things Done method, is to do a brain dump.

Get everything out of your head and onto a list—everything you need to do or want to do, all of your ideas and obligations, everything you can think of that might be in your way of achieving your goals.

If you keep things in your head, they nag at you and confuse you and stop you from taking action because there is always too much to do.

“Your brain is for having ideas, not holding them,” Allen says.

By getting everything onto paper or into an app, you can stand back from the lot, evaluate everything in comparison to everything else, and make decisions about what to do.

If you’ve never done a brain dump before, or it’s been awhile since you did, give it a try. Most people report an enormous sense of relief once they have everything out of their head and onto a list.

There’s no right or wrong way to do it. Some people write in a journal, some use a scratch pad, some type, some dictate.

Pick a tool that feels right to you and start.

As you make your list, don’t edit, don’t cross out anything, don’t worry about duplicates, and don’t try to figure out how you’re doing to do any particular task.

For now, just dump.

You’ll probably want to do more than one session because you won’t think of everything the first time. You may also want to use a mind sweep “trigger list” to prompt you to recall things in different areas of your life.

When you can’t think of anything else, go through your calendar and task apps or any other lists you have and add these to your list.

Record everything in one place. A “trusted system,” Allen calls it. And relax, because you’re on your way to clarity and calm.

Give yourself a day or two away from the list and come back to it with fresh eyes.

No doubt you’ll see a lot of things you can immediately eliminate or put on a someday/maybe list. You’ll also see things you want to or need to do that can wait. Finally, you’ll identify things you need to do next and know you haven’t forgotten anything important.

And then you can get to work.

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The problem with your to do list is it’s a to do list

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I’ve been guilty of this myself. Creating a list of things I need to do each day, a collection of must-do’s and should-do’s and want-to-do’s, and rarely completely everything.

I would get the urgent stuff done but not necessarily get the most important stuff done, or even work on it.

And that was the problem.

I didn’t leave myself enough time to do “deep work” because there is a never-ending line up of other things I needed to do, and new stuff coming in every day.

I never got to the end of my daily list because my list was endless.

Productivity expert Mark Forster, author of Do it Tomorrow, which I’m currently reading, suggests a different approach. He says that instead of using an “open list” where new tasks are added as and when they come in, we use a “closed list,” meaning once we’ve made our list for the day, we add nothing to it.

If you get a call or email or remember something that needs your attention, unless it is a genuine emergency, you add it to your list for tomorrow.

This allows you to plan your day and allocate enough time to everything you have decided you will do.

Not necessarily everything you need to do or should do, everything you WILL do. And that’s an important distinction.

Your closed list is a commitment you make to doing the things on that list. It might seem like a minor difference but making a WILL DO list instead of a TO DO list forces you to decide what’s important and allocate enough time to do it.

If you’re frustrated with too much to do each day, this could be a simple way to gain some control over your day.

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A different take on Areas of Focus

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Most people who use a task management app or system separate their Areas of Focus (or Areas of Responsibility), so that when they’re working, they only see their list of work-related tasks, and when they’re not working, they see tasks or errands related to their personal life.

Many people use just two top-level categories—work and personal. Others break down their responsibilities into narrower categories.

I have 3 businesses and separate my tasks according to which business they belong to. I have a fourth category for personal matters. This works well for me but I’m always looking for different methods, especially since there is a lot of overlap between the things I do.

The other day, I watched a video by someone who separates her tasks not by job or business or other area of her life, but by the activities she performs.

To illustrate, using her activity-based approach, a practicing lawyer might categorize his or her responsibilities into these 7 areas:

  1. CREATE (blog posts, newsletters articles, podcasts, videos, social media posts, books, ads, presentations, etc.)
  2. CONNECT (interviews, networking, joint ventures, social media)
  3. LEARN (marketing, CLE, productivity, personal development, writing, etc.)
  4. MAINTAIN (admin, risk management, IT, client relations, bill paying, investing, etc.)
  5. ROUTINES (planning, processing, calendaring, training; personal routines and chores–exercise, meditation, journaling, self-care, shopping, etc.
  6. LEISURE/SPIRITUAL (rest, fun, family, miscellaneous interests, charitable, etc.)
  7. WORK (cases, client work)

This got me thinking. I’m not yet committed to changing my top-level Areas, but I am looking at using tags or labels to identify my different activities and responsibilities so I remember to schedule and do them.

I thought I’d pass this along to you in case you’d like to do the same.

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