How to make an effective ‘today’ list

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Last week we talked about the value of making a list of tasks for today (or tomorrow). Here are some tips for doing that.

  • Give yourself a few more minutes than you think you need to prepare your list. 15 minutes planning might save you an hour of doing.
  • Your list should include important tasks, eg, goal-related, and less important but necessary tasks like errands and admin.
  • Consider your day. What’s on your calendar? Will you need travel or prep time? Have you overbooked? Is it mentally or physically demanding work, or does the day look relatively light?
  • Look at your projects and goals lists before you plan the day. What do you need to work on to advance your projects? What’s coming up soon that might need some attention now?
  • Don’t overwhelm yourself. We’re often too optimistic about what we can do in a day. 5-10 tasks is a good number for most people. If you finish early, you can always find more to do, or call it a day.
  • Consider how you feel. If you’re sick or dragging, schedule a lighter day. Also consider how you feel about the tasks you’re planning to do. If you don’t like something (and can’t delegate it), consider moving it to another day, or schedule it first to get it over with.
  • If you find yourself consistently unable to finish the tasks on your list, break them up into smaller, easy-to-do steps, and/or reduce the number of projects you’re currently working on.
  • Prioritize. Do your most important tasks first. Put them on the top of your list, when you have the most energy; errands can wait.
  • Allocate more time than you think you’ll need. I schedule one hour to do my blog, even though I usually get it done in less than 30 minutes.
  • Allow buffer time between tasks or appointments, in case you need more time than you thought, or you need a break.

In sum, an effective ‘today’ list is not too hot and not too cold. It’s a list you feel drawn to start, and drawn to complete, and when you’ve completed it, you know you’ve had a good day.

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Will you be ready for year-end?

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I was scrolling through my backlog of unread articles when I found this Year-end Law Practice Checklist It has some good advice about things to do or review at the end of the year that might be easy to forget, like archiving closed files, tax prep, CLE, and updating your processes (client intake, billing, etc.)

I’m sure you use checklists in your work, as do I; I want to encourage you to use more.

My goal is to use a checklist for almost everything, especially for recurring tasks.

I recently revised my daily schedule checklist and set up a new checklist for a certain project I frequently do. I also revised my weekly review checklist.

These checklists help me get the job done more quickly, avoid errors or omissions, and provide peace of mind that once I’m done, I can put the task or project out of mind until the next time I do it.

Checklists can be useful for

  • Your morning routine (so you get everything done before your workday begins)
  • End of day shut down process (so you remember to plan tomorrow before tomorrow begins)
  • Travel packing (. . .that time I went to a convention and forgot to pack neckties. . .)
  • Blog/newsletter (Where to find ideas, what to include, where to share it)
  • New client intake (What to ask, what to tell them, what to give or send, when to follow up)
  • File closing process
  • Preparing for arbitration, negotiation, or settlement conference
  • Preparing the client for deposition, etc.
  • Demand package checklist
  • Scheduling and conducting a Zoom conference (don’t forget to wear pants)

Start by brainstorming a list of checklists that might prove helpful and schedule time to flesh out a new one, or revise an existing one.

I often edit my checklists on the go, adding additional steps, removing steps I don’t use, and re-arranging the order to streamline the process.

What checklists do you use? Which new ones are you going to work on?

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A daily habit that massively increased my productivity

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Right now, you’re reading these words. What will you do after that?

I know what I will do. I decided that last night and wrote it in my plan for today.

The habit of planning my day before it begins, in the morning (good) or the night before (better), has made me much more productive. I know what I will do first each day, and what I will get done before the day ends.

The habit of planning my day not only helps me to have a full day, it helps me get my most important tasks done.

When we don’t plan our day, we tend to fill it randomly. Sometimes, we get important tasks done, often we waste time with unproductive activities. Or we spend a good portion of our day “reacting” to whatever is in front of us—calls and emails and requests for our time and attention. Our most important tasks get pushed to the end of the day, when we may be too tired to do them, or pushed off to another day when we repeat the cycle.

I know. That’s what I did before I started planning my day.

Long-term planning has value. So does planning your week. But I’ve found that nothing is more important than planning my day because that’s when the “doing” takes place.

When I’ve checked off the last item for the day, I feel a sense of accomplishment and look forward to planning tomorrow.

If you’re not doing this consistently, give a try. Take 10 minutes at the end of the day to plan your tomorrow. Do this every day for a week and you’ll never look back.

Do you have a plan to get more referrals?

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Two clarifying questions from David Allen

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I spoke to a lawyer yesterday who told me he wants to continue building his practice (which is doing well) and find something he can do on the side that might one day lead to bigger and better things.

He has an itch and wanted me to help him scratch it.

Most of our time was spent talking about ways to find ideas. For now, that’s what he’s going to focus on.

At some point, after he does a lot of exploring and researching and thinking, if and when he finds an idea he wants to pursue, he’ll need to decide what to do about it.

When that time comes, I’d tell him to do what David Allen suggests in Getting Things Done:

“Ask yourself two questions: What’s the successful outcome? And, What’s the next action (logical next step) to make it happen?” Allen says, “These provide fundamental clarity for Getting Things Done, and they lie at the core of most everything I teach.”

These questions are equally valuable for parsing a task or project list as they are for choosing your future.

Whether you’re starting a new chapter in your legal career, a new work project, or a new business, ask yourself what “done” looks like for you.

As Stephen Covey said, “start with the end in mind”.

In my work, especially when I’m struggling to start a project, or complete it, asking myself, “What’s the next action?” has been a game changer.

I ask that question and it helps me figure out the best (or easiest) place to start. I come back and ask that question again and again, and it helps me figure out what to do “next”.

Go ahead, think about something you need to do that you’ve been avoiding. Look at the list of all of the tasks you need to do and ask yourself, “What’s the next action?”

Start there.

How I use GTD in Evernote

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You can read this anywhere: a few thoughts about GTD contexts

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Getting Things Done (GTD) teaches us to identify our tasks by context—location, people, tools, and so on—so we can do things when and where we’re best equipped to do them. 

I stopped using most contexts a long time ago, since I can do just about anything from just about anywhere.

Calls, emails, reading, writing—I can do all of these from the office in my pocket. 

I still use the @waiting context, but not much else. 

I’m going to take another look at my use of contexts, however, based on a short video I saw last night, which makes the case for contexts based on “time plus energy”.

GTD has long recommended contexts for time and contexts for energy, but I like the way the presenter combines them:

  • Short Dashes: Tasks that can be done in more than 2 minutes and less than 15 minutes. Most calls and emails fit here, don’t they? 
  • Full Focus: Tasks requiring maximum energy, no distractions, and longer periods of time; deep work.
  • Brain Dead: When you can’t do anything that requires a lot of thought.
  • Routines: Your weekly review, exercise, writing a blog post. 
  • Hanging Around: Tasks that don’t require a lot of time or energy and don’t have a deadline, e.g., Light research, organizing notes, buying something online.

What do you think? Do any of these appeal to you? Do you already use something similar?

I like “Brain Dead” or “Hanging Around,” especially for things I can do after I’ve shut down work for the night. I’ll give this some thought later today. 

But first, I have some “Short Dashes” to take care of. 

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Inbox 20

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The average office worker spends 2.5 hours a day reading and responding to an average of 200 new emails each day. 

That’s on top of thousands more that fill their inbox. 

An out-of-control inbox can lead to missed deadlines, poor productivity, and a stressful day.

Many people seem to handle the chaos. Many more recognize the need to do something about it. Thus the concept of “Inbox zero,” the goal of emptying one’s inbox every day. 

For years, I lived with an inbox filled with tens of thousands of emails, many of which were unread. One day, I decided to go for “zero”. 

You can do the same, in just two steps:

Step one: identify the previous 30 days of emails, scan through them, reply to those that need a response, and flag or star anything else that needs you to do something. 

Step two: archive everything else. 

Anything older than 30 days can safely be put to bed. Archive it or use the snooze function, or forward it to your note app or task management app.

All the emails you archive will still be available to you. If you need something, you can find it via search. 

And, if someone replies to your email, it will show up again in your inbox. 

Soon, you will be looking at a pristine inbox. Enjoy the feeling. It won’t last long.

But here’s the thing. 

Inbox zero is the goal, but for many of us, “Inbox 20” is usually good enough. An inbox with 20 emails in it at one time won’t crush you. You can probably get through them by the end of the day.

20 is the new zero.

I forward project-related emails to Evernote

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It’s new, but is it better?

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You know how you find a new app you want to use, only to find (a few days or weeks later) that you prefer the old app?

Happens all the time, doesn’t it?

The thing is, when you start using the new app, it’s tempting to port all your data to the new app and delete the original.

Yeah, don’t do that.

Keep using both apps, in parallel, until you’re sure the new app is the one you want to keep.

It’s more work to use two apps, but if you decide to switch back, you’ll be glad you did.

For the last few years, I haven’t used a regular calendar to track appointments, due dates, reminders, and so on, I’ve used another app I use for other things.

It works well for me, but I recently decided to go back to a regular calendar.

I set up calendars for each Area of Focus (Work, Personal, etc.), added notifications, repeating tasks, reminders, and started using it daily.

So far, so good.

But I’ve been down this road before, so instead of removing all my dates and data from the original app, I still use it alongside the calendar.

If I decide not to continue with the calendar, switching back will be as simple as giving it up. If I find the calendar works better for me and I want to stick with it, it will be just as simple to stop using the original app.

The next time a shiny new object catches your eye and you’re tempted to switch, before you do that, think about all the time you have invested in your current app or method, and remember that at one time, it was the shiny new object.

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4 ways to produce more content in less time

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Content marketing is a simple concept. You write or record something that educates your target market about legal problems and solutions and thus show them what you do and how you can help them. This brings you more traffic, more subscribers, more followers, more new clients, repeat clients, and referrals.

You can use articles, blog posts, newsletters, podcasts, video channels, social media, and other means to disseminate your content. 

Sounds good, right, but producing a steady stream of content for a blog or newsletter or podcast, takes time, and you don’t have that time.  

Never fear, here are 4 ways to get the job done more quickly.

1) Don’t write, re-write

Re-write your old posts and articles with fresh examples and stories, updates to the law, or different ways of saying what you said before. 

You can also “slice and dice”. Cut up old posts and combine them into new ones. 

No doubt have lots of material on your hard drive that can be re-written, updated, or re-purposed. Or, if it’s been awhile since you published something, publish it again. 

You can also re-write someone else’s content. Use their idea and basic structure but your words, examples and stories. 

2) Don’t write one article, write ten

Instead of writing one blog post on a topic, write 3. Or ten.

Take a subject you know well, or research for an hour or two, and write a month’s worth of articles on different aspects of that subject. 

It’s called “bundling” or “batching” and it’s a great way to produce a lot of content. 

If you handle personal injury, for example, you could write about tort law, the claims process, how cases are evaluated, medical treatment, liens, first party insurance, negotiation, and a lot more. And that doesn’t include litigation. 

3) Write less

Instead of writing lengthy newsletters, like I see many attorneys do, cut them up into shorter articles, one subject per post. People don’t have time to read 3000 words. Help them (and yourself) by delivering 300. 

4) Write faster

You can write content more quickly by outlining it first and then dictating it. Pretend you’re teaching a class or doing a presentation on the subject–talk, record, transcribe, edit, done.

Something else:

The more you write, the quicker you get at writing. Write often and you’ll soon crank out a lot more content in a lot less time. 

I’ve used all of these tactics and they work. They’ve helped me produce millions of words, which have brought me millions of dollars.

Now it’s your turn.

How to write more content for your blog

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3 things that make habits sticky

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Writing my blog post/newsletter is a well-established habit for me. I’ve been doing it for years and never have to remind myself, it’s just something I sit down and do.

It’s a sticky habit.

I have another habit that was sticky but has come unstuck.

For a long time, I took a walk 6 days per week. Then I missed several days and had trouble getting back to it.

I’m back to doing a short walk a few days per week, but I want to work my way back to my regular schedule.

James Clear, author of the best-selling Atomic Habits, tells us there are three things that help habits stick:

1) Repetition. Habits form based on frequency, not time.

2) Stable context. If the context is always changing, so is the behavior. You need a reliable environment.

3) Positive emotions. If it feels good, you’ll want to repeat it.

My thoughts:

1) Repetition

I started writing my blog/newsletter once a week. I increased this to thrice weekly, and for several years now, I write a post every weekday.

Repetition clearly made a difference.

What really got this habit to stick, however, was announcing my schedule to the world.

The world held me accountable.

Even today, when I might feel like taking the day off from writing, knowing there are people waiting to hear from me keeps me on schedule.

2) Stable context

The main issue with my walks is the weather. When it’s cold, it’s harder to get out the door, especially in the morning.

My context isn’t stable.

The solution might be as simple as getting warmer clothes, sweatpants and sweatshirt, instead of the shorts and t-shirts I usually wear.

3) Positive emotions

I enjoy writing my newsletter. I also enjoy the results it brings me.

I enjoy my walks. I get exercise, time to think and time to dictate notes.

So, how about you? Are your (positive) habits sticky? If not, now you know what to do.

Ready to up your marketing game? Here’s how

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When is this thing really due?

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Are your calendar and task manager filled with due dates and deadlines you regularly fail to meet? I’m not talking about statutory or contractual deadlines; I’m sure you have these under control.

Because you have to.

Bad things happen when you miss “hard” deadlines.

I’m talking about “soft” deadlines, dates you assign to your tasks and projects that you would like to meet but often don’t.

There are ways to turn a soft deadline into a hard one, making it much more likely that you’ll meet it. Tell a client when you’ll have something ready for them, for example, and they (and your fear of losing the client) will usually hold you accountable to getting it done as promised.

But there’s something else you can do to prevent yourself from missing soft deadlines.

Stop setting them.

Many “experts” advise scheduling due dates for everything. The problem is, most people aren’t very good at estimating how long things will take, or what they will be working on weeks or months in advance, and wind up missing many of their due dates.

When you routinely miss soft deadlines without penalty, your brain learns that it is okay to miss due dates, and eventually ignores them.

It’s dispiriting to continually move tasks from one (missed) due date to another. It makes you feel like your tasks are in charge of you instead of the other way around.

A better system is to reserve “due” dates for hard dates only (meetings, filing deadlines, appointments, and things you’ve promised to get done). For everything else, use a “do” date or “start” date.

“Do” dates and “start” dates are aspirational. You plan to do something or start something on a certain date, but there are no negative consequences if you don’t. They’re not deadlines, they’re reminders.

For long-term projects, or projects you’re not sure you’re ready to start, you can also schedule periodic reminders or “review” dates.

Or you can do what I do.

I only record hard deadlines.

Everything else I need to do, or want to do, I keep on lists, and schedule hard deadlines to review those lists.

Once I week, I go through my lists and decide what I want (or need) to work on that week (or soon). I move these to another list.

I go through that list every day (or the night before) and decide what to work on that day.

I may not know what I’ll be working on next week or next month, but I get things done and never worry about missing a deadline.

If you use Evernote for your lists, check out my Evernote for Lawyers ebook

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