3 ways to get better at finishing what you start

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Success isn’t measured by what you start but by what you finish. Here are 3 things that have helped me to get better at finishing things:

1) Choose tasks and projects you know you can finish

Whenever possible, choose tasks you’ve done before or that you know you have the talent, time, and resources to complete. Delegate everything else, unless it’s something you want to learn how to do.

2) Break up big projects and tasks into smaller parts

Preparing for trial is a big project. Break it up into smaller parts: make a list of evidence, compile research, and make a list of parties or witnesses to interview.

Too big? Break up each part into even smaller parts, things you can do in a few minutes, an hour, or today. Finish a chapter, not the book. Finish a page, not the chapter.

The smaller the parts, the more parts you’ll finish. Each time you finish something, you’ll feel good and want to repeat that feeling by doing more.

3) Do one thing at a time until you finish it

Single-task. Focus. Get rid of distractions and interruptions and keep at it until the task is done or you have taken it as far as you can reasonably go.

One more thing. As you finish a project or a part thereof, reward yourself. Get another cup of coffee, watch a video, read a chapter in a novel, or take the afternoon off. It doesn’t have to be much, just something that you can look forward to, enjoy, and feel good about getting things done.

Get organized and get things done with Evernote

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Start chopping, already!

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Abraham Lincoln famously said that if he has six hours to chop down a tree, he would spend four hours sharpening the ax. Or something like that. His point, of course, was that taking time to prepare before you do a job will make that job easier and the results better.

Okay, we all get that. But sometimes, we use “preparation” as an excuse to procrastinate.

“I’m not ready,” “I need to do more research,” “I need to think about it a bit longer,” we say. Too often, we never start.

Starting isn’t nearly as important as finishing but it’s a close second because you can’t complete a task you never start.

So start, before you’re ready. In the end, you’ll get more done.

If you make mistakes and have to fix them, if you mess up and have to start over, if you have to admit defeat and abandon the project, you’ll still get more done.

Now, I’m not saying don’t prepare. That would be silly. I’m saying don’t over-prepare. Wherever possible, do only as much preparation as you need to start.

Maybe you don’t need a week to do research before you begin. Maybe an hour will let you get rolling. If you find you need more, you can do more. But at that point, you’ll know more about the project and that might make the additional research go faster or be more useful.

Of course, you might find that one hour was all you needed.

If you have big, overwhelming projects, break them up into smaller parts, things you can do in a few minutes, an hour or two. Start those, and finish them, so you’ll be able to start and finish something else.

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What I’ve learned using the Pomodoro Technique

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I mentioned I’ve started using a Pomodoro timer to see if it helps me get more work done. When you don’t have a boss or clients or a set schedule, it’s easy to end your day and discover that you didn’t get that much done.

Using the timer keeps me focused on doing the work until it is done. Done might mean might mean finishing another group of tasks or another chapter, or it might mean completed a bunch of unrelated tasks.

While I’m working, if I have the urge to look at something online, I know it has to wait until the timer sounds and tells me it’s time for a break.

I ‘m also tracking my time reading and watching work-related videos. I give myself one Pomodoro (25 minutes) to do that each day. It’s how I keep my saw sharpened and my head (and Evernote) filled with ideas.

Anyway, so far, so good. I’m getting more work done and it feels good.

Doing this for the past few weeks has revealed some interesting things about how I use my time. Mostly, I’ve learned that some things take longer than I had thought. When I look at what I’ve done for the day or the week and compare that to how much time I spent doing it, I can see where I need to reconsider some of my priorities.

As I keep doing this, I will no doubt make some changes to my work flow. Some things will be allocated less time or eliminated, to make room for other things I’m not doing enough.

So here’s the thing.

If you’ve tried a Pomodoro timer in the past and stopped, as I did, try it again. There are a plethora of web apps and mobile apps you can use. Or find another way to track your time. If you bill hourly, start also tracking your non-billable time. If you don’t bill hourly, pretend you do.

You may gain some valuable insights into how you spend your day and identify some simple ways to improve your productivity and increase your income.

How I use Evernote to stay organized

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Working three hours a day

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I saw a blog post this morning citing a study about productivity in the UK. The study found that most people (in the study at least) are productive just under three hours a day.

True or not, it got me thinking. What would happen if we intentionally chose to work no more than three hours? Hey, in comparison to a four-hour work week, three hours a day is positively Draconian.

Is it possible? If it were, how would it change your life? Your health? Your happiness?

If you work for someone, your first thought might be that you would get canned if you only showed up three hours a day. Fair enough. So suppose (for now) that you showed up for eight hours or whatever you’re contracted for, got all your work done in three hours and nobody knew what you did the rest of the day?

If you work for yourself, imagine getting your work done in three hours, after which you could go home.

I know, sounds crazy, but what if it’s not?

Assuming arguendo that it is possible, what would you have to do to make it so?

Humor me. Think about it. You might ultimately conclude that it’s not possible but what if by thinking about it and making some changes you could cut an hour a day off your schedule?

Could you use an extra five (or six) hours a week to do something else?

Today, I don’t have answers for you. Just questions, to get you thinking. What would you have to do to make this happen?

What could you cut out? What could you consolidate? What could you delegate? And what could you do more quickly if you had better skills, equipment, or experience?

Think! Plant the idea in your subconscious and let it go to work for you. Let it find some ways for you to get your work done in less time.

I know, some people reading this are thinking, “It won’t matter. If I get my work done in three hours, I’ll spend the rest of the day doing more work.”

Lawyers. You can’t argue with them. Or take away their hourly billing.

Leverage is the key to earning more and working less. Here’s the formula

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If I could save time in a bottle

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If I could save time in a bottle. . . I’d sell it. I mean, who wouldn’t want to buy more time? More time with your family. More time for hobbies or worthy causes, more time get more work done.

How much would like to buy?

Unfortunately, I can’t sell you any time. But I can show you how to get it for yourself.

The first way to get more time is to steal it. Steal it from what you’re currently doing by taking on fewer tasks and projects or fewer cases and clients, and focusing on a smaller number of more valuable matters. Delegate less valuable work to others.

The second way to get more time is to get your work done more quickly. You can do that by improving your skills and knowledge, learning new skills and methods, using better tools, and developing better habits and workflows. Delegating work to others will also help.

The third way to get more time is to specialize in your practice areas and in the clients you target. This will allow you to charge higher fees and attract more clients (and better clients) who prefer attorneys who specialize.

The fourth way to steal time is through marketing, which will allow you to bring in bigger cases and clients, and allow you to hire more help.

Even better, instead of “one and done” marketing activities, do things that can bring in new business with little or no additional effort. Instead of only doing live presentations or seminars, for example, record them so they can go to work for you 24/7. Instead of networking to find clients, network to find more referral sources.

All of these will give you more time and more income. I know, because this is what I did to build my practice when I was struggling.

Work on fewer more valuable things, become more efficient, specialize, and get better at marketing. That’s how I was able to earn more and work less, and that’s how you can, too.

How I did it: the formula

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A to-do list by any other name

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The other day I watched a video that promised to show me why I should ditch my to-do list. The presenter said that to-do lists don’t work. Hmm. He said that instead of preparing a to-do list, I should prepare an “outcome” list, a list of things I want to accomplish.

Okay, I’ll bite.

He said that once you know the outcome, you should decide the things you need to do to achieve that outcome–and write those down.

Does something smell funny here?

Half the comments were along the lines of,”Awesome,” “I’m going to do this immediately!” and “Brilliant”. The other half said what I was thinking, “WTF, it’s still a to-do list”.

Click bait aside, what is this guy thinking?

I agree that you should create a to-do list based on your desired outcomes. That’s better than just randomly writing down whatever comes to mind. As Stephen Covey said, “Start with the end in mind”.

But wherever you start, it’s still a to-do list.

This morning, I was sent an article along the same lines. The title said something like, “Forget to-do lists, do THIS instead”. The author had interviewed wealthy and successful people who reportedly said they stay productive by time-blocking everything, that is, putting everything on their calendar in 15-minute increments.

“If it’s not on my calendar,” one said, “it doesn’t get done”.

I’m all for setting aside blocks of time dedicated to specific projects or groups of tasks but the idea of blocking out your entire day sounds like hell to me.

And, at the risk of stating the obvious (again), it’s still a to-do list. You’re simply deciding in advance when you will do it and writing that down.

(Hold on. . .)

Okay, I’m back. I only allocated 15 minutes for this post and the time ran out. I had to re-arrange my schedule so I could finish.

Here’s the thing. I don’t see how you can block out your entire day or week with that degree of granularity. Other than appointments, or a list of regular tasks that have be done each week, there are too many variables.

Things come up and need to be handled. Priorities change. Your energy level changes. You have to wait on other people.

You have to be flexible. Well, at least I do. I need my space, Jerry.

But hey, if it works for them, my hat’s off to them. (Hold on. I’m back. I had to look at my schedule to see when I’ll have time to go buy a new hat. . .looks like three weeks from never. . .)

Anyway, the fact is that while not everyone admits it, everyone makes to-do lists. Some write them on paper, some put them on their calendar or in an app, and some keep them in their head. But whatever they call it and wherever they keep it, it’s still a to-do list.

So I’m going to do what works for me and I suggest you do the same.

Okay, I’m off to work on a writing project. Or maybe I’ll work on something else. Hmm, I could get a sandwich first. I don’t know, I’ll see how I feel and then I’ll decide. Because that’s how I roll.

Need more clients? Here you go

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Running out of things to do

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What if you woke up one day, looked at your to-do list and there was nothing on it. No tasks, no projects, nothing to do or update or learn–nothing. Bupkis. A blank slate.

Relax, it’s never going to happen. But imagine for a moment that it did.

It would be weird, wouldn’t it? Since pre-school, we’ve always had things to do. Now, nothing? It would be frightening. And exciting. You can do whatever you want.

If you had to fill your list from scratch, what would you put on it? Tasks and projects, big and small, now or next–what would you put on your list?

When I began my recent “Kanban” task management experiment, that’s what I asked myself. I emptied my head and wrote down everything I could think of. Then I went through my lists in Evernote and added more items.

Well guess what? Between my “deferred” and “backlog” and “ready” lists, I have a grand total of 59 tasks and projects. Comparing this to the many hundreds in Evernote, it’s shocking.

When I look at my new list, I get a little nervous, thinking I must be forgetting things. But I also feel good. Like I’m starting a new adventure.

Starting over is liberating. It gives you a fresh perspective on your priorities. And, like cleaning out closets and paring down to the essentials, it makes room for new and better.

Of course, I’m not done. I haven’t gone through everything. Not even close. My Someday/Maybe list alone has hundreds of additional ideas.

But I’ve got to say, so far, my little experiment is a huge success. I look forward to looking at my options. I enjoy choosing–and doing–the things on my list. And, I’m getting a lot done.

Come on in. The waters fine.

Now, I’m not suggesting you jettison whatever it is you use to collect and manage your tasks and projects unless you want to. I suggest you experiment, like I am, and start some new lists.

If you use a new app or system, do like I did and start adding the most obvious or pressing matters. If you use the same app, move everything to a single (temporary) folder or file and start adding things back.

If your lists have grown too big and unwieldy, if you find yourself ignoring many entries (like the hundreds of Someday/Maybe items in my system), if you find yourself slacking off from a weekly review, this might be just the thing to jump-start the new, better organized and much more relaxed you.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

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What’s in your “done” column?

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You plan your day before it begins. During the day, you “do”. At the end of the day, before planning tomorrow, you review what you did today to see what you did well and how you can improve.

A good way to examine your day is to review the things in your “done” column or list. As you do, ask yourself these four questions (and write down the answers):

  1. What did I do well today?You want to focus on the positive. Train yourself to focus on your strengths and your progress. Reinforce this by giving yourself credit for a job well done.
  2. What can I do better?Be honest with yourself. What would do differently? What would you avoid doing? What could you improve?
  3. What problems did I encounter?Identify stumbling blocks, distractions, or barriers that slowed you down or threw you off track. Note when they occurred and how you can prepare for the next time.
  4. What did I learn?What did you discover about yourself or about your work? Did you get any ideas for future projects or for improving your current systems? Did you find a new method or tool?

Asking and answering these four questions about your day, and periodically reviewing your notes, will help you continually achieve better outcomes. Over time, the effect will compound.

Schedule time each day to plan, do, and review.

Schedule time to get more referrals

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Why use one list when you can use eight?

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I’ve been reading about Kanban boards and experimenting with how I manage my tasks and projects. Kanban boards, whether physical (e.g., a whiteboard or sticky notes) or digital, usually begin with three lists (or columns): To do, Doing, and Done. You can add to these basic lists depending on your workflow.

Right now, I’m using eight lists:

  1. Ready
  2. Today
  3. In progress
  4. Done
  5. Backlog
  6. Deferred
  7. Someday/maybe
  8. Waiting

Here’s what goes on these lists and how I use them:

1. Ready (aka “To do” or “Next” or “Options”)

This is a list of things that I plan to do as soon as I finish what I’m currently working on. It’s a list of options to choose from, depending on how much time I have and my current context and priorities. I limit this list to 20 items and check it daily. As I do the things on this list, I go to my “Backlog” list (below) and add items to the Ready list.

2. Today

First thing in the morning, or the night before, I go to my “Ready” list and choose 3 tasks for the day. When I get these done, I can add more tasks from the Ready list or call it a day.

3. In progress (aka, “Doing”)

When I begin a task, I move it to the “Work in Progress” or “Doing” list. I also limit this list to just 3 tasks (at a time). This list keeps me focused; I work on what I planned to work on and do my best to finish it before moving on to other things.

4. Done

As soon as I complete a task, I move it to this list. I used to delete done tasks; now I collect and review them, at least temporarily, as a way to see my progress and learn when and how I work best. This can also show me when I’m working too much on one project or type of task and not enough on others.

5. Backlog

These are tasks and projects I plan to do but I’m not ready to start and probably won’t be for a week or two. When I am ready, I’ll move tasks from this list to the Ready list. I check this list weekly.

6. Deferred

These are tasks I will probably do but not anytime soon. I check this monthly. When I’m ready, I’ll move these to Backlog or Ready. Otherwise, I may delete them or move them to Someday/Maybe.

7. Someday/maybe

I don’t know if I will do these or not. They are more ideas than anything I’m committed to doing.

8. Waiting

Tasks or projects where I’m waiting on someone to do something or for something to happen before I can start or continue.

These lists give me enough to do at any one time but not more than I can handle, which is key. By limiting my “work in progress,” I can focus on finishing what I’ve started rather than starting something new.

I also use gtd tags such as, “Area of Focus,” “Context,” etc., which allow me to filter the lists, group tasks (e.g., all calls, errands, etc.) or find more tasks to add to my Backlog or Ready lists.

It’s early yet, but I’m liking this. I get my work done and don’t feel overwhelmed.

What do you think? Do you use Kanban or work with multiple lists? Do you limit your work in progress so you can focus on getting things done?

Here’s how I use Evernote to get organized and get things done

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How to get more work done in less time

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I’m on a perpetual quest to work faster. The faster I complete my work, the quicker I accomplish my goals.

Why take eight hours to do your work when you can do it in five?

If you want to get your work done faster, I suggest that you create a list of questions to ask yourself each time you do a new task or project.

Here’s a starter list of questions:

  • Is this task really necessary? Is there another way to accomplish the same thing?
  • Could I delegate some or all of this to someone else?
  • Could I recycle or adapt something I’ve done before?
  • Can I leave out any steps?
  • Can I combine any steps?
  • Would it help to do the steps in a different order?
  • How could I break this up into smaller steps I could do in smaller bites of time?
  • Could I do this faster if I used a different tool?
  • Would it help to assemble all of the resources I need before I begin?
  • What could I do to increase my focus when I do this (e.g., mono-task, listen to music/white noise, work at the library or another quiet place)?
  • Would I do this faster if I promised myself a reward?
  • Would an accountability partner help?
  • Could I do this faster at a different time of day when I have more energy or fewer distractions?
  • Could I do any of this in the car or while exercising (e.g., dictating)?
  • Would it help to plan this out the night before?
  • Could I batch this with other tasks?
  • Would an updated form, checklist, or template help?
  • Would it help to give myself less time to finish (e.g., a shorter deadline)?
  • How could I transition from one step to the next with less delay?
  • Am I willing to give up some quality in return for speed? If so, what could I do to achieve that?
  • Who do I know who does this in their work and would allow me to see how they do it?

Start recording what you do–all of the steps and how long it takes to do them. Before long, you’ll see yourself getting more work done in less time.

Once you’ve mastered the habit of asking, “How can I do this faster?” start a new habit. Ask yourself, “How can I do this better?”

How can I get referrals more quickly? Here’s the answer

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