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My current productivity set-up

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I have a lot of lists in my productivity arsenal but two are most important. The first is “today” (@today)–tasks I plan to accomplish (or begin) before the day ends.

This is the most important list because today is when “doing” gets done. We can plan something for tomorrow or next week or next month but we can’t do anything until that day arrives and it becomes today.

If I have due dates, I put them on my calendar. I also calendar tickler dates for deferred tasks. When the tickler date arrives, I either move the task to @today and do it or review it and decide its fate.

If I’m doing something today, it goes on my today list. However, when it has become a habit, e.g., writing a daily blog post, walking, etc., I no longer keep it on a list or calendar.

My other most important list is my list of top priorities for the week (@week). These are the three or four high priority projects I’m focusing on this week.

I have other lists:

  • “Work in progress” (@wip) includes current and recurring projects that aren’t (yet) a top priority
  • “Soon” (@soon) refers to tasks and projects I want to do soon, e.g., next
  • “Ready” (@ready) are projects and tasks I plan to do after I’ve cleared higher priorities
  • “Backlog” (@backlog) are tasks I don’t need to get to for the next few weeks
  • “Someday/maybe (@sm), are things I may or may not want to do someday

I spend most of my day in the @today and @week lists. I also look at the @wip list. If I get caught up, or I feel like doing something different, I look @soon and/or @ready.

I don’t do a lot of long-term planning because by the time long-term gets here, my priorities have often changed.

That’s my current set-up. But it’s a @wip.

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The todo list that never was

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When I was practicing. I didn’t use a todo list. My calendar and the stack of files and mail on my desk told me what I needed to do.

Sometimes, I’d jot down a few items on a piece of scratch paper or on the paper blotter/calendar on my desk. A reminder to call someone, a list of things to pick up on my way home. But mostly, my list was stacked up in front of me.

Each morning, my secretary put files on my desk pertaining to clients who had appointments that day and other work. I’d go through the files, look at my notes (and hers) and review new letters and documents. I dictated letters and pleadings and instructions and gave the files back to my secretary. She’d type and/or make calls, make notes, and return the files to me for my review, signature, and further instructions.

Back and forth we went. It was simple. Primitive by today’s standards. But it worked.

Today we seem obsessed with apps and systems for managing lists. So many lists.

Lists of things we need to do now, lists of things we should do next, lists of things we might do someday. Are we really any more productive this way? Are our lives so much more complicated that we need to manage things at such a granular level?

It seems like we spend as much time managing our lists as we do doing the work.

I’m not suggesting we go back to an all-analog world. I like my apps. I like having my business in my pocket. And without staff today, I do have to manage both ends.

But perhaps we would be better off finding ways to simplifying things. A calendar, a simple list of work to do today, and not that much else.

I’ll put that on my @someday/maybe list and @review it later.

Earn more. Work less: The Attorney Marketing Formula

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Maybe you need a babysitter

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After yesterday’s post about scheduling time to do things you’re not getting done, (in this case, reading time), a subscriber wrote: “I’ve TRIED something like this many times, but I always just ignore the scheduled thing. Any tips for getting my ass to stick to the schedule? It’s quite frustrating.”

My advice: “Don’t ignore the scheduled thing.”

I’m serious. Annoying, but serious.

We all make choices about what we will and won’t do. If we choose not to do something, even though it’s good for us and we say we want to do it, even though we put it on our calendar, the truth is we really DON’T want to do it.

Because if you wanted to do it, you would.

So, remove it from your calendar or agenda until you want to do it. Or until you decide you must do it.

Here’s what I mean.

If we consider all of our tasks and projects, ideas and someday/maybes, read/reviews, we can break them down into three categories: Must-do, Should-do, and Could-do.

We do a good job of getting our must-dos done because penalties ensue if we don’t. So how about creating a new list or tag for “must-read/review” and scheduling time just for this?

Everything else? I say, don’t worry about it.

If it’s not something you must read or review, read it if you want to and don’t if you don’t. And don’t beat yourself up about what you don’t read.

What about “should-read/review”? I think it’s overkill for discretionary reading, but it’s up to you.

Okay, a couple more ideas for “forcing” yourself to stick to your schedule. Here are two taken from the Kanban world:

  1. Limit your work in process (WIP). In the case of reading, limit yourself to three articles (for example). If you finish those and have room for more, you can go get more. If you don’t, move on. If three is too many, start with one or two.
  2. Make it visible. Put your reading list/folder on your desktop or as a top-level bullet or tag in your master list or a column (or swim lane) in your Kanban. By keeping your list in front of you, you’ll continually be reminded that this is something you’ve decided to do and you’ll be one click away from doing it.

Okay, one more: Get a babysitter.

Still serious.

Designate someone to hold you accountable for whatever it is you’re resisting. It could be your spouse, your secretary, your partner, a colleague, or anyone else. Have them check in with you to find out if you did or didn’t do what you said you would. Implement some kind of penalty if you don’t and maybe a reward if you do.

If you designate your secretary for this role, for example, and you don’t do your daily reading or marketing or whatever, they get to take the rest of the day off.

Something tells me stuff is gonna get done.

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What gets scheduled gets done

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My “read/review” backlog of articles, websites, videos, ebooks, pdfs, et. al., has gotten out of hand. Too many items. I’ll never get caught up.

I think that’s okay. Maybe what’s important floats to the top of my subconscious and gets my attention and everything else is merely digital compost.

And yet, I’m plagued by FOMO–Fear Of Missing Out. That nagging feeling that I’m missing something important. So, rather than going through “the stacks” whenever I “find the time,” or “I feel like it” I’m going to schedule the time to do it.

Because what gets scheduled gets done.

As I said yesterday, you can get a lot done in a few minutes a day if you do it every day.

Hold on. Be right back. Okay, I did it. I scheduled a 15-minute recurring “appointment” on my calendar, weekdays at 4 pm (when my energy is lower) to catch up on my reading and reviewing.

We’ll see how it goes.

I might wind up changing the start time. I might cut the appointment to 10 minutes or extend it to 20. I might have to add a nap to my schedule.

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Why are you making it so complicated?

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Lean. Simple. Efficient. That’s how I want things to work in my life. I’m sure you do, too. Because not only does this often bring us better results, it takes less time and puts less stress on our systems.

So why do we make things so complicated?

In our writing. In our task management. In our presentations, conversations, marketing, management, relationships, methods, and everything else.

Why do we add unnecessary elements? Why do we change things that are working? Why don’t we adapt things that are clearly better?

Habit? Always done it this way. Don’t see a pressing need to change.

Pride? Look at how busy I am. Look at how complicated and important my work is.

Laziness? I can’t be bothered with that nonsense.

Fear? What if I make a mistake?

All of the above?

But it’s important and we have to do it.

Admit that simple is usually better and make it a priority.

Look at all of the steps and all of the resources and ask:

  • Is this necessary? Could I do without it?
  • Is there a better way to do this?
  • Can this be done more quickly? Less expensively?
  • Can I re-use or re-purpose something I used before?
  • Can I consolidate this step with others?
  • Can I delegate this to someone else?
  • Can I do the same thing with only one tool?

Piece by piece, pare down your world. Fewer methods. Fewer steps. Fewer tools. Fewer people.

If you’re not sure about something, remove it. You probably won’t miss it. If you do, you can add it back.

Start with something small. Clean out a drawer, edit a form letter, or unsubscribe from a few emails. Once you get started, if you’re like me (and you are) you’ll want to do more.

Make it a part of your weekly review. Challenge yourself to make your life as simple, uncluttered, and efficient as possible.  Because in doing so, you’ll earn more, work less, and make room in your life for the things that matter most.

A simple way to get more referrals from other lawyers

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Prioritizing your todo list

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Look at your todo list(s). Too much to do, right? Where do you start? You start by prioritizing your list, so you can focus on what matters most.

There are lots of ways to do this but here’s a good place to start:

Next to each task, write down why you’re doing it.

Is it something you have to do to deliver work product or results to a client? Are you doing it because harsh penalties will result if you miss a deadline? Are you doing it because it is a key step towards achieving an important goal?

Whatever it is, verbalize it (mentally) and write it down.

In thinking about each task, you may discover that you’re doing some things out of habit but that those things don’t contribute much to your growth. You can safely eliminate them, defer them, or delegate them to others.

You may discover that you doing certain tasks in a perfunctory manner, not really giving them the attention they deserve. As you realize this, you’ll be prompted to allocate more time or resources.

When you know why you’re doing something, you’ll be better able to manage your priorities. The next time you look at your list and the “reasons why” look back at you, you’ll find yourself being more intentional about your choices and more effective in your results.

Why did I write this? To remind you that there are referrals waiting to be had and encourage you to let me help you get them.

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Lean and simple or cluttered and powerful

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We’re told that it’s important to use the right tool for every job. It’s more efficient and we’ll get better outcomes.

But what about the overhead?

It takes time to learn each tool, keep up with the updates, and move information from one tool to another. And what about the visual clutter?

When we continually add tools and equipment, methods and workflows, we risk winding up with Fibber McGee’s closet. And let’s face it, we won’t use most of those tools or methods long term, or we’ll use them so sparingly it’s not worth keeping them around.

What if instead of seeking the best tool for every job we pared things down to just a few? What if instead of a quest for the perfect system we substitute something simpler and good enough?

It’s a different mindset. Minimalism, I suppose. But it appeals to me on both esthetic and practical levels. I also like a good challenge.

One thing I’m doing right now is cutting the number of tags I use in my task management system. Fewer tags require fewer decisions, less maintenance, and a cleaner look and “feel”.

All of this might mean some compromises. For example, fewer tags might mean it takes longer to find things.

Is the tradeoff worth it?

I’m doing my best to find out.

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How to take the pain out of your weekly review

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A weekly review is an important part of any productivity system. Without regularly reviewing your plans and progress it’s easy to get off track.

But it’s a pain in the behind.

Going through all of our tasks and projects, current and proposed, takes a long time and makes us continually re-visit decisions we thought we had already made.

Too often, we put off our review and before long, we’re lost in the weeds.

Here are a few ideas you can use to avoid this:

  • Do SOME of the weekly review tasks daily instead of weekly. It will be quicker to empty your inboxes during your weekly review, for example, if you’ve developed the habit of doing this (or most of it) every day.
  • Schedule the time in advance. I do my weekly review on Sunday mornings at 10 am. It’s on the calendar and has become a habit. I don’t have to think about it, I just do it.
  • Use a checklist. Prepare a list of #weeklyreview tasks so that you can dive right in and git ‘er done.
  • Reward yourself. When the review is done, do something fun to reinforce the habit.

One more and it’s a biggie: Use a time limit.

I now limit my weekly review to just ten minutes. Easy peasy. I can do that standing on my head.

A ten-minute limit means I can’t go through my #someday/maybe and #idea lists each week. I do that once a month, or periodically (when I’m in the mood).

A ten-minute limit also requires me to keep on top of my lists throughout the week, which I do. My lists are always just one click away so I can look at them frequently during the day.

“What if you’re not done in ten minutes?” you ask. “Aren’t you taking the risk that you’ll miss something important?”

I’ve come to trust that if something is important, it’s already got my attention.

Try a ten-minute review and see how it works for you. Before you do that, however, do one last major review to clean up your lists. Or, do what I do periodically: hide everything (in another folder, another app) and start fresh with a clean slate.

New lists, new you.

Evernote for Lawyers

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Getting paid to write snarky emails

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I watched a video about productivity. The speaker suggested that we identify our “A” work, that is, what we do best, and do more of it. We should do less of our “B” and “C” work, and avoid doing anything we might rate a “D” or “F”.

Write down ten or twenty activities you do in your business and grade them. Assign an “A” to your best work, a “B” to work that might not be your best but that you usually do well enough, and so on.

The more “A” work you do, she said, the better, suggesting that you will be happier and so will your clients or customers.

But is that true?

What if our “A” work is something we don’t enjoy? I’m good at making cold calls but I don’t like it. I certainly don’t want to do more of it.

Sometimes, we do things we’re good at simply because we have to. But we don’t want to do them any more than we have to. Hiring and firing come to mind.

There’s another element missing from the equation: value. What if our “A” work isn’t an important part of the job?

You may be good at editing videos, for example, and enjoy it, but if you don’t create them often or they don’t bring in a lot of business, finding ways to do more editing isn’t going to help you build your practice. What’s more, your editing skills aren’t your highest and best use. You could pay someone $30 an hour to do it while you earn $300 an hour doing legal work.

As you go through your list of work activities, assign a letter grade for all three elements: what you do best, what you enjoy, and what contributes the most value to you or to your clients.

Ideally, you’ll find some activities that all get all “A”s.

What do you do with the rest? Eliminate them, if possible. Delegate them. Or, if they are necessary and they can’t be done by anyone else (be honest), see if you can do them less often or more quickly so you’ll have more time to do your triple-A work.

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I don’t know, let me check my list

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I’ve started using a daily checklist. It’s a list of things I need to do as soon as I sit down at my computer and throughout the day. Most of the items on the list are things I’m already doing, without prompting from a list, but I like seeing them in front of me. I know I won’t forget anything and I can get things done and out of the way.

I have three categories: @admin, @personal, and @work.

On the @admin list are things like checking the calendar, email, and a @tickler list (upcoming date-oriented tasks to review or start), followed by checking my other lists to see what’s on tap for the day and for the week.

@personal includes my daily walk, reading, and writing in my journal.

@work includes some of my routine activities like writing a daily email/blog post and working on my current book project.

I’m just rolling this out so I know it’s going to change. I’m already thinking I could combine the three lists into one since I work from home and don’t ordinarily differentiate between work and personal, and because admin is intertwined with my work.

But, we’ll see.

If it’s not obvious, I like lists. I guess I’m a linear thinker, although there are times when I like to use a mind map to brainstorm and flesh out ideas. For the record, once I’ve done that, I convert them to a linear outline or list prior to “doing”.

I’ve also got a checklist for my weekly review. This has always been a work in progress.

Next up? Maybe an evening “shutdown” list. Hmm, I wonder if I need to write down “Netflix and chill”.

Evernote for Lawyers. Click here

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