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How to conquer fear

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Fear is a bitch. It stops you from doing things you need to do and things you want to do and it makes things you do more difficult.

I’m not talking about big scary stop-in-your-tracks kind of fear. They don’t crop up that often and when they do, it’s often better to give in to them. If you’re afraid of sky-diving, for example, don’t do it. Do something else on your bucket list.

No, I’m talking about micro-fears, little nagging worries that make you avoid situations or people, doubt your process, procrastinate, abandon half-finished projects, or move so slowly that you miss the opportunity.

You may not see what these fears do to you because they are small and familiar but they add up and make for a poorer quality of life.

What can you do?

You can do more research. You can delegate the task. You can do something else that makes the original task unnecessary or easier. Or you can get someone to do “it” with you–yep, hold your hand as you take your first steps.

I’ve done all of these at various times in my life. I’m sure you have, too.

But there’s something else we can do to defeat our fears or to get the thing done despite them.

Do it anyway.

Dale Carnegie said, “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

Easier said than done? Maybe. But here’s something that can make it easier.

It’s called “the five-minute rule”. Whatever it is that you’re avoiding, do it for just five minutes.

You can do just about anything for five minutes. When you do, you will have done the hard part–you got started, and getting started is the antidote for what ails you.

How to get better at delegating

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This isn’t important so read it later

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Another day, another study. This one says that we have “an urgency bias” meaning that “our brains pick urgency over importance, wanting the immediate satisfaction of a quick payoff”.

We prefer to do the quick and easy things on our list because important tasks are (or appear) more difficult and take longer to complete. “People want to finish the urgent tasks first and then work on important tasks later.”

I get that. I do that. I like to sprint through my email inbox first and get it out of the way before tackling more important work.

The researchers say one reason we tend to prioritize urgent over important because we find comfort in appearing busy. I get that, too. Who doesn’t like checking things off our list?

If we’re getting the important stuff done, however, does it matter when we do it? Kinda. We have more energy at the start of our day and should use that time for work that requires more focus.

If we’re not doing the important work, however, if our day is filled with putting out fires and reacting to what’s put in front of us instead of doing things that bring us closer to our most important goals, that’s a problem.

What’s the solution? The researchers say we should remind ourselves of the value of the bigger tasks we’re avoiding or postponing. Okay, but how? The article doesn’t say. But I will. It’s something I wrote about before and it’s about as simple as it gets:

Next to each task on your list, write down why you need to do it. In other words, write down the benefits it delivers.

This forces you to think about what each task is worth to you. Is it short-term and relatively low-value or something that advances your career? Is it urgent but otherwise not a priority or is it an important factor contributing to your success?

As you write down why, consider the price you pay for not doing the task. What do you give up if you don’t get it done?

We need to prioritize tasks that provide more value over those that are merely urgent. By consciously considering the benefits each tasks offers, we can be more intentional about what we do and when we do it.

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Are you making money reading this?

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I’ve never watched “Shark Tank” but I read an article about Kevin O’Leary, one of the investors who appears on it. It was about how he gets so much done.

One thing he suggests would drive me crazy. “Prioritize every 15 minutes of your day,” he says.

Nope. Too confining for me.

On the other hand, there’s something he does to defeat procrastination I like. When he finds himself getting side-tracked, “I think to myself, ‘Am I making money doing this?’ That makes it easy to snap out of it.”

Kinda explains why he’s got so much money. Not sure how much fun he is to be around.

But asking that question is a good idea, at least while you’re working. If you’re honest with yourself, the question can get you back to work. I’m going to try it.

Problem is, when you do what I do, what might otherwise be considered goofing off, i.e., reading, watching videos, surfing the interwebs, is part of the job. But when I’m playing Words with Friends, it’s an excellent question.

Earn more without working more

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Save time by batching related tasks

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Throughout your day you do a variety of different tasks. Everything from email to seeing clients to drafting documents to doing research. You might do each task when it comes up on your calendar or todo list, but it’s more efficient to group together related tasks and do them together.

Write and respond to all your emails in one 40-minute session. Do all your writing or dictation in one time block. Schedule client appointments back to back.

Different types of tasks require different ways of thinking and different skills. Batching makes it easier to get into flow, saving time and allowing you to do a better job.

Sticking with one type of task is efficient. It allows you to get into a rhythm. Task switching is inefficient. Each time you switch you have to let go of what you’ve been doing and get oriented to what you’re about to do.

But there’s another way to batch tasks–by project rather than by activity. Do everything you can on one case or matter before switching to another.

When you’re working on a case–drafting letters, responding to discovery, reviewing documents, making calls–the facts are in your head, you’re thinking about strategy, remembering what people said, considering competing statutes and rules–and it doesn’t make sense to interrupt what you’re doing to do something else.

So don’t.

Think about what you typically do throughout the day and figure out what you can batch. And do what works best for you.

You might prefer to read the message you’re reading now along with other blog posts or emails you follow. Or, you might want to read this message during a block of time set aside for marketing.

When you’re ready to create a simple marketing plan, use this

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Most decisions should be made quickly

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One of the lessons of the 80/20 principle is that a few things matter but most don’t. “A minority of causes, inputs, or effort usually lead to a majority of the results, outputs, or rewards,” according to Richard Koch, author of The 80/20 Principle.

Figure out your 20% activities and do more of them. Spend less time doing everything else.

Now, every day we all make lots of decisions. What to do, what to read, what to say, how to make a point, what to buy, and many more. Unfortunately, many of us spend too much time making decisions about things that don’t matter or matter much.

We should train ourselves to make quick decisions about most things.

Where to go to lunch, what car to buy, whether or not to upgrade our computer–these are not “20% decisions likely to lead to 80% of our results”. Where to take a prospect to lunch, for example, shouldn’t take more than a minute or two. It’s just not that important.

On the other hand, opening a new office, starting a new practice area, getting in bed with a partner–decisions that require research, thought, weighing of risks and rewards–are 20% decisions that can indeed lead to 80% of our results.

In the course of a day, you might make dozens of relatively unimportant decisions. Make them quickly and move on. You might make an important decision once a week. Take your time and do it right.

Plan less, do more

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Have a nice day

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I don’t know about you but court days were always stressful for me. No matter how good the case or simple the appearance, I always felt something I didn’t feel on other days.

No doubt a good part of it was anticipating freeway traffic and getting nervous about being late for court.

I just read about a study that shows that how you think about your day is pretty much how it will turn out. If you think your day will be stressful, “you’re going to feel those effects even if nothing stressful ends up happening.”

Poop.

Not only that, the study shows that when you anticipate having a stressful day, your memory, focus, and productivity also suffer.

More poop. Streets-of-San-Francisco-level poop.

Anyway, what can we do about this?

Settle more cases? Send someone else to make the appearance?

Eliminate the cause of the stress and, voila, less stress.

For everything you can’t eliminate, exercise helps. And so does distracting yourself from whatever it is that’s got your panties in a knot.

It seems that this is supported by the study: “Results showed that those who worried about stress in the morning performed worse on [tests they gave the subjects]. The effect wasn’t the same, however, for people who anticipated stress the previous night, but woke up feeling more optimistic.”

So we’re supposed to do our worrying the night before? How does one do that, pray tell?

Here’s what I do:

I plan my day the night before. That way, when I wake up, I don’t have to think about what to do, I just do it.

That and not having to go to court anymore mean I’m usually a happy camper.

Get more clients and increase your income. Here’s how

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A simple way to enhance focus

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My wife and I just closed out the storage unit we’ve had for decades. We brought a handful of boxes home and got rid of the rest.

I recently donated several hundred books to the library bookstore. I’m down to one bookcase.

I’ve lost weight in the last year and recently got rid of about half of the clothes in my closet.

I thought I was just getting rid of junk but I find I’m actually practicing minimalism. I just figured out why that appeals to me.

Minimalism makes it easier to focus. Focus creates clarity. And clarity helps you become more efficient and effective.

You’re more efficient because fewer options (e.g., using just a few apps or a few marketing strategies) reduces distractions and the loss of momentum occasioned by switching from one option to another.

You are more effective because you’re able to spend more time getting the right things done which helps you accomplish your most important goals.

There’s also an esthetic quality to minimalism. A cleaner desk (and desktop), for example, helps me feel relaxed and in control.

If you like the idea but resist doing it, start slowly. Put most of your apps into one or two folders and leave only a few on your desktop. Clean out one closet or one drawer. Give yourself just one hour this weekend to gather up stuff to give away or throw away.

And if that’s too much, don’t get rid of anything yet, just make piles or lists of giveaway “candidates”. When you’re ready, you can take the next step.

I guess you could call that a minimalistic approach to minimalism.

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Productivity made simple

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Stephen R. Covey says “Start with the end in mind.” This is sometimes referred to as a “top-down approach.” You start with the long-term, big-picture and work downward (or backward) to the medium-term, followed by the short term, and so on until you get to today.

Let’s say you want to retire in ten years with $4 million in cash and investments. That’s the long-term vision or goal. Working backward, you figure out how much you need to save each year and what you need to do to earn it, followed by what you need to do each month, each week, and today.

It’s like following a map. You need to know your destination before you start the trip or you won’t wind up where you want to go.

The “bottom-up” approach, advocated by David Allen, acknowledges the big-picture and long-term but advocates starting with the short-term. He suggests we first get clarity and control of our current situation, then plan for the future.

Both approaches say it’s not about managing our time it’s about managing our priorities. As Covey puts it, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.” That’s a simple way of saying that we should be pulled by our vision instead of pushed by our circumstances.

Look at your calendar and task list. Are you prioritizing your schedule or scheduling your priorities? Are you being pulled by your vision or pushed by your circumstances?

Your top marketing priority: referrals

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Thinking on paper

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Thinking is hard work. That’s why we get paid well to do it. But sometimes, we don’t know what to think or what to do about a problem.

That’s when I grab a piece of paper and a pen or sit down at the computer and write what’s going on in my head.

I write down what I know. I write down the problem and some ideas or options for solving it. I write down what I want or what I want to change.

I write a list of steps. I draw a mind map. I write an outline. Or a list of pros and cons.

When I don’t know what to write, I write a stream-of-consciousness screed. Yep, I vent on paper. I bitch and complain and curse and I keep doing that until I run out of steam and start coming up with something useful.

Sometimes, I put the page or document aside and come back to it later. Sometimes, I never figure it out.

But thinking on paper usually helps me sort things out. At least until I decide I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, throw out the page and start over.

C’est la vie.

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Using your calendar as a todo list

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Yesterday, I talked about the difference between legal work, which tends to get done because of deadlines, promises to clients, employees putting the work in front of you, etc., and discretionary work, which is basically everything else.

Marketing, management, CLE (when there is no looming deadline), and a host of other valuable tasks often get delayed or ignored because we run out of day.

I suggested setting a goal to do one discretionary task each day. That’s something everyone can do and it helps you develop the habit of doing more than what’s on your desktop or calendar.

Attorney GF wrote, “Or, you could put them ON the calendar and treat them as non-discretionary. . . Use the calendar as a to-do list.”

My thoughts:

According to David Allen, the calendar should be used only for appointments, meetings, and tasks that have a specific due date. Using it for other tasks can lead to clutter and confusion.

For one thing, how do you know how much time and energy you will have three weeks from today? You don’t, so when the date arrives and you have other priorities or you don’t feel like doing the scheduled tasks, you push those tasks to future dates. When those dates arrive and you again aren’t ready to do them, you push them further still. Before you know it, tasks start piling up, like a chain reaction car accident on a foggy highway.

I know. I’ve tried to make this work. It does not lead to a “mind like water”.

On the other hand, I have been successful using the calendar to create “time blocks” for doing related tasks.

You schedule an hour every morning for email, for example. You block out 30 minutes twice a week for writing. Or you block out 15 minutes each workday for marketing-related activities.

It works and I think David Allen would approve.

One thing I do that he might not approve of is using my calendar as a tickler system. When I have tasks I want to review or do on a future date, I add them to my calendar as “all day” appointments.

Is this different? Maybe not, but it feels different because these are reminders, not appointments or commitments. That, plus I don’t have many of them so I don’t fall behind. If I had more of them, I’d set up a separate calendar exclusively for tickler items.

This is in addition to my other task and project lists.

When I started practicing, I kept a paper diary for tickler items or “come ups” as we then called them. These reminded me to do things and to make sure I regularly reviewed every file to make sure they didn’t fall through the cracks.

I kept a calendar for appointments, court dates, and due dates, and another calendar (diary) for statues of limitations. Do they still make that big red diary?

I kept discretionary tasks on paper notes or I wrote them on the blotter on my desk. But there were so few of them, unlike my work today, that I rarely had to schedule anything.

I kinda miss those days.

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