What’s on your ‘today’ list?

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The most important list on our list of lists is our ‘today’ list.

We have things to do tomorrow, next week and next month, and we can plan for these, but all of our “doing” takes place today.

Many people overload their Today list with too much to do.

Not only does this mean that some important things don’t get done, an oversized list tends to cause anxiety because you always have too much you haven’t done.

I know. I used to bite off much more than I could chew.

Awhile back, I found a solution.

Instead of one big Today list, I break it up into two.

The first part of my Today list are my MUST DO’s. These are (usually) the 3-5 most important or urgent tasks (MIT’s) for the day, tasks I cannot leave for tomorrow.

If they are on my MUST DO list, I must do them today. If something is still on that list at the end of the day, I don’t move it to tomorrow, I keep working on it until it’s done.

Because it is a MUST DO.

My MUST DO list includes appointments, tasks with a deadline or due date today, and things that are due soon I need to start working on today.

The second part of my Today list is my TARGET list. This includes tasks I could do or want to do today, but don’t have to.

When I start my day, I start working on my MUST DO list. This might only have one or two tasks on it and often doesn’t have any.

When I’ve completed my MUST DO list, I move on to the TARGET list and work on those items.

If I’ve completed both my MUST DO and TARGET lists and I want to keep working, I’ll dip into my other lists to find something else to do.

Unless I don’t want to.

I might take the rest of the day off.

I’m good with that because I know I’ve completed my most important work.

Bifurcating my Today list this way has made a big difference in how I plan and approach my day. I get my most important tasks done each day and never panic about things I didn’t do.

It’s made me a mellow (and productive) fellow.

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A ‘reverse’ to-do list?

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I use the iOS app Productive to track habits. Things I do (or want to do) every day, 3 times a week, once a week or on another schedule. I enter the tasks, create a schedule, and the app reminds me when to do them.

If I don’t do them, if I “break the chain,” it reminds me to get back at it.

I wonder if it also goes on my “permanent record”?

There are things I’d like to do again that don’t belong in a habit tracker, however. I don’t want to do them every day or week, but I may want to do them someday.

It’s been a long time since I went to a museum, for example, but how do I track something like this?

This morning I saw an app that’s supposed to make this easier. It’s called, Recur! The Reverse To-Do List. It helps you keep track of things you’ve done and how long it’s been since you’ve done them. It also has repeating reminders.

One comment said, “This app is great for tracking work on any open-ended projects where progress is best measured by time repeatedly devoted to it: learning an instrument or a language, writing a book or music: anything where breaking the project down into discrete action steps would be too artificial and constraining.”

Most of the comments, however, convinced me to pass on the app, but I was intrigued by the concept.

As I thought about it, I realized using an app for something like this isn’t necessary. All you have to do is create a list of “things I’d like to do AGAIN” and schedule regular dates to review that list.

We just had a new water filter delivered, something we do every six months. I wouldn’t track that in a habit tracker, or on a “Someday” list. It belongs on a calendar, and that’s where it resides.

A place for everything and everything in its place.

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If I put someone on hold, I’ll get back to them in 30 seconds or less

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Have you ever used a service like IFTTT.COM (“If this, then this”) to automate digital functions? For example, “If I tag an Evernote note with #dropbox, save a copy of that note to Dropbox”.

Anyway, some of the “recipes” are quite handy. If you’re not familiar with the site, check it out.

Also consider how you can do something similar with non-digital processes. A series of “If/Then” formulas for you or your office procedures manual.

Examples regarding the phone:

  • “If I answer the phone, I’ll say ‘Good Morning/Afternoon, Law Offices'”
  • “If the phone rings, I’ll answer it in 3 rings or less”.
  • “If I need to put someone on hold, I’ll ask them if it’s okay first”
  • “If I put someone on hold, I’ll get back to them in 30 seconds or less”.
  • “If a prospective client calls, I’ll ask them where they heard about me (us)”.
  • “If I take a message/need to call someone back, I’ll give them a day/time window and ask if that’s okay for them”

These statements serve as agreements with ourselves that when certain conditions are met, we will do certain things, or do them in a certain pre-determined way.

By thinking these through and writing them down, we train ourselves (and our staff) to provide a consistent level of “customer service”.

We can also use “If/then” statements to improve our productivity.

For example, “If I’m recording a video, I’ll review my “video checklist” before I begin.”

We can use “If/then” agreements for any area of life:

  • “If it’s a weekday, I’ll exercise for at least 20 minutes”
  • “If I’m going to the ABC market, I’ll fill up my gas tank at Chevron on the way”
  • “If it’s raining, I’ll ask delivery services to ring the doorbell when they arrive [so they don’t leave the package to get wet”

Simple, but effective, albeit a bit Adrian Monk-ish.

Try them. You’ll thank me later.

One more: “If I liked this post, I’ll share it with a lawyer friend”

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A simple way to feel better about the future

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I spent extra time doing my weekly review yesterday. I dusted off some projects I had planned to work on last year and prioritized them to work on this year.

I consolidated blocks of notes I have been accumulating and made new lists about what to do next.

For a couple of hours, I ignored the current state of the world and planned my future. When I was done, I felt good.

I have things to do and I’m looking forward to doing them. No matter what the world delivers to my doorstep, I will adapt and move forward.

Because that’s all anyone can do.

I encourage you to go through your apps and lists and notes and make a new plan or update your old one. Make it simple and focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do.

When you’re done, you’ll have a renewed sense of purpose and a picture of a better future, and you’ll feel good about that future, because you have a plan.

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Your idea stinks. Congratulations.

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Your lists are overflowing with ideas. Ideas for growing your practice, managing your investments, raising your kids, places to see and things to do and thousands of other things you saw or heard or thought.

You have pages of notes and “someday/maybe” tasks, deferred projects, techniques for getting more organized, strategies for increasing your productivity, and ways to find inner peace.

You have lists of books to read and videos to watch, ideas for blog posts and articles to write, courses to take, and websites to explore.

Am I right or am I right?

I know I’m right because I have these, too.

Let’s be honest. Let’s admit that most of these ideas aren’t very good and (thankfully) we’ll never do most of them.

But that doesn’t mean we should stop collecting bad ideas because out of that massive list of bad ideas come a few good ones.

And a few good ideas is all we need.

The thing is, if we only pay attention to good ideas, we stifle our ability to find the good ones.

Seth Godin said:

“People who have trouble coming up with good ideas, if they’re telling you the truth, will tell you they don’t have very many bad ideas. But people who have plenty of good ideas, if they’re telling the truth, will say they have even more bad ideas. So the goal isn’t to get good ideas; the goal is to get bad ideas. Because once you get enough bad ideas, then some good ones have to show up.”

Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss

The lesson is simple: if you want more good ideas, write down more bad ones.

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The perfect time management system

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If you ever find yourself driven by the need to get organized, if you continually try new techniques or apps only to abandon them in favor of something else, if you are on a never ending quest to find the perfect time management system, stop.

Just stop.

Many productive, happy people don’t use a system.

The have a calendar. They write down what they need to do for the day. They have files they can turn to when they need something. And. . . that’s about it.

They don’t make elaborate lists with tags and contexts for every task. They don’t use digital reminders. A post it note is more than enough.

They don’t set goals or write detailed plans. They don’t make ‘New Year’s Resolutions’. They know what they want and spend their time taking action.

And their “system” works.

They don’t forget things. They never worry about having too much to do, or stress out about what they haven’t done.

Their system works because they trust their subconscious mind to know what they want and show them what to do to get it.

I know, you’re life is complicated and you want more. You can still use your favorite tools and techniques. Just don’t obsess over them, or spend so much time tweaking them that you don’t have time for anything else.

The new year is upon us. It’s a good time to re-think your system. Get rid of things that aren’t necessary or don’t serve you and simplify everything else.

You might want to start over. Pretend you have no system. One by one, add back things that work.

And ignore the rest.

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Quicker than search?

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The quickest way to find a digital file is to search for it by keyword, client, or date. Tags, labels, and other meta data can also help.

But they only work if you know what you’re looking for.

Sometimes, you don’t. The only way to find what you want is to manually browse through your files and notes and hope you get lucky.

It’s worse with paper files.

Unless you have a better filing system. One that allows you to narrow your search to a small segment of “everything”.

I’ve been using Tiago Forte’s PARA method to organize things and there’s a lot I like about it. At it’s simplest, you organize everything according to 4 categories: P is for (current) Projects, A is for Areas (of focus), R is for Resources, and A is for Archive (completed projects, settled cases, things you no longer need).

Since I no longer use a separate task manager, I added one more category: Tasks.

Projects and Archive are easy to understand and maintain, but Areas and Resources often overlap. I’m still working my way through this, but I’ve discovered something else I think might help.

It’s called the Johnny.Decimal system and allows you to classify all your “stuff” using numbers, sort of like the Dewey Decimal system used in libraries (but not as complicated or rigid).

The author says that using this system, you can find anything in no more than 2 clicks, but I’m not so sure. I have a lot of stuff! On the other hand, 3 clicks would be a blessing so I’m giving it a go.

Let me know what you think about the PARA system or the Johnny.Decimal system.

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Is your email inbox other people’s to-do list?

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Many people use their email as a task list. Email comes in, they do what is requested or needed, and issue a reply. If the “ask” requires a simple reply, they do it, using the so-called “2-minute rule” (anything that can be done in 2 minutes or less should be done immediately).

But what if the email is informational and doesn’t need a reply? What do they do with the information so they can find it when they need it?

Where do they record what was requested or done? Where do they keep notes about the case or a list of what to do next? And what do they do with email that can’t be handled with a quick reply?

Clearly, email is not a good task manager or a good place to store notes. Use apps that are designed for those purposes.

Keeping a to-do list and notes separate from your email (and postal mail) allows you to record a transactional time-line you can review, along with your thoughts and ideas and a list of what to do next.

Keeping those functions separate also provides you with a buffer of time to consider the request or information, and your response or next action.

Keeping to-dos separate from email helps you to be proactive instead of reactive. You decide what’s best and most important to you at any given time and do that, not necessarily what was asked of you in the morning mail.

Check out my ebook: Evernote for Lawyers

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When you don’t feel up to it, don’t do it

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Finally, a bit of common sense about planning our day.

In the article, “11 Time Management Myths That Are Hurting Your Productivity,” Gabriella Goddard with Brainsparker Leadership Academy, offered this advice:

“When you just focus on managing time, you don’t take into account your natural bio-rhythms and energy levels. Trying to take on a tough task when your energy is at rock bottom is a recipe for procrastination. So, if your energy is high in the morning, then focus on the more difficult projects or actions. If, by Friday, you tend to feel flat, then schedule less important meetings and administration.”

Don’t be rigid about your schedule. Listen to what your body and brain tell you. And don’t follow a productivity author’s advice if it isn’t right for you.

If you’re not a morning person, for example, don’t Eat That Frog first. Don’t tackle your most difficult or important tasks first.

Wake up first.

Start your work day with administrative or other less demanding tasks. Do your most important or most difficult tasks later.

It’s good to get your most important work done as early as possible in the day. Just don’t try it before your third cup of coffee.

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My desk was clean and now it’s cleaner

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I like a clean desk (and computer desktop). I find it easier to focus when the only thing in front of me is whatever I’m working on. I also like the aesthetic of a clean workspace. The lack of clutter has a calming affect on me and I work better that way.

Up until recently, the only things on my desk were the monitor (attached to an arm so it can be moved out of the way), 2 small speakers, a microphone (attached to an arm clamped to the side of the desk), my keyboard and mouse, and a large pad under the keyboard and mouse. I have a pair of headphones hanging from from the side of the desk.

A few days ago, I was looking at the green power light on one of the speakers when I realized that I rarely use those puppies. I almost always use headphones, for a more immerse experience. Well, as quickly as you can say, “Objection, your honor,” I unplugged the speakers and removed them.

Better.

Everyone has their own thang. That’s (one of) mine.

What’s my point? I have two, actually.

The first point is to suggest you unclutter your desktop if it isn’t already. Try going Spartan for a week or so and see how it feels.

You may prefer a modicum of clutter (or a mountain, thereof) and that’s okay, too. But at least give “lean and clean” a try.

But that’s not my main point.

My main point is to prove to you that when it’s time to write your newsletter or blog and you don’t know what to write about, don’t worry–you can write about anything.

Like I just did.

What to write about in your newsletter or blog

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