Addition vs. subtraction


In a recent newsletter, James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, offered a different way to think about how to planning your time. He said

“If you’re searching for more time this year, start with a clean slate and choose what to add to your days rather than starting with a full schedule and trying to figure out what to eliminate.“

Pretend you’re just starting out. In life or in your practice. What are a few must haves for you? If you had those, what else would you want?

You can also use this approach to re-build your project or task list, your budget, or your goals. Start with a clean slate and add things that are most important to you. If you could only work on one major project this year, for example, what would it be?

You can also use this to simply the list of tools you use to do your work.

I currently use 3 different note-taking apps. I like them all and use all 3 daily, for slightly different purposes. If I wanted to simplify my workflow, it would be difficult for me to choose which app or apps to eliminate.

If I was starting from scratch, however, I know which one I’d start with.

Truth be told, I’m sure I would soon be back to using all 3. Which is okay with me. At least I would have made a conscious decision to do that instead of continuing to do it out of habit.

If you’re rebuilding your marketing mix, start here


Better notes


There’s a lot being said right now about how to take more effective notes. It’s all good, but it can be overwhelming trying to implement everything.

If I could give you one piece of advice on this subject, it would be this:

Use the notes you take as soon as you take them.

Use them immediately in an article, on a case, or in planning your projects or your day. And if that’s not possible, annotate them to use later.

Summarize what you read or heard. Put the ideas in your own words. Add notes to your notes that provide context–what you think, examples that explain and expand on the points, or contrast them.

In short, make notes, don’t just take notes. Your notes will thus be more valuable to you when you eventually use them.

It might help to make a habit to record (at least) 3 key points for every note. I did that recently when I read an article about best practices for extending the life of your laptop battery. As soon as I finished the article, I wrote:

  • It’s okay to keep the laptop plugged in all the time
  • Draining the battery does more harm than good
  • Heat is the enemy; keep the laptop/battery cool

I also recommend writing down how you might use those notes in the future, e.g.., for a case or client, in a book or blog post or presentation, to improve your website, to add to a form letter, etc. Add tags or links or move them to the appropriate folder.

Do it while it’s fresh. If you wait until later, you might forget what you thought and have to start from scratch.


The productivity hack we learned in kindergarten 


Walk into any kindergarten school room and you’ll see a simple strategy in use you can use today to be more productive.

No, I don’t mean having a big person watching over you and making sure you do what you’re supposed to do (or have you stand in the corner if you don’t). I also don’t mean asking for permission to go to the little person’s room.

Look around the classroom. What do you see on the walls? You see a calendar, the letters of the alphabet and how to write them. You see pictures of animals, historical figures, famous monuments, and other things the kids are learning.

Okay, maybe this wasn’t kindergarten, but you remember this kind of thing from grammar school, don’t you? Today, you might do the same thing by keeping visual reminders of important information in front of you—your to-do list, your calendar, quotes that inspire you, a reminder to pick up some milk on your way home.

Visual cues of things you want to remember, on a whiteboard, sticky note, or on your desk calendar. At a glance, you can see what’s important right now, and what’s coming up soon.

Maybe you do this digitally. You have lists and notes in front of you, in an app that stays open or a pop-up on your screen, or sent to you via email or text message.

Either way, you keep your lists in front of you so you always know what to do.

I’ve just planned out some projects I want to do this year. I have them all on a single page in my task app, with Kanban-like columns (like Trello), one for each quarter. At a glance, I can see the four projects I have planned for the first quarter, one for the second quarter, two for the third quarter, and nothing yet for the fourth quarter.

This page is always one click away, on my laptop and phone, and I check it often.

Of course I also have the app remind me to work on Project X or Task Y (for project X) on days I’ve designated to do these things.

In other words. . . I don’t keep anything in my head.

It’s all in my “trusted system” which does the remembering and reminding for me. Because, as Mr. Allen reminds us, “your mind is for having ideas, not holding them”.


Me in ‘23


As one does at this time of year, I’m spending a lot of time thinking about next year. One thing I’m planning to do is to read more books.

I always loved books. Always had one or two by my side, ready to pick up and teach me something, or take me somewhere. For a long time, though, I’ve been reading a lot less. I spend so much of my day reading other things, I haven’t felt like I had enough energy to pick up a book.

Many very successful people are big book readers. As busy as they are, Mark Cuban and Warren Buffett spend several hours a day reading books, for example, and credit a good portion of their success to this habit.

Why books? Can’t we get as much from reading articles, watching videos, or listening to podcasts?

We can (and I do) get a lot from those sources, but books are in a category of their own.

Books tend to be better researched and better written. They provide more value, usually, and are worth the additional effort. True, there are many disappointments, but when you read a good book, it can change your life.

I have quite a backlog of books waiting for me to “find” the time to read again. But I’ve grown tired of waiting and started reading books again a couple of months ago.

I began by reminding myself about the benefits and made a commitment to myself to read at least a few pages every day.

Without exception.

Small, but often—the key to starting and maintaining habits.

I set a daily reminder in my task app and read for ten minutes every day, no matter what. When the timer is done, I often continue reading, but I never read for less than ten minutes.

I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have started this, or stuck with it, if I had tried to read for one hour a day. But I can do ten minutes no matter how busy or tired I am.

It’s like the office decluttering project I told you about recently. Scheduling 15 minutes every Saturday allowed me to (finally) start that project and keep going until finished.

I also make it convenient. I read mostly on the Kindle app on my phone so I can grab a few minutes just about anywhere. I’ve started walking again so I might also start listening to audiobooks.

You can read a lot of books in just 10 minutes a day. Certainly a lot more than I was reading before. But, who knows. Maybe next year I’ll go crazy and crank that up to 15 minutes.

Life in the fast lane.


Want to be more productive? Stop working so hard.


“Successful people work hard.” It says so on the internet so it must be true.

Not so fast.

Recent studies show that pushing yourself to do more work isn’t necessarily the path to success. What is?


Doing work you love, being around people you respect, taking time to relax and have fun—it turns out these are at least as important as cranking out more hours and completing more tasks.

Maybe more so.

Because when we’re happy, we are more creative and productive, without all the wear and tear that comes from putting in more hours.

“The driving force seems to be that happier workers use the time they have more effectively, increasing the pace at which they can work without sacrificing quality.” — Dr. Daniel Sgroi

Now, maybe long hours and checking off more tasks each day is precisely what makes you happy. You like being busy. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

That’s fine.

Just make sure you also take some downtime. Put it on your calendar.

Because it might make you even more productive.


Taking inventory


I watched a video about tasks, tools, and processes for creatives and thought the information was helpful for lawyers. Helpful because it provides a framework for thinking about your work and how you can do it more efficiently and with better results.

We’re told that tasks fall into 4 types of categories, Administrative, Consumption, Documentation, and Creative, and as I thought about what I do in my work in this context, I starting thinking about what I could eliminate, delegate, automate, speed up, or otherwise improve. You might do the same.


Administrative tasks include calendaring, conflict management, bookkeeping, client communication, website updates, file management, HR, individual task management, and so much more.

We spend a significant percentage of our day doing or managing these tasks; they are the most obvious category to delegate or automate.


Cases, articles, books, blogs, courses, podcasts, newsletters, videos, seminars—it’s a long list.

You can streamline this category by cutting out some sources of material you regularly turn to, subscribing to services or newsletters that curate this information for you, more audio and less text, and by assigning the “first pass” for some of this content to someone who works for you.


This includes taking notes on client matters, and notes on the other material you consume, recording ideas, storing documents, and the software and systems you use to retrieve this information.


This is your output—how you get paid. It includes your legal work—drafting, negotiating, writing, speaking—and everything you do for marketing.

You might not want to delegate all of this, but you can get help with research, investigation, first drafts, editing, and follow-ups.

As you consider these categories, think about your situation and what you want to improve. Go through a typical week or month and document what you do.

  1. Tasks. Brainstorm every function performed by you and the people who work for you (or outsources).
  2. Tools. Note the software and hardware you use on the computer, browser extensions, phone apps, paper and folders, etc. It also includes forms, templates, checklists, reminders, and more.
  3. Processes. How you do what you do. This will take the most time to document, but is likely to deliver the most benefits.

If you don’t want to do all this right now, at least use this as a checklist to think about how you use your time and what you could do to use it better.


A penny for your thoughts


Lawyers are paid to think. We solve problems, come up with ideas, figure out strategies, and put these to use for our clients and for ourselves.

We often get some of our best ideas while we’re doing other things. When we’re working on another case, driving, playing a game, listening to a (boring) lecture, or mindlessly washing dishes, our minds are busy working on other things.

But we don’t have to wait for serendipity to solve problems and generate ideas. We can make it a habit to schedule thinking time each day. I do that every day and think you should, too.

Once a day, for 5 minutes or 15 minutes, sit quietly, close your eyes, do some breathing exercises if you want to, relax and think.

Think about your life, your work, your family, your problems, your dreams.

I do this in the morning, first thing. Before coffee, when my mind isn’t terribly engaged, I sit in my comfy chair, listen to meditation music, and let my mind wander.

My thinking time helps me discover new ideas, find solutions, clarify my thoughts, remember things I need to do or fix, and when I’m done, I feel calm and centered and ready for the day.

Sometimes, I start out thinking about a specific situation. A problem I’d like to solve or avoid, a goal I’m working towards, or things I’m planning to do that day. Other times, I just sit quietly and let my mind take me where it wants me to go.

I keep paper and my phone nearby and record my thoughts and ideas. Sometimes, those ideas feel so “right,“ I stop thinking and start working on them. These often turn out to be some of my best ideas.

I’ve also found that by having regular thinking time, I’ve conditioned my mind to bring me more ideas and solutions throughout the day, while I’m doing other things.

I got the idea for this post when I was making coffee.

You’re a professional thinker. Schedule thinking time each day. Try it for a week, see what happens, and what you think about that.

I think. . . you’ll be glad you did.


PARA 2.0: How I organize my notes and documents (for now)


I’ve been using the PARA method to organize my notes and documents since I first heard about it a couple of years ago. It’s simple and works well for me but a couple of weeks ago I made a small change and while it’s too early to tell, I think it might turn out to work even better.

PARA was conceived by Tiago Forte and was featured in his course, “Building a Second Brain,” which was recently released as a book.

PARA, is an acronym for 4 top-level categories or folders in a filing system, with folders for (P) Projects, (A) Areas, (R) Resources, and (A) Archives.

Projects are groups of activities you’re working on with a specific goal and deadline. Getting this year’s tax returns ready for filing, buying a new home, hiring a new clerk, for example.

Areas are distinct ongoing segments of your life, such as your practice, finances and investments, family, and health.

Resources are subjects that interest you but may not be immediately useful for one of your projects or areas. This might include general information on marketing or writing, templates and forms, or ideas for your blog or newsletter.

Archives is a catch all folder for storing completed projects or anything else that doesn’t fit into one of the other categories.

Like many people, I added two additional folders to my setup: an Inbox and a Journal (for daily notes and ideas).

So, what did I change? And why?

Instead of using PARA as my top level folders, I now use folders for each Area of my life: Personal, my business, and two additional businesses; I kept the Inbox, Archives, and Journal folders.

Each Area has 3 sub-folders: FILES, PROJECTS, and RESOURCES.

FILES are letters, receipts, contracts, pdfs, notes, and other documents related to that Area.

PROJECTS and RESOURCES for each area are the same as before, but specific to each Area.

Before, all projects were in a Projects folder. Now, each Area has its own Projects folder, as well as Files and Resources folders.

A small change, but I did it for a good reason (for me). When I’m working on a business project or digging through resources I might use for one of my businesses or in my personal life, I only want to look at Projects or Resources specific to that Area.

Separating things this way helps me focus and makes it easier to find things. I might spend most of the day in one Area and not look at any of the others. I might work on personal matters on Saturday and not look at work until the Monday.

I like this new way of organizing, but I also liked the “regular PARA setup. I don’t know which way I’ll finally settle on, or if I might find something I like even better.

Do you use PARA? Have you changed anything? What do you think about my modification?


A better way to prioritize your day


If you’re like most people, you plan your day by first looking at your calendar. You note upcoming meetings, appearances, and appointments and see how much time you have between these to do everything else.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? The problems is, when you prioritize your time this way, you might not have enough time or energy to do other things you need to do.

I’m talking about highly leveraged tasks and projects that help you achieve your most important goals. The kinds of things that often require your complete focus but don’t get it because you’re too busy in meetings and taking care of what the day puts in front of you, and too tired afterwards.

So I want to suggest a slight change regarding how you prioritize your time. As you make your schedule, schedule your most valuable tasks first.

This is the philosophy behind “time blocking”. Scheduling blocks of time on your calendar for your most important tasks, to make sure you don’t use that time for anything else.

It’s a philosophy that says, “I’m going to schedule (and do) my most valuable tasks first, and if I have time left, I’ll schedule appointments and meetings.“

But you don’t have to time-block or work off a strict schedule to do this. You can accomplish the same thing by working from a list with your most important tasks at the top or flagged or tagged to show their priority.

Wouldn’t it be nice to show up at meetings knowing you’ve already completed your top priorities for the day?

The first step is to decide what is most important to you. What you want to be, do, or have.

The second step is to figure out what you need to do to be, do, or have that and put that on your calendar or list.

If your top priority is to bring in more clients and more income, work on that first. This will help.


When you want to do it but don’t want to do it


Have you ever had a project you want to do but you can’t seem to get started because it’s “nice to have” but not that important?

All the time?!

Yeah, me too.

I’ve been meaning to clean up my office for a long time but haven’t started for no better reason than it will take me a lot of time and I’m not sure it’s worth it.

I have a lot of papers and files left over from my pre-digital days. I’ll probably never use most of it, but I can’t be sure unless I go through everything.

Nice to have, but not that important.

I saw a video that suggested a good way to get started. The presenter suggested we take everything out of its “regular home” (cabinets, drawers, etc.) and move it temporally to some other place. Pile it up in a corner of the room, for example.

Things look different when they’re not in their usual home. And there’s something about seeing empty drawers and shelves that makes it easier to decide what you want to keep.

I like it, but it would take hours of tedious sorting and I can think of other things I’d rather do.

So I procrastinated. For months. And would probably still be procrastinating if I hadn’t found another solution.

I scheduled a 15-minute recurring task for every Saturday, dedicated to cleaning one drawer or shelf.

It’s only 15 minutes. It’s only one drawer. I can do this.

And I’ve been doing this for several Saturdays and made a lot of progress. Enjoying it, actually.

If you want to do something but resist starting, figure out a way to make the project easier. . . and it will be easier to start.