System-driven

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Pilots use pre-flight checklists. Juries follow jury instructions. You use a checklist (or program) each time you open a new client file.

In my practice, I had forms (and form letters) for everything. They helped me get new hires up to speed quickly. They helped us run a tight ship because everyone knew what to do.

Systems make our work easier and more likely to get good results. They make sure we don’t miss steps and we do the work efficiently.

Systems (workflows, checklists, forms, methods, etc.) document best practices for recurring tasks. It takes time to create them but it’s time well spent because you can use them over and over again.

I encourage you to take inventory of the systems you currently use and look for ways to improve them.

What can you cut? What could you add? How could you make it better?

Then, consider systems you don’t use but should.

Talk to colleagues and see what they do. Talk to your staff and see what they suggest.

Consider creating some simple scripts or checklists for how the phone should be answered, how a client should be greeted at the front desk, how to get more prospects to make an appointment, and how to talk to clients about referrals.

To start, schedule one hour a week to work on this. Involve your team. Do this for 30 days and then schedule one hour each month to do the same.

If improving your systems allows you to save just one hour per week, every week, how much would that work out to in a year?

Enough to buy pizza for everyone at your next meeting?

Don’t forget to document your systems for marketing

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The One Thing

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I just re-read The One Thing, the book that asks you to ask yourself, for each area of your life, this “Focusing Question”:

“What’s the ONE thing I can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary.”

The book, and the movement it has created, makes the case for drilling down through all of the possible things you could do, to find the one to do first.

I just asked myself that question about a new project I’m starting. It’s big and important and a bit intimidating and I don’t know where to begin.

In asking myself The Focusing Question, the answer I gave myself was this: research. It’s the one thing I can do that will make everything else easier or unnecessary.

I’ll see my options, identify available resources, and get lot’s of ideas, all of which will help me gain perspective.

And that’s what I’m doing.

Reading, studying, learning, and making notes. When I’ve done that for a while, I will ask the focusing question again and see what to do next.

This is a much better approach than what I might otherwise have done: start anywhere and see what happens. As long as I don’t spend too much time learning and not enough time doing, I should be in good shape.

As you know, learning never stops for a professional. We continually invest in our business and ourselves. I buy a lot of books and courses and read every day because I’m all I’ve got and I want to be the best I can be. I’m sure you do, too.

If you want to be the best you can be in terms of marketing your practice, you owe it to yourself to check out my course, The Quantum Leap Marketing System which I’ve just re-released.

For taking your practice to the next level, it could be your “one thing”.

The Quantum Leap Marketing System

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I messed up

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Confession time. I’ve missed some of my daily walks lately. I could tell you it’s been hot or I’ve been busy but the reasons don’t matter. I need to get back on the consistency train.

How about you? Is there something you’ve stopped doing, or something you haven’t started you know you should?

A project, a person you need to call, a decision you need to make?

We all have these. The question is, what do we do about them?

The first step is to identify the problem. Sometimes that’s hard to do but you can’t fix a problem you don’t know (or won’t admit) you have.

Identify what you’re not doing and write it down in a place where you’ll see it. If you need a little more, talk to someone who will hold you accountable and confess your sins.

The good news is that this one step–being honest with yourself (and others) about a problem is often all you need to fix it. All that was needed was to remove it from the recesses of your consciousness and bring it front and center.

There will be other things we resist starting (or re-starting). As coach Don Shula once said, “It’s the start that stops most people.”

More good news: starting is easy.

The other day I was supposed to start a project that involved some research and writing. It’s not difficult, it won’t take more than an hour or two to do everything, but I still found myself procrastinating.

I opened a new tab in my browser, entered a a keyword phrase, and came up with 7 or 8 sites that had the information I needed.

I didn’t read everything, I simply saved the urls into a new note.

I’ll have this thing done today or tomorrow.

Baby steps, for the win.

Speaking of steps, I need to go take some right now.

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It’s 10 am; time to pet the cat

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Gary Vaynerchuk famously schedules his entire day, down to the minute. In between meetings, which can be as short as 3 minutes, he makes calls, fires off posts on social networks, and records short videos.

The dude is busy.

Cal Newport, computer science professor and author, also plans his entire work day. He says we should all do the same.

Although I’m on board with the idea of “time blocking” and do it to some extent, as I’ve written before, the idea of scheduling my entire day, down to the minute, makes me want to scream.

I schedule meetings and appointments. I block out 30 minutes or an hour for certain activities (returning calls, catching up on email), and longer blocks of time for what Newport calls “deep work”–when I’m working on a big writing project, for example.

Scheduling everything just doesn’t work for me.

Or, maybe I just tell myself that. Maybe I should try it, before saying “it’s not for me”.

Nah.

Anyway, a new study says that if we want to be happy, one thing we shouldn’t schedule is our leisure activities.

“When a leisure activity is planned rather than spontaneous, we enjoy it less,” say the authors of the study. The reason? When it’s planned, “it becomes a part of our to-do list”.

I don’t know about this one. Since when is going to a movie a chore?

I know that when Cal Newport’s work is done for the day he has lots of free time for his family and fun. I’m not sure if he schedules specific leisure activities, however.

Gary Vee? I don’t think he ever stops working, but if he does, whatever he does for fun is probably on his damn calendar.

Getting referrals is fun, right? Here’s how to get more

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Let’s play tag

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I add tags to all my notes and tasks and projects. They help me identify things and find things and organize everything into a workable system.

I have action-related tags, contextual tags (for people and places, etc.), tags for each Area of Focus, e.g., Work, Personal, and reference tags. Each project has it’s own tag.

I use @ and # and other symbols or numbers to group tags together, allowing me to nest tags under top-level categories (in Evernote).

I often experiment with different tags, to see which ones I like best, which ones I use most, and which ones fall into the “it sounded good at the time” category.

Sometimes, and by sometimes I mean all the time, I find myself having too many tags. I create a new tag for something only to discover that I already had it, or something very similar. For this reason, I periodically go on a “tag cleanse” to tidy things up.

Anyway, if you’re into tags like I am, or if you do something similar with labels or notebooks or folders, I thought I’d share a few of the tags I use, or have used, because you might find something you like.

For the sake of simplicity, I won’t include reference tags and I’ll use only #hashtag symbol:

  • #incubate (something to think about and come back to)
  • #decide (similar to #incubate)
  • #checklist (#weekly-review, for example)
  • #daily, #weekly, #monthly, #yearly, and #recurring 
  • #emergency (if I get locked out of the car, I can quickly find the number for road service)
  • #needs-reply
  • #remember (things I want to remember–quotes, mantras, habits)
  • #r/r (read/review)
  • #defer-to-do (something I plan to do later and don’t want to look at until then) 
  • #defer-to-review (something I don’t want to consider until later)
  • #wip (work in progress, so I can find things I haven’t finished)
  • #bm (bookmark; external or internal, ie., within the app.–links, sites, phone numbers, etc.)
  • #due, #pay, #buy, #amazon
  • #mit (most important task)
  • #on-hold, #pending, #planned (for projects)

I also use (or have used) some of the usual gtd-type tags:

  • #today or #t 
  • #next or #n
  • #soon
  • #later
  • #now
  • #waiting
  • #s/m (someday/maybe)
  • #errand
  • #call
  • #name (people I know or work with)
  • #computer, #home
  • #tickler and #calendar 
  • #do
  • #doing
  • #done
  • #mon, #tues, #wed, etc. 
  • #jan, #feb, #mar, etc. 
  • #5-min, #15-min, etc.
  • #high, #medium, #low (energy level needed for the task)
  • #1, #2, #3, #A, #B, #C (priority)

So, there you go. I’ve shown you mine, how about showing me yours? Because you can never have too many tags. 

My Evernote for Lawyers ebook

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Clumping, bunching, bundling and blocking

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Let me look at my calendar. . . this morning, as soon as I get back from court, I have an appointment with a new client. That’s all I have scheduled so the rest of the day, I’ll review files, do dictation, and catch up on calls and email.

Sound familiar?

It’s nice. We like having a flexible schedule, don’t we? And a little variety keeps things interesting.

But is it the most efficient way to work?

Some people say no. They group their tasks together into clumps or bundles or blocks of time. They’ll make calls for one hour, for example, and then turn to something else.

If you look at their calendar, you’ll see blocks of time throughout the day and week: one hour mid-morning for email, two hours in the afternoon for client meetings, and so on.

They say there are advantages to “time blocking”:

  • You know in advance what you’re going to work on so you’re ready for it
  • You avoid the loss of momentum associated with “context switching”
  • You can schedule time for “deep work”–research or writing, for example, without distractions or feeling like you should be doing something else
  • You are in charge of your schedule; you can pace yourself and your energy
  • You don’t fall down the rabbit hole by checking email all day

Some take this a step further. They dedicate certain days of the week (or half-days) for specific tasks. For example, they might schedule Mondays and Wednesday afternoons for working on files, Tuesdays and Thursdays for seeing clients, Fridays for admin.

Some people schedule entire weeks for specific projects. The second week of each month might be dedicated to all things marketing, for example.

Is time blocking more efficient? Yes. Clearly. But that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.

You may have limited control over your schedule. Your work may naturally have periods of feast and famine–signing up clients every day for a week and then no new clients for the next three weeks, or a two-week trial followed by no court for a month. Or you might simply enjoy a more free-floating approach.

I prefer a less rigid schedule, but I often work in bunches. After I send this, I’ll go through all my email before moving onto something else.

Do what works best for you, even if it’s not “best practices”.

Some people use todo lists, some put everything on their calendar, and some (most?) use both.

But there are outliers who don’t use either one.

They must spend a fortune on sticky-notes.

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What’s next for you?

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It’s the middle of the year. It’s also the middle of the month and the middle of the week. For some, it’s also the middle of the day.

You’ve accomplished some things this year, yes? The question is, “What’s next?”

What project are you working on now? What do you plan to start soon?

It may be vacation time for you and your clients. Things may be slow. But that won’t last. Before you can say, “motion granted,” the holidays will be here and we’ll be on the cusp of a new year.

My advice: use this time to figure out what’s next for you (if you haven’t already done that) and begin working on it.

Get thee ready for the coming storm.

You should do this even if things aren’t slow right now because you have to stay ahead of the game.

Where do you start?

When I start a new project, the first step I take is to write down the desired outcome. What do I want and why do I want it. Nothing fancy.

This may change. The project may expand in scope, contract, or the entire idea may become something else.

Then, since I’ve probably been thinking about this for awhile and have some notes, I gather up those notes and divide them into three categories: Tasks, Resources, and Notes.

Tasks are things I have to do or might have to do, even if that means thinking about something or doing a little exploratory research.

Resources are links and docs or people I might need.

Notes is for everything else.

And with that, the project is begun.

I give myself permission to put it aside, however. If I’m not ready to move forward on a project or I find something else I want to (or need to) work on, I put the project aside.

I have more than a few of these residing on my hard drive, ready for me to pick them up again.

Grab a legal pad or digital device and flesh out a project to work on over the next few months. If you have several options, choose the one that excites you (scares you) because that’s probably the one you should be working on.

If you decide you’re not ready for it, put your notes aside and flesh out another project. And don’t dillydally. It may be the start of summer but I can already hear the sound of sleigh bells in the distance.

I keep my notes in Evernote. Here’s my Evernote for Lawyers ebook

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Fix what’s broken

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If you’re like me (and you are), you have one or more habits that often lead to problems or wasted time.

Back in the days when I was making a lot of calls, I had a habit of waiting until I finished the calls before scheduling the follow-ups. I liked to get through the calls as quickly as possible, and then do “paperwork”.

With some people, the follow-up was two days. With others, two weeks. It depended on the situation and the conversation.

The problem was, after the calls, even an hour later, I often couldn’t remember enough context to decide the best time to follow-up and had to go through all my notes again to make that decision.

Sometimes, I got busy with other things and the follow-up fell through the cracks. I would up with a bunch of people I needed to contact but no schedule for doing it.

The fix was simple.

I decided I would take a few seconds after each call to record a follow-up date. It might be a specific date or just “3 days” but I wrote something down before I went onto the next call.

Problem solved.

How about you? What do you often do inefficiently? Do you have any bad habits that slow you down or lead to errors?

Do you forget to put things on your calendar? Avoid dealing with certain types of situations (clients, emails, problems) and find them getting worse? Do you misfile things and have trouble finding them later?

These are relatively easy to fix, and worth fixing.

Create a new habit, a checklist, a reminder, or delegate the task to someone who can do it for you.

Figure out what you need to do and do it. You’ll save time and have fewer things to fix later.

Does your marketing need fixing? Here’s what I recommend

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Greased lightning

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I woke up with the words “low friction” in my head. To me, this means reducing complexities and removing bottlenecks in what I do, so I can get things done more quickly and with less effort.

I guess I’m thinking about this because I’m on (another) simplification binge.

I look at what I’m doing and ask, “How can I make this (app, process, tool) simpler or work better?”

Sometimes, the answer is to use one app to do a job instead of two. The second app might be better at what it does, but I have to weigh that against what I gain by not having to learn it, update it, and use it.

Sometimes, it means getting back to basics.

As you may know, I use a version of Getting Things Done to manage my tasks and projects. I’ve gotten sloppy about a few things, leading to a mind like mud rather than a mind like water.

Instead of doing things the way they’re supposed to be done, I fell into shortcutting the process and wound up complicating my life.

To fix things, I’ve gotten back to writing “next actions” the way they’re supposed to be–the single next action I can do to achieve the desired result or advance the project.

It only takes a few seconds to write down the task in “verb plus noun” format, and this really helps. Before, when I scanned my “Next Actions” list, I wasn’t sure what to do next.

Frankly, I didn’t want to look at my list at all.

When I look at my list now, instead of feeling resistance and confusion, I feel drawn to do things.

I’m also taking a little more time to flesh out projects by asking, “What’s the desired outcome?” and “What’s the next step?”

Doing this has helped me realize that some of the projects on my list shouldn’t be there. By moving them to the someday/maybe list, I have less stress (friction) and more time to focus on a shorter list of things I’m committed to doing.

Finally, I’m getting back to doing a weekly review. Now that I’m more intentional about next actions and projects, the weekly review is no longer the big mess it had become. It’s actually enjoyable.

No matter what apps or systems you use, if you find yourself lacking clarity, feeling resistance, or failing to get things done, I encourage you to simplify what you’re doing and how you do it.

Slow down (and assess what you’re doing) so you can speed up.

And if you don’t know what to do, go back to the basics.

The fundamentals of effective attorney marketing

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I’m up!

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I really don’t like “push” reminders. When I’m in the middle of doing something and I get a text or a pop-up from my calendar or an app (or both), reminding me that I should be doing something else. . .

Kinda annoying.

Like your dad reminding you to get up and get dressed for school. Or you’re watching your favorite show and your mom barges in and reminds you to finish your homework.

Yeah, that kind of annoying.

I still use reminders, but I’m thinking about turning them off for everything except appointments (and maybe for those, too.)

What’s the alternative? To do what I do every day for all of my tasks:

In the morning (or the night before if I remember to do it–hmmm, maybe I need a reminder for this. . .), I go through my calendar and task list and my projects and decide what I’m going to work on that day, and put this on a “Today” list.

I usually have 3 to 5 items on the list. Today, I have 7 tasks on the list. Some days, I have only one or two.

Once I have my “Today” list, I close up everything else and keep that one list in front of me. Keeping it visible is the only reminder I need. If I go out, I have that list available to me on my phone.

If I finish my list and I want to do more, my “next” list is always nearby, but not in front of me.

One list, no distractions or interruptions.

It’s a digital version of what I used to do in my law practice with file folders. I’d make a stack of what I needed to work on that day, start at the top and work my way through it.

I also had a desk calendar to see the day’s appointments.

No annoying reminders.

Yes, my secretary would remind me if I forgot something, but only if I forgot something (which I usually didn’t).

As I write this, I think I’ve convinced myself to turn off reminders.

And with that, I’m off for another cup of coffee. No reminder necessary.

Evernote for Lawyers ebook

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