Are you working too much, or too little?

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No, it’s not just about how much time you put in, it’s about the results you get and how happy you are about them

You may be killing it with a four-day (or four-hour) work-week. Or you may be working like a dog and barely keeping up with inflation.

It’s not just about the amount of time you spend doing what you do. But clearly, time is a factor.

Which is why I suggest you track how you spend it. Not just your work-day or billable hours. All of your time.

For one week, write down everything you do and for how long you do it. How you spend your 24.

You might learn some very useful (and surprising) things about yourself, some of which could be invaluable.

You might learn that you spend a lot of time doing things that contribute little (or nothing) to your income and/or well-being.

I don’t goof off that much, you say? Yeah, that’s what I said.

You might find you spend 90 minutes to do something that shouldn’t take more than an hour. I did that, too.

Tracking your time will help you prioritize that time and focus on what’s important and aligned with your goals.

You might see how much time you spend looking over the shoulders of your employees or outside vendors, time you could use doing other things. Or you might see how much time you spend doing things yourself that could be delegated to someone else.

Track your time for a week. You might not like what you find, or believe some of it. But the numbers don’t lie.

And admitting the truth is the first step towards change.

Even if this exercise allows you to “only” reclaim ten minutes a day, that’s an extra hour per week you can spend as you see fit.

Which is why you should consider doing this exercise regularly, perhaps once or twice a year.

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Time blocking for thee and me

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I’ve struggled with time blocking, aka time boxing or calendar blocking, at least the way I’ve seen others do it. I don’t want to schedule my entire day down to the minute, as some studs do, but even when I mentally block out time for writing or other projects, I still resist putting this on my calendar.

I informally dedicate my mornings (after doing email, some admin stuff and waking up my brain) to “deep work” — writing and other things that require focus and concentration. But I don’t schedule it.

When I’m ready, I go to work. When I’m not, I don’t.

This works for me, but there’s something appealing about the idea of looking at the calendar and seeing my day organized and tidy.

So I will try again.

In my quest to learn how others do it, I’ve watched some videos and picked up some suggestions. I thought I’d pass along a few of the best.

  • Time block email and admin so you can stay on top of it, and not be distracted when you’re doing other things and remember you forgot to reply to your email.
  • For “deep work”—anything that requires concentration—be specific about what you will work on (the case, file, project), and for how long, so you know exactly what to do during your time block. Specifics create clarity, clarity creates focus, and focus is how you get things done.
  • If you’re trying to block your entire day, for each block, (a) give yourself enough time to do the work; (most of us grossly underestimate how long things will take), and, (b) build in buffer time between blocks for breaks, travel, interruptions, and things that need more time than you have allowed.

If you have other suggestions, or would like to share how time blocking works for you, please let me know.

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When your task management system isn’t working for you

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It’s not the app, it’s the system. If you have the right system, you can make it work in just about any app.

Or so we’re told.

I don’t think that’s literally true but there’s enough to it that if your system isn’t working, changing apps, as I did recently, might be the solution. At the very least, it gives you a chance to re-examine your system.

A few thoughts about apps and systems.

First, your system (and app) should serve you and make your life easier. It shouldn’t make you do a dance to keep up with it. It should sit by your side and tell you what to do next (because you decided that earlier) and give you the satisfaction of checking things off as you do them.

If it doesn’t, before you switch apps or radically change your system, consider looking for ways to simplify that system.

If possible, see if you can consolidate all of your task management functions into one tool.

You can have multiple lists or tags or labels but put all your work and personal stuff in one app.

In keeping with that, you should have one inbox. One place for all of your incoming tasks and ideas.

Because it’s simpler.

If one app/one inbox isn’t possible, because of partners or staff or whatever reasons, consider using two iterations of the same app, one for you and one for the team.
Less to learn and update.

Be realistic about the number of tasks and projects you can do each day, or at one time. Most of us take on too much, which leads to overwhelm and falling behind.

Keyword: a few at a time.

Then, make sure every task has a next action and a date when you’re going to do it, review it, or start it. Add a due date if there is one, but having a start date allows you to forget about the task until the start date, which allows you to give your full attention to what’s important today.

Then, update your lists “in the moment” rather than once a week or on some other schedule. When you complete something, tick it off. When you think of something, add it in. You can also do a weekly review, but that will be a lot easier to do if you’ve kept up with your lists in real time. 

Finally, if you switch to another app, don’t get bogged down learning and using a bunch of new features. Instead, consider turning off or not using most of the functions initially, and start with just an inbox and a place for today’s tasks.

This gives you time to think about what you’re doing and if there’s something you should change.

As you get more comfortable with the app and your new system, add back some of the other functions and see how it feels. If those work, you can add more.

That’s my take, and I’m sticking to it. Time to tick this off my list and see what’s next.

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The two most important questions you will ever answer

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It’s not clickbait. These two questions are the key to your future.

The questions are simple. The answers, not so much. The answers require some thinking and introspection, maybe some praying, and a willingnes to be completely honest with yourself.

The first question: What do you want?

Describe your ideal life five years from now. Where are you, what are you doing, who are you doing it with? What have you accomplished and what are you on the road to accomplishing?

In this vision, you can be, do, and have anything. No rules, no restrictions. This is your vision for an ideal (perfect) future.

Write it down. You will surely want to refer to it again.

Now that you know what you want, it’s time to answer the second question:

What are you willing to give up to get it?

Yes, give up. Because if you didn’t have to give up something, change something, you’d already have what you want.

You may believe you are on the path to your ideal life and the only thing needed is to give it more time. You know that if you keep doing exactly what you’re doing now, you’ll get there.

Even if that’s true, wouldn’t you like to speed things up?

Either way, you have to change something. What are you willing to change? What are you willing to give up?

Mostly, we’re talking about time and how you currently spend it.

Track your time for a week and you’ll likely find that you waste a lot of it. Three hours or more per day, according to some experts.

Are you willing to give up some of your indulgences, change your habits, and redirect some of your time and energy towards more productive things? Are you willing to give up an hour of TV or gaming or social media each day, and use that time to improve your knowledge and skills?

So, two questions. What do you want? What are you willing to give up to get it?

Plaintiff rests.

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Does your life need to go on a diet?

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It was just yesterday that you started practicing. Or so it may seem. The days whiz by, don’t they? Another day, another week, another month, another year, come and gone.

Where will you find the time to do everything?

The answer is to let go of things you don’t need to do or want to do but continue to do out of habit.

A good place to start is by reducing physical and digital clutter. Clean out closets and drawers, delete apps, and cut down on subscriptions.

To do your work, you need a calendar, a place for notes, a list of tasks and projects, a tool for writing, and a system for managing and storing documents.

You probably don’t need much more.

If you do, be judicious about what you add to the mix.

You want to reduce the noise around you and simplify your workflow. You want to focus on the “precious few” instead of the “trivial many”.

The goal is to be effective, with as little friction as possible.

To do that, you need to keep things as simple as possible.

The same goes for the information you consume. Be selective about what you read. Buy fewer books and courses, re-read and study the best ones.

You don’t need every idea; you need a few good ones.

Improve your note-taking skills and habits, so you can better use the information you consume.

How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and How to Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens will show you what to do.

Read broadly but focus on your core skills: your practice area, marketing, writing, speaking, leadership, and productivity.

One thing you should add to your workflow if you’re not already doing it, or doing it consistently, is time for planning.

Spend ten minutes every afternoon planning the following day. Spend an hour each weekend planning the following week.

This habit will help you get the most value out of your limited time.

One more thing.

When you do your planning, make sure you schedule time to enjoy the life you’re building.

Because no matter what you do, the days and weeks will continue to whiz by and you don’t want to look back someday and wonder if it was all worth it.

The only course you need on email marketing

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Time blocking part deux

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I’m trying time blocking again. I hate it but hear so many people having excellent results with it I have to try again.

But I’m being gentle, lest my perfectionism kick in and kick me in the groin.

I’ve watched videos to see how others do it, and try not to grimace at how easy they make it look. I’ve picked up some good ideas and am trying them as we speak.

If you don’t know anything about time blocking, aka time boxing, calendar blocking, et al., it simply means scheduling time on your calendar dedicated to doing specific activities—working on a specific project, for example, or doing a group of related tasks such as making calls, answering emails, writing, or reviewing files.

Time blocking is especially recommended for doing work that requires a lot of focus and concentration, so-called “Deep Work” made popular by Cal Newport in his eponymous book.

When I tried time blocking before, I resisted the idea of scheduling weeks in advance, especially the way some folks (claim they) do it—in five or ten-minute increments.

“How I am supposed to know what I will want to work on for ten minutes three weeks from now?”

I still feel this way, but I’m willing to compromise. So, for now, I’m time blocking one day at a time.

Each evening, I make my schedule for the following day. I know what else I have on tap and this gives me the flexibility I need. I also schedule time for recurring daily tasks, and blocks of time for deep work. I’m writing a book currently, and I make sure I’ve put time to do that on the calendar.

Because I’m new to this, I’ve started with 45 minute blocks—not too long, not too short—and adjust depending on how much I have to do or want to do each day. If I have a lot of calls, I allow more time for that, for example.

I’m also trying to follow the 1.5 rule—allowing 50% more time than I think something will take—because humans are notoriously bad at predicting how long things take, and I’m the poster boy for this.

If I schedule time to “Finish Chapter 7,” for example, and I’m not even close to finishing (see paragraph above), it’s disheartening, so I usually prefer to schedule time to “work on Chapter 7”.

But that’s “creative” work and I allow myself to be a bit of mad scientist in that area. For other tasks like writing my daily email, returning calls, or clearing inboxes, I almost always get everything done in the time allotted.

As for the time of day for each block, well, this is a work in progress. I’d like to be able to get my deepest work done early in the day, but the idea of doing it first thing is a non-starter with me. I get other things done first.

But that may change, too, as I get further along into this dystopian world of blocking my days.

How’s it going? So far, so good, but I still have a long way to go.

My wife just told me she wants me to accompany her to Costco. It’s not on my calendar, I’ve got other things scheduled, but what can I tell you—happy wife, happy life, so we’re off to the store.

Do you time block? Let me know if you have any tips.

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A different take on Areas of Focus

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Most people who use a task management app or system separate their Areas of Focus (or Areas of Responsibility), so that when they’re working, they only see their list of work-related tasks, and when they’re not working, they see tasks or errands related to their personal life.

Many people use just two top-level categories—work and personal. Others break down their responsibilities into narrower categories.

I have 3 businesses and separate my tasks according to which business they belong to. I have a fourth category for personal matters. This works well for me but I’m always looking for different methods, especially since there is a lot of overlap between the things I do.

The other day, I watched a video by someone who separates her tasks not by job or business or other area of her life, but by the activities she performs.

To illustrate, using her activity-based approach, a practicing lawyer might categorize his or her responsibilities into these 7 areas:

  1. CREATE (blog posts, newsletters articles, podcasts, videos, social media posts, books, ads, presentations, etc.)
  2. CONNECT (interviews, networking, joint ventures, social media)
  3. LEARN (marketing, CLE, productivity, personal development, writing, etc.)
  4. MAINTAIN (admin, risk management, IT, client relations, bill paying, investing, etc.)
  5. ROUTINES (planning, processing, calendaring, training; personal routines and chores–exercise, meditation, journaling, self-care, shopping, etc.
  6. LEISURE/SPIRITUAL (rest, fun, family, miscellaneous interests, charitable, etc.)
  7. WORK (cases, client work)

This got me thinking. I’m not yet committed to changing my top-level Areas, but I am looking at using tags or labels to identify my different activities and responsibilities so I remember to schedule and do them.

I thought I’d pass this along to you in case you’d like to do the same.

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If it’s important enough, you’ll find the time

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You want to improve your marketing, but you don’t have the time.

You want to start a side project, but you don’t have the time.

You want to write a book, learn how to invest in precious metals, or take an exercise class, but you don’t have the time.

But is that really true?

You have as much time as anyone else on the planet, and you get to decide how to spend it.

If something is important to you, you’ll find a way to do it. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse.

You have time to eat, don’t you? Because staying alive is a top priority. What else do you do that’s important to you?

That’s what you need to figure out.

Make a list of everything you do in the course of a day or a week, and a list of everything you would like to do but don’t (because you don’t think you have the time).

Then, go through your lists and add a flag or tag or label next to each activity, to designate its level of importance.

Which are your top priorities? Which aren’t?

If you have trouble deciding, slowly think about each task, make no assumptions about its importance, and ask yourself why you do it (or want to). What’s the value? How do you benefit? What would you give up if you didn’t do it?

Write this down next to each task or activity.

In fact, you might get into the habit of doing that each time you add a new task to your list or schedule. Write “Because. . .” or “So that. . .” next to each task, to remind yourself why it’s important.

You can’t do everything. You have to make choices. Not everything has the same priority.

By consciously reviewing how you currently spend your time, you might discover you have more time than you thought. Or find some low-priority activities you can cut down or eliminate, to make room for others.

If something is important enough, you’ll find the time to do it.

The best way to improve your marketing is to get better at getting referrals

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Subscription fatigue is a thing

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I watched a video by a guy who presented 5 reasons why he switched to a new app, replacing two others he’d been using. He did so, he said, “because subscription fatigue is a real thing.”

His first reason was cost. One app is cheaper than two and a free app (which he now uses) is cheaper still.

An app might only be $5 per month but $5 here and $5 there and before you know it, you might spend $1000 per year.

Of course the bigger cost of using too many apps, or the wrong apps, is the cost of our time.

Time to learn how to use the app, update it, hack it and customize it to our liking, watching videos about how others use the apps–is time better spent doing work.

Or is it?

The time we spend in app-land might be well spent if it allows us to get more out of those apps. If they help us save more time than we spend tweaking them, or help us earn more money, that’s a win.

There’s also the fun factor. I enjoy using some apps more than others. I’m sure you do, too. We probably use those apps more than others, and probably get more out of them.

Clearly, using one app instead of two, or simpler apps instead of more complex ones, provides less drag on our day. Some apps may do a better job at some things than others apps do, but we have to consider the extra overhead of using multiple apps.

When we look at other apps and compare them to the ones we use, we have to consider other factors:

  • Future proofing. Some apps are locked into propriety data formats, some aren’t. Some make it easy to export (and use) your data, some don’t.
  • Platforms: Can you use the app on all your devices? Mobile, tablet, desktop, cloud?
  • Security/redundancy: How safe is your data? What are your options if the site goes down or you can’t log in?
  • Features/development: Does it have what you need and want? Are new features being regularly added?
  • Speed: How quickly can you enter new information; how fast is search?
  • Support: Can you get help if and when you need it?
  • Training: Do the developers and/or user base show you how to use the app and how to incorporate it into your work?

I’ve tried a lot of apps and do my best to use as few as possible. When I find something I like, I stick with it, but continue to take new apps out for a spin.

Which means I spend way more time than I should, in pursuit of the perfect app.

It’s a blessing, and a curse.

Evernote for Lawyers

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Take a break and read this

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When you’re trying to work, getting distracted by a phone call, an alert, or your own thoughts about doing something else, can ruin your momentum. It can take many minutes to get back to where you were before that distraction, and let’s face it, too often you never do.

That’s why God created the phrase, “I’ll finish it tomorrow”.

And so, legions of productivity writers and speakers preach the value of eliminating distractions in your work day. Turn off your phone, close the other tabs on your browser, put on headphones and listen to white noise, they say, so you can focus and get your work done.

By and large, they’re right. I do some of these things myself.

But distractions aren’t entirely bad.

We watch sports or videos or play games or read fiction, in part, to distract ourselves from our problems, the news, and our own negative thoughts that sometimes plague us.

And that’s a good thing.

So, a few thoughts about the subject.

First, don’t feel guilty about taking breaks from your work or other responsibilities, to play a game or watch a video or three. If you enjoy doing it, do it. It’s good for your mental well-being.

Second, watch the time. Don’t play all day when there is work to be done. Yeah, that’s obvious, but we’ve all been guilty of telling ourselves, “one more video” or “one more game” and before we know it, it’s dinner time and we didn’t get much done.

Especially when working from home.

The solution is simple. When you take a break, set a timer and when the time is up, go back to breaking bricks.

Third, schedule regular breaks on your calendar. Time to play or goof off or close your eyes and do nothing. When we take scheduled breaks, we don’t feel guilty about playing for 20 minutes in the middle of the day.

When we don’t schedule breaks, however, when we allow distractions to just happen, that’s when we can get into trouble.

We want to do deep work but find ourselves in deep doo doo.

So, there you go. Break time is over. Thank you for spending it with me.

What’s next? You get back to work and I go watch a video. Or three.

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