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.

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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.

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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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Blog vs. Newsletter

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I read an article this morning entitled, “How to Write a Blog Post: A 12-Step Guide.”

After reading it, I feel like I need a 12-Step program. It’s too much to do for those of us who can’t (or don’t want to) spend hours and hours writing blog posts.

Which is why, years ago, I switched from being blog-centric to email centric.

I used to write a blog post first (with images, if you can believe that) and then send it to my newsletter subscribers (in html, if you can believe that).

Now I write an email first, then post it to my blog.

Seems like the same thing, but it’s not.

My emails are plain text. And brief.

And they take takes mere minutes to write, send and post.

Yay me.

I’ve got nothing against blog posts. But they require a lot of time and effort I would rather invest doing other things.

What kind of effort? Here are the 12-steps in the article I mentioned:

  1. Understand your goals
  2. Understand your audience
  3. Brainstorm a list of ideas

Sure, we need to do this for every kind of marketing we do.

  1. Do keyword research

Yes, research keywords for your blog. I don’t do that for my newsletter.

  1. Organize your content into an outline

I don’t think of my emails as content and I don’t write an outline. I may write down a few notes about what I want to say but usually, I just let it fly.

  1. (Check Google and) read the top 10 posts for that keyword

Good idea for a blog post you write once a week or once in a while. Not going to happen for a short, daily email.

  1. Write the body of your blog post
  2. Write a killer intro
  3. Write an excellent headline

I don’t spend more than 30 minutes to do this.

  1. Proofread and format your post

I don’t format anything.

  1. Optimize your post

I don’t optimize anything.

  1. Publish your post

Finally! I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted just reading this list.

Bottom line: a blog and a newsletter are both valuable resources for building a professional practice and should be a part of most lawyers’ marketing mix. But I’m sure you don’t want to spend hours and hours of your precious time crafting fine art.

You don’t have to do that, if you use my system.

Which you can learn more about here.

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Gotta minute?

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I did something different today. I added a few time-oriented tags to my task management set up: #5min, #10min, #15min, and #30min.

That’s nothing new in task-management world, but it is for me. I’ve previously avoided using a time-estimate tag because I’m notoriously bad at estimating how long something will take.

I think organizing some notes will take ten minutes and an hour later, I’m still at it.

So, why am I re-thinking this?

Because I realized that if I allocate ten minutes for something and after ten minutes I’m not even close to finished, it doesn’t matter. At least I’ve worked on the thing for ten minutes.

So, instead of thinking about these tags as “estimates” I’m going to think about them as “allocations”. “How long I’ll work on this task” instead of “how long I think this task will take”.

In a way, this is a form of time-blocking, using very small blocks of time. Five minutes to check email, ten minutes for brainstorming ideas, 15 minutes for research.

Maybe after I do this for a while, I’ll get better at estimating. I hope so. Because when I’m sitting in a doctor’s office and I have five minutes, I’d like to be able to call up my list of 5-minute tasks and actually get one of them done.

Allocate some time to get more referrals

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To do: re-think this whole “to-do list” thing

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My wife doesn’t make to-do lists. And yet she gets a ton of stuff every day. She seems to know what to do and she gets it done.

How? You’re asking the wrong guy. I’m the guy who loves to make lists, try out different apps and different systems for managing my lists.

How about you? Are you a list maker? Or are you more like my wife and usually know what to do?

You know what? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we get our most important things done.

There seems to be a growing trend against the primacy of the to-list. I see articles that say “to-do lists don’t work” or to-do lists cause us to emphasize quantity over quality, or we should use our calendar to schedule our entire day.

I say, do what works for you (and quit spending so much time reading articles about lists).

Let’s say this is to-do list for today:

–Call Max to schedule lunch for next week.
–Review/respond to email.
–Pick up dry cleaning.
–Review lease for Smith.
–Meet with Sally about changes to website.
–Prep for Anderson trial.
–Order new desk lamp.
–Review/edit Blackthorne amendments.
–Finish laundry.

It should be clear that prepping for the upcoming Anderson trial is the most important thing on this list.

It’s the “one thing” that has to be done today. Everything else is number two.

And nobody needs an app to tell them that.

Evernote for Lawyers

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I don’t know, stop asking me

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I’m playing around with a “time management” app I used many years ago. It was updated recently and so far I like what I see.

This, after many years of trying more apps than I can count and always coming back to Evernote.

Who knows, I may finally make a “permanent” switch.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about something I’ve been thinking as I transfer tasks from Evernote to the other app.

As I re-create the projects and underlying tasks in the old/new app, I have to make decisions about them.

Lots of decisions–about which projects should be front and center, which tasks should be “next actions,” which tasks should get a due date and what that date should be.

You have to decide what you want to accomplish.
You have to decide what to do next.
You have to decide when you will do it.

You know the routine.

Because you do, you know how easy it is to get overwhelmed with all those decisions.

It’s why we tend to drift away from what we’re doing and look for a better system.

Indecision causes stress and drains energy. In GTD parlance, unmade decisions (or rashly made ones, I suppose), are called “open loops”.

Open loops nag you and call you names. So you keep giving them attention when you should be doing other things.

If this sounds painfully familiar, I have a suggestion: Decide not to decide.

Decide that you don’t have to make a decision right now and schedule a future “review” date, where you will review the task or project and decide what to do about it.

Until then, you won’t think about it.

Assign a “start date” instead of a “due date”. When the start date arrives, do your review.

When you decide not to make a decision you are actually making a decision. When you become comfortable postponing decisions, you close open loops, gain clarity, and reduce your stress level.

Don’t let your tasks push you around. Tell them to go away–for now.

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