Gotta minute?

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

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

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

I don’t know, stop asking me

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.

Have you seen my free referral course? Check it out

Sprint and grow rich

How many emails do you typically get in a day? And how much time do you spend processing them and responding?

My guess: too many emails and too much time. Time that could be spent doing more important things.

And then there’s the time we spend checking our inbox, to see what’s new. I just learned that the average is 88 times per day. Yikes.

We’re drawn to the inbox because we know it might contain something urgent or threatening, or, at the other end of the spectrum, something pleasurable or distracting.

We’re addicted to checking.

The problem is that each time we check our inbox, we lose time switching from the task we were doing before to the email and then back again. How much time? Up to twenty minutes. Yikes.

Now you know why an entire day can go by and you feel like you got nothing done.

No doubt you’ve heard about the habit of checking email just once or twice a day, at pre-determined times. That can help. When you check, make sure you have the time and energy to deal with what’s come in.

Consider doing an “email sprint”. Set a timer for 15 or 20 minutes, get through as many emails as possible, and stop. That should leave you time to work on anything that’s urgent or important.

Oh yeah, you should probably do the same thing with social media. Just saying.

How about a referral sprint?

If only I was a Time Lord

You’ve got a bunch of letters or documents to write. Two hours later, when you should have been long done, you’re still writing. Or re-writing. Before you know it, your day is half gone and you’re behind schedule.

Sound familiar?

The problem is explained by “Parkinson’s Law,” which says that “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”

Give yourself an hour to catch up on correspondence and you’ll use that hour. Even though you could have finished in 30 minutes.

And therein lies the answer to getting more done in less time. Get in the habit of giving yourself less time than you think you’ll need.

Allocate 30 minutes for dictation instead of an hour. Give yourself one day to finish a brief that’s due in two weeks.

The more time you allocate to a task or project, the more complex it tends to become. When you have less time, you are forced to keep things as simple as possible.

When it comes to managing time, one of my weak spots has always been research. I often go down a lot of rabbit holes, spending hours and sometimes entire days trying to find what I need. The problem is I don’t always know what I need or I’m not always sure when I’ve found it.

That’s no way to run a business.

So now, I give myself a fixed amount of time. One hour of research, for example, because I can do a lot in one hour and if that’s all I have, that’s all I usually need.

If you want to start a blog or newsletter but are concerned it will take too much time from your other work, give yourself the amount of time you think you can allocate, and no more. The odds are that’s all the time you’ll need.

Yes, you do have time to get more referrals

I don’t know, let me check my list

I’ve started using a daily checklist. It’s a list of things I need to do as soon as I sit down at my computer and throughout the day. Most of the items on the list are things I’m already doing, without prompting from a list, but I like seeing them in front of me. I know I won’t forget anything and I can get things done and out of the way.

I have three categories: @admin, @personal, and @work.

On the @admin list are things like checking the calendar, email, and a @tickler list (upcoming date-oriented tasks to review or start), followed by checking my other lists to see what’s on tap for the day and for the week.

@personal includes my daily walk, reading, and writing in my journal.

@work includes some of my routine activities like writing a daily email/blog post and working on my current book project.

I’m just rolling this out so I know it’s going to change. I’m already thinking I could combine the three lists into one since I work from home and don’t ordinarily differentiate between work and personal, and because admin is intertwined with my work.

But, we’ll see.

If it’s not obvious, I like lists. I guess I’m a linear thinker, although there are times when I like to use a mind map to brainstorm and flesh out ideas. For the record, once I’ve done that, I convert them to a linear outline or list prior to “doing”.

I’ve also got a checklist for my weekly review. This has always been a work in progress.

Next up? Maybe an evening “shutdown” list. Hmm, I wonder if I need to write down “Netflix and chill”.

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A different kind of “done”

It feels good to check off a task on your list and mark it done. You’d like to be able to do that more often but you only have so much time and energy.

What if instead of waiting until you complete the task you mark it as done when you do ANY work on it?

Does that sound a little nutty? Hold on, Skippy. Let me ‘splain.

Marking a task as done doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to do. It simply means you’re done for now. If there’s more work to do, you can put it back on your list.

Huh? Why would you mark it as done and then put it back on the same list?

Because doing that will help you to get better at planning and actually finishing your work.

You stopped working on the task for a reason. You didn’t allow enough time, you needed more information, or something more important came up. Or maybe you ran out of gas and just didn’t feel like continuing. By understanding why you stopped, the next time you have a task like this you’ll be better prepared.

But that’s next time.

For now, if you’re not ready to continue working on something, check it off and move on to the next task on your list. When you’ve worked your way through everything on your list, look at the task you marked as done and if there’s more work to do, put it back on your list.

You might put it at the bottom of today’s list and do it later today. You might put it on tomorrow’s list. You might postpone it to another day. Or you might decide you don’t want to do it at all and spare yourself a lot of time and effort.

Is your website pulling in enough clients? Here’s what you need to do

Barf happens

The cat threw up last night. At 3 am. By the time I fell back to sleep it was an hour later and I got up late.

I started writing (my first time block) about an hour later than scheduled. I just got back from my walk. I’ll get this post done and out to you, so that’s good, but I am behind schedule. I can absorb this into my admittedly not very busy day but if this happened to you, would you be able to do the same?

There will always be interruptions, delays, emergencies, illnesses and other things that throw you off schedule. The question is, what to do about it?

A few thoughts.

First, you have to understand that this is a normal part of life and you have to be okay with that. Don’t panic. Roll with the punches and carry on.

If you miss doing something completely, do it later in the day, double up tomorrow, or stay late and get it done. The occasional weekend make-up session is okay, too. If none of this is possible, don’t fret about it. And don’t get rid of the cat.

Second, build dams between your blocks. Don’t schedule blocks of time immediately following other blocks (or other appointments), give yourself a buffer. Ten or fifteen minutes between appointments or scheduled tasks should be enough to cover you most of the time.

Third, do what you can to minimize or eliminate interruptions, distractions, and delays, before they occur. Tell your staff when you won’t be available and not to interrupt you. Turn off your phone. Close unnecessary tabs on your browser. And keep track of the interruptions and delays that do occur and make notes about how to handle those situations when they happen again.

Because all you can do is all you can do. And because barf happens.

When was the last time you conducted a referral blitz?

Taking a look at ‘time blocking’

Not long ago, I mentioned my horror at the idea of using your calendar to schedule your entire day (in 15-minute increments). Apparently, some folks do that. More power to them. It’s not for me.

On the other hand (when you’re a lawyer, it’s good to have more than one hand), I’ve recently been reading about how some people use their calendar to manage their day and what they do makes sense to me. Instead of breaking up the day into bite-sized segments of time, they schedule blocks of time that are dedicated to important projects or groups of tasks. Because it’s on their calendar, an appointment with themselves, they do them.

When I first heard about this, I balked because, being invested in GTD, I see the calendar as a place to record appointments and other must-do time-oriented tasks.

Once I saw how other people use time blocking, however, I realized that it’s not inconsistent with GTD, as long as you are committed to keeping those appointments with yourself.

Anyway, here’s what I’m doing right now.

I scheduled a one-hour block for writing. I do that first thing.

I scheduled a second block for my walk. I was already walking every day so this was just a matter of putting it on the calendar.

And I scheduled a third block for writing my blog post/email and doing other tasks associated with the business such as answering email.

By 11 am, I’m accomplished my MIT’s (Most Important Tasks) for the day. I’ve got the rest of the day to do other tasks, do more writing, read, work on small projects, take a nap, run errands, or whatever.

So far, so good. I like getting my MIT’s done early. If that’s all I do on a given day, it’s a good day.

Do you use time blocking? GTD? How do you use your calendar to manage your day?

Stop writing a “to do” list and write this instead

We have lists. Lots and lots of lists. Things we need to do, things we want to do, things we’re not sure about but may do someday. How are we supposed to prioritize anything and decide what to do today?

I have a suggestion. Take your “to do” list, the one you wrote for today or this week, and change the name to a “to finish” list.

A to do list isn’t really a list of things we intend to accomplish, is it? It’s a list of things we plan to start. But creating value in our lives isn’t about what we start it’s about what we finish.

Changing the name to a “to finish” list forces you to write a better list. Instead of writing things you should do and hope you can finish, you make a list of things you know you have the skills, resources, and time to finish that day.

If you are planning to start a new project but realize you don’t have time to finish it today, you are forced to break up that project into smaller chunks you can get done today.

A “to finish” list forces you to think about what’s important. It makes you examine the many options available and organically prioritize your list. You not only get more done, you get the most important things done.

Shifting your focus from a long list of things you need to do to a short list of things you are committed to doing gives you clarity and peace of mind. As you finish the items on your list, you feel good, giving you the energy and desire to do more.

Starting is the hardest part of doing anything. But finishing is the most important. If you want to be, do, and have more in your life, stop starting so many things and start finishing what really matters.