Search Results for: 80/20

Wrestling out of your weight class


In high school, I joined the wrestling team. I thought it looked like something I could do. Okay, I thought I could meet some cheerleaders. Turns out, the wrestling team didn’t have any.

Anyway, the coach told me that with my height and frame, I should be in a certain weight class and suggested I drop some weight before the weigh-in which was two weeks away.

Off I went, running, lifting weights, dieting, and drinking gallons of water, determined to get down to the lower weight class.

I missed it by two pounds.

There I was, forced to wrestle bigger guys, exhausted by my efforts to lose weight, and not particularly good at wrestling.

I lost every match.

Turns out wrestling wasn’t my thing. And I’m fine with that. I found other things I was good at and enjoyed.

Author Richard Koch, in one of my favorite books, The 80/20 Principle, says

Everyone can achieve something significant. The key is not effort, but finding the right thing to achieve. You are hugely more productive at some things than at others, but dilute the effectiveness of this by doing too many things where your comparative skill is nowhere near as good.

High school is a place to try things. I’m glad I tried wrestling, and I’m glad I found out it wasn’t for me.

In college, you try more things, and find your career path, or at least a place to start.

In law school, and your first legal jobs, you narrow things down further. You find the practice areas that appeal to you, and the ones that don’t.

When you start your own practice, you learn more about what you’re good at. Or you find out that practicing law isn’t for you and you move onto something else.

If you’re lucky, you find your “thing” early in life. You find what you love and do best and eliminate the rest.

But the quest doesn’t end with the choice of careers. You try different partners, employees, and office locations. You try different niche markets, and different marketing techniques, continually searching for things where you are “hugely more productive”.

If you get it right, you are happy and successful. Things click for you because you’ve found the right path. If not, you keep looking.

I’m glad I found the right path. Because God knows, at my age, I would not look good in tights.

Are you ready to take a Quantum Leap in your law practice? Here’s how.


Keeping it simple


Look at your phone. How many apps do you have? Now, look at your hard drive and answer the same question.

If you’re like most people, you have many more apps and programs (and tools in your garage) than you use. It’s unlikely that you’ll ever use them, or if you used them once, use them again.

But we can’t help ourselves. We like new. New apps, new techniques, new ideas. Even if we never use them, and even if what we’re already using works just fine.

There’s nothing wrong with looking. I do it, too. But I don’t spend a lot of time on it because what’s new today is often gone tomorrow. I’ll wait until others have vetted the app or the process and recommended it. Then I’ll look. Maybe. I might be too busy using what I’ve already got and getting some work done.

Anyway, the point is that simple is better. A few apps. A few tools. A few techniques. If you’re not keeping it simple, the odds are you’re not getting things done.

Take marketing for example. If it’s not simple, the odds are you won’t do it. True or true?

According to the 80/20 rule, “a minority of causes, inputs, or effort usually lead to a majority of the results, outputs, or rewards”. Figure out which inputs (efforts, tools, apps, techniques) are producing most of your results and do those. Don’t worry about (most of) the rest.

For a SIMPLE marketing plan that really works, get this


Prioritizing tasks: If it’s not a nine or 10, it’s a one


One of my favorite sayings is, “You can do anything you want, you just can’t do everything you want.” There isn’t enough time to do everything, but there is plenty of time to do what’s important.

The problem is, when you look at your list of tasks and projects, at a certain level, everything seems important. That’s why we wrote it down. To be productive and reach our goals, we need to decide which tasks are the most important and should receive top priority.

Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, suggests using “The 90% Rule” for prioritizing tasks. It allows you to take a step back and look at your list objectively.

Laura Vanderkam at Fast Company explains McKeown’s method:

You’re looking at a new opportunity. Rank it on a scale of 1 to 10 on how amazing you think it is. Then try this little thought experiment: “If it’s not a nine or 10, then it’s a one,” says McKeown. The goal is to take on tasks that are “a superb use of my time,” he says, “and I don’t mean that selfishly. I mean, is this the best way I can contribute to others, to society, is this my very highest point of contribution?” The point is that “we need to see the difference between things that are good and things that are exceptionally good,” he says. “It’s an important distinction in a world exploding with options.”

Out of ten tasks, one or two are likely to deliver the most value or biggest results. Put those tasks into their own category and put everything else aside. If this sounds like a variation of the 80/20 rule, I agree. And that’s why I like it.

Don’t get hung up in deciding what’s a six and what’s a seven. If it’s not a nine or 10, it’s a one.


How to prioritize your daily tasks


I use my own version of GTD (Getting Things Done) as the backbone of my productivity system. Every day, when I sit down to prioritize my lists and choose what to work on for the day, I choose three “MIT’s” (Most Important Tasks). If I get my MITs done, I call it a good day.

Some people recommend the 1-3-5 system: 1 big thing for the day, 3 medium things, and 5 small things. Others use the 3-2 method: three big things, two small things. And then there’s the ABC/123 method.

For me, “three things” is about right.

Many days, it’s just one or two MITs. The number really doesn’t matter. What matters is that I am effective because I’m getting important things done.

But how do you decide what’s important? How do you look at a long list of tasks and projects and select three Most Important Tasks?

I don’t know. I just do it.

Sure, there’s a certain amount of logic in the process. I look at deadlines and appointments and reminders. But more often than not, it’s my gut that tells me what to do.

In “The 4-Hour Work Week,” Tim Ferriss offers a suggestion for deciding what’s important. He says, “Imagine you’ve just suffered a heart attack and are allowed to work only two hours a day. What would you do during those two hours? And if you had another heart attack and were allowed a maximum of two hours of work per week, what would you do?”

Ferriss also says, “. . .requiring a lot of time does not make a task important,” and I agree. He is also a proponent of making a “don’t do list,” ignoring things that aren’t important so you can focus on what is, which I wrote about recently.

I like learning about new productivity systems. But most of them are too complicated and time consuming to learn and use. I like the simplicity of focusing on just “three things”.

If you want to know how to prioritize your daily tasks, start by acknowledging that some things are much more important than others. Think 80/20. A minority of tasks, perhaps 20%, will contribute to the majority of your results.

You’ll never get everything on your list done, and trying to categorize and prioritize hundreds of things that aren’t important, or as important, as your three things, isn’t efficient or effective.

This post is one of my MITs for today. Next for me is to finish another writing project. I’ll get to that right after I check my calendar.

I explain my productivity system in my Evernote for Lawyers ebook.


The need to read (books)


If you are a book lover like I am, you know there’s never enough time to read everything. In, “How to read a lot of books,” college student and fellow book lover Dan Shipper shares how he read lots of books.

First, he keeps track of everything he wants to read in Evernote. He always has his list with him so he can pick up books on his “want” list any time he’s in a book store. Of course I keep lists in Evernote, too, but I buy mostly ebooks, now.

Next, he prioritizes his master list (using Trello) so he knows what to read next. I’m more of a shoot from the hip kinda guy, so unless I’m working on a project that calls for me to read a certain book, I just pick something I feel drawn to and read that. If I did prioritize my list, however, I would use Evernote tags instead of another application.

As for actually reading the books, Shipper follows this rule: “I never read more than one book at a time, and I always finish every book I start.” Here, I disagree.

I often read several books “simultaneously”. No, not literally. I start one book, then switch to another before finishing the first. I may go back to the first or go on to another. Why? I like the variety, I guess. When I get tired of hearing one author’s voice, I like to tune into someone else’s.

As for finishing every book, I must ask why? There are a lot of bad books out there. Why continue reading something that’s boring or that doesn’t deliver on it’s promise? Why punish yourself? So you can say you finished what you started? So you can tell yourself you gave the author a fair shot?

Besides, the 80/20 rules tells us that 80% of a book’s value is contained in 20% of the pages. If you can deduce that value by skimming or by skipping chapters, why wouldn’t you do that?

I guess it depends on why you are reading. I read to gain information, mostly. (I don’t read much fiction these days.) When I can get most of the information I need or want without finishing the book, I do.

Not finishing books is one of my top productivity strategies.

Finally, Shipper says he takes notes as he reads and records the page numbers, so he can refer back to those notes in the future. I do that, too. On Kindle, you can highlight passages and add notes and the system will keep track of those highlights and notes, along with the page numbers. (I haven’t figured out how to export them, though. I’d like to save them in Evernote.)

So, that’s what I do to read (or skim) lots of books. What do you do?

Glad I’m done with this post. I’ve got five books I’m planning to start.

If you use Evernote, get my Evernote for Lawyers ebook. If you don’t use Evernote, helloooooo!


Is Goofus or Gallant managing your law firm?


The children’s magazine, Highlights, has a cartoon feature, Goofus and Gallant, which teaches kids the right and wrong ways to handle different social situations. Goofus is irresponsible and selfish; Gallant does the right thing. At a cross-walk, for example, Goofus ignores the elderly person while Gallant offers to help her cross the street.

If Goofus or Gallant were managing your law firm, they might illustrate the right and wrong ways to behave with Do’s and Don’ts like the following:

  • DON’T do something just because there’s money in it; you can make money at a lot of things
  • DO what you’re good at; if you aren’t good at it, you won’t be successful
  • DON’T do what everyone else does; be different–it will be easier to stand out
  • DO what you enjoy; chances are it’s something you’re good at
  • DON’T offer what people don’t need; if people don’t need what you do, what you do is a hobby
  • DO offer what people want; people buy what they want, not what they need
  • DON’T compete on price; there will always be someone who charges less
  • DO provide more value than anyone else; that’s what people pay for
  • DON’T use marketing tactics you don’t like; you’ll only do them poorly
  • DO give new marketing tactics some time; you might find you like them after all
  • DON’T try to eliminate risk; without risk there is no reward
  • DO follow the advice of successful people who have what you want
  • DON’T assume that hard work is the recipe for success; it’s just one of the ingredients
  • DO use the 80/20 principle to get a bigger return on what you do

Is Goofus managing your practice or is Gallant? Are you doing the Do’s or the Don’ts?

If things aren’t going well for you, there’s another Highlight’s feature you might want to know about. On the back cover is something called “What’s Wrong?” It is a picture of a normal scene but with several out-of-place or incorrect objects. The reader is instructed to find “what’s wrong with this picture?”

Sometimes, you might want to look at your practice and ask yourself that question.

If you want to learn essential marketing Do’s and Don’ts, you need The Attorney Marketing Formula.


The Rule of 3 in Writing, Speaking, and Productivity


Last week I did a training for a group of business partners. I created a series of slides and each one began with, “3 Things. . .”, “3 Ways. . .”, or “3 Reasons. . .”. I did it that way because it’s an effective way to convey information in writing and public speaking.

3 things are easy to follow and easy to remember.

If I gave you 142 tips for writing better blog posts, you would read or listen to the first few, perhaps nine or ten, and then you would begin to tune out. It’s too much information to process, absorb, or remember. Yes, you can go back later, but you may never do so. You can handle 3 tips, however, and later, I can give you more.

There’s too much information coming at us today. To protect ourselves, we have learned to tune out most of it. If you want to get someone’s attention and deliver an effective message, if you want them to act on your message, put that message in a smaller package.

The same is true of our task and project lists.

If your list has too many things on it, it’s overwhelming. You look at that list and wonder how you can possibly make a dent in it, let alone finish everything. It’s daunting and depressing.

In addition, when you have too many projects and tasks, there is a tendency to choose the easiest or most urgent ones, instead of the most important.

I have long lists of tasks and projects, but I don’t let them overwhelm me. I use The Rule of 3 to help me sort out the most important things and keep those in front of me until they are done. The rest, I keep out of sight until it’s time to go back and get some more.

To adopt the Rule of 3 to your tasks and project lists, choose (no more than)

  • 3 tasks for the day.
  • 3 outcomes for the week.
  • 3 goals for the year.

I’ve written before about the concept of MITs (most important tasks). Every day, I choose one to three MITs for that day. If I get those done, I can go back for more, but if I only get those done, I know I have had a productive day. I also wrote about how I use MITs in my Evernote for Lawyers eBook.

The 80/20 rule (Pareto Principle) says that in most situations 80% of results (income, clients, happiness, etc.) come from 20% of causes (efforts, clients, tasks, etc.) That means that most things aren’t important and can be safely eliminated.

Focus on the few things that are important and valuable and likely to advance you towards your most important objectives. Don’t worry about anything else.


Not all clients are the same. Don’t treat them all the same.


Some clients are better than others. You know the ones I’m talking about. They have more work for you (or bigger cases), they pay on time, and they don’t call you every other day to ask the same questions you already answered three times before.

I’m sure you have your own list of what constitutes a better client.

Better clients are worth more to us and we should acknowledge this. We shouldn’t feel guilty about treating some clients better than others or trying to treat everyone the same because it’s fair or politically correct.

Look, if someone is paying me $150,000 a year, I’m going to give him more attention than someone who pays me $1,000 for a one time transaction. That’s just the way it is.

Of course today’s $1,000 client could refer tomorrow’s $10,000 client who could, in turn, refer next year’s $100,000 client. And so the notion of treating some clients better than others does not imply that it’s okay to treat some clients below a minimum standard of care. In fact, we should strive to exceed that minimum whenever possible. But let’s face it, not all clients deserve the same treatment.

Seth Godin agrees.

So does Richard Koch, the author of The 80/20 Principle:

“Marketing, and the whole firm, should devote extraordinary endeavour towards delighting, keeping for ever and expanding the sales to the 20 per cent of customers who provide 80 per cent.”

Make a list of your “twenty percent” clients, the ones who provide the bulk of your income. Start paying more attention to them, acknowledging them and strengthening your relationship with them. Give them more of your (non-billable) time, spend more on their Christmas gifts, and do whatever you can do to convert them from being merely “satisfied” clients to raving fans.

And while you’re at it, make a similar list for your referral sources.

By the way, the same idea applies to prospects. Some are better than others. You should have a plan in place to give more to those who are worth more.


The smartest way to grow your law practice


the smartest way to grow your law practiceSo, what’s your plan for growing your practice next year?

Before you take on anything new, there’s something you should do first.

The first thing you should do is make a list of everything you have tried in the past. Go through your calendar, your notes, ask your staff, and write down everything you did that could be called “marketing”.

What meetings did you go to? Whom did you meet for the first time? What did you write? Where did you speak? What did you mail?

Put everything that worked on your list, and everything that didn’t.

It’s easy to identify what worked. If you track where new clients come from (referrals, ads, seminars, web site, social media, etc.), all you have to do is look at your stats. If you don’t track this, go through your new client list and see if you can reconstruct what you were doing just prior to being hired. (And make a note to start tracking every new client from now on.)

It’s not as easy to identify what has not worked, but it’s just as important. Do the best you can with this and in the future, keep a marketing diary and make an entry every day about anything you did that day that could be construed as marketing.

Don’t forget repeat clients. Keeping your clients happy, keeping them informed about the progress of their case, communicating and building a relationship with them, all have marketing implications.

And don’t forget referral sources. Those coffees and lunches, thank you letters and Christmas gifts are also part of your marketing mix.

Also, check your web site stats. Where is your traffic coming from? Which key words are bringing not just clicks but clients.

Making these two lists–what’s worked and what hasn’t–is one of the smartest things you can do in marketing (or anything else you want to improve) and you should do this before you even think about doing anything new.

The reason? The 80/20 principle, which tells us that the best way to achieve more is to, “do more of what worked in the past and less of what didn’t”.

Now that you have your two lists, you can identify the things that have worked for you and do more of them. You’ll find the time for this by cutting down on or eliminating those things that have not worked or haven’t worked as well.

You may find that eliminating things that aren’t working is difficult, especially if you’ve been doing them for awhile. This is common for all of us. Our fears prevent us from letting go or we tell ourselves we just need to get better or do it longer and the results will kick in. If we spent money on something, it’s even harder to let go because we get attached to earning back our investment.

Trust the numbers. Let go of what’s not working, no matter how much time or money you’ve invested.

Yes, sometimes you will let go of something too soon that could have been a big winner for you had you kept going. But what makes more sense, hanging on to things that might work or cutting them out in favor of doing more of what you know works?

If social media hasn’t brought in new business, for example, it could be because you’re doing it wrong and with some training and experience, you’ll get better and you will get lots of news clients, just as many attorneys now do. But our time is limited and if it’s not working for you right now, I’d rather see you put social media aside and do more of what your numbers tell you, unequivocally, has brought in most of your new business last year.

You can go back later and try social media marketing (or whatever) again. I’ve let go of things that weren’t working for me and been successful when I tried them again. But right now, when you’re looking at your plans for the new year, start by doing more of what you know works.

It’s the smartest way to grow your practice.


“It’s the cases I don’t take that make me money”


“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials.” -Lin Yutang, writer and translator (1895-1976)

Last night, I spoke at an event. One of the topics I talked about was “The 80/20 principle,” aka, “The Pareto Principle,” the idea that a large percentage of our results come from a small percentage of our activities.

Afterwards, I was chatting with a man who works for a bankruptcy attorney. He liked my talk and was telling me about their practice and how busy they were. He quoted something his employer said, but I wasn’t sure I’d heard him correctly so I asked him to repeat it:

“It’s the cases I don’t take that make me money”.

He explained that the attorney was very selective about the cases he accepts. A lot of business comes knocking on his door, but he turns down a large percentage. He turns down the lower-end of the spectrum of clients, the ones who don’t have enough for a retainer, who need installments, price shoppers, etc., in favor of those who can pay his higher than average fees.

A lot of attorneys will take the lower-end clients, figuring that whatever they pay will contribute to overhead. But this attorney understands that those clients would actually cost him money, and not just in the literal sense of “not paying,” but because they would take up a disproportionate amount of time and energy.

And, he doesn’t have the extra overhead he would have if he accepted the lower end clients.

By eliminating as much as eighty percent of the possible client pool, he is able to run a lean and profitable practice. I’m sure he also makes it home for dinner.