My favorite productivity technique (this week)


Of all the productivity techniques I use and talk about, one stands out as my favorite. I use it when I’m feeling overwhelmed by a project and don’t know what to do. I use it when I’m procrastinating, can’t focus, or I want to give up and go play.

It’s nothing new. Nothing I haven’t talked about before. It’s just something I use a lot when I feel stuck.

I used it recently with my Evernote account. (I just passed 10,000 notes, thank you, and revamped everything. I’ll talk about that later.)

Anyway, I’m calling this technique “going micro” and it has two elements.

The first element is to continually break things up into progressively smaller and smaller parts or steps until I find one that’s so small, I can’t NOT do it.

This is key. If you’re balking at updating your website, for example, pick a first task that’s so small it doesn’t feel like work.

That small first step might be gathering up all your notes on the subject and putting them in one place. I did that recently with a new project. It’s big and daunting and my eyes glaze over when I think about everything I have to do.

Break things up into tiny Kindergarten-simple action steps.

My first step was to put 107 notes about the project in a (temporary) new notebook. Small step, big victory. The project has begun.

My next step, also something so small I can’t not do it, is to sort through my notes, tag the important ones, and move the rest back into “gen pop,” i.e., move them back into my Reference notebook.

Easy. Simple. Done.

Next, I’ll go through the newly tagged important notes and make a “Master Project Note,” describing the project and listing all of the “Next Actions.”

You can bet that those next actions will also be small.

Small steps for the win.

The second element of “going micro” is to work in small increments of time. Five minutes to sort through my notes, for example.

Five minutes is something I can do. And because it’s “only” five minutes, it’s not something I will resist.

When five minutes is up, I might choose to continue working (for another 5 minutes), or do something else. I might choose another task in that project or I might do something fun or frivolous, to reward myself for being a good boy.

By giving yourself permission to stop working after 5 minutes, continuing to work becomes a choice, not a commitment. This lessons resistance and allows us to feel good about what we’re doing.

Anyway, it works for me and it’s my favorite productivity technique this week. Next week? Who knows.

My Evernote for Lawyers ebook


How to conquer fear


Fear is a bitch. It stops you from doing things you need to do and things you want to do and it makes things you do more difficult.

I’m not talking about big scary stop-in-your-tracks kind of fear. They don’t crop up that often and when they do, it’s often better to give in to them. If you’re afraid of sky-diving, for example, don’t do it. Do something else on your bucket list.

No, I’m talking about micro-fears, little nagging worries that make you avoid situations or people, doubt your process, procrastinate, abandon half-finished projects, or move so slowly that you miss the opportunity.

You may not see what these fears do to you because they are small and familiar but they add up and make for a poorer quality of life.

What can you do?

You can do more research. You can delegate the task. You can do something else that makes the original task unnecessary or easier. Or you can get someone to do “it” with you–yep, hold your hand as you take your first steps.

I’ve done all of these at various times in my life. I’m sure you have, too.

But there’s something else we can do to defeat our fears or to get the thing done despite them.

Do it anyway.

Dale Carnegie said, “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

Easier said than done? Maybe. But here’s something that can make it easier.

It’s called “the five-minute rule”. Whatever it is that you’re avoiding, do it for just five minutes.

You can do just about anything for five minutes. When you do, you will have done the hard part–you got started, and getting started is the antidote for what ails you.

How to get better at delegating


Are you making money reading this?


I’ve never watched “Shark Tank” but I read an article about Kevin O’Leary, one of the investors who appears on it. It was about how he gets so much done.

One thing he suggests would drive me crazy. “Prioritize every 15 minutes of your day,” he says.

Nope. Too confining for me.

On the other hand, there’s something he does to defeat procrastination I like. When he finds himself getting side-tracked, “I think to myself, ‘Am I making money doing this?’ That makes it easy to snap out of it.”

Kinda explains why he’s got so much money. Not sure how much fun he is to be around.

But asking that question is a good idea, at least while you’re working. If you’re honest with yourself, the question can get you back to work. I’m going to try it.

Problem is, when you do what I do, what might otherwise be considered goofing off, i.e., reading, watching videos, surfing the interwebs, is part of the job. But when I’m playing Words with Friends, it’s an excellent question.

Earn more without working more


Removing the obstacles to success


Instant manifestation. You think it and it appears. You write it down and it becomes reality. Sound good? Actually, it would be a nightmare. Your life would be a jumble of confusing and conflicting thoughts and you would be continually fixing mistakes and apologizing for transgressions.

Thankfully, there is a buffer of time between first thought and manifestation that protects us and keeps us sane. We want something, we think about how to get it, and then we do the work. It takes time and reason and effort to get from first thought to fruition.

And it’s a messy process. There are lots of failed attempts, unsolved problems, and abandoned ideas along the way. That’s part of the buffer, too. These obstacles help us clarify our objectives and ultimately, get better results.

But sometimes these obstacles get the better of us and stop us from getting what we want. How do you overcome obstacles that keep you from achieving your goals?

You could power through the problem. Drink another cup of coffee, burn the midnight oil and do what needs to be done.

When we do this, we acknowledge the obstacle and then defeat it by refusing to give up. When we do, we’re often the better for it. Tired, but victorious!

But there’s another way and it’s a lot less taxing. Instead of fighting the problem, eliminate it.

Make a list of obstacles that are keeping you from achieving your goals. Your list might look something like this:

  • I don’t know what to do/don’t know how
  • I’m not good at [whatever]
  • I don’t have enough time
  • I don’t have enough money
  • I don’t like doing what I have to do
  • I lack confidence
  • I procrastinate (actually, this is a symptom; the obstacle is one of the other things on this list)

Then, make a list of ways you could remove those obstacles:

  • Get help doing the things you’re not good at or don’t like doing
  • Money: Sell something, save, use credit, find vendors who will barter
  • Eliminate or postpone other tasks and projects to free up time (prioritize/learn to say no)
  • Talk to someone who has done it and get their advice
  • Read, take a class, and learn how to do it or how to do it better
  • Hire an expert to advise you
  • Outsource all or part of it
  • Change the rules. Modify the goal or objective to suit your present situation
  • Ignore the problem and let your subconscious mind solve it while you’re doing something else

You can either work harder (power through the problem) or work smarter (eliminate or dilute the problem).

And if neither of these works, you can confess your sins to your wife, mom, partner, or client and have them make you do it.

Hey, whatever works.


The power of one: getting things done for procrastinators


Are you a black-and-white kinda guy or gal? I mean, do you have things you’d like to do but haven’t started because you’re not ready to give them your full attention?

You know what I mean. You either do things full force, or not at all. You don’t want to start a newsletter or blog, write a book, or join a networking group because of the perceived immensity of the task or the ongoing commitment.

You’re a perfectionist. And you aren’t getting things done.

Of course you know that by not doing certain things, you’re losing some great benefits. How many new clients, new cases, and new opportunities are you missing out on by putting off these things?

But what can you do?

I’ll tell you what you can do. You can stop thinking about the big picture (and avoiding it) and just do “one thing” to advance the project.

Instead of writing an entire book, write one page a day.

Instead of becoming a networking ninja, set a goal to meet one new professional this week.

Instead of putting off calling all of your former clients to say hello, make one phone call today.

One is a powerful number. It is the difference between not doing and doing.

You can do one.

One page, one idea, one phone call. Progress, not perfection.

So figure out one thing you can for each of your important projects and do it. One thing a day, one thing a week, one thing a month, or just one thing for now.

If you can do that one thing, even once, you can do it again. Before you know it, the project will be complete or, if it’s an ongoing project, well underway.

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When is procrastination a good thing?


I’ve got until the first of next month to complete my CLE credits. I’ve been watching videos over the last couple of weeks and making good progress. I know some people would say that doing three years worth of CLE in a few weeks is unwise. They would point out that I could have done an hour a month and been done months ago.

Their math is correct but their advice is misplaced. They assume that procrastination is a sign of weakness or poor organizational skills and leads to unnecessary anxiety and poor results. But is that always true? Is there a time when procrastination is a good thing?

I think so.

Procrastination helps you prioritize. It allows you to filter your list of tasks so you can focus on what’s important and not merely what’s urgent.

CLE isn’t important to me since I no longer practice. Now, it is urgent that I get those credit done, but waiting as I did allowed me to concentrate on important projects.

Procrastinating served me another way. It allowed me to express (to myself) my resentment at being required to take courses I don’t need and don’t want. It allows me to give the middle finger to the system.

Hey, I’m human.

In school, procrastinating served me another way. Waiting until the last day to write a paper or study for exams gave me a built in excuse in case I got a poor grade. “Hey, I didn’t spend any time studying.”

I almost always got good grades, however. But what if I hadn’t?

What if procrastinating is harmful? What if it keeps you from doing what’s important? What if it results in poor performance or results?

Then you have a problem.

There are lots of techniques for dealing with “bad” procrastination. I think the simplest solution is to get the task out of your head and onto paper–your calendar or other “trusted system”. Give yourself enough time to get the task done and then forget about it. If you’ve schedule a start date and given yourself enough time to do what you need to do, you can then devote your mental energy to other things until it’s time to start.

That’s what I did with my CLE. I knew what I needed to do and when I needed to do it. And I’m getting it done.

Calendaring tasks for the future also gives you a buffer of time which may allow you to adjust your priorities. When the scheduled start date arrives you may find that the scheduled task can be safely postponed, or that you don’t need to do it at all. Since I am not actively practicing, I keep thinking about changing my status to inactive. If I do that I won’t have to do CLE.

When is procrastination a good thing? When it serves you in some way. It’s okay to do things at the last minute, as long as you are getting important things done. And as long as you’re still getting good grades.


How to avoid procrastination when writing


Do you have a procrastination pad? That’s what one writer calls a pad of paper you keep on your desk, onto which you jot down anything that you need to do or remember that occurs to you while you’re doing something else. It allows you to record the note and immediately get back to what you were doing.

Okay, not brilliant. But not a bad idea, either. Because you always have this pad within reach, you don’t have to go scrambling for a legal pad or scratch paper. And because it is dedicated to recording tasks to be done, not data to be filed, you can periodically input your list into your regular task management system.

Of course you can also set up a digital equivalent on your computer. Keep a text file open and minimized, and no matter what else you may be working on, you’re just a click away your electronic procrastination pad.

Or, you can do what I do. I have Evernote running at all times (I’m writing this now in a new note) and when I get an idea, I type it into a new note in my default notebook (my “InBox”). On my iPhone, I open Drafts and either type or speak-to-text the idea and send it to my Evernote Inbox.

When I’m writing, I often get ideas I want to record. Something I need to research, for example. I know if I stop writing to do the research, I’ll lose momentum and perhaps get lost down the rabbit hole that is the Internet. To avoid procrastination when writing, I make a note of what I need to know or do, and keep writing. I could record this elsewhere, but I find it best to write it within the text I’m working on.

Wherever I find myself stopping, I write a note to myself, within the sentence or paragraph. I put the note [in brackets] or preface it with my initials, “dw:”, to identify it as something I need to do. This allows me to keep writing, which is especially important for a first draft.

Once I’m done with the piece or section, I go back and find all of my “notes to self”. When I do the research later, I don’t have to remember where to insert it, I just go back to my note.

In addition to notes about research, I also make notes about passages that don’t sound right (i.e., “re-do this”), that need elaboration (i.e., “expand this”), or that might belong somewhere else (i.e., “put in chapter 2?”)

By separating the writing from the research, editing, and thinking, I procrastinate less and write quicker and better first drafts.

For more on how I use Evernote for research and writing, check out my ebook