I don’t know, let me check my list

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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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Why a boring day is probably a productive day

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Routines help eliminate needless decision-making. You do something a certain way because you’ve already worked out that it’s the best way to do it. You don’t have to think, you just do.

Routines are boring, and that’s the point. They help you get more done in less time and with fewer mistakes.

A routine is a mental checklist, although you might want to actually write it down until, well, it becomes routine. Checklists make sure you don’t forget anything and that you do things in the right order.

So you have a routine for getting your day started and a routine for starting work. You have a routine for writing a blog post or article, a routine for signing up new clients, and a routine for closing a file when the case is done. You have routines in the kitchen, routines for running errands, and routines in the bedroom, although that’s one area where you should probably go off script.

Think about how you can create more checklists and routines in your life.

Now, just because you have a routine doesn’t mean you never think about what you’re doing. Periodically, you should step back and examine your routines and look for ways to improve them. Ask yourself, What can I do better or faster? Which steps can I eliminate? Where might I add more steps to improve the overall process?

As you create new routines and improve existing ones, you’ll find yourself getting more done in less time and with less mental energy. You can use that time and energy to work on new ideas and creative projects.

Have a boring day.

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Write it once, use it forever

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I’m sure you have a welcome letter you mail to new clients. You probably also use some kind of “memo” or form to accompany mailed documents, along with check boxes to indicate what the recipient should do (e.g., sign and return, review, etc.)

Form letters save time and reduce the risk of errors or omissions and I encourage you to create them for all aspects of your practice.

Gmail has a feature called “canned responses”. Outlook and other email applications have something similar. They allow you to create email templates or “form letters” you can use instead of composing an original email each time, or copying and pasting paragraphs or whole emails from another document.

Go through your “sent” emails for the last 60 or 90 days and look for “frequently sent emails,” whether originated by you or sent in response to an inquiry. Flag them for creating canned responses.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • I got your email (and will reply soon/this week/after I review your questions)
  • Thank you (for coming in, calling, returning documents, for your help)
  • Here’s what to do/expect (what happens next, watch your mail, please call me, don’t forget to send us)
  • Answers to FAQs (hours, parking, fees, practice areas. Provide answers and/or direct to pages on your website)
  • Marketing inquiries (do you accept advertising, guest posts; I’m available for interviews)
  • Checking in (with clients, former clients, networking contacts)
  • Nice to meet you (after a networking event, introduction, phone conversation)
  • Announcing (new content on your website, firm news, new laws/regs)
  • Promoting (your newsletter, your ebook, your seminar, your podcast or youtube channel)
  • Reminders (next appointment, court dates, due dates)
  • It’s time to review (your lease, trust, corporate docs, agreements, legal status)

In addition to complete emails, you can set up a “library” of frequently used paragraphs, links, and subject lines.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to set up different “email signatures”.

For prospective clients, your signature might promote a free report or free consultation, invite them to connect with you on social, or invite them to review specific pages on your website. For existing clients, your signature might invite them to sign up for your “clients only” email list or cross-promote other services offered by you or your firm.

Using canned responses, form letters, and checklists might save you 30 minutes a day, or more. How much would that be worth to you over the course of a year?

Leverage is the key to earning more and working less. More

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Checklists every lawyer needs

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In his article in Lawyers USAJim Calloway observes that while most lawyers use lists and checklists in their practice, they don’t use them enough.

I agree.

Checklists can make you a better lawyer and make you more money. Checklists help lawyers

  • Avoid mistakes
  • Save time
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Impress clients
  • Train temps/new hires, open a new office
  • Increase profits

Every practice should have these checklists:

  • How to open a new file (what goes in the file (and where), letters to send, what to give new client to take home, what to send them, what to calendar, etc.; your intake form is a checklist of information to ask the client)
  • How to close a file (final letters/documents, what to remove/give to client, what to scan, archiving, storage, destruct date)
  • Handling leads/inquiries (what to say, what to do, what to offer, what to send, what to track)
  • How to prepare documents (complaints, responses, motions; trusts, agreements, letters, etc.)

If you handle litigation, you need checklists for:

  • Issues/causes of action
  • Possible defenses
  • Preparation of Complaint/Response
  • Discovery (each element)
  • Trial (pre-trial motions, other motions, evidence, witnesses, jury instructions, closing argument)
  • Post-trial (motions, appeals, judgement, liens, bonds, collection)
  • Settlement

For a transactional practice:

  • Information to request
  • Documents to request
  • Documents to prepare
  • Filing/registration fees
  • Timeline
  • Letters to clients
  • Letters to others

As you can see, this is a very broad list, a place to start. Start with the easy and obvious; add more later. Eventually, you  should have checklists for every aspect of your practice.

An additional benefit of creating checklists is that in the process of creating and updating them, you learn so much about what you and how you can do it better. Checklists will never replace you–your experience, your intuition, your quick thinking–but they can make your job a lot easier.

What checklists do you use in your practice? How have they helped you? What checklists will you put on your “to do” list?

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