Why are you making it so complicated?

Lean. Simple. Efficient. That’s how I want things to work in my life. I’m sure you do, too. Because not only does this often bring us better results, it takes less time and puts less stress on our systems.

So why do we make things so complicated?

In our writing. In our task management. In our presentations, conversations, marketing, management, relationships, methods, and everything else.

Why do we add unnecessary elements? Why do we change things that are working? Why don’t we adapt things that are clearly better?

Habit? Always done it this way. Don’t see a pressing need to change.

Pride? Look at how busy I am. Look at how complicated and important my work is.

Laziness? I can’t be bothered with that nonsense.

Fear? What if I make a mistake?

All of the above?

But it’s important and we have to do it.

Admit that simple is usually better and make it a priority.

Look at all of the steps and all of the resources and ask:

  • Is this necessary? Could I do without it?
  • Is there a better way to do this?
  • Can this be done more quickly? Less expensively?
  • Can I re-use or re-purpose something I used before?
  • Can I consolidate this step with others?
  • Can I delegate this to someone else?
  • Can I do the same thing with only one tool?

Piece by piece, pare down your world. Fewer methods. Fewer steps. Fewer tools. Fewer people.

If you’re not sure about something, remove it. You probably won’t miss it. If you do, you can add it back.

Start with something small. Clean out a drawer, edit a form letter, or unsubscribe from a few emails. Once you get started, if you’re like me (and you are) you’ll want to do more.

Make it a part of your weekly review. Challenge yourself to make your life as simple, uncluttered, and efficient as possible.  Because in doing so, you’ll earn more, work less, and make room in your life for the things that matter most.

A simple way to get more referrals from other lawyers

Hack away at the unessential

I just heard about a hoarder who had 30 years of newspapers and magazines stacked floor to ceiling in nearly every room of his house. Yeah, he had a lot of issues.

(Rim shot.)

So last weekend, I cleaned out my closet and armoire and got rid of a lot of old clothes. There’s empty space now, and it feels good. Next stop, my office.

Once a year, I get the bug to de-clutter. I like to, “Hack away at the unessential,” as Bruce Lee said. Getting rid of things I don’t use, simplifying my life.

It’s not just about possessions. I try to do the same in my digital word. Eliminating (or at least filing away in a place I won’t see them) forms, emails, notes, and assorted paperwork. I pare down the apps on my iPhone, too.

I like looking at an empty email inbox and a slimmed down “My documents”. It gives me a sense of peace and control over my world. Fewer things to look at, think about, or update.

Bruce Lee talked about getting rid of the unessential to better focus on the few things that mattered most. He concentrated his work outs, his energy, and his focus on a few things. It made him more efficient, quicker and more powerful. He may never have described it as such, but he appears to have embraced the Pareto Principle, eliminating the “trivial many” so he could focus on the “precious few”.

In a law practice, that might be achieved by getting rid of (or filing away) eighty percent of your forms (letters, checklists), so you can focus on the twenty percent you use the most. You’ll have time to make them even better.

You could do something similar with client intake. Identify the most important parts of the process and spend more time on them. Do you really need to know all of the facts or review all of the documents at the first meeting or might some of this be done later? Freeing up some time at the first meeting would allow you to get to know the client better and he, you.

It could also mean paring down your client list, getting rid of marginal clients who pay the least or give you the most trouble, so you can focus on your best clients.

Bruce Lee believed that simpler is better. When you hack away at the unessential, you aren’t mired in complexity or distracted by minutia. Fewer moving parts makes you more agile. You get better at the most important things.

How can you hack away at the unessential in your law practice?

5 simple steps for improving productivity

I’m going to give you a simple checklist for improving productivity. To use it, first make a list of everything you do in your work day. Do this over the course of a week so you don’t leave anything out.

Include everything: seeing clients, paperwork, calls, meetings, administrative. Include your commute and errands. Also include things you do during work hours that aren’t work related (e.g., playing games on your phone, coffee breaks, watching videos, etc.)

Once you have your list, go through every item. Look at the checklist and make notes. For best results, go through the list several times.

CHECKLIST FOR IMPROVING PRODUCTIVITY

1. Eliminate. Ruthlessly purge anything that is unnecessary or does not contribute enough value to continue doing. Peter Drucker wisely said, “There is nothing less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.”

2. Delegate. Just because something must be done doesn’t mean you are the one who must do it. Assign these tasks someone in house or outsource them, so that you can do, “only those things that only you can do.”

3. Do it less. What could you do less frequently? If you do something daily, could you do it once a week? Once a month? What can you consolidate with other tasks? For example, can you do some of your reading or dictation during your commute?

4. Do it faster. What could you do in shorter chunks of time? If you routinely take an hour to do something, find ways to do it in 30 or 45 minutes. How? Eliminate or delegate parts, use forms and checklists, improve your skills, or get help (i.e., do it with a partner).

5. Do it later. Are you doing anything during prime time you could do after hours? What can you do when your energy is lower? Which tasks are routine or low priority and don’t require your full attention?

Improving productivity means improving effectiveness (doing the right things) and efficiency (doing things right). 80% of your improvement will come from steps 1 and 2 which focus on effectiveness. Eliminating and delegating things that don’t need to be done or could be done by someone else frees you up to do more high value tasks. The remaining steps will help you become more efficient at everything else.

The Attorney Marketing Formula shows you how to earn more by working smarter, not harder.

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.

Increase Productivity with a Don’t Do List

Most people say they don’t like meetings. They’re boring. Nothing gets accomplished. The same information could have been delivered by memo.

The leaders say, “We’ve got to make our meetings better.” They read books and attend seminars. They hire consultants. They buy better equipment.

The meetings improve. They pat themselves on the back. Success.

Or not.

Instead of trying to improve their meetings, maybe they should have eliminated them.

One of my favorite Peter Drucker quotes is, “Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.”

Go through your calendar. What meetings or conference calls could you safely eliminate?

Go through your tasks and project lists. What are you planning to do that should not be done at all?

Observe your daily work flow. Which steps could be eliminated? Which parts could be delegated?

Efficiency means doing things better. Effectiveness means doing the right things. It matters not how well you do things if they should not be done at all.

So try this: for the next seven days, compile a “don’t do” list. Write down everything you do that isn’t necessary or doesn’t contribute to your most important goals.

Take stock of whatever is left, whatever should be done. Look for ways to do them quicker, better, or more efficiently.

Make sure your partners and employees do the same. At your next office meeting…wait, never mind. Just send a memo.

Earn more and work less. Click here.

Why good attorneys achieve mediocre results

An expert, addressing a group of lawyers starting their own practice, offered this advice:

“Your goal, if you expect to have lots of happy clients and turn a sweet profit, is efficiency. That means creating systems, for instance, that eliminate double and triple entry of information—client information, case information, conflicts information—and looking for systems that save you time and reduce paper and administrivia [sic].”

I agree that efficiency is important. You should use systems and tools that eliminate redundancy and waste and allow you to maximize your time and effort. I credit much of my success to developing these systems and using the right tools. But while efficiency is important, effectiveness is far more so.

Efficiency means “doing things right”. Effectiveness means “doing the right things”. The difference is crucial.

You can be inefficient (i.e., sloppy, slow, distracted, riddled with mistakes, etc.) and amazingly successful in your career, if you are doing the right things. I know people who waste a lot of time and money and don’t get a lot of things done but are at the top of their field because they get the important things done.

I know others who are very efficient but achieve no better than mediocre results in their careers because they are efficient at the wrong things.

It’s far more important to choose the right practice area, for example, than to have the latest software. You’ll earn more by focusing on marketing instead of accounting. Your amazing library isn’t nearly as valuable as your amazing client relations practices.

Many attorneys achieve mediocre results because they major in minor things. They master the details but forget the big picture. They’re climbing the ladder of success, only to find that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.

Yes, you want to be good at what you do. Just make sure that you’re doing the right things.

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Get rid of what’s not working in your law practice

The military periodically schedules a day or a week to “stand down” from normal operations and review everything they’re doing to make sure it’s still necessary and working at peak efficiency. They fix or get rid of anything that’s not working and make room for new or better ideas.

Anita Campbell, Founder of Small Business Trends, suggests we do something similar with our businesses. She says,

What if we approached innovation from the opposite direction – by getting rid of what isn’t working before we try to come up with something that works.

This is good advice for any law practice. Strip things down to the essentials, lighten the load and add back only what is necessary. Make room for new ideas, tools, and procedures by getting rid of anything that isn’t working:

  • Legal services you no longer sell or are no longer consistent with your long term plans
  • Inefficient processes (forms, letters)
  • Employee functions that are no longer necessary or can be assigned to someone else; employees who no longer carry their weight
  • Furniture, equipment, technology that no longer works
  • Office space that is not being used
  • Closed files you no longer need to retain
  • Ads that no longer pull or cost too much relative to the alternatives
  • Subscriptions you no longer read; books you haven’t referred to in over a year
  • Groups you no longer participate in

Campbell says,

Like cleaning out your garage and tossing unused belongings, jettisoning old processes or products can give your business a whole new start. You’ll be surprised how much space you suddenly find in your mind, and how free you and your team will feel to create something new without all that clutter clogging up your brain.

Earlier this year, my wife and I did an extensive spring cleaning at home. We got rid of a ton of stuff and simplified our lives. I guess it’s time to do the same for the business.

Are you getting the RIGHT things done?

three most important tasks for todayPeter Drucker once said, “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” Far more important than “doing things right,” he said, is “doing the right things”.

Every day, I review my task lists and choose the three “most important tasks” for the day. My most important tasks are those which advance my most important objectives. My “MITs” go at the top of my list and I make an effort to do them before I do anything else. If I get these three things done, I consider it a good day.

Three is a good number, but sometimes there are only two. There are days when a fourth MIT slips through and makes it to my list, but I try to focus on no more than three.

Three MITs keeps me from getting overwhelmed by a longer list and gives me a sense of accomplishment. When I get my three MITs done, I then take care of less important tasks. Or, if it’s early in the day and I feel like it, I might add another MIT to the list.

At times, you may find it difficult to choose three MITs. You may have ten things that MUST get done today. No problem. Of the ten, which three are the MOST IMPORTANT? Make those your MITs and do them first.

Each day, you will have MITs and you will have other tasks. The other tasks may be important and need to be done. They may even be urgent. I’m not telling you to ignore these other tasks. Do them, but whenever possible, do them after you do your MITs.

The GTD methodology helps me to get things done. A daily list of MITs helps me to get the right things done.