“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.

Write or Die: A Simple Solution to Writers’ Block

cure for writers blockI’m not sure I believe in writers’ block. I believe in “no talent” and “no ideas” but writers block? You don’t have trouble speaking, do you? I don’t mean public speaking, I mean vocalizing your thoughts out loud to another human being or into a microphone.

No such thing as “talkers’ block” so why “writers’ block”?

And yet, people who can write, don’t.

It might be perfectionism. I lean in that direction. You don’t want to show anyone your writing until it’s perfect and it never is. But, if writing is important to you, you get over this.

It’s often a lack of time. Attorneys are busy people. All day you’re on the run, and at the end of the day, you’re tired. Weekends, you have chores and you need some family time. You want to write, you know you can write, but days and weeks go by and it doesn’t get done.

You need a deadline.

When you have a deadline, it is amazing how much you can get done. You need to get a pleading filed by a certain date, you do it. You promised an editor you’d finish an article, you do. A deadline holds you accountable. Just ask the IRS.

An example of what can be done when there is a deadline is National Novel Writing Month, aka, “NaNoWriMo”. Every November, participants from around the world commit to writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. In case you don’t know, writing 1,667 words a day every day for a month is a tall order; writing 1,667 novel-worthy words is simply astounding.

And yet each year, thousands finish a 50,000 word novel within the 30 days.

The 30 day deadline imposes a daily word quota. Participants use their word processor or text writing app to make sure they write enough words each day so they don’t fall behind. You could do the same thing. Pick a number of words you will write each day and don’t stop writing until you do.

Another technique writers use is to set a timer for ten or twenty minutes and write without stopping until the timer sounds. Then, they are done for the day or if they haven’t met their word quota, they go for another ten or twenty minutes.

This is the Pomodoro technique, which can be used for any kind of task. The idea is that you can do anything for ten minutes, no matter how much you might not want to or how busy you might be. Many books have been written in blocks of ten or twenty minutes a day.

I’ve written about the Pomodoro technique before, and recommended Focus Booster, an app I sometimes use when I need to concentrate.

In reading about NaNoWriMo, I learned about Write or Die, a timer app for writers. It allows you to set a word quota and a time quota. It also allows you to impose a penalty. If you don’t meet your quota or you stop writing before the time limit, the app will play a loud and annoying sound. Weird, but it works.

You can configure the app for different word counts, times, and penalties. In one setting, if you don’t make your quota, whatever you have written up to that point gets deleted. How’s that for accountability!

The app is free and there are paid desktop versions. If you need some help sticking to a writing schedule, Write or Die could be for you. Or, you could have your mother in law call you once a day to ask if you got your quota done.