I only do what pleases me

I saw this question posted online: “How do you stop procrastinating when you have an upcoming deadline?”

I expected the respondent to say the deadline forced her to get the work done because she had to. Something practical. But no. She said, “I get around that by never accepting projects I don’t want to do. In fact, I pretty much stick to projects that excite me.”

I want what she has.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could only do work we like and not have to do anything else?

It reminds me of an episode of the old Dick Van Dyke program. Rob and Laura called a house painter to take a look at a problem they were having with a wall in the living room. When the painter arrives, Laura greets him and asks, “How do you do?” The painter, played by Vito Scotti, responds, “Always I do well because I only do what pleases me.”

As unusual as that might sound today, it was even more so when the show played, which is probably why I remember it.

Can you structure your life so you “only do what pleases you?” Maybe not. But you can work towards that.

And you should.

Start avoiding projects, cases, clients, employees, commitments, etc., you don’t like or don’t want to do.

The more you do that, the more you’ll get done and the happier you’ll be in your work. If procrastination has been an issue for you, you’ll probably find you don’t do that anymore.

As you eliminate things that don’t excite you, you make room in your life for things that do.

You could start small, by eliminating minor irritations in your life such as people who drain your energy or routine tasks that bore you. Eventually, consider big things: practice areas, niche markets, types of clients, and partners.

Or, start big. I did that, years ago, when I stopped taking cases and clients outside the practice area I decided to specialize in. Best decision I ever made.

Today, I can’t say I only do what pleases me. But I don’t do much that doesn’t.

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Stop now, what’s that sound?

You know that little voice inside your head that tells you to stop playing Fortnite or whatever it is that you’re doing instead of what you should be doing.

That, that voice.

When you hear that voice, and listen to it, all is well. You get back to work (or start doing what you should be doing).

What about when you don’t hear that voice?

For times like that, you need a prompt.

Maybe a recurring task that comes up when you’re planning your day. Or a sticky note on your monitor that says, “Procrastinating?” Or an alarm or reminder on your phone.

Whatever it is, it should prompt you to focus–so you can get your most important tasks done.

Some suggestions:

  • “What is the most valuable use of my time right now?”
  • “What is the most important thing I need to do today?”
  • “What is the ONE thing I can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary” (from The One Thing)

Of course, there’s another way to go about this. Instead of a reminder to focus on what you should be doing, what if you had already done it?

What if you did your most important (difficult, unpleasant, valuable) task first?

Mark Twain said:

“If it’s your job to eat a frog — it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat 2 frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

If you do that, you’ll have the rest of the day to play Fortnite. Or Frogger. Or read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

If your ONE THING is to get more referrals, here’s how

How to stop being a perfectionist

Are you a perfectionist? Sometimes? About some things?

Yeah, me too. 

Trouble is, our perfectionism causes us to spend more time on a single task than necessary, to the detriment of our other responsibilities. We get fewer things done and are often miserable as we struggle to do them. 

Perfectionism is a bad habit. Fortunately, habits can be changed. Or rather, replaced with a better habit. 

When I’m involved in a big project like creating a major presentation or writing a book, the weight of the task and my innate tendency towards perfectionism often lead me to procrastinate.  

No bueno

When I find that happening, I repeat a mantra. “Progress, not perfection,” I say to myself. It reminds me to keep moving forward and gives me permission to create a terrible first draft, because I know I can fix it later.

Another thing I might do is schedule a deadline. “No matter what, I’m going to finish the research for this thing this weekend.”

It helps when I share that deadline with someone who can hold me accountable. 

Finally, when I find myself pushing to improve something that’s already good, perhaps editing a draft for the 27th time, I remind myself that I’m not getting any younger and I have all these other things I want to accomplish. 

Does it work? Sometimes. But sometimes is better than never.

Anyway, I don’t think any of us can ever stop being a perfectionist. All we can do is get used to the idea that done is always better than perfect.

How about you? What do you do to combat perfectionism or procrastination?

Frog legs for breakfast

Mark Twain said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Brian Tracy expanded on this idea in his popular book, “Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time.”

For Tracy, your “frog” isn’t necessarily the worst task of your day or something you may be avoiding. It’s the task that’s likely to have the biggest positive impact on your life.

Get that done and no matter what else you do or fail to do that day, you will have accomplished something important. 

We’re also encouraged to do our most important task(s) early in the day because that’s when we tend to have more energy. It turns out, this may not be simply because we are more rested in the morning. 

According to a new study, our bodies are more capable of producing the stress hormone cortisol in the early hours of the day, making us better able to handle the stress associated with difficult or important tasks. 

Researchers acknowledge that we are all different and we should consider what works best for us, but if you don’t consider yourself a morning person, you may want to experiment with your schedule to make sure. 

You might find that, like me, “first thing” in the morning isn’t your best and most productive time of the day, but getting your most important work done before lunch makes for a very productive day.

I use Evernote  to manage my tasks

Procrastinate and grow rich

Procrastination has become a four-letter word, hasn’t it? Those who admonish us not to “put off ’til tomorrow what you can do today,” are are accusing us of being lazy if we’re not Johnny or Janie on the spot.

Oh, the pain.

“You cannot plow a field by turning it over in your mind,” we’re told. Victor Kiam (the electric razor king), said, “Procrastination is opportunity’s assassin.” Honest Abe reminded us that, “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”

So, am I committing blasphemy when I ask if procrastination is really that bad?

When I’m under the gun with a deadline (or an ultimatum), I tend to get a lot of work done in a very short period of time. That’s being productive, isn’t it?

And, counter-intuitive though it may seem, the work I do when pressed for time is often of higher quality. 

How about you? 

If we are built this way, does that mean that we should sometimes procrastinate on purpose?

It sounds like that’s exactly what I’m saying.  

“If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done,” said author Rita Mae Brown.

On the other hand, having more time to do research, make decisions, or edit and polish our work product are not only advisable, they’re essential. 

Let’s face it, when there’s an impending deadline, it’s easy to cut corners that shouldn’t be cut. We’ might choose the first thing we see simply because we’re running out of time. 

And hey, have you ever paid too much for something because you didn’t allow yourself enough time to shop?

So no, procrastinating on purpose isn’t always the way to go. 

Sometimes, we should start a project immediately. Sometimes, we should let it cool before we dive in. Sometimes, we should start part of it right away and leave other parts for later. 

How do you know what to do?

There are no rules. No checklist. Or at least, there shouldn’t be. Let your gut tell you what’s best.

My point is, we shouldn’t be rigid in how we do everything, nor should we beat ourselves up when we break “the rules”. 

Point of order: when you’re late to court, you might not want to tell the judge about your flexible schedule.  I’m just saying.

Procrastination might be your friend

In an interview, Ray Bradbury spoke about writer’s block, noting that it’s a warning that you’re doing the wrong thing:

“What if you have a blockage and you don’t know what to do about it? Well, it’s obvious you’re doing the wrong thing, aren’t you? . . . You’re being warned, aren’t you? Your subconscious is saying I don’t like you anymore. You’re writing about things I don’t give a damn for. . . If you have writers’ block you can cure it this evening by stopping what you’re doing and writing something else. You picked the wrong subject.”

So, trust your gut.

Could the same be said whenever we find ourselves procrastinating?

I think it could. But things aren’t that simple.

If you’re doing work for a client, the work has to be done. You can’t change the work just because your gut’s telling you something’s not right.

But that doesn’t mean we should ignore our gut. It might be trying to do you a favor.

When you feel resistance to doing something, take a moment to ask yourself some questions:

  1. Does this have to be done? Maybe there’s another way to accomplish the same result. It couldn’t hurt to take a moment to consider this.
  2. If the work has to be done, does it have to be done now? Maybe a delay would help you sort out some things that your gut says are a problem.
  3. Am I the one who has to do it? If someone else could do it, that might be a simple solution to what ails ya.
  4. Is there another way to get it done? If the work has to be done, now, by you, maybe you can do it in some other way? How might you do it differently?

Let’s noodle for a moment about that last one.

Suppose you are hired to write an appellate brief but your gut is telling you there’s a problem. You’re blocked, but you know it has to be done and you’re the one to do it.

Instead of writing the brief the way you usually do it–research, outline, first draft, etc.–how about trying a different process? Maybe start with a quick stream-of-consciousness draft of what’s on your mind about the case or the people, before you do any research. Maybe by doing that, you’ll realize some things about the case you didn’t think about before. And maybe this will provide you with a breakthrough and help you turn out a brilliant piece of work.

All hail your gut. It knows things you don’t know.

2 easy-peasy techniques to stop procrastination

You’ve got something you need to do but you’ve been putting it off. Maybe it’s unpleasant. Maybe you’re not ready. Maybe you’re not sure you can do a good job.

It doesn’t matter why you’re procrastinating. All that matters is that you’re not doing something you know you need to do.

There are many techniques for dealing with procrastination but one is about as simple as it gets. It’s called the ‘5 Second Rule’ and it goes like this:

As soon as you have an urge to do something or the recognition that you need to do it, start doing it within the next 5 seconds.

It’s like pulling off a bandage. Don’t think about it, do it and get it over with.

Since this is a habit you’re trying to develop, you might need a little help. Try a “five-second countdown”. As a kid, when I was tired and didn’t want to get out of a warm bed on a cold morning, I would do a countdown–5, 4, 3, 2, 1-and then spring out of bed.

What can I say, it worked.

Another technique for dealing with procrastination goes by a similar name. It’s the ‘5-minute rule’. Here, you commit to doing the task for just 5 minutes.

You can do just about anything for 5 minutes. Then you can turn your attention to something else. “I’m just going to work on this file for 5 minutes; then I’ll watch that new cat video”.

What frequently happens, of course, is that once you begin (and see that it’s not as bad as you thought and it feels good to make some progress), you’ll want to continue. 5 minutes turns into 15 or 30.

Use the 5-second rule and 5-minute rule together and you might be amazed at what you get done.

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How to create a task you’ll actually do

If you find yourself procrastinating about certain tasks on your list, one reason might be the task description itself. If it’s unclear what you’re supposed to do, if the task looks daunting or overly time consuming, it’s easy to see why you might put it off until later or skip it completely.

You can avoid this by writing better descriptions. Here are three ways to do that:

1) Make sure the task is something you can DO.

A task should be something simple, meaning something you can actually do.

You can’t “buy a car,” for example. There are too many things you need to do first: research makes and models, read reviews, consider extras and add-ons, choose a color, compare prices, take a test drive, inquire about financing, and so on.

Buying a car is a “project” not a task. Break up your projects into the component tasks and record those on your list.

2) Use ACTION VERBS to describe your tasks

Describe each task clearly and concisely. Start the description with an action verb: write, call, review, outline, research, send, etc.

If your task is to compare prices on your new car, for example, you might write, “Call five dealers for written quotes”.

Specific, clear, concise, and doable.

3) Make it EASIER to do

The easier (and quicker) it is to do a task, the more likely it is that you’ll do it. When writing the task description, include additional information and resources you’ll need so you don’t have to go looking for them when it’s time to do the task.

If the task is to call someone, put the phone number in the task description. Add notes you might need to reference during the call.

If the task is to review a document, embed the document or a link thereto in the task description. If you need to fill out a monthly report, include the template or the previous month’s report to refer to and/or modify for this month’s report.

Make your tasks something you can do, make the description action-oriented so you’ll know exactly what to do, and make the task easier to do by adding additional information and resources.

“Get more referrals” is a project, not a task. Here’s everything you need to do

Is this the cure for procrastination?

You’ve got things you need to do but you don’t want to do them. You may even have things you want to do but for some reason, you’re putting them off. I just heard about a simple way to overcome procrastination, courtesy of the late Raymond Chandler.

As a full-time novelist, Chandler believed that he should maintain a schedule of 4 hours of writing each day but he sometimes struggled to stick with it. He decided to do something about it by creating a simple rule to follow, and it helped him do the job.

Chandler’s rule was simple: either write or do nothing.

And nothing meant nothing.

By giving himself a choice, he avoided the guilt of not writing and thus didn’t force himself to do it, something he was sure would lead to poor results. He quickly found that when you don’t do anything, you get bored and getting back to work feels like a much better alternative.

Chandler’s rule applied to writing but is equally applicable to any task. If you want to try it, schedule a fixed time limit for your work and, perhaps, a fixed time of day. This should make it easier for you to choose the work, knowing that while there might be some unpleasantness, it won’t be never-ending.

In addition, eliminate all of the usual distractions. Close your browser, turn off your phone, and ask your staff not to disturb you. For some tasks, you might consider getting out of the office and going to the library.

Or, do what I did when I was faced with a big stack of files on my desk I had been avoiding for several weeks.

These were problem files and I didn’t want to look at them. I knew I had to but kept putting it off. I was getting anxious about what might happen if I put them off any longer and had to find a way to do it.

I got some help.

I had my wife come to the office and sit across the desk from me. She didn’t do anything or say anything, she just sat with me, silent, giving me the choice of either sitting quietly and doing nothing or digging into the files. I chose the latter and got through them in less than an hour.

It’s amazing what you can when you have a choice to not do them. It’s also amazing what you can do when you have your wife in the room watching you squirm.

5 ways to fix a stalled writing project

If you have a writing project that you’re having trouble finishing, the best solution is to look at your material with “fresh eyes”.

Here are some things that work for me:

1) Break it up into smaller parts

When I find myself stuck on a project, one of the first things I consider doing is breaking up long chapters or sections into smaller parts. I can then re-arrange those parts, again and again if necessary, until I find the best places for them, whether that’s another part of the chapters they came from or another chapter entirely.

In time management, it’s called “The Salami Technique”– breaking up big projects or tasks into smaller slices which are easier to handle. It works the same way with writing.

In Word, you can cut and paste parts of your chapters into separate documents. I use Scrivener, which makes this much easier. At a glance, I can see all of the parts, without having to scroll through long chapters, and it’s easy to move those parts to anywhere in the document.

2) Write a new outline

Outlines are meant to be a starting point, not a rigid mold into which you must pour your words. If your original outline isn’t working for you, write a new one.

You can “re-write” the outline you started with, or, as I often do, put everything out of sight and write a new outline from scratch.

I often do this on paper because it gives me a different perspective. I might go in another room with a legal pad, think about my project, and quickly write a list of the subjects I want to cover in the order I want to cover them. I’ll usually start with the subjects I’m certain about, then come back and fill in the others.

I might do a mind-map, on paper or on the computer. This gives me a visual overview, making it easier to see where I might be going off track.

Sometimes, I re-write my mind-map or outline several times, until it feels right to me. I might do it again later in the project if a particular chapter or subject is giving me trouble.

3) Put it away

If you don’t have a deadline for your writing project, put it away and come back to it later. Give it a few days or weeks, or even months, and work on other things. When you pick it up again, you will be able to be more objective.

When I do this, I often see entire pages and even chapters that don’t belong. I also see gaps I need to fill in, with unanswered questions I need to address.

Things jump out at me–paragraphs that don’t make sense (“What did I mean, here?”), repeated ideas, and ideas that need to be fleshed out. As a result, problems that had once plagued me are easily fixed.

4) Get someone else involved

When I’m stuck, sometimes I sit my wife down and “explain” to her what the project is about. She gives me feedback and asks questions that allow me to clarify what I mean. Explaining it to her also allows me to “hear” if what I’m saying makes sense, and gives me clues about what I need to do to finish the project.

5) Read it out loud

If I’m on the third or fourth edit and something is still bothering me (i.e., something’s missing, something doesn’t make sense, I’ve got too much of one thing and not enough of another), reading the document out loud helps me to see what I couldn’t see before.

So that’s what I do to fix a stalled writing project.

One more thing. Sometimes I find that despite my best efforts, I can’t make the project work and the best solution is to abandon it.

I find that my best writing doesn’t “fight me,” it flows smoothly and I finish it quickly. If the current project doesn’t, I have no problem moving onto greener pastures.

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