|Hi, I’m Neil. I’m a productivity junkie. And I mean that in the purest sense of the word: I do things that are bad for me, often at great costs, for which most people frown upon. And because of that, I am always looking for ways to increase my productivity because usually it sucks.
And why is that? Oh look! A butterfly.
I might be easily distracted. And I have no discipline. And as one management consultant told me, I have a country club mentality when it comes to managing people including myself.
But now it is critical because I have my own business that is exclusively dependent upon my own activity. As a true solo attorney I wear all of the hats. But if all I do is keep switching hats all day I get nothing of consequence done. And if I don’t do it, or see to it that it is done, it doesn’t get done. No work equals no money which is a bad way to run a business.
So I have had to come to grips with the fact that lack of productivity is killing my business. I am just not getting done the things I know have to be done in order to make the business thrive. Or at least I wasn’t. Things have changed as a result of some very simple behavior modifications I have undergone which are showing results.
So enough already, what are these magical steps? Well they aren’t so magical. More like common sense – the kind of thing most people already do or know they should be doing. That is why they are so mind numbingly easy.
Turn Off Notifications
Most of my work is done at the computer: generating pleadings, documents, letters, etc. I do everything on my MacBook Air, iPad, or iPhone. Other than being in court itself, everything I do with respect to the law firm uses one or more of these technology platforms.
Almost two years ago, I started a podcast. Hopefully you are a devoted subscriber to The Law Entrepreneur. In our pre-production instructions to our guests, we ask them to turn off notifications so that the recording does not pick up all the bells and whistles of incoming mail, alerts, reminders, etc. Well, I started to notice that when I was interviewing a guest I was totally into the recording without distractions. In fact, if a distraction did occur, say someone ringing the doorbell, I would get mad.
And then suddenly it hit me. I have read thousands of times how turning of notifications can improve productivity. And it’s so simple on Apple products – use the Do Not Disturb feature. Go ahead, you can look up how to use it. It’s simple, and the process of looking it up is good for you. So when I had something important I wanted to do, I started turning off notifications and the difference was like night and day. Now I am mad that everyone else was correct while I continued to have this cacophony of sound distracting me from the task at hand. How could that one change make such a difference? Well, I guess I hadn’t noticed that I was getting a few of hundred (yep, that’s correct) or more emails, alerts, messages et al per day! It wasn’t just a butterfly. It was a herd of butterflies, a flock of butterflies, a veritable kaleidoscope of butterflies if you will (go ahead, look it up too, that’s what a group of butterflies is called) disturbing me when I was supposed to be getting some work done. I had no ability to ignore them until I turned them off and never saw them. That’s stupidly simple but it had an astounding result for me. Even if I did it just for an hour or so, are maybe the afternoon, I was getting far more done and quicker. This efficiency amounts to dollars for a solo and, as simple as it is was, the biggest boost to my productivity.
And yet, I still could see some things going on in the background and that little red number on the email symbol on the dock kept going up and up begging me to switch over to email and see what was going on.
Go to Full Screen Mode
OK, this might be even more stupidly simple than turning off notifications. Full screen. Who would have thought? Full screen has been around since Mac OX X 10.7 “Lion” was introduced back in July 2011. By clicking on that little green button in the top left hand corner of window, you force the application to go into “full screen mode”. This expands the application window so you can’t see the system’s menu bar nor the dock. So you can’t be distracted by things going on behind your word processor for example. And, you can’t see the Mail program’s icon in the dock with its glowing red counter (ok it doesn’t glow but it pulls me in anyway) telling you that twenty messages await your attention.
This is like turning your modem off and on to fix networking problems. That shouldn’t work. Similarly, there should be some other diagnostic other than wacking the TV on its side that fixes things. And something more complicated than going full screen should be necessary to keep me focused on the job at hand. But dagnabbit, it worked. Coupled with turning off notifications I found myself with way less distractions and was able to break the next productivity killer.
Multitasking! Ha! This is what technology was made for – so we can switch back and forth between a dozen activities at a time giving each our full attention so that we get so much more done than the average human being. That was my story and I was going to stick to it because that’s who I was – a multitasking freak. I listened bemusedly when my friend Steve Riley, a law firm management consultant with Atticus who has helped thousands of attorneys grow their practice, made multi-tasking the enemy in his productivity workshops. That’s for other dopes I told myself who weren’t really good at it. They were the ones that were adversely affected and unable to refocus. You can read why multitasking kills productivity elsewhere ; but trust me, it does. Me? I’m a juggler. A real-time air traffic controller. A marvelous multitasking maven.
Uh, maybe not. More and more I was finding that at the end of the day, although I had been on the computer damn near continuously, I still wasn’t getting done what I needed to get done. I was falling more behind with each passing day. Until I turned off the notifications and went to full screen. And now…it’s SO much easier to stop multitasking because nothing is seeking to turn my attention away from the task at hand. I couldn’t stop multitasking because there were so many stimuli begging me for their attention. Once I turned the off, it became ridiculously easy to work on one task at a time. And even if I wanted to pop out of full screen it’s kind of like a two step process to do so I am dissuaded. (I know Brett Burney, I could use the keyboard combination, but I am trying to train myself here). So now I am thinking that I am onto something. Never mind that they are the same things that hundreds of productivity experts have been touting for years. It’s working for now. Now what should I be working on?
Rededication to Task Management
I never had a problem managing tasks associated with my case load. My practice management software, Daylite by MarketCircle, has a robust task management component that works flawlessly. It connects with my cases, the people associated with those cases, syncs across all my devices, integrates with my Apple Calendar and Contacts, has every bell and whistle I would want – works perfectly. I never miss a deadline, never late for court, never not know what needs to be done in a case. So why isn’t the rest of my life as organized.
Maybe because I stopped using my task manager a long time ago. I use OmniFocus which is somewhat based on the book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. It works great. Some folks might like other applications but this one works for me in the way I want it to work. But then why haven’t I gotten any traction with it? Because I wasn’t putting everything in it so it didn’t have much relevancy to me.
So I started putting all of my podcast business into OmniFocus. All those projects and tasks associated with growing the podcast. And I started putting all of my business related tasks for the law firm into it. Not the tasks associated with cases – but everything else. And I mean everything. Then I tarted putting all of my personal task needs in the system. And just like that, I had a brain dump, everything was out of my head and into a trusted system in true GTD fashion.
And then I had another epiphany. I am addicted to Facebook as well. I read recently that the average Facebook reader checks Facebook fourteen times a day for a total of about fifty minutes. Clearly I am above average. Ah, but I have a business page and a page for the podcast so that makes sense, right? Um, no. So the deal I made with myself is that I had to process my OmniFocus task management database and get to inbox zero on my email before I can open Facebook. And following Charles Duhigg’s model in his phenomenal book “The Power of Habit”, I am using looking at Facebook as the reward to stimulate the habit of task management and inbox zero. Again, this is stupefyingly simple stuff that individually and collectively has made a pretty big difference for me. But still, one last question persists. What should I be working on?
It’s The One Thing, Stupid!
My friend Geoff Woods went to work for the authors Gary Keller and Jay Papasan of the best-selling book “The One Thing” about the time he started mentoring me on how to develop the podcast. I had read the book previously and reread it after Geoff went to work for them. As clear as it is, the premise of the book never really resonated with me. In a nutshell it is based on the following question. “What is the one thing I can do today, such that my doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” Once I got all of the above together and my task management data base was populated with real projects that had value that I wanted to do (i.e. not just fluff and fodder), what to work on and spend this new found productive time became a critical question.
So I have a boulder, a rock, and a pebble. How can you have three one things? I don’t know but it is working for me.
The pebble is the task management, full screen, notifications off paradigm. By committing to that system first thing in the day it makes everything else easier and somethings unnecessary. Having a clearer picture of the work I need to do is keeping me more focused. I kept thinking that “the one thing” had to be a singular task or project. But for me it has been a singular multifaceted approach to a productivity problem that has helped me turn the corner.
The rock is more of a objective – generating more business. Everything works better with more business, more clients, more fees earned. Stress is trying to manage a business without an influx of cash. Money allows you to make mistakes, to learn, and to grow without that stress. So when I am taking care of that first pebble, I decide which task is going to help generate new business and I make that the first thing I do that day. And I don’t do anything else until it is done. Sometimes it’s something short, like posting to the social media channels associated with the firm. Sometimes its more involved like attending or organizing a networking event. But always it is with the idea of supporting the objective of generating more business such that by doing it, everything else is easier or unnecessary.
And the boulder is the long range goal. I have had a couple on my “list” for quite awhile now. And that is where they have remained – on the list. One I adopted the same time as a friend of mine did as well. He accomplished his goal. Mine is still on the list. I’d tell you what that boulder goal is but that’s more of an accountability issue (another problem, but that’s the story for another post). Suffice it to say that once I make a little more progress on it using this methodology I will feel comfortable letting everyone hold my feet to the fire.
The thing that astounds me about this is that they were mind numbingly simple things to do. I didn’t do them before because they seemed too stupidly simple. Where is the killer productivity hack that was going to change everything? Turns out it was right in front of me. I wonder what other things I have missed?
Oh wait, a butterfly!