Elaine Quinn, The Solopreneur Specialist, is a consultant, coach, author, and speaker in Chicago who works with solopreneurs—small business owners who create and grow a business they run by themselves.
Solopreneurs and others who work from home have unique challenges. Because when you work where you live, you need to manage business and personal matters separately, but simultaneously!
Elaine’s work focuses on helping clients become more effective—doing the right things, and more efficient—doing them in a way that doesn’t waste time.
She has authored two popular books, Escape the To-Do List Trap, which lays out an easy way to finally tame your to-do lists and There’s No Place Like Working from Home, which addresses the challenges of working from home.
Book: SPIN Selling. It’s based on analysis of a lot of sales calls. It’s an older book by Neil Rackham.
Get rid of all those junk apps that are on your phone. It just clutters up your life. Any time you can remove some clutter from your life, it’s beneficial.
In addition, go through your subscriptions, if you have an iPhone, and get rid of those subscriptions on your phone or apps that you don’t use.
Build some time into your calendar. You can’t schedule every minute of every day. You’ve got to leave time for things that you don’t expect. That gives you some flexibility when you need to have it.
If you enjoyed the show, we’d appreciate a 5-Star review!
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Run your law firm the right way.
This is the Maximum Lawyer Podcast.
Your hosts, Jim Hacking and Tyson Mutrux.
Let’s partner up and maximize your firm.
Welcome to the show.
Jim: Welcome back to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast. I’m Jim Hacking.
Tyson: And I’m Tyson Mutrux.
What’s up, Jimmy?
Jim: Tyson, how are you, my friend?
Tyson: I am doing well. I had a really productive day yesterday. I got all of my goals for the week done yesterday, so productive week. How about you?
Jim: That’s awesome. You know, I was filing that big brief in Federal Court and I was thinking to myself, you know, in the old days, you had to print out the brief. Actually, that was my job, before I went to law school, I had to print out all the lawyers’ briefs and I had to walk them up to court. But now you file them electronically which is pretty amazing, but they also made it so that you didn’t have to file it by five o’clock which can be a blessing or a curse. You know, sometimes you’re up late working on those briefs.
But I was happy we got our cases on the east coast, it’s a DC case, and we got it on file at 3:45, our time. So, I had everything done even before the judge left for the day, so that made me happy.
Tyson: Yeah, I’ve been known to file something until 11:00 p.m. on a Wednesday night or something. It feels good whenever you submit things to the court.
I was talking to Amy last night because I’ve got to get a lawsuit on file where I’ve really got the insurance come in a bad situation. She’s like, “Well, what do we need to do? Or what do you need to do to get it on file?” I was like, “just click a couple of buttons and it’s filed.” She’s like, “Really?” I was like, “Yeah, it’s drafted. I just need to click a couple of buttons.” And she was like, “Wow!” It’s really that easy.
Jim: When I worked at Gray and Ritter, and we had these big class action complaints or big lawsuits against multiple defendants, I had to bring copies of every pleading up to court. I actually had a wagon to bring these things because they were in boxes and boxes. You’d bring them all up to the clerk’s office and they’d actually stamp each one. And then, you bring them home and wait for the summons, as if you can believe that.
Tyson: No. I used to– so, 10 years ago, I loved walking the lawsuits down to the courthouse, getting the file stamped. I love the sound of the stamp.
Jim: Yep, I can hear the sound right now.
Tyson: I mean, yay.
Jim: For sure.
Tyson: [inaudible 00:02:16], you know, that’s such an awesome– I don’t know. I loved it. You got to talk to the clerks. You got to see them. Now, you don’t get any of that.
We do have a guest today. She is the author of the Escape the To-Do List Trap: How to Take Charge of Your Time and Finally Get Things Done. Actually, this was my tip of the week, I don’t know, three years ago or something like that. Two or three years ago. It’s a really cool book. It’s a quick read. Our author, our guest, is Elaine Quinn.
Elaine, how are you?
Elaine: Good morning. I am fine. Thanks.
You’re talking about what’s dear to my heart which is doing things before the last minute and being productive. I’m very impressed that you’ve got your whole week’s goals done in one day. You, obviously, believe in that same thing.
Tyson: Yeah. I guess, I can take the rest of the week off, right?
Elaine: Well, you can certainly choose what you do with the rest of the week. You know, there’s a saying that work expands to fill the time available. But there’s no need for that. You know, if you have other things to do, you might as well get your work done quickly and then you can do what you want.
Jim: Elaine, there’s an organization for everybody in the world. I noticed that you’re the Director of Business Partners for the Chicago Chapter of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals. Tell us about NAPO.
Elaine: This organization is nationwide. There are probably 3500 people who specialize in some aspect of productivity or organizing. NAPO has probably 30-plus chapters around the country. Chicago is one of the oldest and largest. We have about a hundred members in this chapter and a hundred members who are in the organizing and productivity side. And then, our business partners, we have 25 of them. They are owners of businesses that complement what we do. We have people who haul junk away, who take photographs of things that are personally meaningful to you and you hate to part with them, but there’s no place for them. The kids don’t want them. And so, you take beautiful pictures and keep those instead and donate the rest. So, there’s all kinds of people doing things that are aimed to help people simplify their lives and get rid of clutter. And so, that’s what NAPO is all about.
I’ve been on the board of our local chapter for, gosh, 10 years, I guess, in this particular position. Before that, I was the president. And before that, I was other things. But I’ve found my community. The interesting thing is that everybody in this organization used to do something else because it’s a fairly new business model. And so, everyone comes with a different background. There are people who are lawyers. There are people who are accountants. There are people who are project managers or supply chain types.
The thing we all have in common is that we recognize that there’s an efficient way to do things, figure out what that is, do it that way. Then, you’re not cluttered up with trying to remember everything. You know what you’re doing. You get it done. You get it done right. You get it done on time. And then, you’re free. That’s what we like to see people do.
Tyson: Elaine, you’re so right about community. Like The Maximum Lawyer community, that’s one of the biggest things that Jim and I have learned is just how powerful that is and how important that is. When you’re talking about different backgrounds, because everyone brings something else to the table. Let’s talk a little bit about that your background. You call yourself the solopreneur specialist. You’ve spent 25 years working for Fortune 100 companies. Now, you’re doing consulting. So, let’s talk a little bit about your journey. Tell us about how you got to where you are now.
Elaine: Well, I’ve been sort of at the extremes of business. In my former life, in corporate America, I was in the pharmaceutical industry for 25 years, started as a sales rep. And then, in sales training. And then, into marketing and sales management. That’s a business where there’s– well, every business, really. But, certainly, in my experience in that business, there was always more to do than was possible to get done. Although I have to say I really enjoyed that, I enjoyed my entire career in that business. I used to say to people, “I would enjoy it twice as much if there was half as much to do.”
What I what I found was that that probably set me up for the rest of my life because there simply was no choice. I had to get myself organized. I had to be able to tell what needed to be done right then, what could be put off, what was more important, less important – all those things that have served me well throughout my entire life.
So, what happened to me though is what happens to a lot of people is that 10 years or so ago, well, in 2008-ish, a lot of people were out of work or their companies were reorganizing. My particular situation was my company that I was working for started acquiring other businesses and, all of a sudden, there were a lot of people who needed places to be, and that the whole business model was changing. So, I was one of the people who got the opportunity to “be early retired.” So, that’s what I did.
I took all that experience. I didn’t really want to consult in the pharmaceutical business. It’s a very specific set of skills. But what I did have to offer everybody was how to figure out what the priorities were, how to get those done, how to establish the easiest, best, most efficient way to do things, most effective way to do things. Gee, who doesn’t want that, no matter what they’re doing? So, that’s what led me into consulting for people who are either in business for themselves or maybe working remotely for a larger company and have some discretionary ability on how they spend their time, how they get their work done as long as it gets done.
So that’s what led me into that. And I’ve been doing that for 20 years. And I love that too. It’s helping people do what I figured out how to do, saving them a lot of time and trouble, and helping them organize their thoughts for their business, their strategies for their business, and the execution of all the things that they want to do for their business.
Jim: All right. Well, let’s turn to the book, Escape the To-Do List Trap, How to Take Charge of Your Time and Finally Get Things Done. What was the reason or reasons that you decided to write this book, Elaine?
Elaine: The more that I worked with the people that I’ve just described, the more I realized that there are certain things that they all had in common. I started seeing the patterns. And that’s what people who do organizing and productivity, that’s what they do naturally is they just see what the patterns are and what the connections are.
I realized that the number one thing these people all had in common was that they were busy. They had a lot going on. They’re juggling not only the here and now situations, but they’re trying to plan ahead. Their minds are cluttered with all the things they’re thinking about. That’s one of the reasons why they came to me is they were disorganized, couldn’t see their way clearly out.
The second thing I realized they had was that they’re on the move. They’re doing things all the time, because everybody who has a business also has a life around that business. And so, their daily activities, particularly those working from home, which is mainly the people I was working with, their activities include business, family, social, civic – whatever they’re doing, it’s one day that they have to accommodate all those things. And so, that’s one of the things we’re having trouble with is fitting all of it together and keeping it all straight.
Then, the third thing they had was they’re on their own. They’re having to do all this by themselves. That’s another reason why they came to me is because they don’t have someone across the hall that they can say, “Hey, how do you do this?”
So that was my goal is to, to try and capture what had been working for me in the way I manage my time and make it easy for other people to do that same thing because the other thing they had in common was they were all using to-do lists and that’s been the standard, what’s been considered a time management tool, but really isn’t. But that’s what everybody uses.
What I realized is that that is not the most easy way to get things done is to try and work from a to-do list. I found a lot that didn’t work very well. And yet, that’s what people were using. So, I wanted to give them an alternative. And that’s what led me to the idea of taking things from your to-do list and actually making those objectives executable by putting them on your calendar and actually figuring out how and when you’re going to get those done. So, that’s what the book is about – taking those things from your to do list and, instead, putting them in a calendar in a way that you can actually do them.
Tyson: So, Elaine, I’ve got, I guess, a two-part question, because I know that everyone– not everyone, a lot of people use to-do lists, like that’s what they do. It’s such a common thing. Why do they not work? And then, also, what’s the process from getting those, from your to do-lists, on to your calendar? And what’s the what’s the reasoning for that?
Elaine: So, let me first address why it is that to-do lists, just in a general way– I mean, there’s a million subsets of reasons why they’re problematic, but it’s clear that no one has actually figured out how a to do-list should work and I think it’s because they really just can’t work.
What you hear the experts say is that you should sit down the night before, and look at your to do list, and pick those things from the to-do list that need to get done the following day. Well, that’s where my problems start because, first of all, my feeling is if you’re starting the night before, that’s way too late, because you’re always working in the immediate future. And if you don’t think about something, until the night before, how are you ready to address that? The experts don’t have any way to actually explain how to work with a to-do list. They’re all over the place. They say things like pick three of the most important goals and do them first. But how you decide what’s important, they don’t really help you with that.
One of the other problems is that these to-do lists. Well, some experts– they can get so complicated, these to-do lists. Some of them even suggest that you have separate to-do lists. One for personal life, one for work life, something else for– depending on the context you’re in. If you’re on the telephone – the things you need to do when you’re on the telephone, or the things you need to do if you’re in a meeting. I mean, all that seems to me to be way too confusing.
But particularly, those things that we all do, that are more than just, “what do I need to do tomorrow?” If you’ve got a complex job, which most of us do, there’s things that you need to look at. You need to plan things out. If you’ve got something that needs to be done next week, you don’t want to discover on Monday night, when you’re planning your Tuesday, that that’s when it’s due. You need to know way ahead of time. So, to-do lists, don’t really help with those things.
Besides, just reviewing the same to-do list over and over, looking for those things you need to do is– and I think it’s overwhelming and demoralizing because it’s always in your face, all the things you haven’t done. It doesn’t really help you move forward.
So, the thing that I like about working on a calendar, instead of working from your to-do list, is that the number one problem that I find people have is overestimating what they can actually get done in a day’s time. If you look at a calendar, whether it’s digital or paper, it makes time which is very– you know, it’s a mental concept it makes time visible. You can see how much time there is if you start filling a calendar with things you need to do, instead of having a separate list. On a separate list, one line could be “make a phone call” or complete a project. That doesn’t really give you much help in planning when you’re going to do that and how long it’s going to take you.
Let’s face it, if just writing something on a list doesn’t get it done, the only way you can get something done is to actually make a decision about when you will do it. So, that leads you again to a calendar because a calendar– well, even people who use a to-do list, primarily, to “get things done” tend to put appointments in a calendar. If they need to be at a meeting at a certain time, they put that in the calendar. If they need to make a phone call at a certain time, they put that in the calendar. They don’t just leave that for whenever I get to it or whenever I don’t have anything else to do.
There are certain things that you know you need to do. And the only way to accomplish all those other things that don’t necessarily have a structured time to do them, but you need to do them, is to give them a structured time. Once again, that takes me back to the calendar. So, that’s always worked for me. And that’s what led me to recommend that to other people.
Now, there’s an infinite variety of people out there. That’s not going to work for everybody, but most everyone that I have encouraged to stay with that idea, finds that it really works so much better and so much easier than trying to work from a to-do list.
I can help with these specific steps to do that if you want me to spend a little time on that.
Jim: Yeah, that would be great. Yeah, go ahead.
Elaine: The first thing to think about is whether people are going to use a paper calendar or a digital calendar. What about you? Do you all use digital calendars? Paper? What’s your feeling?
Tyson: Completely digital. I’ve never used a paper calendar my life.
Elaine: Yeah, me too. I’m digital, except for those things where I may have to– because I tend to delete those things that were in my digital calendar once they’re done. And if I do need a record of certain things that I did on a certain day, I may leave those in that calendar or may keep the paper calendar just for reference purposes.
But you’d be surprised how many people I’ve run into who love the feel of paper. These are traditional people who don’t like to read an e-book. They like the feel of the paper. They like the process. And there are some people who feel that way about calendars.
So, the reason why I say it’s important to think about which thing to do is because I’m going to talk primarily about digital calendar simply because that’s what I use and that’s what I’m most familiar with. Personally, that’s easiest to deal with.
But please remind me, if you would, that there are ways to adapt a paper calendar to accomplish some of that same flexibility that you get with digital calendars that I’ve discovered can work but people don’t think of it. So, help me remember to go back to that. And for those people who are devoted to paper calendar, there’s a way to do the same thing.
The first thing that that I recommend is to take a look at all those things that probably are already in the calendar which are those recurring events. There may be monthly meetings that you have or weekly events that you do, birthdays, school events because, let me back up, I think it’s critical to have everything on one calendar. I believe you should integrate your business calendar, your personal calendar in one place because as soon as you don’t do that, you will miss a deadline, or you will double book yourself. There’s just no way around that. It’s got to all be on one calendar.
That being the case, you need to have school events, household maintenance, car service, all those things that you do on a regular basis, you need to put those in the calendar first because those are things you need to work around. Those things need to happen and need to happen at a particular time. The rest of the things need to happen but it’s up to you when they happen. That’s the beauty of the flexibility of working in your calendar.
Essentially, what you’re doing is making an appointment with yourself. Just like you would make an appointment to call somebody or, to be in a meeting, you make an appointment to take action on some item that you want to accomplish. So, once your calendar is filled with those regularly occurring appointments and commitments, then you have to start with your to do-list. It doesn’t matter where you start but just start some place and take each item that’s currently on your to-do list and place it in your calendar.
Now, at the beginning, the number one problem I see with people is that they’re trying to– they don’t understand it doesn’t really matter, at this point, where you put it in the calendar, you might just choose any time arbitrarily because by the time you get everything, from your to-do list, moved into your calendar, that’s a process, that’s not an event, you’re going to be moving things around. So, that first place where you put that first item from your to-do list into your calendar is just arbitrary. But there are certain criteria that you should have in mind when you’re placing each of these, when you’re moving each of these, you want to think about “What is the deadline for this? When does it need to be done by?” And if that item isn’t urgent or important, I say, skip ahead a few weeks and put it some place there. If it’s not immediate, it doesn’t need to be in the immediate future.
As you’re going through your to-do list, you will see some things that are current, they need to be done sometime soon. So, put them sometime soon in your calendar. And, as you’re doing that, you estimate how long it’s probably going to take you to do that thing. People, generally, underestimate how long things will take them. That’s why they are surprised, at the end of the day, when they didn’t get much done is because they haven’t really thought about the fact that it takes time to do things. You can’t just think about it and it’s done. You have to take the time to do it. So, when you’re choosing the place to put it in your calendar, not only the immediacy of it, but how much time it will take. And you just make your best guess there. But, as time goes on, like most things, you get better at estimating how long things will take.
Let’s say, let’s say it’s an hour’s worth of work. So, you just put that someplace. Block out an hour in your calendar. Then, go from there. You can continue to do that. You find an open slot in the calendar on which you’re going to act on that particular item on your to-do list.
When you choose a block of time that you’ll act, you’ve created what I call, in the book, an action block. The whole process is action block calendaring. So, you choose the items from your to-do list, move them to your calendar as a block of time in which you will take action to do that thing that was on your to-do list that is now in your calendar and you’ve made an appointment with yourself to do that. The rest of the processes is you just do that till all of the items that are currently on the to-do list are somewhere in your calendar.
In the process of doing that, you will find that things automatically prioritize themselves because, as you come across something that you recognize needs to be done soon, you will have to move something that’s in that ideal time slot to some other place. It’s a very dynamic process and the simple process of doing it automatically prioritizes things for you and those less important things move out into the future. Or, maybe there are three or four important things in a day and use up a certain block of time but you’ve got a little miscellaneous time. You can take some of those smaller items that are less urgent and fill in until you have a full day.
Now, speaking about a full day, one of the problems, especially people who are in business for themselves, they have problems turning off the workday, right. This is another way that calendaring will help a person. When you reach the end of the day, and it’s full of things that you need to do and want to do, and that’s a good time to do them, you reach the end of the day, you have permission to stop working because you know you have put in a good day’s work and you start moving things to another day. Or, if you have nothing to do that evening or whatever, you can continue working and maybe borrow some time from another day in which you have some free time that day.
Most of the people I work with tend to be kind of workaholics and they just keep on working or they feel guilty because they know there are things to be done that they didn’t get to today. But this process of putting things on your calendar eliminates that because you don’t have to worry about the things you didn’t do yet. You know that you’ve already put them in your calendar somewhere at a time that’s appropriate, right. They’ll get done on time. The things that need to be done on time will be done on time. And those things that aren’t critical. They’re in there. They’ll be done sometime which means you don’t have to feel guilty about them. You can just let them go. That’s a huge relief for people who just have trouble visualizing not working, when there’s things that need to be done. And then, when all of that is accomplished, when your entire to-do list is moved to your calendar, from then on, when some new task presents itself, just don’t bother with the -do list at all. Just look through your calendar, find a spot that looks likely and drop it in there.
Now, as you go, and, of course, days never unfold like you think they’re going to. So, I always suggest that you don’t schedule 100% of your day. You know, if you work a standard 8-to-5 or 8-to-6 sort of day, you might leave a couple of hours in there that are unscheduled for those things that are going to come up because you know it’s going to be something.
But even if the things that arrive suddenly displace the things that are in your calendar now, it’s no problem, especially with a digital calendar, because you just drag them someplace else and move them where you need to move them to. That may mean a kind of a cascading effect. You may need to move a few things but how long does that take?
Once again, just because you didn’t do it today, it doesn’t mean you lose track of it. On a to-do list, if you don’t do it today, you may forget about it. But on the calendar, if you don’t do it today, you’re going to move it someplace else. It’s not going to get lost. That’s also a huge, guilt-relieving thing because if you just don’t feel like doing it today, you can move it someplace else and know that it’ll get done at the right time. You don’t have to worry about it. You can forgive yourself for not doing it at the “right time”. You can just do it when it comes up.
Now, there’s a few things that I need to sort of expand on that because some projects are more than one time slot. If you’ve got one of these complicated projects that has a number of steps, you need to think through that. And that’s the hard part. People have trouble making themselves sit down and recognize, “Okay, I’ve got to do this step. And then, there’s that step. And there’s that step. And there’s that step.” They go right to the end and say, “Update website.” That’s not something you’re going to do in a single block of time.
So, for these complex projects. I’m in favor of making a list there so you can think your way through what it is. But then, you have to go through that process of looking at each step. “How long will that take? When can I do that?” Then, you put those steps in the calendar.
The ideal way to do that is to start from the due date and work backwards. So, if this is something that’s due in a month, and I’ve got X number of steps that are going to take an hour each, or an hour and a half, or maybe I should allow two hours because I’m not sure, you can back up from that due date and realize, “Oh, my goodness, I need to start on this tomorrow,” which is why you don’t want to use a to-do list where you sit down the night before and think about what you’re going to do tomorrow.
Some of the things you’re doing tomorrow. You won’t be finished until two weeks from now, but if you don’t start on it tomorrow you won’t make that deadline. So that’s why this works so well is because it automatically helps you pace yourself so that you actually can get things done, by the time you need to, without driving yourself crazy. You can get those things done that you need to and find space in between the must-do things to fit all those to-do things, those little to-do lists.
Now’s a good time for me to mention, I wanted to get back, if you’re just committed to using a paper calendar, not so easy to move these things around. You know, if all it is, is dragging something to another date and dropping it there, that’s easy, particularly if you color code things, right. I do that. I’ve got certain colors that I use for certain kinds of things I need to do.
But if you’re using a paper calendar, one of the problems with that is that, traditionally, if you don’t do it today, you’ve got to make a whole new list tomorrow on your paper calendar which is re-create the list. You write the same things over and over and over which is, to me, a huge waste of time.
So, what I’ve discovered is – are you familiar with these post-it notes that you see– the post-it flags, translucent ones, and they come in different colors. Have you seen them?
Jim: Oh, yeah.
Elaine: All right.
So, I recommend that people choose a set of those with different– maybe there’s an hour’s size and a two-hour size, or a half-hour size, maybe they’re color coded. And instead of writing your action on the paper, in that paper calendar, you write it on the flag and put that in your paper calendar. And then, if you need to rearrange things, you just peel those off and move them to some other day that eliminates all that recopying and wasted time doing that, and gives you the flexibility in a paper calendar, that you automatically get in a digital calendar.
So, I’d like to throw that in because some people I can see them– when I’m doing this thing live, I will see people ready to say “Yes, but. Yes, but.” Yes, but how do you do this on a paper calendar?” And so, that’s what I finally realized, “Yeah, you can do that on a paper calendar.”
So, the whole idea of moving things to the calendar just makes the whole process so much more manageable and visual. You can actually see things.
What’s great is that, again, in a digital calendar, is you can search for the words. If you want to say, “When do I have that thing scheduled?” You just drop in the words in that task and you’ll see, “Oh, yeah, I’ve got that in the calendar for next Wednesday. I can do that then.” Or, “You know what, I’ve got an extra hour today, that thing didn’t take me as long as I thought it would. I think I’m going to take that little thing from next Wednesday and I’ll do that now. And then maybe I’ll free up all of Wednesday. I’ll move those things around. And, on Wednesday, I’ll meet with some friends and do something else. I won’t work at all that day. I’ll give myself a day off.” You can do all those things when you know that all the things you need to do are accounted for someplace and you don’t have to worry about it.
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Elaine: What do you think? Does this sound reasonable to you?
Tyson: Oh, absolutely. I’ve got some follow-up questions for you.
Elaine: Ok, good. What questions are occurring to you?
Tyson: Well, you talked about, in the book, the tickler file and I think that that’s an interesting idea. Can you talk about the tickler file and how you use it?
Elaine: A tickler file is really old-fashioned way of keeping track of paper that you need to have, that you’re going to act on but not right now. And this is a complement that you can use because one of the downsides of digital calendar is you can’t fold up a related piece of paper and stick it in between the pages like you can in a paper calendar. And that’s one of the things that people ask me about.
So, a tickler file – for those people who may have never encountered that, it’s a series of folders that you keep in a desk drawer near you or maybe you can keep it in a fold and file that you can carry it around. It’s a series of folders that are numbered with the days of the month. So, you have 1 through 31 and each section represents a day. And then, you have 11 other folders that just represent the months.
So, if you have something that’s in your calendar, and it says, “follow up on this particular project on this day.” Let’s say it’s the fifth of the month but there’s a lot of paper. And what are you going to do with that paper until the fifth of the month comes around? So, you drop all that paper related to that project in the folder that is labeled “this month, 5.” So, the fifth of this month, when it comes time to do that project, you just reach in that file and you’ve got all the backup paper that you need and all the little notes. Maybe there’s an article that relates to that project or there’s something that you want to refresh your memory about before you can start working on that. So, all of that information that you need can be in the file for that corresponding day.
So when you get to that project, and you know there’s more to it than just what you see in your calendar, you have a specific place where all that stuff is waiting for you to look at. And you don’t have to wonder where it is, go looking for it. You know where it is. And at the end of that month, when all those things have been taken care of.
The fact that started off as May’s month. Now, it becomes June’s month. May is now empty. That gets pushed aside. And now you’ve got 1 through 30 of June. And also, July, August, September and October for those things that are further out.
So, the things that are coming up in the current month, you’ve got individual days, where to put that paper. The things that are further out, you can just drop them in the month folder. And as that month comes forward and is now the current month, then you can sort through those papers to remind yourself, “Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, this is coming up this month. I need to do this.” And you move those things into the current month which will be the folders from 1 through 30 or 31, depending on the days of that month. So that’s how a tickler file works.
Jim: All right.
So, I have a hypothetical for you. Let’s say that you’re a lawyer and let’s say that you practice with a lawyer who you happen to be married to. A lawyer that you happened to be married to is the queen of the to-do list who loves and thrives on her to-do list. Let’s say that your law firm has been trying to implement some of the concepts from attraction and specifically about working on rocks. And let’s say you’re on a walk with your spouse yesterday and your spouse says, “I like working on pebbles a whole lot more than I like working on rocks.” She’s very, very good at working on the to-do things. I think she loves the dopamine. She loves the thrill of checking things off. And she gets a ton of stuff done.
How would you start a conversation with that person about how the to-do list might be indeed a trap?
Elaine: Well, my recommendation, particularly when it comes to spouses, is to avoid that kind of conversation altogether [laughs]. I don’t think there’s anything good that may come from that kind of conversation.
You know, if somebody is working that to-do list and it works for them, and they get it done, and there’s no problem with it. I mean, yeah, just leave that alone. That’s my recommendation.
Tyson: Leave her alone [inaudible 00:35:23]. Quit trying to mess with her system. It works.
Elaine: If it works, right. I mean, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Particularly, you don’t want to be telling your spouse, “There’s something that you’re not doing right.” You know what that’s going to lead to. That’s never good.
Tyson: Elaine, I do have a question though. When it comes to court appearances, sometimes we get court appearances that are scheduled on fairly short notice. I mean, especially if you practice in Federal Court, I mean, you could get a notice from a judge today that, “Hey, you’ve got to hop on a call tomorrow.” And so, how do you deal with things like that on your calendar?
Elaine: So, even when you’re not a lawyer, there’s things that come up all of a sudden that you had no idea what’s going to happen. Your child falls off their bicycle and now you’re in the emergency room. Life happens and you can’t always be prepared for everything. But if you’re working in your calendar all the time, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s coming up because you’re working in your calendar all the time, you’re seeing all the things that are due now and not due now but a week.
So, the first thing, of course, is things that can’t be moved, they have to be accommodated. The things that can be moved, you move. The things that can’t be moved but have to be done right away. That’s where the problem is. If you can delegate that to somebody, then that’s what you have to do. If you can contact the other people who might be involved in that, who might be expecting something from you and explain ahead of time. It’s always good to do these things ahead of time instead of last minute. This has come up. It’s not like I’ve forgotten about it, but I’m going to have to do it tomorrow, instead of today, just letting you know. I mean, that’s the way real life is. You just have to do the best you can.
And most people understand, particularly these days when everybody’s overbooked and over scheduled, things come up and you’re not prepared for them. But if you give somebody a little notice, that’s usually all it takes. Nobody likes to be surprised because they’ve got their own schedule. And if that’s depending on what you provide to them, and you don’t provide that to them, then that’s a problem. But if you let them know ahead of time, “You know what, I can’t get this to you tomorrow. It’ll be the next day.” Then, they can make accommodations too. That’s what I found. I mean, everybody these days understands what life is like. I think that’s the best you can do.
Jim: So, Elaine, have you worked specifically with lawyers before? Have you seen any specific issues or mistakes that lawyers make when it comes to time management?
Elaine: I haven’t worked with lawyers as far as managing case load. I mean, I’ve worked with lawyers regarding their own discretionary time.
Can you give me as an example? Maybe we can think through something like that together?
Jim: Sure. So, a lot of lawyers think that their schedule is mandated by other people like judges and clients who want a quick consult. How do you deal with sort of the forces of your industry that sort of conspire against you when it comes to blocking out your time?
Elaine: And that’s true in corporate life, too, which I’m more familiar with. There are certain things that, even though you plan something else, this has got to be done because some higher authority is declaring, “This has got to be done right now.” Sometimes, we have to prioritize and explain.
Can you give me a couple of examples? Maybe we can think of a way that I would handle it?
Jim: Yeah. So, let’s say that you have a full day blocked out. You set aside the morning for doing X, Y and Z. And then, at the last minute, the judge’s chambers calls and says, “Hey, that motion you want to file, we’re going to argue it today at 10 o’clock.”
Elaine: Well, they have to move it. I usually would recommend to people that you don’t schedule every last minute, that you try and establish a reasonable work schedule so that your family gets to see you sometimes. Occasionally, something like that just takes precedence and maybe you do end up having to move what you had on the schedule to the evening, maybe that’s just what you have to do.
Or, maybe the other people, if there’s things that cannot be moved, but then the things that can be moved, you just have to go to people and say, “Can’t do it. You know, can we reschedule?” I find that most people, if you give them advanced warning, and it’s clearly a legitimate reason over which you have no control, they’re willing to work with you.
But sometimes you do end up burning the midnight oil because it’s got to be done. It’s got to be done by tomorrow. And here comes something unexpected that uses up most of your day. And there you are. You just have to do it.
Tyson: Very good stuff.
All right. So, we do need to wrap things up. Before I do, I want to remind everyone to go to the Facebook group, get involved there. Also, check out The Guild. We’ve got the Maximum Lawyer Guild that’s been going on for about a month and a half right now. It’s going well. And so, join us there. Go to maximumlawyer.com and you can get more information.
Jimmy, what is your hack of the week?
Jim: So, I picked up a book this week. It’s called SPIN Selling. It’s based on analysis of a lot of sales calls. It’s an older book but it’s by Neil Rackham. So far, it’s really good. So, SPIN Selling.
Tyson: Very good.
All right. So, Elaine, I don’t know if we told you this, but we always ask our guests to give a tip or a hack of the week which is a book, a podcast, an actual tip, whatever it might be. I don’t know if we told you that we’re going to do this, but do you have a tip or a hack for us?
Elaine: One of the routine things that I suggest to people, and I think some of it is what we’ve approached on in our conversation today is that, you don’t always know what’s going to happen. And so, you’ve got to build in some time into your calendar. You can’t schedule every minute of every day. You’ve got to leave time for things that you don’t expect. That gives you some flexibility when you need to have it.
I mean, that’s the only thing. You have to do what you have to do. You may not have to do it or get to do it today but as long as you’re prepared with those, you don’t schedule every minute of every day, so that when those unexpected things come up, you can do them.
Tyson: Very good stuff.
All right. So, my tip of the week is to get rid of all those junk apps that are on your phone. I spent, I don’t know, like 20 minutes yesterday just deleting apps that I haven’t used, and I’ve had them for probably a couple of years now. It just clutters up your life. And so, any time you can remove some clutter from your life, it’s beneficial.
So, my tip is just to go through your phone – this is just a nice little reminder, kind of, like whenever I remind you all to check your bank statements and get rid of things that you pay for on a regular basis that you don’t use, same things with apps.
In addition to my tip, go through your subscriptions, if you have an iPhone, and get rid of those subscriptions on your phone or apps that you don’t use.
Elaine, thank you so much for coming on. This has been very beneficial. It’s very helpful and hopefully for people that have a hectic calendar like Jim Hacking.
So, thanks for coming on.
Elaine: Well, it’s been my pleasure. Great talking with you.
Tyson: Thank you, Elaine. Appreciate it.
Elaine: Thank you. Bye.
Tyson: Be safe.
Thanks for listening to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast.
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