Will you clients and contacts think of you first when they need help?

Jon, a mid career lawyer working in a boutique law firm, handles white-collar criminal defense matters. Most of his clients come through referrals from other lawyers. Far too often, those lawyers fail to appreciate that they need someone who practices in the area every day. Instead, they try to handle a matter themselves. After doing the best they can and finding that their best is insufficient, they discover that they need someone who knows the government prosecutors and who can read the subtle signals in government requests.  That’s where Jon comes into the picture.

Jon can only get referrals early in the process—early enough to be of maximum assistance to the client—if the lawyers who send those referrals, think of him as soon as a white collar issue arises. A prevalent myth holds that simply being a great lawyer who gets great results is enough to bring in business. Unfortunately, if you are not top-of-mind for your clients and contacts, they won’t think to call you even if they do need you. What’s more, especially if you deal with clients who are not legally sophisticated, they may need you and not even know it. 

In an ideal world, your contacts will always think to call you when there’s a matter with which you might be able to help. In the real world, your contacts are likely to be so preoccupied with their own concerns that they won’t think of you unless you have taken steps to ensure that they know your skills and that you regularly engage with them.

What’s the solution? Deliver interesting and useful information to your clients (including former clients) and contacts on a regular basis, and use that delivery of information to build and maintain relationships with them.  When you engage in a useful way with your contacts, you raise your profile with those contacts. You may become the go-to person in a particular area of practice by virtue of the relationships you build over time.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Create a clear description of your practice, including examples. Test it to be sure that a wide variety of people understand what you do and what kind of work you handle.
  • Share that description (in a natural way) when you talk with others, and share the stories that will root that description in their memory. We’d all like to believe that a single explanation of the work we do is sufficient, but chances are that it isn’t.
  • Look for opportunities to deliver useful information. That delivery can come in the form of widely distributed newsletters or client alerts, or you can send interesting articles or thought snippets one-by-one. Just be sure the information you share is relevant and adds value for the recipient.
  • Whenever you get in touch with someone in your network, create opportunities to build the relationship just a little more. Relationship-building doesn’t have to mean a 3-hour lunch. It can be as simple as, “Did you catch the game last night? Do you follow [seasonal sport]? Who’s your team?” When you keep in touch, you’ll have plenty of chances to have a short exchange that will grow your relationship.

Everyone is operating inside his or her own bubble, and it’s your job to reach into the bubble (in a welcomed, non-intrusive way) as a reminder that you’re a likeable person who’s ready to help. Done properly, that message will be exemplified in everything you do, and you’ll feel much less pressure to make a plea for business.

How do I choose the right differentiators?

A reader recently sent in a question following this article about finding ways to stand out from other practitioners in your field. After outlining several potential points of differentiation, this general litigator asked, “I just can’t figure out how to make myself stand out in a town with thousands of attorneys.  I write, I speak, I’m involved – but I am not really generating any traction. How do I choose the right way to differentiate myself from everybody else?” 

My Answer: 

Distinctions come to be in one of three ways:

  1. By virtue of the practice area, such as Hatch-Waxman Act work or doing special needs trusts.
  2. Due to some particular experience or skill developed in the past, such as a patent licensing lawyer who has a background in tax issues and can therefore address at least some tax issues without having to resort to a tax lawyer.
  3. As the result of experience gained over time in one or two specific subcategories of a practice — which is what you describe with the concentrations you mentioned and (to a lesser degree) the classes you’ve taught as an adjunct professor.

When it comes to building your own practice (as distinct from looking to introduce potential clients to other firm lawyers in other areas of practice, for example), #3 is probably the most common way to set up a point of distinction.

When you’re deciding what to pursue to set yourself apart, think about whether the areas of practice you might pursue are ones you enjoy and could envision as the scope of your practice, the likelihood that those areas will hold steady and preferably expand over time, and the accessibility of a viable category of potential clients who would need help in those areas. If one of the substantive areas you’re considering tends to be cyclical, consider whether there’s a related practice area that is counter-cyclical. There’s nothing wrong with a cyclical practice area as long as the same factors that would drive business down in one area would drive it up in another.

Given that you’re in general litigation, I think you’ll end up with two avenues of distinction: one is substantive, as you’ve outlined above, and the second may be in terms of how you serve your clients. Think about what you can do to make it easy for your clients to do business with you, how you can provide a “value add” for them, and so on. Those take time to figure out, but keep it in the back of your mind and notice what you see that works well (or not) and what clients seem to value.

Most importantly, recognize that even though a distinction may sometimes occur organically, it more often is something that you will select and them bring to fruition. That means that you can choose your area(s) of focus and work to increase your experience and build your reputation in those areas, but it also means that you need to make your decision now and get moving.

Are You Tough Enough?

This week, I’d like to share some thoughts on determination.  Business development is not a one-time effort.  It isn’t rocket science, as the saying goes, but it does call for sustained effort over a long period of time, especially when things aren’t going quite as well as you’d like.  And that requires determination.

I could share stories of determined lawyers and those who let go too early, but I’d rather draw from other sources.  Sometimes we see best when we see outside our own worlds. 

The Determined Dog 

My dog is inspiring me with her example of deep-rooted, unshakeable determination.  (Even though I’m a certified dog nut, I never thought I would say that!)  Toward the end of my vacation, Patches got an infection and landed in the hospital.  This is the fourth round of something that’s nearly killed her three times – this last round hasn’t been as bad, fortunately.

One of the first signs of the infection is that she’ll limp for a couple of hours and then lose all use of the affected leg until the infection is gone.  In the past, she’s been unable to move much at all for a month or so.  She’d try, but getting up and walking was just too hard, and she’d stay in the same spot until I’d lift her and help her walk with a sling.

But this time, it’s almost as if she knows that she’s been through this before, that it’s annoying and unpleasant, but that she’ll be ok.  Instead of lying around, she’s been hopping from the first day.  Her entire being telegraphs, “I want to bark at squirrels and protect my pack, and nothing is going to get in my way!”

Patches’ body is weak right now, but her determination is strong, Hopping is difficult for her, and after she’s moved 10 feet or so, she’ll rest for a while, breathless, before picking up and moving on.  Unless, of course, there’s something she wants to do more than rest, and then she won’t allow her body to stop her.

Her infected leg is weak, but rather than letting that weakness stop her, she’s learned to compensate with her three strong legs.

ˆThe Disciplined Mind… with Safeguards

Before I left for vacation, I’d settled into a nice routine with my workouts.  Up at 5, at the gym around 5:30, and done around 6:30.  It wasn’t easy (especially since I’m not at all a morning person) but it had become habit and I’d maintained the effort for months.

One of the first things I remember learning about working out (years ago!) is that the mind will give up before the body does.  That’s a mantra I use most days in the gym, especially when I’m pushing myself, when my legs or arms hurt, I’m out of breath, I feel like I can’t keep going, and I want nothing more than to stop.

I’ve learned, after a lot of work, that I can pay attention to the discomfort and doubts, or I can crank up the music and keep on going until I achieve what I know I can do.  Even though Lance Armstrong is operating under a shadow these days, he nailed it with this quote:

Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever. That surrender, even the smallest act of giving up, stays with me. So when I feel like quitting, I ask myself, which would I rather live with?

There’s a confidence that comes with completing the designated task on a consistent basis.  It’s a confidence born of experience, and there’s no substitute for or shortcut to developing it. I haven’t hit my overall goals yet, but because I keep hitting the interim goals as planned, I know that I will reach that ultimate success. 

Even though I usually don’t let temporary discomfort derail me, I’ve learned that I need safeguards on some occasions.  Most recently, I knew I’d be facing a challenge to get back to the gym after being away for more than two weeks.  I wanted to be sure that I’d manage that challenge, so I booked an appointment with my trainer for the first day I planned to return to the gym.  No excuses on the time.  And, in fact, I booked a double appointment, for help with cardio as well as weight training.  No wiggle room on leaving out part of my planned workout.

And sure enough, the workout was not pleasant.  And my trainer encouraged me and pushed me, giving me the support and push that I needed so that I could do what I’d planned – and, in fact, to stretch a little bit further.  The next workout was much easier (mentally, if not physically), and my confidence continues to grow.

Questions for Reflection

The message here is pretty obvious.  Give some thought to these questions.

  • How developed is your determination when it comes to business development?
  • Are you making the most of your strengths and minimizing your weaknesses in rainmaking activities?
  • Do you have a solid business development plan in place?
  • Are you confident in your ability to put that plan into action and reach the goals you’ve set?
  • Have you identified danger zones, when you may be likely to slide backwards?
  • What support do you need to get through those danger zones and to stretch you beyond your comfort zone?  Do you need to line up additional help?

I’d love to hear your answers to these questions – just hit reply.  And, of course, I’d be happy to arrange a conversation with you if I might help you reach your business development goals. 

Catching attention, building connections

I recently spent nearly two hours sitting at an airport gate, sitting about 5 feet behind a stand with Delta American Express card representatives.  You’ve probably seen these stands: a table to the side of a concourse, with various promotional freebies, application forms neatly stacked, and one or two hawkers, trying desperately to get people to pause and fill out an application.

Annoying, right?  I drowned out the hawker’s calls.  But as I sat reading, I noticed that more people than usual were coming up to this table, and they were staying longer than usual to talk with the card rep.  So I started listening. And I re-learned something useful.

The average hawker bombards passersby with the “great offer” they simply “can’t pass up.” But this rep focused on individuals and engaged them: “You, miss, in the red shirt!  Where are you headed today?”

Some people ignored him, but over and over, people paused, walked to the stand, and talked with the rep.  Some told him about their travel delays.  Others told him about the jobs they were traveling for or the family they were leaving behind.  Several soldiers told him what it’s like to be on leave from duty in the Middle East.  And the marketer listened.  He asked questions and empathized.  He was genuinely present with the people who were talking with him.

After he’d heard some part of their travel story, he’d weave in his offer: “Man, wouldn’t you like to get an extra 10,000 miles so you can get back to see her more often?”  Sure, the rep was trying to get people to apply for a credit card, but he was doing it by connecting with people, by building a relationship, albeit a brief one.  And almost without exception, the people who stopped in front of the display filled out something, whether a credit card application or a Delta mileage program application.

Observing this guy reminded me of a Maya Angelou quote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  What I saw was the power of listening and genuine, though brief and superficial, connection.

The contrast was clear when he went on break and another pusher took his place.  This hawker didn’t engage people.  He threw out half-hearted, “Sir, don’t you want extra some SkyMiles today?  It’s a great offer!  You can’t pass it up!  Sir, you flyin’ Delta today?  We’re giving away 10,000 SkyMiles free — for nuthin’!”  But the busy passengers did pass it by the table over and over without stopping.   Those who did stop received only the sales pitch, and I’d guess this vendor’s application completion rate was much less than half of the other man’s.

Small sale or large, connection really does pay.  And it doesn’t require a tremendous amount of effort.  It simply requires genuine presence.  Not a bad reminder while waiting in an airport.

How can you apply this insight? Write your website copy or the introduction to an article from your target read’s point of view. When talking with a potential client or referral source, ask questions before you talk about your experience and qualifications. Make it your practice to seek to understand before you seek to be understood.

Ya Gotta Say NO to Grow!

When you think about business development, do you think more of “yes” or “no”?  Most people seem to think “yes.”

  • YES, I’ll attend that networking meeting
  • YES, I’ll write that article or blog post or newsletter
  • YES, I’ll meet with that potential referral source
  • YES, I’ll get another certification or specialists’ certificate
  • YES, I’ll speak at that seminar
  • YES, I’ll serve on that board
  • YES, I’m on Twitter… And Facebook… And LinkedIn… And App.net… And Pinterest… And Google+… And YouTube… And….
  • YES, I can take a call at 9 PM
  • YES, I’d love to meet for breakfast

And so on, until there’s a shift to… Yes, I’m spread too thin.  Yes, I’m feeling stressed.  Yes, things are slipping through the cracks.  YES, I’m burned out. 

“Yes” is undoubtedly a crucial word for business development.  Saying yes to strategic, carefully selected activities creates more opportunities that open the door for results.

But time and energy are finite.  That means you need to choose wisely how and where to spend your time and energy.

Every “yes” is in effect a “no” to one or more other opportunities.  You can’t be in two places at one time, you can’t invest your business development hours on all the activities you might like if you’d also like to have time available for your clients, your professional activities, and your personal life.

Rather than saying “yes” to everything that seems like it might possibly be a good opportunity, pause and critically evaluate the openings that come your way.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • What’s the cost of doing this?  Consider time, money, and political or relationship costs.
  • Does this opportunity move me closer to what I want to accomplish?  A strategic lunch will move you toward your goals.  A “random act of lunch” will feed nothing but your stomach.
  • What’s the potential upside?  What might you get from doing this activity?  Getting business is a significant upside, of course, but don’t overlook other potential such as developing relationships, creating exposure for yourself and your practice, or learning something that will support your practice.  Launching a blog can help you to get business.  It may also lead to referrals, collegial conversations, other writing opportunities, speaking engagements, enhanced insight into issues in your practice area, and even friendship.
  • How valuable is the potential upside?  In the blogging example above, the potential includes not just new business but also increased substantive knowledge, new and enhanced relationships, and a higher professional profile.  That’s rather valuable.
  • What’s the likelihood of realizing that upside?  You may not be able to answer this in detail, especially if the activity you’re considering is new to you, but you should have some qualitative sense of the likelihood of success. If you take up blogging, your deeper knowledge of the subject area is entirely within your control; put in the time, you’ll develop the knowledge.  That means acquiring more substantive expertise has a high likelihood of realization if you’re committed to blogging.  Landing a speaking gig is less certain, simply because it will take time for you to meet the right people through your blog, to develop the requisite perceived expertise, and for the speaking opportunity to exist before you’ll be offered the chance to speak.
  • What must you say no to, if you say yes to this opportunity?  You might give up other business development opportunities, billable time, or sleep.  You might have to give up cash.  This is another way of looking at the cost, but it puts the issue into sharp focus.  If you decide to commit two hours a week to blogging, you will be unable to spend that time in face-to-face meetings.  That may be a deal breaker or no big deal – but you’ll know only if you ask the question.

It’s easy to see positive potential and to overlook the costs.  Doing so may keep you from making strategic choices, however.  Especially if you’re newer to business development, take the time to evaluate before you accept an opportunity.  By necessity, you’ll always give up something.  They key is to make sure you’re saying yes to the right opportunities, no just every one that comes your way.

Sometimes, you’ve gotta say NO so your practice can grow.

What do you say when you ask for business?

A client recently confided that he had never actually asked for business from a potential client.  Surprised (since I knew that his $275,000 book of business hadn’t just happened), I asked what he meant, and he responded that asking for the business means saying something like, “I’d like to handle that for you.”

A flat, bold statement is one way to ask for business, but as my client and I discussed, it’s just one of a wide variety of “asks” that he could make.  Asking for business isn’t a nice way of describing demanding business, and it doesn’t have to be a show-stopper request that sticks out as an “ask.”  Instead, asking can be a gentle statement or question that affirms your interest and ability to help.

I’ve previously written about what to bear in mind when preparing to ask for business – or when you notice that you’re shying away from making a direct request.  As a foundational piece, you must be clear that discussing a potential matter is beneficial for a client (if you ask helpful questions and/or provide useful insights) and that asking for the business is a natural continuation in which you’re offering bring your skill to meet a need that you and the potential client have identified together.

In other words, there is no magic formula, you don’t have to craft a single “right” way to make your request, and you should not feel that you’re trying to put one over on your potential client.  Instead, you should listen to the potential client, ask questions to clarify the situation and your potential client’s goals and concerns, and discuss relevant experience or ideas that you have.  And then you should offer to take the next step.

With the caveat that no two attorneys will likely ask for business in the same way, consider language along these lines: 

  • Would you like me to outline an approach based on our conversation?
  • Based on what we’ve talked about today, would you be interested in moving forward? (Optional: when?)
  • Please let me know if I can help you in any way with this issue.
  • I can help you with [summarize issue]. (Optional: I’d be happy to do that.)

How many ways can you ask for business?  Limitless.  But the only effective way is to engage in productive conversation with a potential client who has a current, unmet need and to offer your assistance in a way that genuinely reflects who you are and how you relate to others.

Working Your Practice

A business seminar, I attended recently, focused on hiring and managing employees. I was surprised that the program started by asking us attendees to identify our business vision and what we stand for. I was even more surprised to find how difficult that was to do!

You may have heard the distinction between working in your business as opposed to working on your business, popularized by Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth. The former is what you do to earn money, and the latter is what you do to design and build your business.

Marketing lives and thrives, however, when you’re working on your business. That’s when you come up with a new way to talk about what you do and identify an under-served client sector that needs your services. That’s when you come up with a great idea for an article, you write that article, and you consider who might help you land a speaking opportunity to develop further and share what you wrote in the article.

So, here’s today’s question: how much time are you spending on your practice? And is the time you’re spending effective?

Effectiveness is driven by not just the degree to which you’re able to raise your professional profile and the business you bring in, but also by the number of smart ideas you have and implement. As Seth Godin writes, “Pretty good ideas are easy. The guts and persistence and talent to create, ship and stick it out are what’s hard.”

Take some time today to work on your business. If you don’t know where to start, start with asking what is your vision for your practice. Consider your practice area, your sub-niche within that area, the clients with whom you work, how you serve those clients, and your practice setting, for starters.

How can you work smarter?

“You’re working too hard.  Why don’t you look for ways to work smarter?”  That was a key element of the feedback I received during this quarter’s mastermind meeting.  After hearing my colleagues’ suggestions, I put some new practices in place to help me work smarter, and I do believe I can already see a difference.

And you’ve no doubt heard this distinction before.  All sorts of management experts talk about how to work more efficiently, more effectively, maximizing the results of time.  Some of them even have good ideas.

I’ve been thinking about what it means to say that practicing law is hard work.  I don’t have any question that it is challenging and demanding, for reasons that I’ve mentioned numerous times.  When clients question whether it’s possible to “work smart” in practice, my answer is a resounding yes.

Working smart means managing your physical environment.  If you take the time to keep your desk clear, so it’s always easy to locate the files and the resources you need.  Nothing wastes time like clutter.  The simple act of taking an extra 5-10 minutes to clear and tidy your work area at the end of the day can yield significant time savings.  I had to learn this the hard way, but having learned it, it’s become a standard for myself in the office.

Working smart means managing energy.  If I’m exhausted and I try to power through rather than resting, chances are good that it’ll take me more time than usual to accomplish anything.  I’ll make more mistakes, and I won’t be as creative as I might otherwise be.  I’ve put structures in place to take advantage of my energy rhythms (you’ll often find me at my desk working at 6 AM, but only rarely after 6 PM) and I’ve been working to enhance my energy with enough rest, enough exercise, good hydration and nutrition, and fun.

Working smart means managing commitments.  It’s easy to say yes to every demand, but it just isn’t smart.  Making intentional and purposeful decisions about which commitments to accept and which to decline allows me to avoid the frazzled, frantic pace that undermines good work.  By the same token, I aim to prioritize my work so that I accomplish what’s most important first.

Working smart means managing people.  Good delegation enhances effective work.  Whether it’s requesting research or asking an assistant to draft routine communications for my review and editing, delegation frees my time so I can concentrate on doing the things that others can’t do.  (Thanks to our global marketplace, getting help is easier and less expensive than ever before.  I’m hiring.  Should you?) 

It’s important to note that what’s smarter for one person will be useless for another.  You must identify what makes sense for your practice, your preferences, and your clients.

Does any of this mean that it’s possible to take shortcuts and reap the rewards of practice without putting in plenty of time and effort?  Absolutely not.  But attention to smart management will make the time and effort you put into your practice pay maximum rewards.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year!

All in Good Time

One of the top concerns for most lawyers is time management.  We all have so much to accomplish in so little time, and it often seems that we’re always trying to cram more activities (whether professional or personal) into the non-negotiable 168 hours we have each week.  Most of my coaching clients bring time management issues to the table at some point, and time pressures are largely responsible for the high levels of stress that many lawyers face.

One distinction, “urgent” versus “important,” can form the basis for effective time management.  Urgent vs. important is a simple distinction that applies equally to the substance of a lawyer’s work as well as to practice or career management.  Stephen Covey has written about time use and devised a four-quadrant chart to help us judge where we spend most of our time:

QUADRANT I
Urgent and Important
:  Crises, problems, deadline-driven projects.  Preparing for a client meeting that will occur in a few hours is a Quadrant I activity.  Hallmarks of Quadrant I activity include intense focus, high stress, and limited opportunity for review and reflection.

QUADRANT II
Not Urgent, but Important
:  Preparation, problem prevention, planning, relationship building, values clarification, true recreation (”re-creation”).  Preparing for a client meeting that will occur in several days is a Quadrant II activity.  When you’re operating in Quadrant II, you’ll likely be focused (because your task is important) but you’ll feel less pressure and you’ll have more opportunity to consider all aspects of what you’re doing simply because you’re not staring down the barrel of a deadline.

QUADRANT III
Urgent, but Not Important:
Interruptions, some phone calls, some meetings, some email.   When you’re forced to deal with something that’s not especially important at a certain time, you’re in Quadrant III.

QUANDRANT IV
Not Urgent, Not Important:
Junk mail, spam, busywork, trivia, “escape” activities, mindless web surfing, etc.  We all spend time in Quadrant IV, but spending time on those activities produces little or no meaningful results because the activities by definition are not meaningful.

Where do you spend most of your time?  While it’s undeniable that Quadrant I requires attention and Quadrant III calls for attention (though the call may be illusory), Quadrant II is the critical zone.  That’s where the real work occurs that truly moves us forward.

Clients appreciate lawyers who work in Quadrant II.  All too often, lawyers send important documents to their clients and request a fast response.  That’s disrespectful of the client’s time.  It creates the impression that the lawyer simply couldn’t get his or her act together in time to plan in advance and complete the work early enough to allow the client time for meaningful review.  Clients appreciate lawyers who handle matters during an emergency, but they tend to resent those who act as if every event is an emergency.  Living in Quadrant II will increase the quality of your client service.

I worked with a client I’ll call Sheri, who was having a great deal of trouble getting everything done that she needed to in the office.  She found herself staying at the office later and later, then going in earlier and earlier, and before long she was exhausted and angry that her personal life had disappeared.  We started with the urgent/important distinction and looked at the kinds of tasks on her “to do” list through that lens.

After our first conversation, Sheri cut Quadrant IV activities completely and worked to get better at identifying Quadrant III activities so she could eliminate as many of those as possible.  And then she looked at the Quadrant I tasks she’d listed to see whether any could be delegated or otherwise handled.  And then our focus shifted to Quadrant II.

Sheri developed a schedule that guaranteed her planning and strategizing time (pure Quadrant II activities) and found that by spending time on those tasks, she was able to prevent problems and facilitate the orderly accomplishment of important aims.  Her stress level decreased, as did the number of hours she had to spend putting out fires.  Most importantly, when she did have to put out a fire, it was a real emergency, not a self-created one.

Your assignment for the week: look at how you spend your time.  Review this week’s task list and mark every item according to its quadrant.  If they’re all Quadrant I, you have plenty of room for improvement.  And then, take a moment at the end of each day to look back at how you actually spent the day.  Did you spent 30 minutes looking for a file or other document?  Did you spend so much time sending “one quick email” that you didn’t even get to your top five tasks for the day?

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate!

Task Management – simplified!

Have you ever had this experience?  You’re lying in bed, just about to go to sleep, drifting off even, until it hits you.  That thing that you meant to do today?  You forgot.  Suddenly, your brain is on full alert, and you’re promising yourself that you’ll remember to do it tomorrow.  Just like you promised last night.  You lock the task in your memory and then lie there, unable to relax, just hoping that you don’t forget it again tomorrow..

We all face challenges, and managing time and tasks is probably one of the most universal.  When you’re juggling work to be completed for clients, business development activities, administrative work, professional development and training, plus personal tasks, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, especially if you don’t keep a running, written “to do” list.

Chances are, you’re a bright person with a good memory.  You may even rely on your memory more than you really should.  If you’re keeping a running list of things you need to accomplish in your head, not on paper, you’re committing a foundational mistake that will cost you peace of mind – and it may even cost you clients.

The solution?  An easy 3-step process:

  1.  Keep a running list of all tasks, both business and personal.  (You’ll need to accomplish all these tasks, so why separate those lists?)  Whenever you think of something you need to do, it goes on the list.  Every.  Single.  Time.
  2. Create a list of weekly “to do” items from your master list.
  3. At the end of each day, draw up a daily “to do” list from your weekly list, supplemented with whatever additions are necessary.

By writing down every task as it arises, you free yourself from the mental “to do” list that will float around the back of your mind, distracting you from what you’re actually doing or, perhaps, chiming in too late to get the task done.  You must train yourself to write everything down.

Create a system for capturing your task list that matches your life.  If you do most of your work in a single location, you might create a word processing document or spreadsheet that lists the project (by client name or number, for example), the specific task, the category (client work, administrative, vacation planning, etc.), and the due date.   Be sure you can sort based on each of these so you can know at a glance, for instance, what’s due when or how much work you have to do for each client.

If you frequently travel, you’ll want to look for a more robust solution that will sync your computer and wireless devices.  A few that I’ve used or that clients have recommended:

Finally, since looking for a new “to do” list organizer likely wasn’t on your task list for today, try this handy gadget for marking those web pages for later comparison.