Planning for Productivity in The New Year

It is that time of year when we start thinking about next year’s goals. Whether they are New Year's resolutions or business goals, we know that many people fail to achieve what they set out to conquer. In fact, according to a study at Scranton University, 92% fail to achieve their resolutions.   

There are three reasons why most people claim they fail: (1) not enough time, (2) giving up too quickly, and (3) procrastination. The legal professionals that I talk to tell me most commonly that “life happens.” In our world as lawyers, that usually means a large crisis falls in our lap like a big trial or complex matter, and then we fall into survival/catch-up mode and the new habit or goal that we were working on gets left in the dust or forgotten. We fall back into our usual patterns because they are familiar, and we are back to square one. 

I have developed a few tools that will keep you on pace, so you never lose traction when implementing new goals or resolutions, even if “life happens.” These tools may not give you 100% success, but I guarantee that it will be closer to 92% success than 92% failure! Here are the three tools.

The Digital Master Task List

Having a computer-based master task list that captures and organizes all tasks of all types is critical. It can’t just contain client matter-related tasks. It needs to be comprehensive. It must capture, contain, and organize your administrative and business development tasks, as well as home and personal tasks. What are most frequently missing from people’s task lists are bucket list items and annual goals. Most people put those in a desk drawer somewhere and forget about them. That is a huge mistake. Those items need to be front and center, and not buried under a pile or in a desk drawer.

I recommend a simple task capturing system like Microsoft To Do, ToDoist, Asana, Trello, or the like. Any system that also has a smartphone app is essential so you can capture those random neural firings when you are out and about. Select a system that allows you to manage tasks from your computer and your smartphone

Daily Planning

I am a big fan of planning journals like my Tame the Digital Chaos Daily and Weekly Planning Journal available on Amazon, or SELF Journal by BestSelf, also on Amazon. There are many others on the market, but all of the systems call for a five minute daily planning session. I strongly recommend that people write out their five minute plan at the end of each day for the next day. In short, you basically review your task list, calendar, and email to identify three to five goals for tomorrow and then map out your day in 30-minute increments. Daily planning will keep you ultra-focused and allows you to carve out time to execute those New Year’s resolutions.

Weekly Deep Dive

Once a week (I recommend first thing Friday morning), spend one hour doing what I call a “get super organized deep dive.” This is when you review (not skim) every single task on your master task list, and look at every single appointment looking back 2 weeks and looking forward 2 weeks. Then, ask yourself “what did I promise people in this appointment, or what do I need to do to prepare for this appointment?” When reviewing tasks, you are revisiting all of your goals for the year and resolutions, as well as the daily client tasks that you need to do - then schedule time on your calendar to do them. That’s right, create an appointment with yourself to do the work. We call that “time-blocking.” 


Using these three easy tools, even if “life happens,” your goals or resolutions will never fall off your radar. You must have a system in place that forces you to review and plan to execute your goals. This system worked so well for me that I achieved all of my original bucket list items by the time I was 35. Of course, now I have new bucket list items, and I have those recorded within my master task list for 2022! 

I have two final suggestions: read two books before the end of the year or as you develop your 2022 goals. Both are very quick reads. First is Tame the Digital Chaos, a book I wrote about time, task, email, and distraction management in a world of information overload. The second book is Vivid Vision by Cameron Herold recommended by my business partner, Debbie Foster. Vivid Vision will teach you how to create a vision for your life or business. Once that vivid vision is created, then you can create the plan and tasks to get there through your daily and weekly planning. 

In conclusion, don’t let old stats about failure or your old patterns define you. Give yourself the tools that you need to succeed. It is totally possible. Grant yourself the grace to not be perfect and realize the satisfaction that comes from achieving your goals. And remember, your direction is more important than your speed. Good luck with your 2022 planning and go kick some butt! 

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Paul Unger

Written by Paul Unger

Paul is a national speaker and author. In addition, he coaches lawyers on how to be more efficient with time management by offering customized workshops. When he isn't speaking or writing, he usually performs technology assessments throughout the United States and Canada. Paul began his career working for the Governor of Ohio and then went on to law school. He practiced law for six years, specializing in litigation and bankruptcy, before starting a legal technology consulting company with partner Barron Henley in 2000. Paul's superpowers are cleaning up messes and turning digital chaos into well-organized machines. His favorite part of his job is helping people get organized and focused on finding more enjoyment in their lives and careers.

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