Friday, November 28, 2014

A Thanksgiving, of Sorts

So this is the holiday at which we are all supposed to take a look around, assess our lives, and be thankful for what we have.  That can be hard sometimes.  Taking a good look at one's life, and one's world, can sometimes be disheartening.  But, as I'm a firm believer in the "silver lining" idea, the following:

I am troubled, and somewhat scared, by some of the health issues that continue to linger for me; I am thankful for the great improvements in my overall condition in the past two years.

I am alarmed at the over-militarization of our police and the use of excessive force, and saddened people are losing their lives when they didn't have to; I am grateful for all the people who, in spite of that, lobby for peaceful change rather than riot, and for all the many responsible men and women who put on uniforms each day to protect me and ensure my safety.

I am angry about increasing government intrusion into our civil liberties; I am thankful that our Founding Fathers left us that wonderful document, our Constitution, which continues to be our shield in spite of powerful attempts to knock it down.

I am worried about our damaged economy, and a job environment that doesn't seem to be getting any better; I am thankful that I have been able to be self-employed, in a business I love, and thereby provide for my family.

I am aghast at the number of hours of life collectively wasted by people staring into computer and smartphone screens and video games; I am thankful for the incredible technology which has made live easier and more convenient for so many.

I am horrified by the loss of life in foreign wars that I don't believe we should be involved in; I am thankful for all of the young men and women who risk their lives in service of our nation, so middle-agers like me have the freedom to sit in front of computers and tell you all what we think.

I am frustrated by some of the problems my clients bring to me, things which could have been easily, in my view, avoided.  I am thankful for their trust in me to handle their legal matters, and the opportunity to be of service - truly, I haven't the slightest idea how I'd have made it this far in life if not for all of you.

I tear my hair out at some of the things my family and friends (that family we choose) do which seem to me so silly or thoughtless.  I remain thankful for all of the love you have shown me and continue to show me each and every day - you make my life worth living.

Most of all, I am mad at myself, thinking of all of the thoughtless, foolish, stupid things and failures I have committed over the years; and most of all, again, family and friends and clients, I am thankful for all of you continuing to choose to be involved in my life.

I love you all.  Happy Thanksgiving!


Friday, October 31, 2014

Do, Delegate or Decline

It should be apparent that, in order to do everything now, you have to make an immediate decision about each task that comes up in the course of a day.  Do I do it (now), delegate it, or decline it?  This requires some thought, because the reader will note that making the decision to do, delegate or decline is something that needs to be done, immediately, as each task arises.  The system only works if you can make an instant decision, and to be able to do that, you must be fully aware of a few things.
The first vital thing to understand is your mission, an idea I'll try to develop more fully in future posts.  You will, of course, have several missions.  For example, some of mine are to offer the highest quality legal services, to publish and sell my own books, to keep my body fit and strong, and to provide a comfortable and happy lifestyle for my family.  But the concept, as it applies here is simple. If a task directly bears on your mission - directly - is it an automatic "do."  No thought necessary.  Do it now.  Similarly, if a task arises that does not bear on one of your missions, again, no-brainer. Decline, and decline immediately without a second thought.
What of the in-between tasks?  Those things that, although they may not bear directly on any mission, simply need to be done; for instance, making a doctor's appointment, doing the grocery shopping, preparing meals, and thousands of other little things that just have to take place to keep life moving forward.  These things are obviously do's or delegates - the trick is in deciding which.  Again, the solution is fairly simple, and admits of being internalized in order to facilitate an instant decision when the task pops up.  If it is something that requires a special skill or ability that you have, or something that you do better than any of the people you could delegate it to, do it, right now. Otherwise, delegate.  Some examples from my own life may assist in making my point clearer.
The grocery shopping.  Delegate.  Why, because I have no special skill in buying groceries, and it is a task that my wife or one of my kids could complete at least as well as I could.  Therefore, it gets delegated, instantly, and I gave it no further thought.  However, if my wife had come to me to tell me the kids were hungry, and that food she bought needed to be cooked, that would have been an instant "do."  In my house, I am the one that enjoys cooking and I am quite good at it.  My wife never learned, and doesn't care to learn.  Similarly, if one of the children needs to be driven somewhere (school, a friend's house), well, my wife is at least as capable of piloting an automobile as I am. Consider it delegated.  However, my wife is not comfortable speaking or understanding advanced concepts in English, as it is not her first language.  So when it comes to the doctor's appointments, those are a "do" for me, as it is important to fully grasp what a physician tells you about your health or that of your loved ones.
And for those of you completely on your own, with nobody to delegate to?  You'd best re-read my recent post about Putting in the Time.

Monday, October 20, 2014


You're going to have to work long hours, but not all hours are created equal.  The hours you want are the ones in which you are really moving, really getting things done, and not just busy work, but important tasks, at the core of accomplishing one of your missions.  In order to have any time like this you will need focus; that is, the ability to concentrate on the task at hand, and keep pushing through the distractions to actually accomplish something of fundamental significance.  I was fortunate, in that I was born with an almost praeternatural ability to focus on one task, to the total exclusion of everything going on around me.  The bad news is, not all people are born with focus. The good news is, that the ability can be cultivated, and improved upon - always improved upon.

As is often the case, the method is simple to understand, but difficult to actually do.  In this case, utilize a variety of the "practice makes perfect" method in order to train up your ability to focus.  It works like this:  surround yourself by as many distractions as you can, then get to work.  I realize this flies in the face of accepted "wisdom" about productivity.  Almost everyone tells you to find a quiet place, meditate, clear your mind, make your workplace free of distractions, and get to it. Then again, the accepted "wisdom" produces generation after generation of mediocrities - not exactly the goal here.

The typical method makes two large errors in its plan, which result in failure to improve focus in any measurable way.  The most obvious is that, life just doesn't work that way.  Life doesn't provide you each day with the opportunity to get Zen, clear your mind and your desk, and just have one thing on your plate at any given time.  Rather, life requires you to deal with the phone, the wife, the kids, the neighbor, the car, and whatever the hell else pops up.  The traditional "clear your mind" nonsense will only teach you how to be productive under perfect conditions.  Perfect conditions rarely flash into existence, and when they do, they never, ever last long.  The second problem will be one recognized by athletes and weightlifters everywhere - no pain, no gain.  In order to improve a skill, a muscle, anything, you need to stress it - expose it to ever increasing levels of difficulty, so that it gradually improves to meet each new level of challenge.  Its not difficult to focus in a perfect, quiet environment.  It is very hard to do so in the context of a typical, hectic day.  Therefore, that is when your ability to focus can be strengthened.

Subject yourself, everyday, to the most challenging environment you can.  Don't wait for just the right time to accomplish something - accomplish something now.  I routinely write with five kids and their friends screeching about the house, two TVs on, music playing, dogs barking.  That's Zen.  That's the way to focus.  I know it sounds strange, but as the great Robert Anton Wilson said, "Do it, everyday."

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Contact Me!

I just added a contact form to the front page of this blog.

The only thing I like better than writing about these things, is discussing these things with people.

Please feel free to send me a message through the contact form, or call me on Google Hangouts!

Putting in the Time

In the previous post, I tried to emphasize the importance of doing it now.  Many people will say that there just aren't enough hours in the work day to do everything now.  As you will expect coming from someone advocating the importance of a strong work ethic, the solution I offer is again simple to understand.  Expand your work day.  This will be a bitter pill for many readers to swallow, especially, I suspect, younger readers.  However, there really is no other way.  Your work day should last as long as it takes to get everything done, limited only by your physical ability to continue working.
If you've been paying attention as you read, you may note that I said my work day begins around six in the morning, and I routinely work until ten in the evening, often later.  If you are counting, that is a minimum sixteen hour day, and that is, I promise you, no exaggeration.  If you doubt it, try calling me at 6:30 a.m or 9:30 p.m., and see for yourself.  I know a couple who recently complained to me that they are each working a full eight hours each day, and so have no time to do all of the other things they would need to do to become successful.  These are two people who, barring significant changes in their way of thinking, will never be successful. While I start in the office at six, I'm up at five.  That means I've got seven useful hours in, more than they squeeze out in a whole day, before they take their lunches.  Do I think I'm something special?  No.  I'm just a realist.  If you want to work only eight hours a day toward your mission, resign yourself to failure, as that is all you will ever get.
You simply must work each day, until the day's work is done.  Work, in this context (in fact, in any reasonable context) means the tasks necessary each day to serve your various missions.  I routinely get up at 5 a.m. and get to bed around midnight, and in that time I manage the necessities of life, work for my law clients, work on my books, get my ass to the gym, spend time with my wife and kids, and do all of the things that fulfill my personal missions.  Some days I can get it all done in less time, and some days it takes more.  The qualities necessary to being able to put in those kind of hours will be the subjects of upcoming posts.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Best Time, to Do Everything, is NOW.

So it turns out that one of the most common human characteristics, the desire to procrastinate, or avoid doing things that one fears or finds distasteful, is actually fatal in the long run.  It destroys strength, success, power, influence, and self-esteem.  I suffered from this pernicious trait for many years, and I suspect each reader of this book, does, or has, suffered from it as well.  I have run a small law practice for many years, the the amount of suffering that procrastination caused me, and the loss of income and reputation I endured because of it, are enough to make me cry just remembering how much better I could have been.  Of course, I was always nails at organizing - goddamn, could I burn hours getting my client files in order, making sure my contacts database was up to date, making to-do lists and planning my day. But always, somehow, the hard stuff - the drafting of difficult pleadings, the client meetings at which I had to deliver bad news, the contentious negotiations, the trips to the prisons to interview clients in custody - always got kicked to the last possible time.  The catch is, those things didn't go away.  They were still there, they still needed to be done, and they did, of course, eventually get done.
They got done, but at a cost much greater than they needed to carry.  When you put off the hard, unpleasant stuff, several things happen.  First, molehills grow into mountains.  The unpleasant nature of the task becomes magnified, your fear of it grows and grows and grows.  People actually have nervous breakdowns due to the fear they allow to build up regarding things that they must do.  Second, through your delay, you insure that you have much less time to get something done, and therefore, the quality of your work suffers.  You simply can't produce the level of work in two hours that you could have produced if you had started earlier and invested more time.  Third, putting a task off generates more tasks that you want to put off.  Say, for instance, that I have a very lengthy, detailed brief to research and write.  Say further that I fear the effort involved, and put it off.  What happens next?  Well, I have to ask the court for an extension.  Try it sometime, its stressful in and of itself. I have to field calls from clients (or avoid them, more likely) wondering when in hell am I going to finish the work I promised to perform.  Put it off long enough, and a malpractice suit or ethical complaint is the ultimate result.  Procrastinate enough, and you earn, and get tagged with, the reputation of being a lazy-ass.
The key, then, is not to let those molehills become mountains.  They way to do that is simple to understand, but harder to travel.  The way is - DO EVERYTHING NOW. Read it again: DO EVERYTHING NOW.  Of course, the observant reader will say, "Murphy, what the hell are you talking about.  You can't do everything now, just like you can't be in two places at once."  But you can do everything now, and I'll show you what I mean by that, and how to do it, Stay tuned.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Work Ethic

So two of my children are now graduated from high school, and have moved on to college.  They are also talking a lot about working (as I did through school).  I'm hoping they'll do more than talk about it, though.  As always, the issues surrounding proper raising of my children provoke in me a strong tendency to navel-gazing.  So, for the next few posts, I'll be spewing forth some of those thoughts about work ethic, and how to get one.

It used to be taken for granted in the United States, and frankly, most everywhere else, that the responsible use of one's time, money, or any other assets which could be used to produce goods, services, and in the end, income, was an affirmative good; in fact, it was considered to be the duty of each and every citizen.  This idea of marshaling all of one's time, skills, brains, capital, resources and connections toward production of something valuable and worthwhile is known as the "work ethic." A strong work ethic has been at the root of the achievements of every successful person, company, community and nation.  This is right and proper, and furthermore, an immutable law of life.

However, in recent decades, it seems that people no longer subscribe to this idea.  To the modern young person of the day, work ethic seems to represent a caving in of one's principles, a cowardly act of submission to "the man."  Many oppose the traditional work ethic, proclaiming that in their brave new world of technology, more will be produced with less, and there will be no need to work hard, just the need to work enough.  Some people today talk about the evils of the J-O-B, so phrased, as nothing more than misplaced loyalty to classes higher than your own, destined to enrich others at the expense of your blood sweat and tears.  Others are just too goddamned lazy to even consider that hard work may be of some value to them.  In truth, I have some sympathy with all of these people.

However, they are wrong, and the problem is deeper than the lifestyle designers would let you believe; it cannot be solved simply by changing your definition of work.  You can curse those uptight Pilgrims, and laugh at the nose-to-the-grindstone mentality of generations that came before us - but before you do, it bears remembering that no nation, community, company, or any group worth a tinker's damn was every created by a bunch of lazy-asses.

Life is not easy, and if you want anything good out of it, you will be required to work hard to get it - and if you're reading this, I'll wager that you'll have to work harder than you ever have to get it. Honestly, if you were working hard enough, you probably wouldn't be reading a blog post about getting a work ethic.  Accept that truth, mull it over, think about it, chew it up, digest it, make it part of yourself.  It bears repeating: if you are dissatisfied with your life in any way - any way - it means you aren't working hard enough.  You are too lazy.  You are not willing to do what it takes to have the life you want.

But never fear - you are in a club with a great many members.  You can continue to sit on your ass, doing less than you could, and you'll never be alone.  If you're reading this you want more.  In that case, also, never fear.  I spent a good deal of my adult life lazier than I should have been.  Through a good deal of trial and error, I learned how to develop my work ethic and cast off (most of) my laziness.  In the next few days, I'll offer some suggestions.