How to Escape the Debate Loop

The Endless Loop is a set of instructions that lacks a functional exit so it repeats indefinitely until it is terminated by some external action or force. The term comes from the computer programming world.

It’s also the thing that sabotages professional careers and businesses.

The endless debate loop happens when you find yourself debating which step(s) to take to improve your professional and personal life – but you’re not exploring them.

The unchecked debate loop can take on a life of its own as your active imagination creates stories about why exploring options is a bad idea, too hard, too complicated, or that you might not like what discover. Or that maybe you will like what you discover and then have to make a choice?

I’ve seen so many successful professionals and business owners who’ve come to regret getting caught in the debate loop. Like Harry, who had a successful dental practice. His internal debate loop around retirement lasted nearly 10 years until time and the market left him with few choices.

Here’s how to escape your endless loops.

First, name it. Call it what it is. When you give it a name you give your brain the ability to think clearly about it and figure out how to solve it.

Second, write down what you hope to accomplish. You’re probably debating how to get someplace, but not where you want to go. Getting clear on the destination will help you set waypoints to achieve. The route comes after you set the destination.

Third, pick just one of the options you are debating and give yourself the assignment to investigate it – just as you would if you were assessing a case or a new project for someone else. Pick a defined date to report out what you’ve found – even if it isn’t complete.

Finally, stop trying to do this by yourself. I’ve escaped multiple debate loops because I had the right coach at my side. They helped me learn to ask better questions, evaluate results, make better choices and avoid regressing back to debate loops.

What’s one debate loop you’d love to escape?

Doug BrownHow to Escape the Debate Loop
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More Time Won’t Solve These Problems

I’ve been teaching time management strategies to lawyers for more than 20 years.

Most attorneys come to our CLEs for tips and strategies – many of which they’ve heard before – like time-blocking, scheduling the whole appointment, turning off notifications, and working in block time.

But all the best tips in the world aren’t going to solve the underlying problems that cause the time to get away from nearly everyone.

So let’s look behind the curtain at the real issues. You’re going to have to address those if you want to get better at “time management” so you can ultimately find happiness and satisfaction in your work.

The deeper issues fall neatly into 6 categories:

  1. Attitude and Mindset around time, change, and getting stuff done.
  2. Strategy and Planning.
  3. Setting Priorities
  4. Scheduling
  5. Focusing
  6. Delegating

Ready for the quiz?

Use the attached self-assessment to grade yourself in each category. And then pick a single area to work on each month – one at a time.
Take Your Free Self-Assessment

Work on the underlying issues and you’ll be on your way to giving yourself the time freedom you crave.

Have a great rest of the week.

Oh, and if you’d like a free to debrief session on your self-assessment just
Click Here and we’ll set it up. But don’t wait. I’ve only got a few of these sessions available this month and you don’t want to miss yours.


Doug BrownMore Time Won’t Solve These Problems
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How to Move Faster with Fewer Mistakes

You’d like everyone to move more quickly – and get more done, faster.

But when you’ve tried that before the error rate has gone way up – and you can’t afford the mistakes.

What if there was a way to get things done more quickly and make fewer mistakes at the same time?

What kind of difference would that make to you?

How much better would your business be if you could increase production by just 5%?

Yes, I thought so.

Here’s the secret.

And it’s one that most professionals resist implementing in their business.

It is the written standard operating procedure (aka SOP).

I know, just the idea of SOPs turns off many professionals.

They see them as a business thing – or they believe that each interaction is so unique that it can’t possibly be standardized.

Or they like the idea, but it feels like too much work – and who’s got time for that?

If this is all new to you then start simply with a checklist.

The written checklist is your reminder of the tasks or processes that need to happen.

The procedure (or SOP) is the more detailed document that gives the how, who, when, and where for the task.

Starting with a checklist will keep you from getting tangled up in all that detail.

Here’s how to start:

  1. Define the goal for the checklist. For example, it might be a specific step in the client intake or setup process. Or it might be around billing and collecting accounts receivable.
  2. Decide what kind of checklist you want. Do you want the person using the checklist to do each item as it’s read, or as a confirmation of the steps at the end?
  3. Write it with the Expert in Mind. Assume that the person running the checklist is fully qualified to do the job. This isn’t a “how-to” it’s a reminder to make sure it’s done.
  4. Keep it Short. Checklists are NOT an education tool. It should have no more than 6 to 10 tasks that take a minute or two to check off. If you need a longer one then you need multiple checklists.
  5. Test, Review, and Improve. Checklists are designed to be printed, written on, tested, and improved. Yes, you have to actually tick the box!

Oh, by the way, you should not do this all by yourself. Enlist your staff and work on the project together. After all, they are the experts described in item 3, above.

Doug BrownHow to Move Faster with Fewer Mistakes
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It’s Not Complicated. Simple is Better.

“Business schools reward difficult complex behavior more than simple behavior, but simple behavior is more effective.” ~ Warren Buffett

Simple is more effective.

One of the most simple practices I’ve used to take control of my business and my life in this is gratitude.

I used to think that gratitude was something that was satisfying or brought me joy.

Then I discovered I had it wrong.

Gratitude doesn’t come last. It can come first.

A gratitude practice can cause satisfaction, wellness, and joy.

Yeah, the business guy is talking about joy. But why not?

Don’t we deserve joy once in a while?

It’s not a spiritual thing

My gratitude practice has never been a spiritual or metaphysical quest for a higher state of being.

I started it on the advice of my coach at one of the lowest points in my professional life.

I figured, “what the heck, I’ve got nothing to lose”.

It was difficult at first. And after a while, I started to feel the difference.

Differences I later learned are supported by scientific studies, like:

  • Lower stress
  • Better ability to deal with overwhelm
  • Sleeping better (because it had become pretty elusive)
  • More focus to work my way out of the situation I was in
  • Improved resilience to roll with the punches
  • Improved relationships – which helped to lower stress.
  • Giving myself space to have fun – and appreciate it.

A gratitude practice is a really simple idea.

But it doesn’t mean it’s easy to adopt or maintain so you get the benefits I found.

Luckily the critical thinking skills that make you a successful executive can help you find the things you can be grateful for – even in the most difficult and unfortunate of times.

There are so many ways you can practice gratitude. Here are 4 simple steps to get you going.

  • Commit. Simple things don’t work immediately. The real benefits come over time through consistent practice. Be prepared for some immediate wins, followed by backsliding, and then more progress. You are learning a new skill and you’re bound to fall down – just like my kids when they learned to ski. Don’t give up.
  • Start, Imperfectly. Just start doing it. Right now. Take a deep breath. Think back on the last 24 hours. Identify a single thing you are grateful for. It could be a big thing, like a relationship, or something very simple. Don’t judge. Just identify. Keep it simple.
  • Write it down. Getting your thoughts into writing makes them real and out of your head – which is a pretty busy place where stuff gets lost. When you write it down you will process it and remember more effectively. This practice has helped me through some of life’s most stressful times – and to remember some of the most joyous. Use paper. Yes, paper. Writing things by hand requires more engagement of your brain and physical systems which makes it more effective. And if you don’t like paper, use a stylus and a handwriting app on your tablet (I use Penultimate with Evernote). Or type it. Just do it.
  • Share Your Gratitude. Make the effort to say “Thank You” regularly. It might be for little courtesies at the store or the delivery person. You could reach out and say thank you to a client for trusting you, or a referral source. Or a friend for just being there. What would it be like to make an intentional effort to say “thank you” in a sincere and genuine way, just three more times a day?

Prompts can help you get started if you are stuck. Here are some that I like and use:

  • People. Start with family and think of one individual person and one thing you’re grateful for about them or your time together. You can do the same thing for friends, clients, referral sources. The list gets pretty long when you think about it.
  • Places. Your home, or your community. Places you’ve traveled, vacations you’ve taken.
  • Moments. Something you are looking forward to. A happy or satisfying memory. A time when you turned around a difficult situation. It could be a simple as the place where you enjoy your morning coffee.
  • Your career. What you’ve accomplished. The people you’ve helped. What your job has allowed you to accomplish.
  • Yourself. Your knowledge, skills, and abilities. Your relationship. Your ability to learn and solve problems. Your energy, passion, and presence.

I am grateful for the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives and in the businesses of my clients – and the people in my world. Maybe even my dear readers, like you.

The best part is that the people I work with all have the ability to achieve their goals.

And I get to be their guide, to help them do the work and find simple solutions so they can live the life they were meant to live.

“You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. Once you get there, you can move mountains”. – Steve Jobs

How will you simplify this week?

Doug BrownIt’s Not Complicated. Simple is Better.
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Why Aren’t You Delegating?

Your to-do list is packed full of more stuff than you’ll ever complete.

You’re stressed out because you feel like you need to be everything to everyone – everywhere all the same time.

You’re so busy with what’s right in front of you that work you know you must do keeps getting kicked to next week, and the week, after that – and then next month. Well, maybe next year.

There is a way to break the cycle and retake control of your business – and your life.

It’s called delegation.

Hold on … I know you know it is important to delegate things, and that delegating will save you time and make you more money.

But you’ve got good reasons why you’re not doing it – or not doing it well. Some of the common excuses for not delegating are:

  1. I have to do it myself
  2. It takes too long to delegate/I do it faster, better
  3. I don’t have the time to learn how to do it well
  4. I don’t have anyone to delegate to
  5. Other people can’t meet my standards (perfectionist)
  6. I can’t trust the work to the people I have on my team
  7. I’ll just have to redo the work I get back anyway
  8. I’ve tried it before, and it just doesn’t work for me.

These stories (aka excuses) will keep you from growing your practice. They will bring you to work early, and keep you late each night – and absorb your weekends. All while your people work regular hours and enjoy the life that you’d like to be enjoying.

I get it. Delegating is hard.

It’s doubly difficult because few people have received proper training on how to delegate well – and to address all of the messy people issues that come with it.

Effective delegation can be learned.

You’re going to need TRUST others, and yourself.

It requires SKILLS. It’s not just about the skills of the people on your team. You are going to need to build and practice your own skills in delegation and the development of your people.

You must have a PROCESS so that you consistently execute the steps to effective delegation, management and leadership.

I’ll talk about each of these areas in future posts.

For now, let’s unpack some of the top reasons why professionals avoid delegating.


Time objections include the time it takes to explain it to someone else or how long the person will take to complete the task. It feels faster to do it yourself.

The problem with this one is it might actually be true initially.

The truth is that for routine, repetitive tasks that don’t require your skill and expertise, the time you spend you spend creating a system to delegate the work and training people to do the work is an investment in your future that pays off many many times over.

It takes longer at first, but once you got it, you will significantly accelerate whatever the process is that you’d like to delegate.

It ultimately frees up your time to do the work you like to do – and that creates real value in your business.

No People

The second obstacle is that you don’t feel like you have somebody to delegate the work to.

This might be especially true if you’re in an office by yourself or with one other person. And so you conclude that you can’t delegate because there are no people to delegate it to.

In today’s virtual interconnected workplace it’s easier than ever to delegate work to people who are not physically present in your office. You can also outsource to specialists without hiring them as employees or having them travel to your office.

This applies to everything from bookkeeping, to marketing, to answering the phones to doing professional and administrative work.

You’re only limited by your imagination and your delegation and management skills.

The effort that you put into figuring out what exactly you need to have done and delegating it and supervising it pays off many times over.


The third obstacle to delegating effectively is trust.

You’re going to need strategies to build trust in the skills of others and in their ability to keep information secure and confidential.

The other part of the trust is trusting yourself and having the confidence that you can figure out exactly what needs to happen and how it needs to happen and that you can manage it properly.

One of the insidious little problems with this is that when you delegate work to someone else and you want to build trust, there are going to be times when things don’t work out the way you want. It’s part of the learning process.

You’ll have to have a process not only on how to delegate the initial work but to retain responsibility, authority, and control. And to have a potentially difficult conversation with the person to whom you delegated the work about how their work may or may not be meeting the standard and how to improve.

I’ve seen so many professionals who avoid delegating because they are not comfortable having these difficult conversations. Instead, they tolerate situations that make their life more complicated.

The Fix

The fix is to recognize that delegating is a skill that can be learned.

If you’re determined to be in control of your future – and have the life you’ve always wanted then make it your business to learn and develop your delegation skills.

Start by considering how delegation is working for you now – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Here are a few questions to get you started:

  1. Are there things you feel like you should be delegating but you aren’t doing it? Why not?
  2. Do you have a defined process for delegation and completion of work? How is it working?
  3. Do your people have the skills they need to do the work you need them to do?
  4. How confident are you in your delegation, supervision, and follow-up skills? Do you have a routine and a process or do you just wing it? How’s that working for you?
  5. When is the last time you received feedback from your team on how you’re doing as a delegator?

What’s your #1 challenge in delegating work? Leave a comment below and let’s talk.

P.S… Delegating well is a skill it takes a lifetime to master. And just when you think you’re done – your not. Mastery doesn’t come by reading a blog post, a book, or a checklist. Masters become masters because they have a guide to help them along the way. If you’re interested in mastery of delegation skills and your practice – and seeing whether I’d be a good guide for you then click here and let’s talk

Doug BrownWhy Aren’t You Delegating?
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Escape the “Always On” Trap …

Our most difficult leadership challenge is the 6″ space between our own ears. It’s a mind and mindset game that can feel rigged against us.

Especially when you’re the “continuous improvement” person who is relentless about always trying to be better, think better, be more positive, and optimize your life. Only to feel like you’re chasing smoke.

You know that always being on isn’t the answer, but you never feel quite right when you are off.

You might describe it as the need to be invincible or bulletproof.

Or you might feel like you must be everything to everyone always, continually falling short of impossible expectations.

In his book The Practice of Groundedness, Brad Stulberg describes this as “Heroic Individualism”.

And it’s not a good thing.

Heroic Individualism is an unwinnable, “ongoing game of one-upmanship, against both yourself and others, paired with the limiting belief that measurable achievement is the only arbiter of success.

Even if you do a good job hiding it on the outside, with heroic individualism you chronically feel like you never quite reach the finish line that is lasting fulfillment.”

I felt like Brad was talking to me – and many of my clients too.

He also offers a solution with his Principles of Groundedness:

  1. Accept where you are to get where you want to go.
  2. Be present so you can own your attention and energy.
  3. Be patient and you’ll get there faster.
  4. Embrace vulnerability to develop genuine strength and confidence.
  5. Unlock the Power of Deep Community.
  6. Move your body to ground your mind.

I love these principles because of their power and simplicity. That doesn’t mean they are easy to implement. But nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

I’ve found #4 – embracing vulnerability – to be the most difficult to implement. Especially in professional cultures where it is viewed as a weakness to be exploited. And that’s what makes it so powerful for breaking the always on cycle of the heroic individualist.

Working on yourself, and your mindset, is not selfish. Quite the opposite. It increases your capacity to live your best life, and be your best for the people who need you the most.

Which of the six principles has been most important to your leadership journey?

Doug BrownEscape the “Always On” Trap …
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Time Management is a Waste of Time … Manage This Instead


The key to more productivity and less stress is not time management. It is energy management.

The world’s best productivity strategies don’t work if you don’t have the energy to put them into

action – and stick with them.

The reality of time management – and why it doesn’t work

Time is relentless and continuous. We can’t speed it up, slow it down, or have a do-over. Yet here we are playing a game of beat-the-clock we can’t win.

What’s worse is that so many professions (like lawyers) are built on the notion of trading time for money – a losing proposition to be sure.

If you only make more money by working more then you don’t really have a sustainable business. You’re just setting yourself up for burnout and exhaustion.

So when we say “time management” we are really talking about making better choices about how we use our time.

And that’s good because you can be in control of your time choices.

Manage energy first 

When you focus on managing your energy you will make better choices about mostly everything – including how you invest your time. You will also feel more in control, and less stressed out.

Thinking about energy management in four buckets really helped me with my energy management:

– Physical energy is about your health and fitness. It provides the power for everything, and it is a finite resource. Elements include the things you may take for granted – or skimp on, like sleep, exercise, nutrition, and periods of rest and recovery.

– Mental energy is about your focus and attention. It is the element that helps you avoid distractions, solve problems and do the intellectual work of being a leader and a professional.

– Emotional energy describes the quality of your interactions with the world, and yourself. It is about emotions and attitudes around the work you do. Negative energy depletes your physical and mental energy faster and makes it harder to recharge. The opposite is also true.

– Spiritual energy provides a perspective based on your purpose and position in the world – and your need for contribution and meaning. When you are working in alignment with your purpose and mission this can feed into the other energy types. The opposite is also true.

Here are some top strategies that I teach (and use) to create, protect, and focus physical, mental, and emotional energy for lawyers and business professionals.

Jettison the Energy Busters

Energy busters are the people, situations, habits, and activities that consume energy without adding value.

Energy busters are everywhere and they can be hard to identify – like the apps in the background are forever draining your cell phone battery. If you look closely you’ll start to see them.

They are distractions from your phone, texting, social media, internet surfing, or the pile of stuff around your desk that you finally decide to organize, or the dog that needs walking.

You’ll also find the energy vampires, or for vintage SNL fans, Debbie Downers.

Once you identify the energy busters pick one that has the most negative impact on your physical, emotional, or mental energy. Then take steps to reduce or eliminate it. One at a time.

Now, you may find that your clients, co-workers, or the type of work you are practicing all occupy the top of your energy buster’s list. It happens.

And there is often a fix that is less extreme than firing your clients, quitting your practice, and jetting off to Bora Bora (as nice as that may sound). And yes, we can help with that.

Accumulate Energy Boosters 

Identify the things in your life and your work that give you energy and be intentional about fostering those activities and relationships.

Our energy follows our focus. I am not suggesting that you only focus on positive things – because that’s not realistic. However, I find that you can get an energy boost from a negative situation when you focus on what you can learn and do differently that is within your control.

The key is focusing on what you control – and while you can’t control the world around you, you can control how you respond (rather than react) to it.

Try this out for a week.

Be intentional every morning about managing your energy.

Something physical. Something mental. And something emotional.

Check in with yourself several times throughout the day and at the end of the day. You won’t be great all day, or even most of it.

But there will be moments to start, and then more to follow. I bet you’ll find a difference in many ways – including your relationship with time.

Let me know how it goes.


Doug BrownTime Management is a Waste of Time … Manage This Instead
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FOMO is Real

What if there was a way to discover and overcome the hidden obstacles that are keeping you from growing your firm into exactly what you want?

And what if you missed it?

Perhaps you saw the opportunity and a voice in your head said you don’t have time to do it.

Here’s another chance.

This past Wednesday we revealed how to Overcome 5 Hidden Obstacles to Growing Your Law Firm.

We were so happy to see so many people attending – and to get great feedback on strategies we shared.

Here’s your link to view the replay.

I used to be in the same trap that makes it so hard for lawyers to grow their businesses.

The day-to-day grind was so intense that I’d lose perspective and motivation.

It was all I could do to “get through” the next thing and hope the next week, month, or year would be better.

Then I made the shift that we described in the webinar.

When I reconnected with my values and what I wanted to create in the world everything changed for me.

I just needed to give myself permission to do it – and a system to follow.

If you would like some of that just check out the replay here.

And don’t listen to the little voice in your head saying you don’t have time for this.

Doug BrownFOMO is Real
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High (Time) Anxiety

You’ve tried countless time management techniques and productivity strategies. Yet you still feel like you don’t have enough time – and that time is slipping away. The more you try to get better the worse it seems.

You might have time anxiety – the feeling that you never have enough time to meet your goals, or that you’re not maximizing the time you have. Time anxiety is a close cousin to productivity shame – that feeling you haven’t done enough.

Time anxiety isn’t another short-term spike in your already overloaded and stressed-out schedule. It is an emotional state that haunts you and causes procrastination on important tasks – and ultimately burnout.

You can’t just power through time anxiety.

It won’t get better by itself. Trust me on this one. To manage it you have to understand it and how it infects your thoughts.

Time anxiety shows up in a number of ways, including:

  1. Daily where you feel rushed, stressed, overwhelmed like there is not enough time in your day.
  2. Future where your brain obsesses about “what if’s” and all the things that might or might not happen.
  3. A life where you are anxious about the limited time you have to live your life – and you want to make the most before the finish line jumps out at you.

That’s a pretty daunting list. I know I’ve been in each of these places – sometimes all at once.

Here are a few strategies that have helped me get some relief from time anxiety:

Fix Your relationship with time

Lawyers have a really tough time with this because it seems our entire worth and value is tied to the billable hour. If you spend more time you are more valuable. If your billable rate is higher, you must be a better lawyer. Wrong. For most lawyers, your relationship and mindset about time is the first problem. So let’s accept some truths:

  1. Time exists, and it can’t be managed or controlled.
  2. You do control your energy, actions, and attitudes about time.
  3. Your value as a professional and a person is not time-centered.

Create a picture of time well spent

You get anxious about time when you feel like it is not well spent. But do you know what “well spent” is to you? Can you define it in advance – rather than just know it when you see it in the rearview mirror?

If you are like I was, your answer is probably “no”.

If you’d like to be in more control and cure some of that anxiety then make some time in your daily and weekly planning to visualize what “well spent” will mean when you review at the end of your day.

Get Real about your Production Capacity.

Do you believe that an eight-hour workday means you should expect eight hours of productivity?

How’s that working out for you?

When I started at a big firm we were expected to have 1,900 billable hours a year. Yeah, I know, your firm might expect a lot more. But let’s do the math. That’s 36.5 billable hours a week for 52 weeks a year. That is 7.3 hours per day in a 5 day week (or 5.2 in a 7 day week). This expectation alone sets you up for time anxiety and burnout – because our brains are just not wired for that kind of production.

Study after study shows that most people have, at best only 2.5 truly productive hours a day. So even if you are twice as better as average, you only have 5 hours a day – and that’s a stretch.

I don’t mean to increase your time anxiety. I only mean to make the point that you have to be really intentional about how you schedule your time and realistic about how much truly deep knowledge work you can expect to accomplish in a typical day – it’s probably 4 hours maximum, on a good day. So make sure you put the right tasks at the right time of day.

Don’t worry about maximizing time

This was a tough one for me. I always thought I should be making choices that gave the maximum benefit down the road. It was pretty stressful because I always felt anxious about whether I was making the right call, and whether it would limit my choices in the future. Of course, it did, but that’s not the point.

Psychologists have found that people who make choices according to a set of established, current criteria (what they call “satisficers”) make better choices with less stress and anxiety. To do that you need to be clear about the criteria that matter at the moment, and let them guide your actions.

This brings me all the way back to the importance of a healthy planning routine. But that’s a topic for another day.

You’ll have to work at curing time anxiety. And you need to be patient with yourself. Remember, you are trying to adjust a lifetime of embedded conditioning, and that takes – time.

If you’d like some help getting started just email me at and I’ll send you a free time management self-assessment.

Doug BrownHigh (Time) Anxiety
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Calendar Blocks – The Missing Piece

Mike is always running late. No matter how hard he tries he can’t seem to stay on schedule.

He is using time blocks for his appointments. He is even leaving the all-important white space between blocks as a shock absorber to deal with unexpected things. He’s still running late.

Mike is missing one important piece of his calendar block system. This one additional step made all the difference for him. It gave him more control, and he was late less often.

The missing piece is to schedule the whole appointment – including travel and transition time.

Let’s say that Mike has a 9:00 a.m. court appointment. And it will take him (on a good day) 30 minutes to get to the courthouse, another 10 minutes to park and get to the courtroom and be ready. He expects it will take an hour and then he’ll be back at the office.

Mike’s calendar block should start at 8:10 to 11:00, and say “Hearing for X Matter, 9-10 am at <location>”. The 8:10 start gives him time to travel and get in position with a little buffer. The 11:00 a.m. ending time does the same. That is scheduling the whole appointment.

His scheduling SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) would be not to schedule other appointments within 15 or 30 minutes of an existing one – to make sure he’s got the flex he needs in the schedule. His assistant would know the SOP and have access to his calendar to help him stay on track.

You are free to implement this idea in whatever way works for you. For example, some of my clients prefer to have separate blocks for travel, transit, preparation, and follow-up around their appointments.

Be like Mike. Schedule the whole appointment.

Let me know how it works for you.


P.S… Keep track of how long you expect things to take and what you actually experience. This will help you make more accurate estimates for your calendar blocks.

P.P.S. … You might also like my guide to Tame your To-Do List – which explains my 7 Bucket system to make your time blocks even more effective. Click here to get your copy.

Doug BrownCalendar Blocks – The Missing Piece
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