strategic consultant to:  

~ serial CEOs & CTOs in software, Internet, technology & digital media
~ experienced consultants in all fields to maximize their practices

As Fall approaches, I want to get all the administrivia done and put away before the Calvinist work ethic hits after Labor Day, and all our focus goes into work until the holidays at the end of the year.  I can feel the momentum building even as folks disappear on their late-Summer holidays. 

So, I thought to share a tactic in time management that has worked for me for decades.  It is a low-tech way of tracking what you actually spend your time on, so you can prioritize, and then re-focus your discipline on what needs to get done to move your business forward. 

Our goal here is to get most of our time committed to revenue or capital-generating efforts, followed by efforts in visibility and awareness for our companies.  We want to minimize administration, putting out of fires, and wasted managerial efforts and interruptions.

This is written for consulting practices, but if you are an entrepreneur running a business, simply substitute “project” or “deal” or “capital raising” or some other appropriate categories for “clients” under “Billable Time.”  Your job in driving the vision and visibility of your company is Marketing and Networking.   “Administration” includes managing others and “putting out fires.”

This simple system takes only a few minutes each day, and a review once a month (another few minutes).  Of course you can use any high-tech tools you like, or you can scribble on your (paper/electronic) calendar.  Here it is: 

Do the numbers; you can’t begin to manage your time if you don’t know precisely how you are spending your time.  Begin tracking & tallying your time.  Every day, track the time spent on these categories:

  • Total time spent working.
  • Billable time for clients.
  • Marketing and networking time: speaking, writing, going to networking events to meet prospects; prospecting; proposal writing, negotiating, etc. This is everything that goes into finding, closing and upselling a client.
  • Administration:  bookkeeping; insurance hassles; banking issues; directing your staff or assistant; cleaning the desk; filing; and so on.
  • Even though you are sitting at your desk, do not count as total time: phone calls to your girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband/kids/best friend/cousin/mother; staring at the wall; wandering aimlessly; blogging and social networking (unless it is part of Marketing); online shopping/websurfing/video watching; instant messaging, throwing the iChing, downloading your music, watching television; planning your social life, etc.
  • Tally the time every week and every month:  Add up the total time, then each category time. Divide the total time by the category time to get a percentage.
  • Let’s say you spent 50 total hours this week on Billable time + Marketing + Administration.  What percentage of the total was committed for each category?  Let’s say you spent 15 hours on Administration (30%) and 15 hours on Billable time (30%) and 20 hours on Marketing (40%). 
  • Not bad.  Is your score so good?  Did you commit 70% of your time to client work and prospecting? Did you spend 50 hours working? If you spent 50 hours working and 15 hours in non-billable pursuits at your desk – no wonder you feel as if you work all the time!

Set these goals:

  • Set actual total working hours to at least 40 hours per week, or whatever is appropriate to your work and life.
  • Get Administration to less than 10%.  This may take an investment in time, training and technology, but it will pay off over the years (later, get it to less than 5%).  Do this by simplifying your processes, updating your email clients and data bases, learning to use software that saves time; hiring help if you can afford it; outsourcing web updates, transcriptions, etc.; consolidating all business expenses to a single credit card and having bills automatically paid to this credit card (preferably the one with airline miles). 
  • Commit that all working hours not on billable time will be spent on marketing and networking, except for the 5-10% of unavoidable Administration.
  • Minimize interruptions of your time . Set brief, frequent staff meetings,  Try daily for 15-30 minutes, with a 15 minute check-in time near the end of the day, if this suits your schedule. Conference calls can suffice. Train your staff to hold all non-urgent issues and communication until these times.
  • Set aside 2-4 hours to focus on Administration, at the most appropriate time (Friday afternoons? End of week?  End of month?  When bills are due?)  Turn off the phone as if you are in a meeting, and focus.  Have your assistant available if that helps.  The Administration will get done more quickly this way, and it will not haphazardly interfere with the flow of your work for clients, capital, and marketing.

You may be surprised at how little you actually work on Billable time, and how your other time disappears.  You may be surprised at how little you actually work.  The only way to know is to track it.  And be honest — lying doesn’t help this system.  If you try it, let me know how it worked for you.