Discipline is the mother of all things worthwhile: innovation, strength, wealth, health, knowledge, and of course…success. If you have any intention whatsoever of reaching your goal of becoming a successful web professional, then you must get disciplined about your time.
Before you think this is going to shape out to be some kind of lecture, I would like to confess: I am a terrible manager of time. I suffer from SOS, or Shiny Object Syndrome.
Being a sales junky, I love opportunities. I crave to chase a deal and win. This makes managing my time difficult. But, the more discipline I have found over the years, not only have I achieved greater success, but I’ve also had a lot more fulfilling experience in life and my business.
Early in my web design career, I had no idea how to manage my time. I woke up in the morning and just thought, “I need to get to work.” The result was that I overworked in certain areas of my business and underworked in others.
The Rollercoaster of Feast & Famine
I’m sure you’ve been there…tons of projects, working hard, just trying to get everything done. Then you finish a bunch of work and realize that there is nothing new in the pipe.
“But I felt so busy? Where did it all go?”
This happened to me over and over. I would win a bunch of business and then get to work. I would completely forget about selling, marketing, and anything except the task at hand.
The bad habit created gaps in my cashflow. One of the early stage issues we had was rollercoaster cashflow. One month we would make a big paycheck, and then it would be dry while we went out and hunted for new business.
Part of this problem is understanding how to divide and conquer roles if you have others to rely on. But if it’s just you, then you need to divide your time up into the various roles of your business.
Because I lacked the knowledge about how to keep a balanced business focus, I really struggled to get out of the feast and famine cycle. This cycle can be vicious. Unfortunately I have known several web pros that had to bail on their businesses because the famine cycle hit to hard and they had to get real jobs.
Assuming you want to exit the bumpy roller coaster and jump into a sweet uphill ride to prosperity, the following is my prescription to help you conquer lack of discipline and time management.
Dump Your Memory
The first step in finding discipline in your business is to stop using your brain to store valuable information about your tasks and priorities.
Our brains are great for processing information, making decisions, and being creative. What they aren’t so good at is storing a ton of information. Web design and internet marketing are detail oriented jobs. Lots of little tasks pile up fast.
It’s a waste of time and energy to use your brain to try to keep track of all of that information.
If you aren’t familiar with Getting Things Done (or GTD), I suggest looking into it. I have developed kind of my own Cliff Notes version that I’ve implemented in my own life.
My primary board is called CEO, for my job title. It is my task board. I’ve created the following lists:
These are things that are low priority. But, I don’t want to forget them. I might take care of a later item while sitting in the waiting area of the DMV or waiting in line at the Post Office. Later is not about “long term vision,” it’s about, “I’ll get to it.”
These are items that I need to get done within the next 1-2 weeks. This is where you should add priority tasks as they come in.
What you are actively working on/getting done. Ideally you are dragging items over from This Week to your Today board. Sometimes it gets a little hectic though. I tend to find myself in a lot of meetings with a lot of people with many items competing for my today time. Be realistic.
Any task that is out of your hands, but not completed yet goes here. This list has been one of the best inventions in my life. It allows me to keep tabs on projects or tasks that I don’t need to focus on, but not quite ready to forget about yet.
I create a list for every Friday of every week. The most recent week always hugs up against my Waiting On list. As I complete tasks, I move them over to my done list for that week. I keep the most recent 6 weeks of completed weeks active on my CEO board before I archive.
Here is what my board currently looks like today (I didn’t tidy anything up, it is what it is).
I started with Ryan Carson’s approach, but as you can see from above, I slightly modified it to fit my work habits. As you begin to use Trello to manage your work tasks, modify it to work for you. One thing I have learned is that it’s easy to over-add to my CEO board. I always want to do more.
But sometimes that can feel overwhelming and I can find a lot of noise getting mixed into things that need real prioritizing. On a daily level, you should re-prioritize your This Week and Today lists. Weekly, go in and do some pruning. Remove things that are possible distractions or not critical to you moving your business forward.
As you get the hang of dumping your tasks and priorities to Trello, I recommend adding some other boards so you can create even more space in your brain.
Here are a few of mine:
Ever wake up in the middle of the night with a crazy product, service, or company idea? I get that out of my head as soon as possible. I write a subject and then comment on the card to add some depth to whatever the idea is. I have written some crazy things down, but have found that getting these out of my head creates space for the next, not so crazy idea. On my ideas board, I have lists for my blog, questions from fans for our Q & A Thursday series, and each website I operate. This board gives me a great place to turn to when it’s time to brainstorm. I don’t have to sit there saying, “I had this great idea! But I can’t remember, give me a minute…” I always have the idea ready.
I hate hunting down new material when it comes to learning and entertainment. I live on recommendations from others. The problem is that I can never remember that title or author or website to check when I actually have downtime. I created this board and have corresponding lists for each type of content. I just checked my board and saw “One Republic” in my music column…can’t remember where I heard them, but I just hit play on “Counting Stars” and it’s fantastic.
At uGurus, we’ve begun creating Trello boards for projects and group collaboration. It’s not quite as fancy as some of the PM tools out there, and we still use Podio for external contributor collaboration, but the simplicity makes it an excellent way to manage tasks in a group environment. Each project we do as a team gets a board and we assign cards to people involved at the micro level.
Once you’ve dumped your memory to Trello, you are going to free up a lot of brain power to do the things that are important to your business.
Creating Sanctuaries of Balance
No matter where you are at in your web practice, you’ll need to create time to do all of the following:
- Market -Getting in front of qualified prospects
- Sell – Interacting with a qualified prospect
- Produce – Creating whatever it is you sold
- Support – Maintaining projects you’ve already built
- Operations – Billing, systems, and overhead
All of these components will affect your overall business health. If you neglect any of them for a sustained period of time, you will run into problems.
Let’s take sales for example. If it takes you on average three weeks to go from prospect to signed deal with a check in your hand, that means you are at least three weeks from getting income once you actually meet a qualified prospect. If you keep your head down in a project and neglect your sales pipeline, than you are at least three weeks out from a new project once you pull your head up.
Add on to that the time it takes you to find a qualified prospect (marketing). If that is two weeks, then you are at five weeks before your next deposit check.
However, if all you do is sell, the existing projects you’ve taken on might get a little stinky and end up blowing up in your face.
Striking a balance is key.
When I consult with web professionals, one of the first tactics I introduce them to is time tracking. Not just for their projects, but for all aspects of their business. Time tracking doesn’t mean that you need to necessarily get a time logger or something.
The simplest way to track your time is to plan your time.
This becomes a bit of a numbers game. If you are aiming at $100,000 per year income, you need to bill about $2,000 per week which equals 20 hours at $100 per hour.
(If those aren’t your numbers, just mess with them to make them work for your business.)
So you know that you need to carve out 50% of your forty hour work week to production. Which leaves the other 50% for the other activities I mentioned. Since support should be production and a profitable part of it, you need to fit marketing, sales, and operations into the other 50% of your activities.
My recommendation would be to do 20% sales, 10% marketing, and 10% operations. That should add up to 90% of your week. The remaining 10% should be allocated to personal time.
Here is that schedule balanced on your calendar.
This calendar represents 40 hours of productivity with an hour for lunch each day (not part of the 40 hours). If you get busy, and you need to dedicate more time to production, then just turn the above into a 45 or 50 hour week.
What I wouldn’t suggest is to start carving into sales, marketing, and ops time in order to get projects done. This will only lead to future pain when you finish your project and you enter your famine cycle.
The above example can be reworked to fit your work cycle. Personally, I wake up at 6am, do some stretches and exercises, eat breakfast, and am in the saddle by 7:30am. I typically work until 6pm. This gives me a fifty hour workweek. A lot of times I pull a late night shift to take care of things I didn’t get to during the day but still want to wrap up.
As You Evolve Past the One-Man-Band
The time management exercise I just took you through assumes that you are a one man show, but the core concept remains the same as you bring on others into your enterprise.
Managing your time isn’t just about tracking it, but planning for it. Making sure that you are fulfilling all of your “hats” to the best of your abilities. If you bring on additional team members who start doing production work for you, then that time might surrender to more time selling and marketing to fill the pipe for your expanding team.
Since selling my web company last year and shifting gears to helping web professionals build successful businesses at uGurus, I still use a rough version of the above.
Instead of producing websites, I produce online courseware. Instead of writing emails to my clients, I write emails to our subscribers. I know that if I don’t block out two hours every morning for writing blog posts, I won’t ever get to it. My email box is always calling my name. If I don’t block out time to do video interviews, course planning, and support every other day, I will let other things get in the way.
When you dump your memory to Trello and keep a balanced diet of your priorities, you’ll begin to wrangle in that time management beast.
So what are you waiting for?
Setup your Trello board. Dump all of your todos and nagging ideas to lists. Define your hats. Commit a percentage of time to each. Create an overlay calendar so that you can schedule your meetings, priorities, and time to fit your intentions.
This will get you out of the feast and famine cycle and on track to a more fulfilled business and life.