This is something that I usually end up doing close to the end of the year, it allows me to get a really wide-scope picture of what happened during the current year, reflect on that (i.e. think to myself, 'That's it?") and then try to pinpoint the spots that could be adjusted for bigger impact. Make sense? Erm... no? Ok, let's put some thoughts down on paper... (screen...)
I'm a big fan of metrics. Metrics can either be the method by which you measure something or the measurement itself. Metrics are cool because almost everything is measurable if you spend the time and thought on figuring out how to measure it. And then when you measure it, you can figure out if there is a way of making the metric better.
For example - I realized that I spend approximately the same number of hours a week on paperwork no matter how many contracts come in that week, how many checks come in or how many clients we have.... because going to the bank with one check takes the same amount of time as going to the bank with three checks, same with the post office. There is a time save if you batch tasks like going through all contracts or writing all memos at once, so let's assume I do that instead of spreading it throughout the week.
I already know that if I set aside X hours each week to do all my paperwork at once (and related errands) that I'm going to save time. But I'm still using a lot more time than I'd like and I could be doing other things with that time --
So I came up with a metric-system:
I figured out approximately how much my time is worth:
(how much money I make each year) / ((how many hours a week I work) x 48 (weeks)) = My Hourly Rate
And then I go through and say: for X task -- how much do I make off this task on an hourly scale? (let's call this Y rate)
If Y rate is less than my hourly rate I ask myself two questions:
1) Do I need to be the person doing this? And don't be that person who says "It will only get done right if I do it..." or if you are that person ask yourself, does it really, really, really need to be done right? I mean, my kids kinda stink at setting the table, but so what if they don't fold the napkins correctly? It's still done. And I didn't have to do it!
Ok -- if the answer is no to this: -- OUTSOURCE IT. It cost me $60 to send out my laundry, which would take me 3 hours (or $300) to do myself. Um... Send that baby out!
2) If the answer is yes, you absolutely need to be doing the work yourself... the next question you ask is: Am I doing it as effectively and efficiently as possible?
So I spent (way too much) time on developing a way of automating the paperwork systems. Basically, I designed a flow chart for a database that will eliminate more than 65% of the paperwork we now complete, shuffle around, copy, print, file, mail, etc. I also designed the database so that our clients had access to their records (and could access it freely, which will probably cut down on the number of related-questions that we get from our clients regarding updates), it also allows them to update their contact information and material directly (which saves time and effort on material going back and forth and potentially getting lost). THIS WILL SAVE SO MUCH TIME AND EFFORT!!
Obviously this took me some time to figure out... but, what is a few hours now in relation to all the time that I'll save over the course of my lifetime doing this paperwork? I get giggly just thinking about it. On Monday I'm going to pitch this project to various programmers and see who will offer the best price for developing it and then off it goes.
-- Maybe you're not as obsessive about your metrics as I am. But here are some reasons why I think you should be:
Metrics are only cool (useful) if you have a question you need answered... Here are some (fun) questions you might want to consider asking:
1. Would it be more productive to clean my house or write?
2. Does it make more sense to shower in the morning or at night?
3. Should I send queries out in batches of 5, 10, or X?
4. How fast can I drive, and stay as close to the speed limit as possible, in order to make it home by curfew? Which route should I take?
5. Would I make more money as a laundress in a third world country than I would, in reality, when I calculate exactly how much my advance comes out in hourly rates? (don't do this one... it'll depress you)
6. Would it really be a bad idea to have chocolate ice cream for breakfast?
7. What's the one thing I could get rid of that would free up the most of my time? (Your spouse) (haha -- kidding) (sort of)
...Now this may sound like I use metrics to justify things, but that's absolutely not true. Justifying means you've already made your decision and are now trying to prove that you made the right one. Using metrics is a way of deciding which decision is the right one. It just so happens that it is more productive for me to read a new manuscript or talk to my clients than it is to clean my bathroom. I'm quite happyw ith that...
Please feel free to let go of guilt associated with not being perfect and being able to handle everything all on your own. I think that as people of the modern technology age we should take FULL advantage of automatic bill pay, grocery deliveries, laundry services and housekeepers.
...and that way I don't have to hear you complain that you don't have enough time to write.
OH!!!! If you want some great reading for ...um... this week, go check out:
The 4-Hour Work Week (I LOVE THIS BOOK WITH A PASSION - I'm not sure I'd want to follow it, I like working, but... it's still a cool, cool book)
Am-Bitch-ous (which is a lot about how striving for the work-life balance is a game not worth playing and how to bypass that whole thing and being OK with the fact that you're making decision and priorities that you shouldn't have to apologize for).