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Hard Landscape and Billable Hours

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  • Hard Landscape and Billable Hours

    As a work from home professional, I strive for about 12-15 hours of billable work a week minimum to meet my financial goals. This is usually not a problem during the school year, but during the summer when my kids are home from school, I struggle with where to squeeze it all in.

    In the summer, my day no longer has a routine structure to it. Summer days are peppered with chauffeuring kids to camp, summer practices, softball games and a handful of doctor appointments (stuff that doesn't fit well during our school schedule). I cram work in and around these calendared events, but I am constantly concerned that I am not getting enough billable time in. I track the time in quickbooks, so I know where I stand at the end of the day, but I'd like to find a balanced way to spread out the work instead of going through my NA list and find at the end of the week that I can't bill for any of it.

    So my question is this... where should I put billable time? Should it go on my calendar - like time box it somehow so I know that I have planned and force everyone and everything (including me) to stick to that rigid schedule or should it have it's own context maybe?

    I've tried scheduling it, but that makes it hard to know what is real and not real on my schedule sometimes. Especially when I'm trying to schedule my kids' dental exams and the appt. times are limited by the dentist's availability so I am forced to choose between the options they present to me and not pick my own time slot. I have to pause and think whether the appointment time they are offering my is conflicting with a time block I set for myself or a real work appointment like a scheduled client phone call.

    Another dilemma with time boxing is that I may block off 2 hours for project X, but find out 30 minutes into it that I need further direction from the client before continuing. That really throws off the planning for the day.

    Anyone have any ideas on managing billable time?

  • #2
    NOT on calendar

    Do NOT dress it up like an appointment and put it in your Calendar, unless you treat it on par with meetings with the IRS or a doctors' appointment. You'll have to rethink each one every time if you do that.

    Trying to plan out your day like that is setting yourself up for frustration. It is like planning based on the "hour-by-hour" weather forecast for tomorrow.... there are too many variables that can change the outlook.

    If you need more billable time, then you have a few options:

    a) setting yourself up so you can do more of the things on your various contexts at any given point. A simplistic example would be to get a cell phone if you only had a landline before.
    b) do less of other things that are not billable time (which may occur naturally as your priorities evolve and are clarified through Weekly reviews and reviewing from the various horizons.)
    c) do the same quantity of things, but do them more efficiently.

    As a general rule, though, it matters a lot more WHAT you are doing than HOW you are doing it.

    Let's suppose you, for whatever crazy reason, could only perform one billable hour per day, but you would be paid 5x as much per hour. The only catch is that you would have to accomplish as much as you do now in 2-3 hours. What would it take to double your output... if you only had to do it for one hour? Could an assistant help? Some particular type of software? How well rested would you have to be? What time of day would you be working? What would the ideal scenario be?

    If you spend a little time on that exercise, you may surprise yourself. I watched a colleague employ that technique and increase his hourly pay to 12x where he started, over 6 years. But when he's "on", he is really on... let's just say he never is surprised by a stapler with no staples during that hour.



    • #3
      John - I really appreciate that response. I was expecting a barrage of "schedule your time" ideas which I absolutely hate. I am very motivated to work (verging on workaholic status), I just don't like being told what to do and when to do it (which is partly why I became an entrepreneur).

      I do have the tools and systems to crank through things quickly. I think my new approach should be more along the lines of setting some mini-goals for the week and then cranking through them. This would keep the big projects and the billable stuff in front of me daily and not get lost in the sea of little non-project actions on my plate.

      I'm using Omnifocus for my GTD so perhaps flagging my weekly "goals" would be the most helpful.

      I should also disclose that when I'm not working on client stuff, I try to spend the other half of my work week on my art which brings in a separate reciprocal income. That income grows proportionately to the amount of new designs I launch so I am trying to guard that time as well (it is my long term goal to do the art full-time). Creativity does not follow a schedule (at least for me) so I like having the freedom to take an afternoon to draft out new ideas. It's still productive, it's just not given a specific time slot. I'm going to make myself a short list of the things I really need to finish by the end of this week and see how close I can get to that.



      • #4
        Ok - I had a little breakthrough on this and it seems to be working. I realized I hate cluttering up the calendar but I also wanted an accurate picture of how my week was shaping up and I think I struck gold!

        As I work, I log my time into google calendar. Basically I am creating appointments on the fly. This has a couple of benefits...

        Obviously, it gives me the history I want to look back and see if I need to focus more on client work or back off and make room for my art projects. So rather than trying to structure my day, I use the previous few days to gauge what I should or shouldn't be focusing on. If it looks like I need to crank out more billable work, then I can see that right away according to color (each of my focus areas is a separate color-coded google calendar).

        The second benefit is that I am more focused on the task at hand and less likely to be distracted. When I know I'm going to be logging it to my calendar, I am more disciplined about staying on track with what I am doing and I am also working longer stretches at a time.

        Not sure if this will help anyone, but it's working for me. I didn't have anything scheduled for today and I'm cranking out work like crazy and feeling very productive.


        • #5
          glancing over your posts I can see you are billing by the hour as an entrepreneur. Huge mistake. I myself am elf-employed too, and I always charge on a per project basis. I urge you to put some research in this specific topic, from fellow to fellow so to speak. Maybe your industry is too regulated and you have to get a little bit creative there, but if you charge per hour you are shortchanging yourself.


          • #6
            Potential source for support

            Reading how you create appointments on the fly reminded me very clearly of the Printable CEO - that may help you too (forms with the intent of providing that review/control capability)



            • #7
              Thanks - my business is a mix of set project prices and pay-by-the hour jobs. I am mostly on target with my estimates and I much prefer billing for a project instead of by the hour. When I say "billable time" I mean time to either work on those projects or the hourly jobs. In other words, I just want to be sure I leave enough room in my schedule to complete the work that delivers the paycheck.


              • #8
                Originally posted by Cpu_Modern View Post
                glancing over your posts I can see you are billing by the hour as an entrepreneur. Huge mistake. I myself am elf-employed too, and I always charge on a per project basis. I urge you to put some research in this specific topic, from fellow to fellow so to speak. Maybe your industry is too regulated and you have to get a little bit creative there, but if you charge per hour you are shortchanging yourself.
                Hi CPU,

                Isn't a project priced somehow parallel to the hours it takes to do it?

                Not to mention the risk unforseen complexity will be revealed later (somtimes the ratio will make you agonize over taking the project in the first place). Isn't it better that the client will take the risk? after all he gets value for the hours you actually worked?