Wednesday, October 05, 2011

First Impressions Part 2: Where Did All My Time Go?

Four weeks ago, I took the plunge. I left the job I love and became a quitter. This is part 2 of a series on my first impressions working for myself. If you have kids, you'll probably enjoy part 1.

Go ahead and read it. I'll wait.

Cute, huh? I really like the video. Speaking of getting distracted by videos... this post is about figuring out what the hell happened to all that "extra" time I was supposed to gain by working for myself at home. After all, I was commuting a half hour each way, leading a team of developers, acting as a technical lead and the only store developer. And that was just my day job. After dinner and on Saturdays I'd work my tail off building FoxyCart and put in another 15-25 hours adding up to a 55-65 hour work week.

I should have plenty of extra time now, right? The answer isn't surprising... I still have 24 hours each day, just like I did before. Luckily I started early on tracking every minute of my time working. I use Harvest and I love their "time is money, track it wisely" tag line. This is so, so important. It helps you track progress and understand your strengths, weaknesses and areas where you should hire more help.

Track your time.

It only takes a second to tab over, click a button and move on. Here are some of the categories I use most:
  • Communication, INTERNAL: IM, Email, Project Management, etc.
  • Communication, EXTERNAL: Clients, existing partners, VIPs, emails, IMs, phone, etc.
  • Billing
  • Support: Email
  • Support: Forum
  • Programming
  • Product Management
  • Personal Development

Did you notice that last one? I track that as "non-billable" and found some of my time going there. When I'm being paid by someone else to get things done, I'm working. It's as simple as that. My time spent doing anything else is stealing. If that seems extreme to you, read Dave Ramsey's new book EntreLeadership and you might understand where I'm coming from. Working for myself has changed things, though. I feel liberated to stay connected to Twitter (probably too much) and read a few blogs here and there. I'm loving it!

It didn't take long to realize that my time clock often didn't hit 8 hours by the time I was ready to eat dinner. This confused me until I started taking stock of what really happened that day. Here are some things I learned:
  • Lunch meetings always take at least 2 hours. They take even longer if you're meeting with another entrepreneur who also isn't "on the clock" with a boss. I hadn't planned for that. I didn't factor in the drive time either. I've come out of my shell a bit more and been privileged to attend some great meetups like the Nashville PHP User Group, Geek Breakfast, NashBurger, NashCocktail, 1010, BarCamp's SpeakerUp, etc. not to mention some fantastic one-on-one meetings.
  • Sometimes I'm doing the really important things that I never allowed myself to do. For example, last week after a great lunch meeting downtown, I was able to visit some friends at Vanderbilt hospital whose brand new baby was sick. He's home now and doing much better, but that was an appointment that I was so, so blessed to make. Meetings like that not only build deeper friendships, but they improve my whole quality of life.
  • I was spending more quality time with my family. As I mentioned in part 1, wanting more time with family is probably the number one desire we'll have on our deathbed. Knowing that, let's make up for it now. Eating lunch with my family and putting my 2-year-old son down for his nap (after stories, lying down together, etc) was actually taking 1.5 to 2 hours on some days. As long as I'm willing to get up a little earlier to make up that time, it's well worth it. We also reclaimed our Saturdays and enjoyed a day at Cheeckwood, the zoo and a bunch of other free Mrs. Cheap events.
  • Sometimes life just happens. I've learned to embrace the craziness. For example, Monday and Tuesday of this week I was out with a head cold and my wife had a crazy muscle spasm in her neck (turned out to be something called torticollis). After a few meetings with the chiropractor, Corinne's doing much better but the result was two days of no work because I had to drive her around and take care of the kids (while blowing my nose non-stop). The team took up the slack and life goes on, but it's good to keep in mind these things happen.
So that's where my time went. If you're preparing to make the jump to being self-employed, don't assume you'll have a bunch of free time, you'll just choose to spend your time differently. Be prepared, have a plan and track your time.

Speaking of having a plan, that's what Part 3 is about. As Eisenhower famously said, "I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable." I hope you come back to check it out and leave your thoughts.

Where does your time go? Do you track it or am I a little crazy for doing so?

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