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Becoming my own client; also, delegation

When I started this 5-year experiment with semi-retirement, I fully intended it to be a learning experience in entrepreneurship. I wanted to learn how to create value. I wanted to learn how to sell, how to build systems. Mission accomplished. I have the confidence that if I need to work, I can help people and earn money in return. I can deal with the paperwork required by the government. I can negotiate and make deals.

The more I learn about freedom and space and creating my own things, though, the more I think that this should be my real experiment, not freelancing or entrepreneurship. It is not difficult to freelance. Millions of people do it. There’s plenty of information about entrepreneurship too; no end to aspirational books encouraging people to break out of their cubicles and follow their dreams. But far fewer people have the space to simply create and share things for the sheer joy of it. Even the authors of those books on freedom work for their rewards.

It’s an interesting experiment to try. I could focus on working on my own things, going forward. I’ve been winding up my commitments and avoiding new ones. I still have a little bit of consulting to wrap up eventually. I’ve been telling myself that the money I earn increases my safety net so that I can take those future risks. Besides, I like the people I work with. I like the feeling that I am helping them out and making a difference. (And there, taking a step back, I can see that the desire for a clear sense of accomplishment may be distracting me from more difficult self-directed work.)

Really, nothing can buy time. Probably even if I stopped consulting now — or if I had stopped a while back, or never started — I could still spend an appreciable amount of time making things happen. Postponing this doesn’t make me live any longer. It doesn’t mean that I have more core time, those hours when I’m alert and creative and happy.

I hadn’t noticed for a long time because I had set too low standards for myself. I set trip-wires to trigger reflection: if I missed a commitment or started misplacing things, I knew I was overscheduled, and I cut back. The rest of the time, it was enough that family life was happy, blog posts were written, sketches shared. It was too easy to meet these conditions, so I didn’t notice.

2014-01-12 Being my own client - part 1 of 4

What would I work on? Visual guides to complex topics look like the most unique contribution I can make, and there have been quite a few updates for my blog (both technical and written) that I’ve been postponing for lack of attention.

2014-01-12 Being my own client part 2 - Projects

Details help me visualize what that might actually mean:

2014-01-12 Being my own client part 3 - Emacs, blog

I should treat myself as a client and as a contractor. If I were delegating this work to other people, would I be happy with vague specifications and without milestones? I wouldn’t hire someone to maybe possibly think about something that could help people learn. I would spend the time to come up with a clear vision and the steps to make it happen, and then I would make regular progress that I would report on. The high-energy hours I have are best used for this long-term work; everything else can go into the non-core hours.

So I’ll keep my existing consulting commitment to Tuesdays and Thursdays, plus whatever non-core time I can spare to help them get over this hump, and then we’ll see if we’ll continue or not. In the meantime, any consulting of mine will be with the commitment to replace all the hours I spend earning with at least the same amount of time in delegated work (plus whatever time I need to manage the delegation). The end result won’t be as awesome as having the same amount of core time (and to be fair, my consulting involves non-core time too), but it should:

  • build up a good library of procedures so that I can either delegate tasks to other people or work more consistently when I’m on my own (plus the benefits of process improvement and sharing)
  • help me learn how to take advantage of other people’s time — and better yet, how their skills and experiences differ from mine
  • allow me to support people as they build up their own businesses and the local economy

In fact, just for kicks, I’m going to backdate the experiment–to replace my original 5-year experiment with it instead of starting just from this point onwards. Since I don’t actually have a time machine, an easy way to make that commitment is to calculate all the time that I have spent earning so far. Fortunately, this is yet another question that time-tracking allows me to answer. The numbers in the sketches below are a little bit out of date now; the current ones are:

  • 1874.4 hours spent earning since 2012-02-19
  • 208.1 hours delegated through oDesk so far
  • 55.1 hours spent managing the delegation (including documenting processes, interviewing, etc.)

So my ratio is about 1 hour of management to 4 hours of other people’s work. A ratio of 1.3 hours should be enough to account for delegating the work, managing the delegation, delegating the time to cover my management, etc. That means that if I want to replace about 1874 hours, my goal is to delegate a total of 2437 hours. So far, I’ve delegated 208, so I have 2,229 to go. (Ignore the math in the sketch; this is the updated version.) That’s a little more than a full-time employee. I’m not quite at the point of having streamlined, documented processes that can take full-time assistance over a year (or enough faith in my hiring abilities!), but I’ll work up to it. (My first goal: delegate as much as I can of this podcasting process.)

2014-01-12 Being my own client part 4 - buying back time

It’s a little scary delegating so much, especially since I’m normally quite careful about costs – but I think it will be worth it. In fact, I’ve been giving some virtual assistants raises to challenge them to think of themselves as people who can earn that. It’s a little scary projecting the expenses, but if I commit to it and then focus on making the most of it, I’ll gain more than I would if I kept waffling on the commitment. The work can start by replacing the routine, but it would be interesting to use it to support new projects someday.

2014-01-17 How can I assign 30 hours of work a week

As always, it helps to keep the end in mind.2014-01-17 Thinking about delegation goals

I’ve been ramping up my delegation through oDesk, and I’ve also experimented with micro-task-outsourcing through Fiverr (with quite good results!). We’ll see how it goes.

2014-01-14 Ways to increase my delegation-fu

It would be great to share processes with other people. Timothy Kenny gave me a glimpse of his growing process library. I’ve posted a number of my processes at http://sachachua.com/business, but haven’t updated it in a while. I’ll share more as I hammer them out. I wonder what my end-state would look like. Maybe I’d just share this Google Drive folder, and people can copy from it into their own libraries.

Anyway, plenty of stuff to figure out. =)

Rock those meeting minutes

It boggles me when people don’t take minutes during a meeting. How do people make sure that all the important decisions and actions are captured? When people run from meeting to meeting or get buried in e-mail and calendar entries, it’s so easy to let things fall through the cracks.

In my consulting engagement, I’m the minute-taker because I’m the fastest typist in the room. (Also, it helps that I can type and participate in the meeting.) At higher-level meetings where the clackety clack of a laptop keyboard might be distracting, I’ll keep quick paper notes anyway.

Here are some tips for taking meeting minutes. (Click on the image for a larger version!)

2013-11-08 Note-taking tips for meeting minutes

Projecting the agenda/minutes (or sharing them shortly afterwards) helps keep everyone on the same page and catches many possible miscommunications. It’s good to remember that you can guide the flow of the conversation with questions. I often work with the meeting chair to make sure that we cover the agenda at a good pace, and that agenda items that need decisions or tasks are neatly wrapped up. You can create a lot of value by taking the minutes, so volunteer for this whenever you can.

Simplifying my event commitments; tips for people looking for event sketchnotes

Take better notes, and the world will beat a path to your door. Or something like that. =) As it turns out, sketchnotes are an excellent way to capture ideas from presentations and meetups. Eric asked me if I was interested in sketchnoting more of the Awesome Foundation Toronto pitch nights. (They give the awesomest project $1000 in a paper bag to help make things happen.) I did the sketchnotes for a while because I wanted to learn more about what makes projects awesome. The sketchnotes were faster to make and more engaging than video highlights, so people really liked them. But I’ve been inching away from sketching other people’s stuff so that I can focus on my own, so…

2013-03-04 Sketchnotes of events

2013-11-09 Thinking about the Awesome Foundation Toronto and sketchnoting

2013-11-12 Awesome Foundation Toronto part 2

Awesome Foundation is pretty cool and I like how they encourage people to come up with and share great ideas… but I’m keeping my event commitments to the minimum. Maybe it will be a good fit for someone else, though – local sketchnoters building their portfolio and their business, perhaps? It would be great to see different styles, too!

Anyway, since I’m moving a little bit away from doing events, I thought I’d put together some guides to help people who are looking for event sketches.

2013-11-11 What kind of visual records do you want for your event

2013-11-11 How to look for sketchnoters and graphic recorders

2013-11-11 How can you make the most of your event sketches

 

Hope that helps!

Making the most of Standard Time as the days grow shorter

The transition from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time is always a little shocking. Suddenly the sunlight’s gone by 5 PM. It always used to make me feel a little colder, a little odder. This year, I’m playing around with some mindset shifts that might do for Standard Time what renaming “winter” to “baking season” did in terms of my happiness. =)

(Click on the images for a larger version.)

2013-11-05 Standard Time - Winter Time

Since my consulting engagement has flexible hours, I can arrange my schedule so that I commute during off-peak hours, and I work from home three days of the week anyway. Sunlight is important to me, so I go for a quick walk at lunch. This means that on the days that I work on-site, I’m not too tired when I get home in the evenings, and on the days I work at home, I have time to go to the library or run other small errands.

That frees up the evening for writing, drawing, learning, coding, and all the other things that fill my discretionary time. Having a long evening means I can break it into several chunks of useful, focused work, while still taking care of chores. It feels pretty relaxed – almost freeing! Maybe this will become something that will help me look forward to shorter days.

2013-11-04 Revising my mornings

Mornings are worth playing around with, too. I thought about shifting more of my waking hours to the morning because it often comes up in productivity advice, but I like being able to sleep in a little. That said, I also like lining things up so that I can gain momentum in the morning, and the bright sunshine is nice to enjoy.

This mindset shift looks promising. It breaks down yet another one of those barriers to making the most of life year-round. How do you deal with shorter days? Any tips?

High energy and low energy activities

What kinds of activities need high energy, and what can you do when you feel more tired? Which activities energize you and which ones drain you? It’s good to think about these things so that:

  • You can keep low-energy activities out of your peak creative/energetic hours – save those for high-impact high-energy projects!
  • You can work on something productive even when you don’t feel like you’re at the top of your game – and you don’t waste time trying to think of something to do when you’re feeling blah.
  • You can identify your energy drainers and find ways around them, or limit their effect on the rest of your day.

It’s good to know how to take advantage of your high energy moments. It’s also good to know what moves you from one energy state to another. What do you do to relax or unwind? What do you do to recharge? What drains you, and what gives you more energy? What can you do when you feel tired, and what should you do when you feel at your peak? Don’t waste great energy on low-value or low-energy tasks. Don’t get frustrated if you can’t focus on high-energy tasks when you’re tired.

Here’s a list I made of the things I do when I have low, medium, or high energy. For the most part, things energize me. Some activities like e-mail, talking to people, shopping, or dealing with technical issues can be draining, so I try to avoid doing them before high-energy activities.

Low energy versus high energy

When I drew things out like this, I realized that drawing on paper was different for me compared to drawing on my computer. I find it easier to draw on paper at night because drawing on my computer often tempts me to stay up late. I started drawing more on paper in order to take advantage of those low-energy moments and expand the time I spend thinking visually, scanning the sketches in and using my phone or computer to organize the sketches afterwards.

If I’m alert and energetic, I know that I should focus on writing, coding, or other high-energy activities instead of spending time handling e-mail or getting distracted by watching a movie in the background.

What do you do when you have high energy? How about low energy? How do you energize yourself, and how do you deal with your drainers?

When it comes to juggling multiple interests, it helps to limit your expectations

imageI have a lot of ideas, and it’s easy to get discouraged by the fact that I’m not making progress on as many of them as I want to. It’s simple math. If I make progress on two projects but let eight languish, I tend to feel guilty about those eight.

So I’m borrowing an idea from just-in-time delivery: the kanban method. The ideas are (according to Wikipedia):

  • Visualize: See what you’re working on and where it is in the workflow. Also, keep track of where you’re approaching the limits.
  • Limit work in process: My limit is probably two projects in focus. I work on one at a time. The other is there for switching to if I hit a snag or need to change things up. (See also: Managing Oneself) Everything else is on the back burner, the someday/maybe list, or the “nifty idea but probably not for me” list.
  • Manage flow: I’m not paying much attention to this yet. It would be interesting to track how things move from current to back burner. I have some of that data through my timetracking.
  • Make policies explicit: What gets a project onto my someday/maybe list, onto my back-burner, or into focus? There are lots of ideas that I’m happy to let other people explore; I pick up only projects that I’m personally motivated by and that I see value in. Of those, I identify which ones I can actually make some progress towards today. I focus on 1-2 things that I like the most (especially if other people want them too). I don’t stop myself from working on back burner things, but I no longer have to feel guilty about letting them lapse. If it turns out that I don’t actually spend time on back burner items in a month or two, that’s usually a good sign it’s a someday/maybe thing due to lack of present motivation or capability.
  • Implement feedback loops: I haven’t paid much attention to this yet. Usually, people nudge me if I let some projects take too much of my attention.
  • Improve collaboratively, evolve experimentally (using models and the scientific method): Tweaking my mindset to minimize guilt-friction is a good, small improvement. Looking forward to other small improvements!

Strict kanban would probably mean not even starting until I’d cleared off at least one work in progress, I think. I’m not that strict. I’m happy to switch back and forth, but it’s good to be clear about what I’m focusing on. That way, I don’t feel pulled in ten different directions.

image

Writing is my key project. Drawing, Quantified Awesome, and Emacs swap in and out of the #2 slot. Delegation tends to be more on the back burners. Someday/maybe? More business stuff, getting better at gardening, learning sewing, and so on. If I were better at delegation, I might be able to increase my capacity to do more, but it’s a lower priority at the moment (I appreciate the extra cushion that frugality gives me). I’m cheating with “Writing” and the books on my list – I’m planning to write them in short segments, one blog post at a time.

Knowing this helps because when requests come in for things that I’m not focused on, I can happily and guiltlessly refer them to other people. It makes decisions easier. Do I spend $X to attend a conference or course on Y? No, that’s on my someday/maybe list. It’s good to know what you can say no to in order to say yes to other things.

I might be able to make more progress if I focused on driving 1-2 things to completion, not switching them on and off the back burner. In that case, I would eliminate writing from my list of projects (it’s never done!) and move up the book projects. I tried that kind of intensive writing with Wicked Cool Emacs and it burned me out a little, but maybe I’ve learned since then. I like the interplay of interests, though. Maybe I can experiment with “week on, week off” patterns – there’s value in immersion as well…

Anyway, the point of this post is: I can’t do everything at the same time, so I’m learning to not stress out about it. =) If that’s something you struggle with too, then you might find that clearly identifying the things you are focusing on and gently letting go of the other things (at least for now) might help. Good luck!