Month: October 2007

Cat alarm clock

Sorry for the blog silence — have been quite busy!

So in the meantime, here is a new-to-me little animation of a cat alarm clock, which is eerily close to reality for us. (Steve woke up with a start one morning with a cut lip and an innocent-looking cat on the bed.)

Reading: Confessions of a Tax Collector, Buying Your First Home, Jon Katz, Ruth Reichl, and Alexander McCall Smith

Finished reading:

Apparently the time I’ve been “saving” with applying The 4 Hour Workweek principles has been spent reading. Oh, wait — it’s also been the World Series, so I’ve been reading a lot in front of the TV instead of doing something else with Steve…

Confessions of a Tax Collector by Richard Yancey – Go deep into the bowels of the IRS as we follow Richard Yancey’s memoir of his twelve years as a tax collector — oops, I mean, a revenue officer (no one wants to be called a tax collector). His job is to collect overdue taxes from people — or, take their cars, houses, businesses, or assets as necessary. Very readable.

Buying Your First Home by Ilona Bray, Alayna Schroeder, and Marcia Stewart – As someone who never quite understood how buying-house things worked, I found this book (a Nolo publication) a very helpful overview of the entire process. Now I know what “points” are!

A Good Dog by Jon Katz – Readers of A Dog Year (one of my favorite books from 2002) will eagerly devour this book about Orson (formerly named Devon), Jon Katz’s beloved border collie. From the initial tumultuous year after Jon first adopts Orson, this book shows the changes that both man and dog experience through their relationship. I must admit that I cried quite a bit as I read this book.

Dog Days by Jon Katz – A series of short “dispatches from Bedlam Farm,” where Jon spends his time with two border collies, two labs, a cat, four donkeys, two cows, and a herd of sheep. Another great book for those of us who like to read about animals.

Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl – I enjoyed Garlic and Sapphires, so picked up this autobiography from the library this week. Ruth shares anecdotes from her childhood to adulthood, sharing the experiences that have shaped her love of food and prepared her for her current calling as a restaurant critic. The pages are filled with recipes, and the food descriptions remind me of the Little House books as well (but with much more expensive ingredients).

Comfort Me With Apples by Ruth Reichl – Another memoir picking up from where Tender at the Bone left off.

The Good Husband of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall Smith – Part of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, which follows Precious Ramotswe, lady detective, as she navigates through both personal and professional sticky situations. Although these books are shelved with other mysteries, they are really more about the characters and their relationships (and conflicts). If you haven’t yet been introduced to Precious Ramotswe, her secretary Grace Matuski (who received 97% at secretary school), Mr. Matekoni (a mechanic who owns the shop that the agency’s office is connected to and who has recently married Precious) and his two feckless apprentices, you are in for a treat. Alexander McCall Smith’s books have plenty of dry, situational humor, but he treats his characters with gentleness and respect.

With a bookmark:

(Books I just started reading, or books I’ve been β€œreading” for ages. Most recent first.)

  • Belly Laughs by Jenny McCarthy
  • Dragonhaven by Patricia McKinley
  • Body, Soul, and Baby by Tracy Gaudet
  • What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg, and Sandee Hathaway
  • The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
  • A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson

In the library book box:

  • Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande
  • Raising Baby Green byAlan Greene
  • The Princess and the Hound by Mette Harrison

Weekly Update: Feeling great

Great week!

  • Health/fitness:
    • Weigh myself daily – πŸ™‚
    • Walk 30 minutes every day – πŸ˜€ This is turning into a general “exercise daily” goal. I’ve walked, biked errands, or gone to the gym every day this week.
    • Keep track of blood sugar and diet – πŸ™‚
  • Work:
    • Complete 3/6 small biz client projects – πŸ˜€ One project completed! The second got a big shot of work done this week. I’m expecting one last round of revisions before I wrap things up.
    • Bonus: I worked on some article drafts.
  • Personal:
    • Keep up gratitude journal – πŸ™‚
  • House:
    • Finish reading book about buying first-time home. πŸ™‚ Done!
    • Look at budget and analyze to see if we could afford monthly expenses. πŸ™‚ Done, but it’s not looking very good. Sigh.
    • Talk to mom about borrowing money.

Also, I forgot to post updates about my blog action day actions:

  • One-time: Swap the halogen light with the bedroom light. πŸ™‚ Did it later than intended, but done!
  • One-time: Call our city to request a free compost bin. πŸ™‚ Delegated to hubby who made the phone call. They sent us a booklet to read through and we have to fill out a form to get the bin. Haven’t done that part yet.
  • Ongoing: Start washing and reusing ziploc bags. πŸ™‚ Going well.

Applying some of the 4 Hour Workweek principles has definitely been a good thing.

  • I make a short to-do list at the end of my day for the next workday.
  • I don’t check my email until I get at least one of the major tasks done.
  • I “hide” myself from IM when I’m trying to power through something.
  • I do everything possible to get through my to-do list, keeping me from being distracted by other things.
  • I try to be done with work by the time Steve gets home — if not before — no matter when I start working in the day. This has given me some “down time” (which I spend reading for fun) when I get done early! I think there was only one day this week when I went over by half an hour after Steve got home because I had a late meeting scheduled.
  • I practiced saying “no” to a door-to-door salesman, a telemarketer, a friend who asked me to volunteer for an event, and a potentially stressful job that I didn’t think I could do in time.
  • I provided my first fixed project quote.

In combination with GTD, I’ve been feeling more in-control and less reactive this week. I’m looking forward to a relaxing weekend! The only computer task I plan on doing is updating our budget spreadsheet on Sunday afternoon when Steve goes to play basketball.

What to discuss when you’re expecting

My husband and I went through pre-marital counseling with a couple from our church before we got married. There were lots of books available with questions and topics to discuss before tying the knot, helpful tools to get you talking about important things and expectations so you have less unpleasant surprises after marriage.

I made some weak attempts to see if there were similar books for expectant parents, but an interaction with a client helped me to realize that I could try to tap into my reader base.

So, gentle readers: What are important things that Steve and I should discuss before the baby arrives?

You can answer this whether or not you have personal experience being a parent. After all, I certainly don’t have any parenting experience, but I’ve already put together a short list of topics which is by NO means exhaustive:

  • Estate/will-type topics: When should we go about making wills? Who should be the child’s guardian if we die?
  • Responsibilities: Do I expect Steve to get up in the middle of the night? How often and in what ways will Steve help?
  • Gear: Disposable or cloth diapers; if cloth, wash them ourselves or use a service? What gear do we think is essential? Heck, what gear do parents need?
  • Sleeping philosophies: Swaddle or no? Schedule or no?

I understand that some of these things we can’t answer until we are actually parents and get to know the unique personality of our baby, but we can at least clear the air and get some expectations out there… or at least see the extent of our ignorance and make some moves towards becoming more knowledgeable.

Thanks in advance for your help! Please feel free to include both general topics as well as specific questions.

And if you’ve read a good parenting/newborn-related book and would like to recommend it, please provide a mini-review/summary as well!

Reading: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Finished Reading:

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver – I wasn’t really “into” Kingsolver’s books that I’ve read before (The Poisonwood Bible, The Bean Trees) but I saw this in the bookstore and was very intrigued. I’m a sucker for books that have to do with food. Luckily the book was available through my library system so I got to read it for free.

This book covers a year with Barbara, her husband, and two daughters, after a move from Tuscon, Arizona into the steep Appalachian hills of Virginia, as they attempt to go to a self-produced and locally-produced diet. Their journey includes planting tons (literally) of vegetables on 3,500 square feet of soil, developing relationships with local farmers and local food producers, learning to make their own cheese, discovering the mating secrets of turkeys, and thinking a lot about where food comes from and why that matters. One of the neat things about this book is that it’s a family-produced book; Barbara’s oldest daughter ends most chapters with a short essay from her perspective and some yummy-looking recipes, Barbara’s husband has sidebars scattered throughout with interesting stats, resources, and tips.

Some of the things that stood out to me:

  • With a non-farming background, I was surprised to learn that asparagus grow to become 3-4 foot plants. We eat the small shoots that come up in early spring.
  • Mass-produced veggies have drastically decreased the variety of foods that we could be eating. Some plant varieties — even whole species — are being lost. “According to Indian crop ecologist Vandana Shiva, humans have eaten some 80,000 plant species in our history. After recent precipitous changes, three-quarters of all human food now comes from just eight species, with the field quickly narrowing down to genetically modified corn, soy, and canola” (p. 49, in the chapter “Springing Forward”).
  • Organic foods have 50% more antioxidants than conventionally grown foods, because they have to work harder at surviving (without pesticides).
  • The chapter “The Birds and the Bees” has an awesome story about Barbara’s youngest daughter, Lily, and her egg venture, that made me laugh out loud.
  • Chapter 8, “Growing Trust,” has an interesting rant about our perception of grocery money. Why do we insist on “cheap food prices” and settle for sub-par quality produce, meat, and fast or convenient food, but spend billions on bottled drinking water? The sidebar in this chapter is especially interesting, addressing the complaint about how organic foods are more expensive. Truth be told, we pay billions in tax dollars, Farm Bill subsidies, and health and environmental costs for the production of “conventional” foods that don’t show up in the grocery aisle sticker prices. While there is something to be said for larger corporate organic producers who might be manipulating the growing popularity of “organic foods” (and who might be less than ethical in their commitments to providing truly organic foods), small organic farmers generally have to charge more because they put more labor into their work and also have a harder time distributing and marketing their goods.
  • Did you know that with some mail-order cultures and store-bought milk, you can make your own fresh mozzarella in 30 minutes? Let me add that on my “things to try to do someday” list!! It sounds like yogurt, cream cheese, and ricotta cheese are relatively easy to make at home as well; hard cheeses are a little harder. (Pardon the pun.) Barbara describes a cheese-making workshop she attended, which makes me very interested to see if anything similar is offered in my area as well.
  • Sounds like canning tomatoes in a water bath is the easiest way to start canning; the acidity keeps you from having to process the vegetable in a pressure canner. Another thing I’d want to try someday as well. (Note to self: Need garden with tomatoes first.)
  • Barbara’s adventures into raising — and breeding — turkeys is priceless.
  • The final results of their year-long experiment: Based on current organic food prices, Barbara’s family raised and harvested $4,410 worth of veggies and poultry. Supplemented with locally milled flour, locally produced pasta, organic grain for animal feed, etc., they spent a total of about $0.50 per person per meal.

Barbara pulls out all the stops unapologetically, using statistics, personal sketches of farmers, and humor, to make a compelling and sometimes convicting case for buying local produce and food, supporting local farmers, and overall becoming more aware of where your food comes from and your own role in the food production chain. Some may find her preachy; I found her passion inspiring without being judgmental. It helped that I was fascinated by the details she provided about things like canning and cheese-making (remember, I’m the one who reads the food bits of the Little House books for pleasure) and that I love food books in general (How to Read a French Fry, Salt, and Garlic and Sapphires immediately come to mind as recent foodie reads).

Personal impact of this book:

  • Recommitting to buying more of our groceries from the local food co-op (I got a bit lazy in the past few weeks)
  • Giving the farmer’s market another try (I get overwhelmed and lost when I go); actually try talking to the farmers if I’m brave
  • Future desires:
    • Learn how to make mozzarella
    • Learn to can stuff
    • Grow a garden

With a bookmark:

(Books I just started reading, or books I’ve been β€œreading” for ages. Most recent first.)

  • Confessions of a Tax Collector by Richard Yancey
  • Buying Your First Home by Ilona Bray, Alayna Schroeder, and Marcia Stewart
  • Body, Soul, and Baby by Tracy Gaudet
  • What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg, and Sandee Hathaway
  • The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
  • A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson

In the library book box:

  • Dragonhaven by Patricia McKinley
  • A Good Dog by Jon Katz
  • Dog Days by Jon Katz
  • Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande
  • The Good Husband of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall Smith

The 4 Hour Workweek: Information Dieting

In a brief Chapter 6 of The 4 Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss encourages a low-information diet. He himself doesn’t watch the news or read the paper, and limits his industry/work-related reading significantly. If that sounds extreme to you, or even irresponsible, I’d suggest skimming this chapter before throwing his ideas out the window; personally, I found some of his tips very useful.

Most information is time-consuming, negative, irrelevant to your goals, and outside of your influence.

Again, this chapter is chock-full of actionable goodies:

  • Cut out all news media: newspapers, radio, magazines, news web sites, news feeds, etc. “How do I stay informed?” Tim suggests that you can glance at headlines of newspaper stands — or use your ignorance as a conversation starter to actually connect relationally with other people (gasp!) by asking, “I didn’t get to read the paper. What’s going on in the world?”
  • Cut out all reading and web surfing unless it is necessary to complete a work task for that day. The exception to the reading rule is, of course, The 4 Hour Workweek, although Tim also encourages reading an hour of for-fun fiction before bed to help relax. After trying a cold-turkey fast for a week, you can bring back some business-related reading/scanning — but only that which actually helps you with immediate results. One interesting suggestion he had (which I won’t be following) was to limit non-fiction reading to one book at a time so that you absorb the information more easily.
  • Ask: “Will I definitely use this information for something immediate and important?” If not, don’t read it. And don’t get into the slippery slope of “I might need this someday.” Chances are that by the time someday comes, you will have forgotten the details anyway and reread it.
  • Stop researching and ask the experts. Instead of reading ten books about “how to do something,” cut to the chase and find a friend, colleague, or other “real person” who has done what you want to do and let them direct you. This also works for socially responsible action: Tim gives the example of how he voted in the last presidential election; he sent emails to American friends he shared values with and asked them who they were voting for and why, talked to international friends about their perspectives on the candidates, and let all those people synthesize all the media he didn’t have to read. The only media-based information he took in was to watch the presidential debates.
  • Be okay with quitting. If a book or movie or article sucks, stop reading or watching it! Don’t waste your time.
  • Learn to read faster. Tim has some tips on how to learn to read faster.

I’ve stopped going to news web sites (and I must admit that I mostly looked at the entertainment gossip page anyway instead of “real news”!), pruned down my Google Reader feeds to 92, and have gotten good at skipping past blog feed items that aren’t immediately interesting to me. I’m also intrigued by the idea of going to “experts” instead of reading and researching, and I’m wondering how that might apply to things like labor and delivery and raising a child, although I’m still intending to read through the “buying your first home” book that I’m partway through. And that’s about the extent of personal application for me. I’m definitely guilty of taking in tons of non-actionable information, but I’m too much of a reading addict right now to change my blog-reading and book-reading ways. πŸ™‚

This is my fourth full post with thoughts about The 4 Hour Workweek. View other posts related to The 4 Hour Workweek.

The 4 Hour Workweek: Questions and Actions about Time Management

At the end of chapter 5 (The End of Time Management) of The 4 Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss provides a list of Questions and Actions to help you define 1) a short to-do list and 2) a not-to-do list. Some of these questions and suggestions help to shed some light on what applying the 80/20 principle and Parkinson’s law might look like day-to-day.

Tim offers some great practical suggestions for taking action:

  • Make a to-do list for tomorrow THIS evening of no more than three items.
    If you have more than three, then one or more of them may not be high-impact. If you wait until the morning to make your to-do list, you’ll get distracted by the seemingly urgent emails in your inbox.
  • Give yourself impossibly short deadlines to complete those tasks.
    My interpretation: How long do I think I need to reasonably accomplish this task? Divide by two. This helps with focus and eliminates spending time on the unimportant.
  • Ask: “If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be satisfied with my day?”
    This is a great way to figure out what’s “really” important as you are making your three-item to-do list.
  • Ask: “Am I inventing things to do to avoid the important?”
    Tim suggests that you put this question on a post-it or set a calendar reminder to pop up at least three times a day with this question to help you keep focus.
  • Don’t multitask.
    Hi, I’m Corrie, and I’m a multitasker. It really gets pretty ridiculous; you can ask Steve, who has often come in to find me on the phone with a customer, working on a comp, and running three separate IM conversations with coworkers and friends. Tim says that if you’re truly prioritizing, there is no need to multitask because you should have enough time to work on those two or three important things. And if they are really important, you should spend your undivided attention getting them done.
  • Schedule yourself short.
    Here’s a crazy idea from Tim: Limit the time you have to work. Try to leave work by 4 p.m. and take Monday or Friday off. (Tim has suggestions in later chapters on how to implement this in a “real” job.)

Tim also poses questions to help you to pinpoint “what’s really important.” For example — “If you had a heart attack and had to work two hours per day, what would you do?” As someone who bills hourly, this is a hard question to answer positively in terms of “what would I do.” But it does help me to pinpoint some things I would not do:

  • Most email (in particular, customer support, which other people could cover)
  • Writing really long and detailed emails (I am unfortunately wordy at times)
  • Phone support (other competent people could cover this)
  • Meetings (which I dislike anyway!)
  • Making screenshots/diagrams when writing articles (I could pay someone else to do this or find an intern)
  • Trying to interpret what people want or wade through lengthly client/customer emails (train people to communicate more clearly and give me the information I really need)
  • Small talk with coworkers/partners/clients

The bottom line is, of course — if I think these things aren’t important in a hypothetical situation where I could only work two hours a day, why am I spending so much time on them now?

I keep coming back to the seemingly limiting concept of an hourly rate, however. Since I bill hourly, if I don’t put in my time, I don’t make money. What are my options (slightly exaggerated)?

  • Raise my hourly rates.
    I’ve always had a hard time knowing “what I was worth” and setting an hourly rate. This is something I should investigate more; even if I don’t raise my rates, say, 300%, there is probably enough reason for me to raise them reasonably.
  • Provide project estimates instead of billing an hourly rate.
    I like to provide up-front service and allow clients to know that they’re only being billed for what I actually do. However, maybe this is naive and idealistic; the rest of the industry certainly doesn’t have a problem with a one-number quote, so maybe I should just get with the program and do the same.
  • Change jobs.
    Get out of the service-providing industry and into something else. I’m not really considering this a real option at this point. πŸ™‚

In summary, there are lots of action items that I can take.

  • Things I can implement immediately:
    • Making a to-do list of three items the night before and giving myself very short deadlines to accomplish them.
    • Focus on accomplishing those three things by limiting distractions and not multitasking.
    • Make an Outlook reminder to ask myself if I’m inventing things to do.
    • Try to write succinct, clear emails.
  • Things I can try to implement in the future:
    • Limiting my time spent on customer support. I think having a baby would be a good transition point for stepping out of most customer support.
    • Finding an intern to help me with screenshots/diagrams for articles. I could see myself taking the screenshots as I write, but having someone else crop them to size, make them web-ready, etc.
    • Providing set project quotes to new small business clients.
  • Things I’m not sure about but may want to think about more:
    • Hourly rate?
    • How to train clients to communicate with me?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions. Please leave a comment!

This is my third full post with thoughts about The 4 Hour Workweek. View other posts related to The 4 Hour Workweek.

Weekly Update: Reflection and Reset

This was a good week for reflection. I revamped my goals and did a bit of bigger-picture thinking with work as I read through The 4 Hour Workweek.

Based on my revamped goals, here’s how my week has been going:

  • Health/fitness:
    • Weigh myself daily – πŸ™‚
    • Walk 30 minutes every day – πŸ™‚ Hooray! Well, to be honest, on Wednesday I didn’t walk in the morning, but Steve and I biked to the gym so I think that counts as exercise.
    • Keep track of blood sugar and diet – πŸ™‚
  • Work:
    • Complete 3/6 small biz client projects – πŸ˜€ I have two small changes to make to a client site, but then the invoice is off!
    • Bonus: I reconnected with some of my contacts about writing more articles.
  • Personal:
    • Keep up gratitude journal – πŸ™‚

I’ve also decided to add one more goal. Steve and I would really like to own our own home. We have been thinking it would take a long time to save up money, etc., etc., but after meeting with a financial planner it looks like we could do it sooner than later in terms of pulling together a down payment, although I’m not sure yet how our monthly budget would fare. So, here are some new milestones for me to complete by 11/11:

  • House:
    • Finish reading book about buying first-time home.
    • Look at budget and analyze to see if we could afford monthly expenses.
    • Talk to mom about borrowing money.

Thanks to people who have commented this past week: Kate Davis, Sally, Diana, Kristine, ClickerTrainer, Margaret, BlueBeetle(one), Bog, vikas, and Penny.

The 4 Hour Workweek: Set short deadlines

Another principle discussed in chapter 5 (The End of Time Management) of The 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss is Parkinson’s Law: A task will fill up the time allotted for its completion. Tim puts it this way:

If I give you 24 hours to complete a project, the time pressure forces you to focus on execution, and you have no choice but to do only the bare essentials. If I give you a week to complete the same task, it’s six days of making a mountain out of a molehill. . . . The end product of the shorter deadline is almost inevitably of equal or higher quality due to greater focus.

So in addition to applying the 80/20 principle to limit what you do, Tim suggests that the practical application of Parkinson’s Law is to give yourself short deadlines for accomplishing those important tasks. This keeps you focused by giving you enough time pressure to avoid distractions.

This has some significant implications for me:

  • How I set my schedule for client work: I usually give myself a few days between project milestones and client feedback dates, so basic web projects end up being in the range of a month and a half but sometimes end up stretching out longer because of one delay or another. I could significantly reduce my project timelines for quicker turnaround, although I would need to make sure to communicate with my client to make sure they’re on board, as well.
  • How I knock things off my to-do list: My “next actions” list has some things on there that have been there for a very long time. By setting short deadlines for them, I may be able to motivate myself to actually get them done. For example – I have intended to call the city for two months to ask for a free compost bin, but not until Blog Action Day did I decide to get it done by the end of the week (which is still a relatively long deadline, but it’s done!).
  • How I work on stuff day-to-day: I usually make a list at the beginning of the day with the projects that I need to work on (because of deadlines) as well as things I want to work on, but these usually don’t take up a significant amount of time — a half hour here, an hour there. My daily list looks long and impressive, and most of it gets crossed off. But it seems that I could be a lot more focused by working on projects for longer blocks of time, which would involve restructuring the types of things I work on (batching them so that I don’t need to wait for feedback as often, for example) and prioritizing the “big things” I really want to get done that day. This will involve some client communication as well, as I’ve trained some of them to see me doing a little bit every day; I’ll have to revamp their expectations so they know that I’m putting my full focus into their project on a specific day.

So, how to get started? Let me make a plan:

  • I think the best place for me to start is with my goal to crank on my existing list of small clients. I have two projects that have been delayed and hanging around for months although they are 80-90% done. I’ll work on getting those up and out of my project list first. I also have an ongoing project that I’ll try to get done quickly as well. These three projects will be my top priorities over the next few days.
  • I have two other projects that have been on hold because the clients haven’t gotten back to me, and I have been too lazy to follow up. If I still haven’t heard from them after #1 and #2 are done, I’ll aggressively work on getting those done.
  • I have two more projects lined up for the future, which I’ll try to hold off on until #1, #2, and #3 are done (and see what the status is on #4 and #5) before commencing work on them. These two new projects will be a test case for me to see how I can restructure the project and communications to get things done in a shorter amount of time.

I’m still having a hard time figuring out how to apply this day-to-day, as my work habits are pretty set. This might be worth exploring in another post! In the meantime, if you have any suggestions, please leave a comment!

This is my second full post with thoughts about The 4 Hour Workweek. View other posts related to The 4 Hour Workweek.

The 4 Hour Workweek: 80/20 Analysis

One of the applications from The 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss is to do a regular 80/20 analysis (Chapter 5: The End of Time Management).

According to Pareto’s principle, 80% of results come from 20% of the efforts. In business-speak, 80% of your income comes from 20% of your clients. The ratio can vary slightly, such as 90/10, 95/5, or even 99/1, but you get the idea. In his book, Tim Ferriss shares his personal story of how he realized that he was spending 95% of his time pursuing those clients who weren’t placing orders (95% of his customers), while his bulk of his income came from steady, low-maintenance clients who simply placed orders without bothering him (3% of his customers). By choosing to stop expending energy on those people who only ordered occasionally (and even “firing” the two customers who gave him the most grief), he was able to go from working 80 hours a week to 15! (This worked for him because he had a product business model, where most of his time was spent on sales calls and customer support.)

The personal application derived from this principle is to look at your income and determine your 80/20 ratio — which of the small percentage (20% or so) of clients, pursuits, or projects are contributing to your income. You can also determine whether or not most of your energy is being expended on the other 80% and make decisions to divert your energies and efforts. Finally, you can analyze the common factors between the 20% and pursue more projects/clients/etc. that fit those commonalities.

So, this past weekend, I created a few reports in Quicken and some spreadsheets to perform my own 80/20 analysis.

In Quicken, I printed out two reports:

  • Year-to-date report of Itemized Payees. I collapsed the “Expenses” and “Transfers” sections so that only the income “payees” were listed. This report showed all the places where we received income in 2007 — including bank interest income, Steve’s paycheck, but also my individual clients.
  • The same report with a customized date to include numbers from 2006 (1/1/2006 – current date).

I also created reports to find my total business income for year-to-date and my customized date.

Now for the analysis:

  • On my itemized payee reports, I ignored all non-business payees (as this report includes ALL sources of income).
  • For each business payee, I took the amount * 100 / total business income to find the percentage of income for that time period. The way Quicken exports reports to Excel- or spreadsheet-ready formats was a bit too detailed for me, so I calculated percentages the old-fashioned way with a calculator. (I used my old high school/college Texas Instruments scientific calculator, which allowed me to store my total business income as a variable so that I didn’t have to keep retyping it.) I wrote these percentages down on my printout.
  • I quickly typed the list of payees and percentages into a spreadsheet.
    • Column 1: Payee name
    • Column 2: Percentage – last 22 months (since 1/1/2006)
    • Column 3: Percentage – last 10 months (since 1/1/2007)
  • Adding another column (Column 4), I made some notes about clients that were most likely one-time — i.e., I made their web site and that was the end of it. I also noted the projects that I had especially enjoyed working on and the projects that were especially stressful to work on.
  • I added another column (Column 5) to jot down some notes about who these clients were, using common keywords:
    • referred by family – client was referred by family member (or IS a family member)
    • referred by friend – client was referred by friend
    • referred by writing – client was referred by my blog or other articles
    • developer – client is mainly a developer who came to me for visual design work
    • middleman – client is a design house or similar middleman contracting me for their own client work
    • small biz – client came to me for work related to their small business
    • frequent updates – client comes to me for web site maintenance at least once a month

I made a few copies of the worksheet:

  • Sorted by 22-month percentage – This shows me the top clients for the past 22 months.
  • Sorted by 10-month percentage – This shows me the top clients for the past 10 months.
  • Projected 10-month percentage – I readjusted some of my numbers; as they were based on pure cash flow, I hadn’t taken into account some of the invoices that were going to be due.

What did I find?

  • 80% of my income came from “middlemen” — companies or design houses that have their own clients and contract me for design and/or production work. (This includes work that I do for PixelMill, my main contract, and also includes royalties that I’ve received from products, so the number isn’t exactly accurate but I didn’t feel like figuring out the breakdown between royalties and work-payment. Maybe later.)
  • 5% (22 month)/10% (10 month projected) came from a one-time writing project.
  • 15% (22 month)/10% (10 month projected) — came from miscellaneous projects for small businesses, non-profits, and people referred by family or friends. About 2.5% of this comes from two businesses who need regular updates; the rest were pretty much one-time projects.
  • There were 3/23 miscellaneous one-time projects that were a joy to work on; my two regular update clients are also very positive relationships. 3/23 were extremely stressful. The others had their highs and lows. While I don’t have specific numbers, I know from experience that these clients required more hand-holding and communication overall.

Some observations and thoughts:

  • My “middleman” work and developer work has generally been enjoyable and positive and provides about 80% of my income.
    • I think a big part of this is because they can appreciate my skills and express their appreciation, which makes me feel good. For example, I’ve been called a “CSS wizardess” by one and complimented on my “inhuman speed” by another. πŸ™‚
    • These relationships generally require less foundation work; I don’t need to convince them of my skills, I don’t need to hand-hold them through the basic concepts of having a web site, I can use industry terms without explaining them.
    • These relationships do generate more interruptions, however, either with emails, IM, or phone calls to talk about projects.
    • The main downside of middleman work is that it’s often not very creative work; I’m either working on a small part of a project or doing HTML/CSS production work.
    • Bottom line: Based on pure numbers, I should continue to work with these companies and be open to working in similar situations. However, these are mainly hourly-contracted jobs. Am I working myself into a situation where my income is purely dependent on how many hours I work? I want to recommit to producing more products where I make a royalty and also consider raising my hourly rate for new clients to take into account my main strength of speed and efficiency.
  • While I enjoy the end product of my one-time web projects, the process of wooing the client, educating the client, probing the client for useful feedback, discussing things with the client, etc., etc., can be exhausting.
    • With a few exceptions, the most exhausting projects were with small businesses looking for their first web site.
    • A big part of the process with the clients was developing trust. The projects that I did for friends, family, or those referred by friends/family generally went much quicker.
    • I like the relationship-developing aspect of working with clients: learning about their personalities, learning how to communicate with them, and getting a little more personal despite having a “business” relationship.
    • There are a couple clients who take up a lot of communication time — very wordy on the phone, requiring in-person meetings, etc.
    • Bottom line: I really do enjoy the client process and the final product, but I’m sensing that I’m starting to burn out in this area — and again, based on numbers, it’s not “worth” my time to continue to pursue this type of work. I’m going to set some boundaries for myself so that I’m only working with a certain number of custom clients at a time. I think this will be better overall as I can then really focus on the one or two that I work with and develop the one-on-one relationship that I enjoy. So, one of my immediate goals is to complete and close out as many of my open projects as I can.
  • A big chunk of income this year was from a one-time writing project.
    • I really enjoyed this project, and not just because it paid me a lot. πŸ™‚
    • This was an opportunity that fell in my lap; I didn’t go looking for it. The person that found me, however, had read other related articles that I had written and thought it would be a good fit.
    • Bottom line: Continue writing and look into other opportunities for paid writing.
  • Other action items:
    • I will have to rework my web site content. Right now is very targeted at small business owners, from my home page “why hire a designer” content to my educational “what goes into a web site” content to my portfolio pieces. If I want to work more with developers and middlemen, I should redo my web site to reflect the services and skills that I can offer.
    • I will figure out my royalties to see what the actual percentage is. This will help me to decide how much more time I should invest in creating digital products or looking into more writing opportunities.
    • Finally, I’ll think more about applying other principles from The 4 Hour Workweek about cutting down interruptions and time is spent on communications so that I can be more productive.

Overall, this has been a very valuable exercise! It only took about 10 minutes to print out the reports, calculate the percentages, and create the initial spreadsheet data, and another 20 minutes to sort the data and jot down notes. I did more analysis while writing up this blog which took quite a bit longer, but your analysis process could probably be more efficient than mine. πŸ™‚ If you have a spare half-hour or hour, I’d highly recommend that you follow Tim’s advice to perform an 80/20 analysis.

This is my first full post with thoughts about The 4 Hour Workweek. View other posts related to The 4 Hour Workweek.