Tag: The 4 Hour Workweek

The 4 Hour Workweek: Wrapup

Through my other eight posts about The 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, I’ve only covered about half the book.

The rest of the book talks about various topics for getting down to a “four hour workweek:”

  • Chapter 8: Becoming comfortable with outsourcing – whether parts of projects or even as a personal assistant. Each task that you delegate should be time-consuming (so that you don’t want to spend the time doing it) and well-defined (so that language barriers don’t get in the way.
  • Chapters 9, 10, and 11: Creating an income machine – Creating revenue streams that bring income even when you’re not “working.” The chapters guide you through the steps of picking a market and product, testing your market, and setting up a structure where you can be involved as little as possible using two side-by-side scenarios as examples.
  • Chapters 12 and 13: Working offsite and considering quitting or changing your job – Working remotely allows you to have the freedom to travel or do other things “while working,” and Tim gives some very specific tips and strategies for how to approach an employer.
  • Chapter 14: How to take mini-retirements – Why wait until you’re 65 to travel or experience the things you want to experience, learn the things you want to learn? If you like to travel, Tim challenges one to relocate for 1-6 months at a time to fully experience it and shows that it’s not as expensive as you think.
  • Chapter 15: Getting past boredom – Now that you have all this extra time, what do you do with it? Tim suggests that most people find it necessary to learn and serve, otherwise they experience depression because of a lack of purpose.
  • Chapter 16: A short summary of top mistakes made by people who are trying to do everything in this book.
  • The last chapter: Inspirational poem.

If any of these topics sound interesting to you, I’d recommend actually reading the book to find out more!

But this is where the train ends for me. I’m currently not interested in putting in the time to build an “income-making machine” and almost fully separating “work” from “income.” I’m wanting to put more roots down (e.g., starting a family, trying to buy a house in our town) instead of relocating to different places for months at a time. I guess this means that for now, I’m not joining the ranks of the “New Rich,” as Tim Ferriss calls them.

I’m still working through ideas of what “work” is and its place in my life. Tim’s book challenges my ingrained culture and work ethic, showing that time does not necessarily equal money and forcing me to look at whether or not my time is actually being spent on what I value, or if I’m just spinning my wheels. One of the ideas underlying this book seems to be that “work” has no value in itself — it’s something that should be minimized so that you can do what you really want to do. I wonder if the average person who reads this book (and does something with it) hates their career, job, or employer, and is looking for a way out. However, I find my current line of work to be interesting and fulfilling (and it helps that I’m my own employer). I’m not sure that I’d find running an income-making machine-type company to be as fulfilling (although I guess I won’t really know until I find out).

Even if you’re in a similar place as I am, with no real intention of changing your current job or career or overall lifestyle, I think there is a lot of valuable material in the book that can help you to free up time formerly spent on non-essentials.

(If you’ve read the book and have thoughts about “the role of work,” or if you have any other comments or thoughts, please share below in the comments!)

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

The 4 Hour Workweek: More efficient communication

One of the biggest things I’ve been learning from The 4 Hour Workweek is how to cut down on the volume of email by limiting back-and-forth situations. Here are just a few tips that I’ve come up with:

  • Offer specific choices.
    • Setting up an essential meeting: Instead of “what works for you,” ask “would 1 pm, 2 pm, or 3 pm work best for you?”
    • Obtaining client feedback: Instead of “what do you think about the navigation,” provide two options and ask “do you like the bulleted version or the box version better? If neither, can you provide a link to a site where you like their navigation?”
  • Use numbered lists. If asking a series of specific questions, break them up into a numbered list of questions. This also makes it easier for them to respond to you.
  • Set specific deadlines. Instead of “please send me the content,” use “please send me the content by Friday. If this is not possible, please let me know when you can send it to me. Thanks in advance!”
  • Don’t procrastinate. I’m guilty of sometimes sending back an email just to avoid performing any action by throwing the ball back into their court. To combat this, here’s my new motto: “Don’t be lazy.”

Please feel free to contribute more tips in the comments!

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

The 4 Hour Workweek: Empowerment Failure

The last interruption that Tim Ferriss discusses in Chapter 4 of The 4 Hour Workweek is an empowerment failure — an interruption of your work that occurs because you have to wait on approval from someone else. Examples: You’re trying to wrap up a customer support issue but your boss needs to approve the full refund. You’re working on a project but are waiting for client feedback. You’re working on something but you need approval to purchase a piece of software to complete the job.

Tim writes about his personal experience with running a company where most of the email he was receiving was NOT from customers, but from his customer service reps who were asking for approval for different actions — providing refunds, shipping to a different address, etc. Tim sent one email that “immediately turned 200 email per day into fewer than 20 email per week.” The email essentially told his customer service reps to use their discretion and make the customer happy as long as it would cost under $100 to do so. This empowered his customer service reps to use their judgment to respond to customer service situations without having to always come back to Tim.

Empowerment failures go both ways:

  • The person with the power:
    • The problem: Your time is interrupted by approval requests.
    • The solution: Empower the other person to make their own decisions (within limits as necessary).
  • The person looking for approval:
    • The problem: Your completion of tasks is interrupted by needing approval from someone else.
    • The solution: Ask for more freedom/empowerment from the other person. Or, cut down on interactions by using your words wisely in communications.

In my line of work, I’m usually the person looking for approval. Here are a couple of specific situations:

Scenario 1: Client feedback

I have a web site that I’m designing for a client. My old process:

  1. initial screenshot design stage
  2. client feedback
  3. second revisions
  4. more client feedback
  5. third revision
  6. client approval
  7. screenshots of some of the individual pages
  8. client feedback
  9. revisions
  10. more client feedback
  11. more revisions
  12. production stage (where I create the graphics, HTML, and CSS)
  13. site ready for client review

For a very basic site, the design process would just take a few hours. However, it gets spread out over several days as we go back and forth. I am stuck with waiting for the client’s feedback and approval before I can move forward.Of course, I’ll always have a point when I need the client’s feedback. However, I think I can cut some of the steps out.

  1. initial screenshot design stage
  2. request client feedback by providing very specific questions that will help me make more targeted changes
  3. screenshot revision PLUS other page layouts
  4. request client feedback about the original layout and about the other page-specific layouts, again using very specific questions
  5. finalize basic layout and revise other page layouts
  6. confirm client approval of basic layout and request feedback about the page-specific layouts
  7. revise page-specific layouts and build basic HTML/CSS for the base layout
  8. confirm client approval of page-specific layouts
  9. continue production, site ready for final review

By overlapping some of the steps and, more importantly, being more specific in my requests for feedback, I can cut out a lot of the back-and-forth that seems to occur with these types of projects. I can also work on more of the project at one time which overall increases my efficiency.

Scenario 2: Customer support

Occasionally I’ll handle customer support for PixelMill and run into a situation where someone wants to combine orders in a weird way, usually involving a significant discount on one of the products. (“I want the web design from this product but the images from this product.”) I usually have to:

  1. email back the customer to let them know I’m emailing my supervisor
  2. email my supervisor and ask what kind of discount we can provide
  3. email the customer back and offer the deal
  4. wait for the customer to respond, set up the discount, and help the customer complete the order

Short of directly sending the customer to the supervisor which would take me out of the loop :), I can instead have a short conversation with my supervisor to get some general ideas of what kind of discount we can provide while still making a profit and ask for permission to make final decisions the next time this type of situation occurs. Next time, I only have to write half the emails I usually do:

  1. email the customer and offer the deal (cc my supervisor if necessary)
  2. wait for the customer to respond, set up the discount, and help the customer complete the order

If my supervisor is uncomfortable initially, I can add in an initial step:

  1. compose an email with the deal and send it to my supervisor for approval first
  2. email the customer and offer the deal
  3. wait for the customer to respond, set up the discount, and help the customer complete the order

Are you usually the person with the power or the person looking for approval? How do you or could you approach interruptions that com from empowerment failure?
This is my seventh full post with thoughts about The 4 Hour Workweek. View other posts related to The 4 Hour Workweek.

The 4 Hour Workweek: Batching

Continuing on with The 4 Hour Workweek, Timothy Ferriss had some great ideas about how to combat time consumers, or repetitive tasks that need to be done that get in the way of “higher level” things. I think of these as “maintenance tasks” — things like responding to email and phone calls, handling customer service, running errands, updating finances, paying bills, doing laundry, etc.

Tim’s main solution is to batch. One of his examples in the book is to check your mail only once a week instead of every day.

“But what if something important comes in the mail?”

Chances are that you will very rarely have something that is really urgent in the mail. And even if you do get something with a deadline (such as a bill), it’s very likely that you won’t have a problem meeting a deadline OR handling any problems occurred by missing a deadline.

Tim encourages you to do some financial and time analysis. Let’s say you spend an average of 20 minutes a day checking your mail (walking out to the mail box, bringing it in, skimming through it, tossing junk, opening and reviewing, paying bills immediately, etc.). That’s 2 hours and 20 minutes each week, and you have to factor in the “interruption” factor of whatever higher-level project you happened to be working on at the time. (Tim says that this “psychological switching of gears” can take up to 45 minutes for you to get back to your higher-level project.) Now, let’s say that you can process all the mail for a week in 30 minutes. You’re saving almost two hours a week. Let’s say you can get paid $20/hour, so you’ve just saved $36.67, or almost $150 a month. Now — checking your mail one time a week is unlikely to result in many negative consequences; most bills give you several days if not weeks of notice for payment. How much would you save if you checked your mail every other week? Compare your savings against any potential costs of fixing problems you might run into to find your ideal batching period.

Batching is the same idea implemented with checking your email and phone less frequently. Here’s my short brainstorming list of things I can batch:

  • Email/phone – Still thinking about how to batch these successfully.
  • Budget/finances – I used to enter in receipts into Quicken and pay bills on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I’ve cut this down to once a week, usually for an hour on Sunday afternoons. I could probably go down to every other week, but I need to figure out a better tracking system as I often rely on memory for cash expenditures.
  • Blogging – This is tricky. I like to write a little bit every day, but it does take a bit of time to get started. It would definitely be more efficient to draft several blogs at once (particularly when writing about a similar topic like this series of posts), but perhaps not as good of a writing exercise for me…
  • Uploading photos to Flickr – Instead of downloading photos from my camera after every spurt of picture-taking, I’ve been letting them sit for a few weeks. I’d probably be fine uploading photos around once a month.

What other time-consuming yet necessary routines can you batch?

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

The 4 Hour Workweek: Stop Wasting Time

In Chapter 4 of The 4 Hour Workweek, Timothy Ferriss talks about three interruptions that keep us from completing a task from start to finish and how to combat them:

  • Time wasters – Emails, phone calls, discussions, and meetings that are not important.
  • Time consumers – Repetitive tasks/requests that need to be done but that often get in the way of “higher level” things, such as reading/responding to email, phone calls, customer service, errands, finances, etc.
  • Empowerment failures – Something that requires someone else’s approval to happen, such as approval for a purchase, dealing with customer problems, etc.

The time wasters topic is most relevant to me. First, Tim has some pretty crazy and drastic ways on how to deal with these.

  1. Turn off your email program alert and automatic send/receive so you aren’t distracted by incoming email.
  2. Check email only twice a day (right before lunch and right before the end of your day). Don’t check your email first thing in the morning; instead, focus on completing your Most Important Task for the day.
    • This may require implementing some kind of autoresponder that informs people of your email-checking times. Tim has a simple email format that he suggests where you give your reason for only checking email twice a day (because of high workload, or to be more productive, etc.) and provide your phone number for “urgent assistance.”
    • Tim then encourages you to move to once a day email checking, and even less often if you can manage it.
  3. Have a separate line for non-urgent calls that go to voicemail — with a message similar to your email autoresponder that tells people what times you check the voicemail. Ask them to leave their email address to receive a faster response and provide your “urgent” phone number as well.
  4. Screen your incoming “urgent” calls. Let it go to voicemail and listen to it immediately to determine if you need to call them back or not, or check caller ID to see if you want to answer it immediately.
  5. Keep phone calls short and sweet. If you check your urgent line, don’t chat it up with friendly small talk. Tim provides some tips for conversational openers that allow you and the caller to stick to the “urgent” reason for why they’re calling. You can do this without being rude.
  6. Avoid meetings that don’t have a clear objective. Meetings should be held to make decisions about a problem, not to figure out the problem. Train people to send you an agenda of the specific things they want to discuss during the meeting (by email, of course).
  7. Use your words wisely. A small turn of phrase can do wonders in cutting down nonessential emails. “Can you meet at 4?” is not as effective as “Can you meet at 4? If not, can you provide three other times tomorrow that would work for you?” Tim also hints that adding “Thanks in advance” to the end of an email (such as one requesting a meeting agenda) raises the chances that you’ll get a useful reply.
  8. Set a time limit on meetings. Define an end time for essential meetings and stick to it. Make up something urgent that you need to do if you need to. 🙂

Some of the things I’ve been thinking about and trying…

  • I’ve been trying to work on at least one project in the morning before checking my email and closing Outlook altogether when I don’t want to be interrupted, although I haven’t moved to just twice a day yet. I’m probably more like 4 times a day (in contrast to the 40 times a day — I used to check it every time something came in). I’m hesitant to start with the email responder thing because I hate receiving email responders.
  • Another thing keeping me from implementing twice a day email checking is that I haven’t figured out my phone situation yet. Having a mobile phone is pretty new for me, and if I make it my “urgent” phone, I won’t have a way to have a non-urgent phone without paying for a second business line. (On the other hand, as Steve almost exclusively uses his cell phone now, perhaps we’ll convert our home line to a “business” phone for me and train our friends and family to call our cell phones.)
  • I’ve been trying to use my words more wisely in email to help move things forward, including setting short deadlines for other people to send me information and providing choices of times for meetings. I’ve found that this has mostly helped, except for some instances where people have seemed to ignore my request. Hmmm.
  • There are only two clients that I can think of who have historically sucked up hours of my time in chitchat and meetings. I will need to think of the best way to approach future interactions with them.

If you’ve had success with implementing any of these strategies, I’d love to hear about them!

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

Weekly Update: Feeling great

Great week!

  • Health/fitness:
    • Weigh myself daily – 🙂
    • Walk 30 minutes every day – 😀 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 – 🙂
  • Work:
    • Complete 3/6 small biz client projects – 😀 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 – 🙂
  • House:
    • Finish reading book about buying first-time home. 🙂 Done!
    • Look at budget and analyze to see if we could afford monthly expenses. 🙂 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. 🙂 Did it later than intended, but done!
  • One-time: Call our city to request a free compost bin. 🙂 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. 🙂 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.

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. 🙂

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. 🙂

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.

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. 🙂
    • 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. 🙂
    • 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 corriehaffly.com 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. 🙂 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.