Home alone, at work: 6 tips for independent consultants

A good friend of mine, who was a senior manager at IBM, is now working as a freelance consultant – as he put it: I’m discovering the good (and the bad) of “freelance life” – plenty of free time – but not always when (or where) I want it

One of my in-laws has a rare-book binding business – he is ruthless about his time and extremely well-organized – he’s been trying to get me to co-author a book with him that would help guide people who are self-employed and working out of a home office. There are tons of books on this topic but they all seem to focus on the more technical aspects of getting insurance, IT, networking etc.

We haven’t started writing the book yet… but in the meantime here are 6 solid tips if you are an independent consultant:

  1. Manage your time.  It’s the most precious commodity you have – and as an independent consultant or self-employed person or work-at-home Mom – you cannot delegate work to employees you do not have.   Strikingly – Haim (my in-law) and I have arrived at virtually the same method for time management.  Plan the week on one page – day by day, and prioritize items in A B C order. There will be one top item each day – that’s your A1 item – there should be about 5-6 items/day and 6 days / week – take off Saturday or Sunday.  Plan your personal items also – like exercise, riding, walking, running.  Then grade yourself at the end of the week, an item will only have a grade of 0 or 1.  Keep track of items you did but didn’t plan for. You must strive to consistently hit 80% of your plan. Less than 80% and you’re overextended or poorly executing – more than that and you are probably underemployed.
  2. Manage your space.   Many books assume you live in America and have a house with a room you can remodel exactly to your needs.  In my experience – most people don’t live in America and most people don’t have the luxury of a split-level in suburbia. Whether you have a fully equipped home office in a separate wing or whether you have a corner in a studio apartment – your second priority is segregating your work from your home space.  Never forget you are at work. Go to “work” at 7, 8 or 9 and finish at 5, 6 or 7 and then go “home”. Make sure that the rest of your family know that you are at “work”. Be tough about this.
  3. Run your business like Intel.   Just because it’s you and yourself – doesn’t mean you can ignore strategic business planning, quarterly objectives and measuring your performance month by month, quarter to quarter.    Once a year – take off a weekend and think about new products and services – new ways of doing stuff.  One a quarter – take off a weekend and take stock – and plan the next quarter. Measure yourself – try to improve.   Stop rationalizing.
  4. Get out of the house.   Haim and I are fortunate because we are Orthodox Jews  – that gets us out of the house 2/3 times a day for prayers.  But – you have to be careful. I once had my head down in a software development project for  several  weeks.  One evening, food shopping with my wife – I found myself socializing with strangers in the local supermarket –  my wife thought I was pathetic, but I guess I needed the human interaction.
  5. Exercise and get some sun – first thing in the morning is best. The oxygen to the brain with some cardio-physio exercise like swimming, running or biking will do wonders for your day.  And of course the best part is the shower afterwards.
  6. Get email rehab.  Read your email twice/day – once at 10:00, after you’ve gotten in a couple of hours at work and again at 14:00 after lunch. Email is the biggest offender for getting people side tracked and off their tasks at hand.   If someone really needs you – they will call.
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