Here’s something I discovered for myself over the last few weeks:
only put the most important tasks on the daily To-Do list.

That means 3-5 most important (money-making, life-improving, etc) things that MUST be done. Everything else, i.e. workout or laundry, that stuff gets done in between. Unless workout or laundry is a part of your life changing activities, obviously.

I used to put EVERYTHING on the To-Do list, down to the smallest thing, and you know what that does? It gives a false sense of accomplishment as I tick off the easy stuff during the day. Sometimes I’d have 8 of 12 tasks checked off which might seem like a lot, but the most important ones wouldn’t be done.

Having just a few lines in the list keeps me focused. Everything else is a distraction, small stuff doesn’t usually deserve as much attention as we give it.

Too obvious? Well, congratulate yourself for being smarty-pants ๐Ÿ™‚ I just got to this point and it’s a meaningful shift of perspective.

“Resolutions” is really a very big word, my goals are not very ambitious. Smoking/food habits/fitness are pretty much under control, it’s an ongoing improvement process with no clear end result. In 2008 I’ll aim to improve my productivity and improve the quality of my spare time via these:

1. Take at least 2 weeks of vacation (preferably away from Toronto)
For most people vacation is something they take for granted, not something to strive for. We find it hard to take 2 weeks off for a “formal” vacation every year. Vacations take time to plan, so there’s the laziness factor. Then, there are “control freak” issues since I’m just unable to let things go and want to be there for the clients (which has really spoiled them to an incredible degree, don’t recommend it). And third, since we have the luxury of taking time off whenever we need it, usually 2-3 days, burn-out creeps up slowly, not on a regular annual basis.

2. Watch TV maximum 2 hours per day
This includes watching DVD’s which is what I’ve been doing lately. Waiting through the commercials is such an aweful waste of time. Even if I’m usually in a listening mode and rarely sit still to watch anything, 2 hours per day of TV means about 30-40 minutes of commercials, or about 180 hours of commercials a year. That’s more than a typical work month!

3. Email less but with more substance
Email eats up 1-2 hours of my time a day, and I don’t get paid for it. I’m getting email-weary. Calling and chatting is much more pleasant and somehow takes less effort. And I think it also builds better relationships and more meaningful connections than email unless you take time to write out deep conversation-style letters.

4. Be kinder to people and complain less
Yes, this is also a productivity goal in a way.

“I have learned through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power which can move the world.” รขโ‚ฌโ€ Gandhi

…I feel a cliché coming… aaaand here it is: it’s time for some spring cleaning!

It hurts to “fire” paying clients, but sometimes it must be done, and I’m at that point. What kind of a client would I consider firing?

1. Clients who don’t pay enough and are not willing to accept a higher rate.
These are like an old item that you keep “just in case”. The thing is useless and has been useless for awhile, but you may need it some day in the future, or you just can’t bring yourself to throw it away because… well, SOME money is better than NO money, right?

2. Clients that pay well enough, but are emotionally and creatively exhausting.
These are a drain, because when I dread the project or working with a particular client, it sucks the energy out of me, inhibits all the creativity and free thought, and the project takes twice as long to complete. In the end, really, it’s a double-toll: less money per true hour spent on the project, and psychological damage.

Firing techniques

We’ve done it before, but in non-direct, and shall I say, cowardly ways. I would start responding to the offending client’s phone calls and emails with a delay (Ok, bad, I know – but to be fair I only did it with real jerks); raising rates; and stop showing any kind of initiative. Almost always these ‘techniques’ created ill will and led to a break-up.

While it’s never good to create ill will and be so unprofessional, I believe we didn’t lose much with most of the “fired” clients, because it’s unlikely anyone will come back after being rejected even if it’s done politely; or will ever recommend us to the others. I may be wrong on this, but it helps me feel better to think this way.

I still believe raising rates is a good way of weeding out the bloodsuckers. With this method, one has to decide what’s more important: more money or getting rid of the client.

· More money
Figure out how much more to charge. Caution: may lose the client in the process.

· Objective to get rid of the client completely?
It’s important to raise the rates enough so that they won’t stick around. Otherwise, you get a bit more money, but still suffer through every project. And then what do you do? You come back and have to dump them anyway by saying “I’m sorry, I thought more money would alleviate the sting of working with you, but I just hate you too much.” Who’s a jerk now?

Another, mature way of breaking up the relationship is of course to come out and talk about it directly with the client. And I’m thinking out loud here…:

· Change of direction
“It’s been a pleasure working with you for the past 5 years, but we’re changing our business focus and I don’t think we both [they and you] will benefit from continuing our relationship. [Can explain how the focus is changing, but if it sounds too lame, maybe just skip it.] I’d be happy to refer you to Blah Blah, they are capable of providing you with the services you’ve been getting from us.”

· It’s not working out
“I think our professional relationship is not going well. There is a lot of discontent on both sides. Having tried and failed to work through that, I think you will agree that it’s best for us to just discontinue working together.”

Referring to someone is optional, especially if you don’t know anyone you can recommend.

Why any work at all is worse than no work (applies to some cases – decide for yourself)

If you are in a position that you’re willing to work for peanuts, fine. But if your next meal doesn’t depend on these ‘peanuts’, marketing is always a better paying job. You invest your time in your business/yourself, and it has the potential to bring new bigger and better paying clients.

I’m not going to do hour-by-hour comparison of unbilled extra time spent on a dreaded project versus marketing. It really isn’t all about money: emotional rewards are more important. Especially when you are self-employed. Because otherwise, why else would you be doing this? If you enjoy being abused with little pay or bad attitude, you may as well go get a job.

Ok, I’ve convinced myself!

As a person very lazy by nature, I struggle every single day to get things done. I got so good at fighting my self, most people think I’m a workaholic! There’s a few consious steps I take in order to jumpstart the process, whatever it may be.

1. Make lists
I always make lists. It’s important to find a convenient book, planner or desktop calendar for this. If it’s inconvenient, you’ll end up with a ton of small Post-It’s and disorganized desk. It’s nice to have good memory, but it puts too much pressure if you keep it all in your mind. I sleep much better if I leave it on paper and know I won’t forget anything.

2. Get right to it
First thing in the morning it’s easy to get caught up in checking favorites (the weather web site, joke of the day, early market movement analysis), having a cup of coffee, reading the paper etc. etc. Only allow procrastination after at least 2 hours of work. I turn on the computer and start working right away. I find that my morning hours are usually the most productive, probably because I avoid these “time-nibblers” completely.

3. Prioritize
I often work on 6-7 projects simultaneously and often prioritizing is the difference between getting it done on time and paid – or NOT. Tasks should be done in the order in which they have to be delivered. Very tempting to do easy or short ones, or the ones for the favorite client first, but if they can wait, skip them for now.

4. Figure out your circadian rhythm
We all slump during the day at some time. For example, I’m not effective at anything from around 3pm to 5pm, so I leave all routine mind-numbing tasks for that time. Or I watch Frasier reruns :). Anything that requires a lot of brain power or creativity should be done during your active hours (morning and late night for me). You won’t be able to concentrate and work effectively during these “slump” hours anyway, so why bother?

5. Take breaks
Even in a time crunch, avoid having lunch right at work. Taking breaks relaxes and focuses you. I try to step away from the computer at least 3 times a day. Ideally, you should take a break once an hour.

None of this may help if you are a particularly hard-core procrastinator. I should mention that I’m a pretty guilt-ridden person. Guilt beats laziness any day.

Have a wonderfully productive day!

For any given tax year, I use just 2 manila folders and an expandable box file to organize our tax papers.

Manila Folder 1: Throughout the year I have a folder tabbed “Tax bin”. All paperwork pertaining to taxes is filed in this folder, as it comes in. Except receipts – these are kept in a zipped cloth envelope.

I file the Tax Bin horizontally in between my 3-ring binders. It stays put that way, is easy to pull out and doesn’t interfere. When tax time comes, I use it to keep all my transitional income and expense worksheets.

Manila folder Expandable poly file box

Manila Folder 2: After everything is filed with Revenue Canada, I take another manila folder, label it with the tax year, i.e. “2006 Taxes” and put copies of our tax returns and copies of T-slips in there. This is what I file in the expandable box file. When notices of assessment come in, I add them in to this folder.

I end up with a separate folder for each tax year, and a running tax folder for the current year. Not much to it, but I’ve been doing it this way since 1999 – after trying out more complex setups. This is a very low-cost system, and works great for me.