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Monday, January 31, 2005

Working smarter

Humans are slow learners. At least I can speak for myself. Tomorrow marks one year since I started my solo venture. There isn’t a day that goes by that I haven’t learned something new about how to engage—and not engage—in business.

I learned last fall that some monthly retainers sound like a lot, until you realize the amount of hours that project will consume. And that it’s best to get it in writing no matter how loudly the client doth protest. If they insist on working on a handshake, I’m not doing business with them.

When my world is thrown into a professional/economic tailspin, it’s best not to panic. Reassessing for me means thinking clearly. In order to do that, I need to take extra care of myself — exercising daily, eating well and sleeping well. Once I stop panicking, good things just seem to fall into place.

I don’t want to have my entire business focus translate into working for someone else, though from the convenience of my home office. When faced with the prospect of a well-paying job managing special sections for national business magazine, I realized several things:

• I don’t want to give up the other fun projects I’m working on.
• While the money was substantial, it was not enough for me to give up my family life and become consumed by a frenetic corporate culture.
• On the ride back to the airport, while on the phone with my husband, I suddenly realized that I’ve already done that kind of work and I don’t want to go back to it.

From then on certain parts of my business focus became crystal clear. My journalistic endeavors are rapidly expanding. That was the whole purpose in my starting this gig. I’m getting back to writing about those things about which I care deeply—books, the arts, people and leadership.

But the place I struggle most is in time management. Ever so slowly, I’m learning that my time is exactly that—MY time. And in order to call myself a businesswoman, I need to do a better job of managing my time in a way that works best for my family, my business and me.

After a hectic month of meetings after meetings, I’ve learned a couple more things about my time:

• To fill in any and all school-related events on the calendar FIRST.
• Not to schedule meetings past 2 p.m. (with rare exceptions) since my middle son gets home from school at 2:30.
• To keep the early part of my week unscheduled in order to attend to the business of my business (whether it’s writing, researching, invoicing, etc.)
• To not be so quick to run to the east side, when it would be far more convenient for me to meet people closer to home.
• To limit my amount of extra-curriculars during the week.
• To do a better job of tracking the amount of time spent on a particular project.

Of course, these lessons didn’t hit home for me until I found myself articulating them during lunch on Friday in which a colleague was picking my brain about being self-employed. So I’m trying to work smarter in an effort to better manage my life. And I think better management will also lead to business growth.

When people ask me if I accomplished my 2004 goals, I have to say, "I guess." Those goals were fluid and they changed a bit as my desires and needs shifted. I'm feeling good about my first year in business and even better about the next year. In the end, even my husband (so reticent in the beginning) has realized that my being self-employed makes the most sense for our family.

And it has its perks. For the record, I was able to get excused from Jury Duty. (I served two years ago.) Good thing since I was to report on Feb. 7, which also is the 100th day of school at Normandy Elementary. And my presence is requested there by one Michael Hoke.

One of my compulsive habits is to check my horoscope daily. Here’s today’s from Washington Post. Fits rather well with the subject of this post.

VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22). Survey the landscape of your life. What hills do you need to climb? Where can you rest a bit and catch your breath? Is the climate right to plant new seeds for growth? Draw your own map, and then, forge ahead.

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