I’ve developed a bit of a habit over the last 8 years of running Zao. It’s fairly recent (last couple years, really), but I think it has served me really well and will continue to do so.
As a business practice, make it a viable reality that you never (and never need to) bill more than 5 hours per day.
There are a lot of reasons for this, all of which are awesome:
I love my family. A lot, actually. They’re my favorite people in the world. Having days where I can wake up at 7AM, work hard until noon, and then be done – that’s awesome. It means I get incredible freedom to spend time with my family whenever and however that looks. That’s really neat, and I’m incredibly fortunate to have days like that. But, lest you be deceived – it’s not always like that.
Only aiming for five billable hours per day means that I can be the guy that comes through. When someone emails/Skypes/Tweets saying, “Man, emergency project cropped up, we need help ASAP – do you have time?” – if I feel like it, I can say, “Absolutely, how can I help?”
That’s pretty neat. Most of my colleagues are crazy booked and getting any of their time is tough – rightfully so, they’re a talented bunch. But shooting for this kind of schedule allows me to serve my clients really effectively – I’m able to put in some extra hours and come through for them on projects when others might be spread more thin and not have that flexibility. Naturally, this only works if I’m not already working on a “surprise” projects. :)
How many times have you been caught in the exact position of my freelancing colleagues I mentioned? I know I’ve been there – a lot! Heck, sometimes, I’m still there – I definitely haven’t perfected this idea. But I know one thing for sure – if I know a project will take 40-50 hours, and I know I’m only booking 5 hours per day – and I know what I already have on my plate – that makes scheduling dead simple. Since adopting this mindset, I’ve had far fewer scheduling kerfuffles than the days when I’d simply try to book as much as possible.
This is really all more of a general rule – and as I said, I haven’t perfected it. But aiming for this makes life and freelancing pretty awesome. It gives me a viable target to aim for with tangible metrics I can utilize to make my personal and professional life more effective and joyous.
It doesn’t mean that I don’t have insane work days from time to time, and it certainly doesn’t mean that I don’t use the rest of my day working on my business instead of in my business. It simply means that I have an achievable and measurable target for what my days should look like.