How to Track Time While Working With Distractions

This post is the first in series, “Services that Help My Business Go”, wherein Tia shares some of her behind-the-scenes secrets.

 

The other day I had a meeting with a business mentor at SCORE and we were discussing time management and discipline. My mentor, a man with a lifetime of professional management and consulting experience, is a wealth of counsel (for FREE!) on how to continue to articulate my business mission and plan for each stage of growth.

At one point, we were mutually commiserating on how difficult it can be to keep track of time while working from a home office. It’s true any time one works around people, actually.  There’s lots of coming-and-going, stops-and-starts, plenty of distractions as it appears you are available to whomever needs you…when in fact, your job is to “put your butt in the chair and work”.

I’d hit the ceiling of “now, where was I” one day when I googled Time Tracking App’s and discovered  life-and-invoice-saving Toggl. They aren’t kidding when they call it ‘insanely simple”. I create my projects, hit the button, and it begins tallying my time spent. I can bump it when I need to get up or am distracted by another request. It sync’s with my phone. More than once I’ve been at the grocery store and gotten a notification that my time clock was still running…. and so right there between Produce and Seafood I can stop and adjust the cut.

When it’s time to do month-end reports and invoices, it’s all right there. Billable versus non-billable time. How much time each stage of the project really takes. (Oh, and doesn’t that make the next projection easier! No more guess work!)

One day in May I was sitting at favorite local breakfast spot, The Metro Diner, where I’d met with Annika from the Toggl team. Toggl and Teamweek are based in Estonia and she was in the states meeting with their users to gather feedback. I almost wished I had some sort of complaint to offer, so she’d have something to take back with her under, “things we can work on”. But no, all I had was near-shameless gushing. Toggl pretty much saves my butt every month and I love it. I get up from my desk, or stop to take a call, or answer someone’s urgent question a zillion times a day. I would have NO WAY of honestly accounting for time spent without  a tracker and it HAS TO BE EASY.

And so I gushed and she took notes and then told me some truly fascinating things about her country and Estonia’s progressive culture. What happened next is that I tweeted her quote…

The hashtags led to some interesting new Twitter activity

The hashtags led to some interestingly broad Twitter activity

….and I caught a quick glimpse of how sometimes the simplest ideas can become the most empowering.

The fact is, having a business idea is one thing; running a business is another. There’s a minefield of entrepreneurs who focus entirely on their product or service but then fall apart in the background because they fail to spend time “on” the business. As a creative, that is a constant temptation. Administration is not where the fun and excitement hangs out! And yet, administration is exactly what will kill a business faster than you slap a tick. My SCORE mentor certainly confirmed this- he sees people with ideas, people who want money, people who are at all levels of understanding of what it takes to start a company. Even with all his years of experience, he confirmed for me that time tracking and management is at the heart of success, no matter who you are.

Once I have my time tracked and my reports generated (with a single click!), the next step is invoicing. I’ve found a KISS method for that one too- stay tuned for Part Two.

Memorial Park in Riverside, WWI Commemoration

Memorial Park in Riverside, WWI Commemoration

Client Spotlight: RW Wealth in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

Growing up, the rule was, “Leave a room nicer than it was when you found it”. I like applying that principle to my projects because it gets results. It’s gratifying to make improvements that do what’s intended and empowers a client’s goals. In that spirit, I want to share a recent before-and-after, with all the goodies in between.

Today’s client spotlight shines on Dan, Hal, and the accounting team at RW Wealth, CPA’s in Ponte Vedra Beach. They came to me with a mixture of the ideas they had for growth and an openness to how they might get there. They knew ahead of time that their current website and brand identity needed an update and they wanted to provide an easier interface to their clients. These are professionals who make it a lifestyle habit to have their fingers on the pulse of the market. Sensitivity to change is imperative- staying “locked in” to an idea means your progress will do the same: lock. I quickly learned that the mindset in the RW Wealth office is one that looks ahead: they are progressive, rational, understanding, professional, measured-yet-relaxed. Being located so close to the beach lends a sunny atmosphere that they match in attitude.

One thing both RW Wealth and Hired Scribe Media have in common is a desire to make decisions based on evidence. While it might be easier to just say, “we need a new website”, we find it a lot more valuable to know WHY first.

  • What do you want the new website to do that the current one does not?
  • What is your current website doing wrong, or poorly?

This does not have be subjective and should never be reckless. We started with research and metrics to compile a complete baseline report. This was a revealing process that went a long way in explaining why their old website wasn’t offering the results they wanted. The industry-specific framework had once been an easy entry point for a first website, but offered a limited amount of customization with few access points for search engine activity. A vertical design and side menu maxed out with just a few options, making it very hard to expand the site’s SEO. It did offer client portal access but not for as many services as RW Wealth provides. The keyword research revealed an amalgamation of all of these issues: it’s difficult to optimize for the best phrases when a site’s code and structure makes it almost invisible online!

The old site limited client and search engine access.

The old site limited client and search engine access.

The project scope that resulted was customized around improving the current environment to address the specific target ahead, line by line. Phase Two of the project began with new, fresh logo design. RW Wealth had just recently moved their offices farther down A1A, from Solana Rd to near the TPC Village at Sawgrass, next to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. The new logo needed to be eye catching and bright but also communicate the solid approach to fertile financial growth the firm emphasizes. We wanted it to be location-relevant and look great on all print materials, including embroidered options. The sign on the street has a black background, giving us a great opportunity to maximize visibility from the road frontage. The design process was collaborative and energetic- ultimately, it provoked a lot of good conversations on identity and strategic outreach.

The New RW Wealth Logo

The New RW Wealth Logo

My criteria for the new website was a mixture of what they needed fixed from their old pages as well as what it takes to be poised for growth by today’s standards. I didn’t want them to just have a brushed up design and some extra writing: they need this site to last a few years and have some growing space. This meant the new site would:

  • be mobile-device responsive, including tablet use
  • be built with HTML-5, offering cross-browser compatibility and ready for any future changes to the web
  • support graphics, including video, for their extensive client-education products
  • have a lateral, user-friendly design with tiered menu’s and sub-menu’s
  • integrate a blog with scrolling content
  • prioritize security
  • load for speed
  • have clean, light code that allows for full search engine access
  • allow for multiple client portal access points
  • be thoroughly meta tagged on every page

The build included an office-wide photo shoot, over 50 pages of SEO writing, and a client portal that offers quick and easy access to tax documents, investment account log-on’s, and business bookkeeping platforms. RW Wealth provides cloud accounting, wealth management, payroll services, investment and retirement account management, and a full range of tax services. Their new site has been constructed to fully support all of these service offerings, as well as empower their new expansions into start-up and small business consulting-  a hot market in the greater Jacksonville area as we nationally attract attention as one of the best cities in America to be an entrepreneur!

The new RW WEALTH home page!!

The new RW WEALTH home page!!

Phase Three is all about content generation, connection, client education, and growth. The RW Wealth Blog is a place where they can publish relevant financial news, educational information, and community connection. I’ve been consulting business owners on blog integration for over a decade and the platform is not stale when it’s done correctly. It remains one of the most powerful ways a website can boost it’s search presence, social media connectivity, and project the sound of the company voice. Phase Three is meant to progress in stages that work for the long term and also tackles Google Authorship, CRM Email outreach campaigns, and an entirely new site as part of the expansion of service: RW Payroll.

The last phase of any project scope is the tracking of results. They already knew they were seeing a better ROI because of the verbal feedback they’ve received. But earlier this week I was assembling the slides, metrics, and maps that show the progress we’ve made in numbers. Their site traffic is up 40 times what it was, with 58% of that traffic being returning visitors that are staying and using the site multiple times. This means they have a good balance of being found by new contacts and nurturing their existing clientele’s needs. The heat maps are especially exciting as they directly confirm the popularity of the company’s growing cloud accounting services for business owners. Seeing improvements work never gets old! Mission accomplished!

I’ll repeat the analytics process throughout the coming year and recommend adjustments based upon those results, as well as periodically address site updates and additions. I consider this team model clients, representing a collaborative, creative, ongoing working dynamic that makes me want to keep going. The story doesn’t end here-  they are so fantastic in everything that they do that I also now rely on them for my own business accounting needs, and will be sharing that more in a series of posts about the Services That Help My Business Go.

 

sea oats and ocean, just down the street from RW Wealth

sea oats and ocean, just down the street from RW Wealth

 

What Happens When You Unplug? Using Technology-Free Time to Make Smart Decisions

I’ll start with the scary part.

Last year, about 13 months ago, I thought I was having a heart attack. At 38. I was driving out of the Target parking lot in the afternoon. I was also talking on the phone, checking for texts from two of my kids, trying to get to another child’s bus stop on time to pick them up, and trying to figure out to do with a major work problem happening California-time (rush hour in my time zone is right about the time the west coasters are back from lunch, ready to go bull-dog on their to-do lists). I had cold groceries in the car and the ice cream was melting. Another driver had just cut me off. My neck was clenched; I could barely breathe. It hurt down my shoulder and arm. I had a splitting headache.

Later, in the emergency room, we would tally up the actual count. I had been doing 8-12 things at a time during a 3 hour window of the afternoon. It wasn’t a heart attack. It was just fried circuitry. My mental machinery was maxed out. I was so plugged in that I didn’t realize my body was screaming, “STOP!”

My mantra for the next several weeks became, “Do one thing at a time. Do what’s essential.”  If you’ve ever tried this, it can be incredibly hard. No more multi-tasking. No more hyper-availability. No more non-essentials. I was gone for a little while. The world did not fall apart. But no doubt about it, there was a learning curve, folks.

I’m happy to say with heart-felt conviction that it paid off. I’m healthier this year. I have dedicated unplugged times; a few each day and the entire weekend as well. My family will be the first to say that I still face the temptation to do too much with my smartphone. It can, after all, do  a lot of things, for which I am extremely grateful. I can not imagine the amount of coordination, logistics, and organization I am responsible for would happen if I didn’t have the benefit of technology so literally at hand.

Still. Any time-out will quickly separate the essentials from the non-essentials. Not all of it is obvious. Sometimes it requires a significant step back to be able to see what you need. And then changes can be determined. One thing your smart phone can’t do is make a smart decision for you! You might be too plugged in to even hear what else is going on.

What else are you missing?

We have to relearn some things and learn to trust that everything isn’t going to fall apart if we put technology away for a little while. It actually, might be falling together. Quietness is a gift that reveals what we need to see. It also free’s us to more effectively focus on what we’ve chosen to pursue.

In a recent article triggered by the viral phone video, NY Times writer Nick Bilton shared a few recent cultural instances where unplugging puts the focus back on being present, beyond no-texting-and-driving or putting away our phones at the movies:

…the Unsound music festival in Poland banned fans from recording the event, saying it did not want “instant documentation” and distractions that might take away from the performances. In April, during a show in New York City, Karen O, the lead singer of the rock band the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, told audience members to put away their phones (using an expletive to emphasize her point).

A number of New York restaurants, including Momofuku Ko and Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, have prohibited people from photographing their food. (Note to foodies: Your quinoa does not need to be artfully posted with an old-timey look on Instagram.) And, of course, many mothers and fathers who fought to keep the television out of the kitchen may see smartphones as the next threat to dinnertime civility.

 

So think about it. What happens when you unplug? When you log out of certain social media outlets? This lesson definitely has a business trickle down effect. As a consultant, I favor marketing methods that are some what active even in your absence. In my opinion, that’s where the most value is. I’d venture a guess there are few people who truly prefer being virtually on-call for their business lives 24-7 (or even half that!). Work can be enjoyable… but even if it’s your dream come true, there are still hours you’d like to be sleeping, relating, playing, exploring, etc. It’s great to develop platforms that work for you even when you’re not around.

At the same time, you can’t outsource your life. There are some things that require your honest presence in order to succeed. If you are going to be logged out of them for long periods of time, they may not be the best option for you at all.

My lesson was that I need breaks. I make smarter choices that align with my values when I set the phone down and walk a way for a little while. My smarter choices yield better results, as true whether it’s about ice cream or business.

The Lions of San Marco Square- shopping and dining district

The Lions of San Marco Square- shopping and dining district