Consulting and time management:

This page contains  key points raised in our Association of Independent Consultants. (AIC - Canada) presentation on Time Management, Oct. 28, 2002,  including some 'best' consulting practices and also tips related to technology.

Sources of information:
This page contains topics with links to various sources of information discussed in our workshop.   For technology items I recommend that you review a current issue of Laptop, Mobile Computing, and PC magazines for reports on the latest handheld units. The market has become flooded with these products. Today's mobile phones also have features that include PDA functions For help in decision making review my pages: PDA decision making. or the manufacturers link in the next paragraph

Consultant's productivity measurement software:
how do measure and bill the time you have spent on a client's account? Your PDA is a useful tool for logging on and off an account. Various software programs are available for this. MS Project scaled down versions are available. Keeping paper records and then transferring details to an XL spread sheet is another good alternative. The important points are to define with your client what is going to be billed and ensure that you create a reliable 'paper trail' in which to substantiate your billing if required. PDA manufacturers link (includes software choices for tracking).

Networking and contact management follow up. After every meeting at which you have received business cards sort the cards into two groups. One group will be 'must contact' and the other group will be be for possible referral at an undetermined date. I staple my business cards onto a sheet of 8 1/2 x 11 paper and put them into a file folder with the name of a the particular group. The cards that need some type of future contact are immediately entered into my computer data base. If you receive a lot of cards consider that you need to follow up on, consider purchasing an electronic card scanner such as Cardscan. I use the Cardscan 500 model and it is able to read most cards quite accurately. However, there is still time involved in the transfer of the data and typing a name and phone number into a data base is still quicker.

Consultants and business owners need to develop an 'opportunities' data base.
E.g. Microsoft Outlook/Maximizer/Goldmine/ACT
. If you do not currently use Contact Management software, start by using the Microsoft Outlook Program in your Windows system. (It's free and very functional). You can migrate the information to a more powerful contact program later, if you ever need to develop larger groups in your data base. This web site has an overview of common contact management software programs. If you have to decide whether to use MS Out look or MS Outlook Express, I would suggest use MS Outlook. It has more features than Express.  To fast track your learning of any software purchase a quick reference guide from a bookstore (plasticized information sheets). I have been using ACT for many years but am currently setting up my MS Outlook to compare functions that a small business user would need. Microsoft sells a powerful Contact Management program that enhances the Outlook program - this would be in lieu of purchasing ACT or Goldmine.

Access to your computer and files from any remote location.

There are a number of software programs that enable you to do this. Zero 1 is one suggested by AIC technical specialist Arnie Lean. Other software includes PC Anywhere and a new entry Go To My Pc. The software enables you to contact your computer without having to load any software into the remote computer you are working from. Zero1 and Go To My PC are purchased as monthly services. Zero 1 very competitively priced. PC Anywhere is software that you purchase outright. 
Go to my PC   Zero1. PC Anywhere. Laptop users might argue against the need for this type program.

Blackberry type devices. Recommended for those who need to pick up their Email from anywhere at any time  Blackberry, PDA  . However, the market will be flooded with smart phones that allow one to perform this function. Consider the Treo phone series from Palm as an alternative. Remember you still need a phone plan to activate the Email features. The combined price of Internet service (ISP) for your computer, your phone plan cost and your web hosting costs make priority decision making important. I find that checking my Email twice a day is sufficient if I am traveling. Each consultant needs to establish with the client the best method for their communication. Who needs what and when is a good guideline? Create a communication matrix which define these criteria and make sure that all stakeholders have input.

Email. Set up groups as an ongoing part of your Email file management so that you can take advantage of the group mailing features.

Datalink. Your contact manager on your wrist. I personally use a Timex IronMan watch (retails about $70 US) which links to my laptop and allows me to download my daily schedule and contact information to the watch. The watch also has a feature that 'beeps' on the hour. A good reminder to review your hour activity and recheck your schedule.

PDA and linking to your computer.
You have to choose the data base that you will download from into your hand held unit. You can use the software that comes with the PDA as it has its own contact program that can be viewed on your computer screen. E.g. Palm desktop is one example. If you want to use MS Outlook or another program such as ACT, Maximizer, Now,. you select their program as your default software link with your PDA. Synching the units must be done as frequently as your information needs dictate. If the software in both units is working efficiently this task takes a few minutes.

Handling the same piece of paper too often.
Put a red marker dot on it every time you pick it up. When the paper looks at though it has measles either finalize the task related to the paper or throw the paper away. 
Throw away two pieces of paper for each piece that comes into the office. This is called culling and provides an excellent method of "reducing" without making it a major project.  Make sure that all new paper is immediately placed in a file folder. Have a supply of folders and labels ready. Your file folder system needs to be 'plannogrammed' so that each folder is retrieved from and returned to its designated place.

Binders. Keep relevant documents in binders when you need to access the file frequently, especially if you need to monitor the date sequence when the documents come in. Have you ever dropped a file folder and needed to sort the file into some semblance of order? When you only have a few documents related to a file start with a file folder. If the account starts generating considerable paper work transfer the documents to a ring binder. If storage space is a problem use the flexible sided binders.

Procrastination - fear as a cause was proposed as a leading blocker to getting things started. I personally feel a lack of good organization contributes to procrastination - this includes getting as much information that you can when the opportunity presents itself, and then having quick access to that information. Keep good notes of where you stopped on a project so that you can resume without difficulty.

- if you can't complete the entire project or task in one sitting, take bite sized pieces out of big projects - peck away. This is also called the Swiss cheese method.  I like the idea of an environmental scan of various parts of a project to determine the degree of complexity and any other unseen factors that might develop. This gives you early warnings of what might be needed later on.

Finish the job, finish the day. Why not just quit for the rest of day when you have accomplished a major task or project. Don't react to the impulse to get on with another task right away. Reward yourself for a job well done by taking the rest of the day off - occasionally.