“There are two types of pain you will go through in life, the pain of discipline and the pain of regret. Discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tonnes.”
— Jim Rohn
What does this mean for us?
It means that opportunities or goals that advance our firms are not always easy. If we want to be more efficient and spend less time performing a task, for instance, then we need to go through the pain of changing habits.
Say you want to increase profits. You have jobs but it takes time to complete them. You need more revenue (billable hours) to increase profits. Many times the roadblocks are our habits. Some of us let things slide until a “slow period” or deal only with “raging fires”. Time-sucking fires often result from abdication of management responsibility (e.g., procrastinating, avoiding conflict).
There are many ways to manage well and capture more billable hours — if you endure the ounces of discipline pain.
Email and Voice Mail
Start with your emails. In the morning, scan them quickly. If they don’t tell you why you should take time away from billable work, then drag them to folders such “Working Lunch” or “End of Day.” If it’s something your office manager or someone else should handle, delegate it. If the subject says “Pay Attention to Me” but the first paragraph doesn’t tell you why, reply with a quick “Please summarize.” With voice mails, if you don’t know who or what it is about in the first 5 seconds, forward it to your office manager or assistant to figure out what the issue is. Deal with it during your working lunch.
Also, be disciplined about emails that arrive during the day. While you can’t ignore this major means of communication, you should also not let it constantly interrupt you. Set your email to update only every 30 minutes, and allow yourself only 3 minutes to scan and prioritize. If someone needs your attention sooner than 30 minutes, they should call you.
In short, prioritize your communication. Make succinct emails and voice mails standard operating procedure in your office (see the next section).
Of course, this doesn’t mean you put off calls from clients, sales reps, suppliers or others. It means you schedule them into your day or set aside only certain times in the day for such calls. Of course, there are exceptions: A client who rambles in a voice mail still receives priority attention.
In the end, you will spend 15-30 minutes in the morning responding and prioritizing. You will set aside short periods for other incoming calls. And the rest of your day will be spent on scheduled activities — most of it billable.
Invest in Learning
Another way to be more efficient and capture more billable hours is learning. It is not an expense; it is an investment.
For example, make sure you have 2 or 3 people in your office who are ‘ArchiOffice Masters’ or ‘BillQuick Masters’. This means they are comfortable using ArchiOffice or BillQuick. They have been through training. They can readily show others how to use the software. And most important, they do not hesitate to explore it to handle a new need of your firm or to pick up the phone and call BQE Software to ask questions.
Another investment may be a monthly Saturday morning “firm improvement” meetings. For a couple of hours, everyone munches down on bear claws, scones and omelets while learning:
- How to improve their email and voice mail skills
- About new reports available in ArchiOffice/BillQuick
- Best practices for entering time cards on a regular basis
- Properly allocating Paid Time Off
- Employee and Project Performance Reports
- How to look for opportunities with clients
Successful firms also discuss ways to improve the firm, often mapping out exactly how things will be done.
Of course, you should also invest in motivated employees (including yourself). Spend the money for online and live training courses to develop their professional and management skills. Who knows, they may buy you out someday.
Read John Rohn’s quote again. Without the pain of discipline, working to advance your people and organization, you will feel the pain of regret — Devalued marketable skills. Aging service offerings. Stagnant or decreasing profits.
It’s time to shake off survival thinking from the recession and move forward with a positive outlook. Be a Learning Organization. Endure the ounces of discipline pain and succeed.