Growing up as I did in a giant consulting firm, you learn one constant: the client work ALWAYS comes first. (And of course its corollary—billable time/selling billable time trumps anything else you might deliver.)
You could get out of any internal meeting, anytime, anywhere with a cheery wave and an “I’m off to see __________” (insert the name of your client-du-jour).
Ditto internal projects, no matter their ultimate importance to the firm. The partners who didn’t want to be bothered could use a steady stream of client excuses for their failure to deliver on their non-client promises.
In at least one firm, those excuses were a badge of honor.
When I co-founded my first firm with a plan to scale to a multi-consultant, consistently growing enterprise, I quickly realized that time spent ON the business was every bit as critical as time spent IN the business.
It’s a lesson I’ve needed to re-learn more than once.
Because client work—helping others make the right decisions—always seems more pressing (and, let’s face it, usually more interesting) than making my own.
But I’ve gradually created a set of habits that put running my business front and center on my radar.
Take my blog posts—500-750 words that I’ve been writing every week since 2009. When I first started writing weekly, I found that I needed a routine to get me in the right head-space.
My habit—for longer than I’d care to admit—was to hunker down on Saturday mornings. I wouldn’t open email (no consuming anyone else’s content before creating my own) and I wouldn’t do anything else on Saturday until I was done. Some Saturdays, I didn’t move away from my laptop before noon—and I’m an early riser.
Then I started writing on Fridays and even—if client work was caught up—on Thursdays. As I started to recapture my weekends, I realized I’d been making a strategic error.
Now, I block out MONDAY mornings for my content and I find writing these posts—even the deeply challenging ones—to be a joy I look forward to. After an early workout and a giant cup of tea, the ideas just flow.
Once the blog is put to bed, I’m full of energy and often work a twelve-hour day still feeling the high. My deadline—the one staring at me from my calendar—has been attended to and now I can focus on my clients.
If you’re at all like me, things in your calendar get done.
That’s why my business manager puts her bookkeeping “dates” into my calendar early in every month. Her discipline—and my keeping my promise—means we can file taxes early in January vs having bookkeeping hanging over my head (I’d much rather think about new ideas than worry about taxes).
It’s why we plot out marketing for the year—so I always have a horizon-wide view of what I need to be doing to keep investing in my future.
When we put running our businesses high up on the priority list, our influence and ultimate happiness spike up. Steven Pressfield would call it “turning pro”.
It’s not about perfection—it’s about constantly moving toward your vision of the work, the business and the life you want to make for yourself.