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Eluding the Illusion of Time: Douglas Karr on Priorities, Resources, and the Value of Quality

When your goal is to meet a deadline for a project, time can sometimes become your biggest enemy.

It’s not that I don’t understand the work involved to complete a particular task at hand; it’s all of the other unanswered questions that come along with working with clients and teams. I don’t know if my client will provide the resources in time. I don’t know that our team’s resources will be consistently applied. I don’t know if we’ll run into problems with the technology. I just don’t know.

What I do know is that I’ll be held accountable. The problem is that I won’t be held accountable for the result — I’ll be held accountable for the deadline.

When Will it All Get Done?

Recognizing this, I pad project schedules for safety. That said, I am putting my contract and relationship with my client at risk by taking my time estimate, doubling it, and doubling it again… eventually ending up at 4 times the original estimate.

It’s not that I’m lying or trying to delay the project — it’s that I want to ensure it’s done correctly and exceeds the expectations of the client. And, of course, I want to ensure that the client will get the hand-off when they expect it. There are often downstream repercussions when a project isn’t completed on time. This is the critical moment in our relationship. If the client asks their internal staff, the staff will say it takes a fraction of the time. If the client asks a competitor, they’ll undercut me for sure. It’s a critical moment because the only reason why the client would accept my estimate at this point is because they trust me. If they trust me, we’ll move forward. If they don’t trust me, we’ll end the relationship.

It has nothing to do with time and very little to do with the results. Time is an illusion.

What’s Your Hourly Rate?

When I started my business, I responded to one ornery prospect with a rate of $250.00 per hour. He grimaced and literally berated me for the next five minutes or so. He said he could hire someone for one-tenth that rate and there’s no way he would pay it. I asked how much he would pay. He responded $75.00 per hour. So, I told him that I could do it for $75.00 per hour, but that it would take me three times as long as my original quote. I smiled. He didn’t. So I walked.

The illusion of time appears again. Within that discussion, the value of the project at hand wasn’t discussed — only my hourly worth as a human being. If he interviewed 10 people who ranged from $25.oo per hour to $250.oo per hour, I’m confident that the $25.00 per hour contractor would get the contract. I’m also confident that the results were disastrous. Just about every day, we meet with clients who have completely blown their budgets on cheap contractors who couldn’t get the job done.

We don’t manage retainers nor track hours anymore. We set budgets with our clients and have them hold us accountable that the value we generate is greater than the monthly subscription we charge. We like to measure that in increased visibility on search, social, improved conversion rates, and – ultimately – more dollars to the bottom line.

How do you Manage Time?

I don’t. Ten years ago, I started the Marketing Technology Blog and grew a sizable following online. The authority I built, combined with the following, began to drive demand for my services. The demand was enough that I launched my agency 5 years ago. Suddenly, I was a CEO and a blogger. I was recruited to write Corporate Blogging for Dummies. My influence grew, my network grew, and my business grew.

On a daily basis, I have to respond to a dozen or so tweets, a handful of Facebook status updates, dozens of PR pitches, hundreds of emails, a few phone calls an hour… and I need to execute for the clients who are paying my agency. I am surrounded by an amazing team that barely keeps me from drowning and thankfully keeps our clients afloat.

You can’t balance a checkbook when you don’t have enough money to cover the checks. The same goes for time management. When the demand for your time exceeds the number of minutes in the day, there is no time management. At that point, we’re not really managing time — we’re managing priorities.

Prioritization over Preservation

Some folks tell me that what this means is that I’m not charging enough, or I need to grow my business, or I need to say no… but that’s not who I am. I want to stay affordable to most businesses. I want to help more clients improve their marketing results. I want to stay engaged with my following on social media. I want to read every email from a new startup or a public relations professional. I love my disaster of a life!

The result is that I turn away business. Not because of the time it will take or the money it will pay, but because it’s not a fit for my style of work. I’m sure many of you are shaking your heads and some of you probably think I need psychological help, but I don’t. I’m absolutely content with finding and working with businesses that appreciate the value and commitment I bring to their company, instead of holding me accountable for over- or underestimating timelines made for self-preservation.

And I’m not alone. Virtually every client I work with is resource-challenged, and the demands continue to grow. Our service, sales, and marketing staff now balance a plethora of social mediums, a barrage of emails, and the interruption of meetings. They face increased expectations of developing content, nurturing leads, improving customer retention, and acquiring new business — all with less money, fewer people, and just a handful of tools.

Visualization Management

The key to our success isn’t managing time, it’s managing priorities. We balance our publication, our speaking schedules, our sponsors and sponsorships, our audience and our community alongside our clients’ demands. Because of these myriad responsibilities, we use a ton of visualization tools. From cashflow in our accounting platform, to analytics for our audience, to email visualization tools to handle bulk actions (check out Mailstrom), to MindManager and ProjectDirector for identifying obstacles and opportunities to drive business results.

In my opinion, time management is as dead as the corner office, the personal assistant and the flashy gold watch. It’s simply not how we’re working anymore. We have a fixed amount of resources, not a flexible amount of time. The challenge for every successful business is to prioritize their resources effectively — not based on deadlines, but on results.

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