Scheduling for Success
A schedule is a list of time-based details. It can be a schedule of appointments, meetings, phone calls, tasks, or other events, each with either a time or a priority level. Your daily efforts as a consultant will require scheduling or planning tasks and events by date and time. In addition, it must have sufficient room to manage unscheduled events. Learning to manage your schedule is a critical part of being a successful consultant.
Most schedules are recorded on calendars of some type. It can be a simple printed calendar book available at office supply stores or it can be an electronic device such as a personal digital assistant (PDA) or software on your computer. Exactly what the tool will be depends on what works best for you. If you do most of your work on a laptop or a PDA, putting your scheduling calendar on it makes sense. If your scheduling requirements are limited, a simple pocket calendar book may be sufficient.
Who manages your schedule? In most cases, you will. However, depending on what support staff you have, a gatekeeper — secretary, assistant, clerk — may be in charge of setting up your schedule and helping you to meet appointments. If there is more than one source for scheduling, make sure it is coordinated.
Monthly and Weekly Planning
Scheduling books and programs often use a filter-down method of planning. That is, if a client says, “Call back in March,” you record it as an event for March with no specific date. Once you begin planning for March, you select a date for the follow-up and record the specifics in your calendar for that date. Alternately, you may place it within a specific week and not make final plans until you are ready to start planning that week in detail.
If you don't make consulting calls by appointment and only have a few scheduled events, purchase a printed calendar book. It may be sufficient and it's much easier to carry with you in a pocket, purse, or briefcase. In addition, most calendar books include an address book and maps to help you keep track of people and places on the job.
Computer planning software can be helpful. It allows you to quickly note a March appointment for a specific client and it will help you schedule it. The notation can also include a link to your notes on the prior conversation as well as client info from a database. If the next meeting requires that you check some facts or take some other action, the program can help you identify and even schedule those efforts.
Professional consultants use the past to plan the future, but they live only in the “now” — as does everyone. Your planning and scheduling serves a single purpose: To help you take appropriate action on specific days. It's Tuesday and your schedule says you have client meetings at 9:00, 10:30, 11:15, 1:00, 2:20, and 4:00. That's your primary schedule for the day. Before, after, and in between you'll be preparing for and traveling to those meetings. If one meeting is short, you may get additional time to work on other priorities. If a meeting goes long, you may have to adjust other meetings or delay secondary priorities.
Notice the word “priority” coming up frequently. A priority is a preferential rating. Consulting for a fee is a higher priority than paperwork. Both are necessary, but if you must make a choice, you'll do so in favor of the higher priority task. That's working by priority. You do that many times a day as you review your schedule and prioritize your tasks as a professional consultant.
Feedback is output used to adjust input. You see that the faucet you turned on is flowing too fast (output), so you turn the faucet handle back (adjusting the input). The process is called feedback and you use it in a hundred ways every day as you drive, speak, eat, and work. You make correcting changes in the input to alter the output to a desired level. Eating lunch, you feel full (feedback) and stop eating.
Scheduling your day gives you specific outputs. For example, you meet with Bob at 3 p.m. and learn that he is prepared for your one-hour meeting and it only takes a half hour. So, when scheduling your next meeting with him, you plan it for a half hour. Other adjustments are made in your scheduling based on feedback. You learn that taking a new highway cuts off thirty minutes in your commute and you can start the day earlier. Or you discover that Monday traffic delays you in getting to your afternoon appointments. These adjustments are common and necessary. By making note of them, you can schedule your valuable time more efficiently.