I’ve had a series of strange jobs. From 2005-2008, I was a jack-of-all-trades at a $7b distribution company – doing SQL Server, VMware, and storage work. I functioned kind of as an internal consultant. From 2008-2010, I worked for Quest Software as a SQL Server expert/evangelist. Today, I’m a SQL Server consultant working for a company I co-founded.
So what do I do, really? Let’s look at a random week’s schedule when I’m at home:
Monday – “free” day – I wake up, walk the dog, brew the coffee, and get into the home office by 7am. My peak thinking hours are 7am-noon, so I try to use that time to bust out a couple/few blog posts or work on an upcoming presentation. It usually takes me 8-10 hours to build 1 hour of presentation material, so I keep an eye on my presentation schedules a few months in advance. After lunch, I focus on tasks that require less creative thought, like making travel plans, updating the company accounting, reading blogs, writing Statements of Work for client requests, or running errands. I like doing mindless busy work like making the bed, running the laundry, or doing the dishes in the afternoon because I feel like I’m making progress. By around 2pm-3pm, my mind’s started to fire back up again, and I continue writing or building presentations until Erika gets home.
Tuesday – webcasts & existing clients – every Tuesday at lunchtime, we do a 30-minute webcast about SQL Server. I’m free til about 11am, so I spend the first few hours the same as Monday – working on blog posts, presentations, or researching topics for upcoming client meetings. After the webcast finishes around noon, I grab lunch, and then I try to schedule a conference call with an existing client on Tuesday afternoons to fill up that half-day. I often work with clients on projects like implementing new servers, buying storage, changing stored procedure code, and so on, and we meet to touch base and offer advice.
Wednesday – Day 1 of a 2-day SQL Server health check. I work with a new client to troubleshoot performance and reliability issues they’re having on a SQL Server. The first day is spent working together over WebEx, running diagnostic queries, looking at their database schema, poking around in their hardware. It’s a completely interactive process where I teach the client how to do this same process again on their other SQL Server instances without me around. You can read more about our health check process here.) Most of my health checks are done remotely, so I’m working from my home office in Chicago. When I stop working with the client around 5pm, I close the computer and walk away – these days are really draining. I have to be “on” for 8-10 hours straight, completely on top of my game. I’m dealing with tough problems that the client’s staff have tried to solve for months, and I’m expected to solve it and explain it within one day. When 5pm hits, I walk out of the office, put Ernie‘s leash on, and take her for a half-hour walk to decompress.
Thursday – Day 2 of the health check. I spend the first four hours alone, not with the client, building a recap report of everything we found on Wednesday. I put together a written report and/or PowerPoint. After lunch, I get together with the client over WebEx and we step through the findings. It usually takes about an hour to cover the list of things they need to do, and another 3 hours of training to knock it out. That last 3 hours is usually drawn from my library of over 100 presentations on SQL Server, VMware, and storage. We finish up around 5pm. Oddly, these days are energizing – I love training – and after the client work finishes, I usually keep going for another hour or so, getting back down to Inbox Zero. I do try to finish completely before Erika gets home from work, though.
Friday – “free” day – like Monday, I spend the morning writing, and then spend the afternoon doing all the chores associated with running a business. On Friday afternoons, I also have to send Jeremiah & Kendra my links for our weekly newsletter, and import our WebEx registrations into the email newsletter signups. At some point in the week (maybe Friday, or whatever day is free) I like to sift through our marketing efforts and think about what’s working well.
Saturday and Sunday mornings – write or code – As a small business owner, I don’t really have a concept of weekdays versus weekends. Weekends just have slower web & Twitter traffic. From 7am until Erika gets up around 10, I write blog posts, presentations, or T-SQL code. Whether it’s a Monday or a Saturday, my brain still feels the same way on mornings, so I like to take advantage of that.
Free Time Just Means Not Billable
When I talk with my full-time-employee friends about what I do, it sounds like I don’t work that much. I have a lot of “free” days, but those free days aren’t work-free, just income-free. That doesn’t mean I want to bill more hours, though – I can only do so many weeks of 40-hour-billable time before I start to climb the walls and stress out.
Good post, not sure I would want to do what you are doing on a regular basis. You are one special dude. Thanks for the insite.
Thanks for the insight. People often talk about consultants as if they all have this really easy job and high rate of pay. Every consultant I’ve ever known has worked way over 40 hours each week and gotten paid for way less than 40 each week.
I like the post Brent. Being in this game myself I definitely would have listed “Free Time” as “Non-billable business time”. The amount of effort and work needed to run a consultancy business that doesn’t involve the core function or billable time can be great. It is important to get the balance right and also to ensure you have enough down-time for yourself or you will quickly get ‘burned out’