Hour of power


Say kids, what time is it?


Remember Prince Planet?

Use of his superpowers drained his pendant P.

Failure to recharge made him a vulnerable mortal.

I think running a business is like that.

I wonder if you agree.


What is time?

Dad and I were toasting the spontaneous relocation of his FOR LEASE sign.

As I couldn’t stop yawning, he asked, ‘How many hours are you working each week?’

I made to answer, but hit a snag.

Did he mean:

  1. Billable hours?
  2. Hours spent at my desk?
  3. Hours spent doing everything it takes to run a business?

Depending on the week, these figures vary from:

  1. 10-40.
  2. 50-80.
  3. 60-100.


Time after time

Doing these numbers in my head, I recalled a feeling I’ve had many times.

It seems that for every hour of paid work I do, there’s at least an hour of ‘faffing’, i.e. regular and ad hoc attention to:

The rotten thing is, if you ignore any of this stuff, it can end up costing you even more time.


Timely reminder

Michael E. Gerber wrote about this.

Though loath to précis him after last time, I remain a fan. So here goes:

He basically reckons a lot of folk start a business to do more of what they love.

Thus, a pie maker opens a pie shop.

People come unstuck, however, when time spent doing fun stuff (making pies) shrinks relative to (or is even eclipsed by) all the other business stuff (faffing [my term]).

This is one reason so many small businesses fail.


Time shift

I’ve been waiting years for my loot-to-faff ratio (LFR) to improve.

Despite extensive systems work, it hasn’t much.

So I’m thinking Michael E. is right.

The best way to check, of course, is to ask you.

Based on the figures above, my best-case LFR is 40/60.

My worst-case LFR is 10/100 (i.e. merely 10% of spent time is paid!)

I find these figures shocking.

No wonder I’m so damn tired.


Time yourself

So how many various hours fill your week?

What’s your LFR?

Is there any way to get more ‘up’ for our downtime?

The clock’s ticking.

Got a sec?



| Founder & Senior Writer – The Feisty Empire

  • Lesley

    As a person venturing into ‘attempting’ to start a new consulting service to NFP’s I found this information very interesting – I had expected the ratio between billable hours and the remainder to be about 40/60 (at least to start with, with 40 out of 60 % of the time required to promote myself and network) however I have found that the ratio between billable hours and the remainder of time at best has averaged to around 10/100….. Despite my hesitation to begin this venture, I was advised by trusted acquaintances that once I got one or two clients, the momentum would follow… SO I am now refreshing my MYOB and bookkeeping skills and adding that to the services I offer – lets hope it makes a difference !

    • Hello Lesley! It’s very kind of you to share your thoughts at this exciting stage of your journey.

      As usual, I never know what our readers will come up with. To find another 10/100 person is comforting yet saddening.

      I really hope you manage to improve your stats. Either way, please keep us posted (on this and ALL your adventures). Best regards, P. :)

  • That is quite a list of faffing there Paul. I know I struggle with this type of thing. How much of that could be outsourced to efficient service providers? That would surely cut down greatly on time spent on non-income producing tasks, freeing up more time to focus on tasks that do produce income.

    I wish I had hard numbers to back it up, but my gut feeling is that it keeps one on the road to business profitability, productivity, and enjoyment.

    • Brilliant point, Stephen!

      The problem I have with delegating tasks to other cats is that their presence in Empire House smashes my concentration before, during and after their visits.

      This got so bad when I was under several deadline hammers recently that I began posting my BAS documents to my bookkeeper (whose expertise and integrity fortunately support this stratagem). She now does my books remotely and simply posts back forms for review and signing.

      I find with outsourcing that you need to keep a finger on the pulse or risk coming a cropper. So it’s a tricky juggle between solitude and control.

      That said, my foibles detract nothing from your excellent suggestion, so many thanks indeed! :)

      • I totally understand – keeping these fine folks out of your hair (and in my case, me out of theirs) is a win-win. Of course, the real trick with any BPO strategy is having high quality people whom you don’t have to manage closely (and by extension, who are trustworthy).

      • Amen to that, Mate! :)

  • Hi Paul

    May I be so bold to say that perhaps some of this has to do with mindset and perhaps looking at this negatively rather than postively? Faff is such a negative word in all its conotations – it doesn’t allow for a result – so look at these processes and ask yourself what is the result of carrying out these tasks and how do they assist me to be productive – a good way of looking at it is “productive time” = time spent doing the core business which generates the income and “business development time” = the time spent doing associated tasks that support my ability and my business to generate the income. A mindshift away from seeing the “faff” as non-productive.

    Many of the areas you outlined above are supportive to your ability to earn the almighty $. By looking at these tasks positively and assigning/scheduling them into your business calendar on a regular basis or outsourcing them to another entity who’s core business is that task and can often do it more efficiently than you due to their “love of the task” (opportunity cost) these tasks then become a business process rather than “faff”



    • That’s a good point Leanne.

      For me, my opinion of “non-core” tasks is split into things I derive some enjoyment or satisfaction from, and those that frustrate me and make me a grumpy bum.

      I try to divest myself of the mechanics of the frustrating tasks, but will happily keep the tasks I enjoy (within reasonable limitations).

    • I love it when you get bold, Leanne, as I always learn something useful. :)

      I confess to the negative mindset. Ironically, I chose ‘faff’ to lighten the tone. I see the word as fun and whimsical. You’ve reminded me to always look at my words from the reader’s view.

      (Some people see ‘feisty’ is a negative term too, but that’s another story.)

      Semantics aside, your advice is helpful and welcome. As usual. Many thanks! :)

  • Thanks Stephen

    So my question to you would be what do you do to minimise the effect the “non-core” tasks have on your frustration and gumpy bum levels??

    • I get rid of them. :)

      Specifically, I’d look to outsource these tasks to a quality service provider, such as a bookkeeper with excellent recommendations. I’d check that they are comfortable doing the work (scope of work), and ask them to give me requirements they need from me so they can complete these tasks.

      I’ll then create a process to deliver what they need, when they need it, and also to check the work and do any analysis if required.

      I find this method, if scoped and implemented sensibly initially, works very well. I then get to spend the bulk of my time doing work that is profitable and/or enjoyable.

      What about you, Leanne? I assume you don’t enjoy every facet of running a small business, so what do you do to minimise the frustrating aspects?

      • Business is our business Stephen – however my husband, Ian (life partner, business partner, bestfriend, all round good guy and cook!) and I undertook a HBDI Pair Profile (http://www.herrmannsolutions.asia/au/Solutions/Organisations/The-HBDI%C2%AE-Profile) with one of our clients. This gave us some amazing insights in how we work both individually and as a team and allowed us to rework the tasks in our business based on this knowledge – we now work more efficiently doing the things we love, we have assigned days of the week for routine tasks and we are continually adjusting plans to cater for new and exciting possibilities which means things are never dull and there is no time to “faff”!

      • What an enlightened approach! I’m beginning to see why you cut such a rug in our community, Leanne! :)

      • That’s a great approach, Leanne.

        I’d imagine having someone so capable and inherently trustworthy as a spouse would make a big difference, not just in sharing the load, but in changing/improving the entire dynamic.

        So do you basically manage all aspects of your business between you, even the tasks that aren’t part of your core service?

      • Last time I checked, the divorce rate was around 50% and rougtly 90% of small businesses fail in their first few years.

        Given their smart moves, I think Leanne and Stephen are going to beat the stats hands down! :)

      • Hi Stephen

        Yep we basically do everything – I know working with a spouse isn’t everyone cup of tea – but between us we have a really wide range of very diverse skills and experience and have both in one form or another owned businesses of varying sizes over the last 20yrs or so – so we understand the good, the bad and the ugly pretty well – we also balance each other very well – push each other to do better and go further and most importantly we communicate :)

  • G’Day Paul,
    I peomise not to challenge any of Mr. B’s assertions. But I did want to mention something I learnt not long after I started my business over 30 years ago.

    “Do only those things to which you bring a unique perspective. Buy everything else around the corner.”

    I can’t remember who said it or where I read it. But It’s among my pet “words to run a business by.” Just imagine how productive you’d be if you paid someone else to do most of that bloody “faffing?” Which brings me my next point.

    There’s no such thing as a manager who can’t delegate. There are only managers who will and managers who wont. If you won’t delegate, you wont manage your time. I you don’t manage your time you don’t delegate.

    Forget all this bureaucratic paper chasing that’s necessary to note how you spend your time. Work out exactly what it is that you’re trying to achieve; who your target market is and how you’ll know you’ve succeeded. Prioritise what needs to be done. choose what you do best from the most important priorities. Get someone else to do the rest.

    Goodbye “faffing.”

    And imagine the fun you’ll have!



    • +1 Leon!

    • We’re fortunate to have your decades of experience brought to bear on this topic, Leon. I like your maxim; it reminds me of a couple of pieces I’ve read lately about the importance of specialising.

      Your delegation vs time management link is also thought provoking. I used to delegate a truckload, but got overwhelmed when things went wrong and all the dramas came home to roost. I figured I might as well do it all myself (apart from a few trusted service providers).

      Many thanks for making me think critically. Looks like I could use it! :)

  • Hi Paul

    Of course take care of the details, while remembering not to get caught up in them.

    I am with Leon. I do what feels right next. Then outsource time consuming stuff I don’t do well and which siphons off my time.

    This keeps the joy and flexibility in my life, which are two of the reasons why I went into business initially.

    Cheers Ensha

    • Hi, Ensha! If anyone can come up with a balanced, holistic solution, it’s you! So I’m weighing your words very carefully (nyuk nyuk). Thank you for gracing us! :)

  • Hey Paul. I reckon I’m 50/50. An hour unpaid for every hour paid. Maybe that’s even looking on the bright side. And it would be worse if I engaged more diligently in social media, but more and more I’m trying to switch off from the devices when I’m not at my desk. I admire your capacity to take pains. A pfaff (my personal spelling) ratio of 10/90 would drive me batty. I hope you find some pfaff relief. :)

    • That’s a beautiful set of numbers Ad! I’m starting to hear that a few folk are moving away from their electro doodads. Sounds like a fine idea to me.

      I LOVE your spelling! I believe it was briefly considered by Krupp for an early form of cluster bomb, but the focus group thought it a little … soft.

      The things you learn in here! 😉

  • I can’t give you any figures for myself ( I don’t even want to think about noting down times for what I do!) but I do know it varies week to week. And it is frustrating sometimes to work for hours and see little of it show in an invoice. But at other times I get a lot of satisfaction in doing some of that other stuff (like getting a few good blog posts written or my newsletter put together) and enjoy it enough to warrant the time away from billable time.

    I agree with Leon – find the things that only you can do for your business and minimise the rest of it. I found that an overwhelming idea so I broke it down and outsourced one thing at a time (e.g. bookkeeping went first – and my bookkeeper does everything remotely so causes no distractions whatsoever!) It is still a work in progress…

    Adam, I only work at my computer – that is, I don’t have any gizmos to check emails or social media when I’m not at my computer (and rarely does my laptop actually leave my desk!) When I walk away from a day’s work I need a break and just couldn’t face being ‘on call’ ALL the time.

    • Terrific stuff, Tash. Yet another fascinating vignette of your working life. Thank you kindly! :)

  • I doubt employees worry about the time they spend faffing on the job they’re being paid a wage to do? Suspect if they examined their hours it would be no better than 50:50 (what with catching up with other staff members about what they did over the weekend… getting over the weekend whilst looking busy staring at their computer…)

    Lets be honest – even if you were ‘sensible’ and outsourced all those extraneous parts of your business you can’t tell me you’d seriously spend all 37 hours of your official working week on just the important tasks (in your case copywriting) – I’d say 5 hours a day of peak/billable hours would be an industry max?

    So I say, don’t beat yourself up over wasted hours not spent on the job you were put on this earth to do –
    We all need a little bit of faffing time in our day.

    I’m off to do a little filing 😉

    • Ripper points, Linda. You sound like the voice of reason. :)

      Many moons ago, I once tried to raise the hourly rate I was charging a large client.

      The CEO multiplied my then hourly rate by a 40-hour week and came up with something like $160,000 per annum.

      He then derided my request, suggesting that HE become a copywriter to make more than he was on.

      For extra fun, he CCed his email to everyone in his organisation – including around 40 staff with which I dealt regularly.

      His people were shocked by his rudeness. His calculations, as you point out, were fanciful. His company no longer exists.

  • And isn’t it true, Paul, that with an attitude like that he was headed there long before he treated you like that.

    I agree with many of the comments that it is a ‘frame of mind’ issue. I would ask the following questions:
    1. Is the task that is taking your time a part of recruiting, serving or completing a client interaction?
    2. Does the task build your value and the value of the business (working ‘on’ yourself, or the business, in Gerber’s terms)
    3. Do you have an abundance of skill or passion in this area? If not, outsourcing it makes sense.
    4. Is there something you could be better spending your time on? Prioritise
    5. Is someone else more effective or efficient in this area? Consider purchasing their services
    5. Does it support your mission – the reason you are in business? If not, then it is pfaff!

    I have developed a series of simple systems which mean that allow me to define the customer interaction to the end of the billing cycle and follow-up, including all paperwork (it is, after all, part of the service and interaction, is it not?) I have scheduled my diary for specific times to work in the business, on the business, and to have a life.

    I hate pfaff (love the spelling!). My business, and its success, is not pfaff because I believe passionately in what I do. The business allows me to do what I am passionate about, so I better make sure it is ‘fit for purpose’. Pfaff? Its all in your mind…..

    • Dang, Philip – you’ve just about given us a sequel! Some great ideas here that belie a well ordered mind. :)

      Yes, that chap had it coming – by his own hand, so to speak.

      Adam is a demon on fun words. You should see what he did to the magnetic fridge poetry set I gave him! 😉