• Time Management; “You Want It When?”

  • After another Monday morning of scheduling and rescheduling, I find that time management for consultants is often more like playing Jenga. For those who don’t know, Jenga is a game where players take turns removing wooden blocks from within a stack of blocks and placing them on top of the tower, making it progressively more unstable until the entire thing collapses – much like a poorly planned and managed schedule. For consultants, the trick is knowing which blocks (tasks) can safely be removed and placed elsewhere in the tower (schedule), without total collapse (unhappy clients, litigation, bankruptcy). Every Project Manager has their own methods of keeping track, maintaining a schedule, and staying within budget; here’s my thoughts on what has worked for me over the years.

    Be Realistic
    When a client asks ‘How fast can you do this project?’ I respond by first asking when they require the results, then I work back from their due date to see if their requested delivery is feasible. I account for ongoing commitments, existing schedules, and the unique project demands of the new project and client before I agree to take on any new project. If you know you can’t meet the deliverables and deadlines, you aren’t doing anyone a good service by promising something that you may not be able to provide. It’s far better for business and client relations to be honest about your capabilities, and if necessary to refer the project to someone with capacity to take on the project. Should you proceed, be realistic with all promises for project delivery. Ensure you have allowed time and budget for all of the project team members, as well as any third party services, contractors, or regulatory requirements. Consider contingencies in your budget and schedule for unforeseen delays or project extras.

    Make a List… Then Make Another List…
    Personally, I like to make lists, multiple lists in most cases. I have weekly and monthly “to-do’ lists; project completion checklists, as well as task lists for contractors and subs. These lists will also get entered into my calendar, my daily log book, and my phone. It may seem redundant to some, but it keeps me on track and on time. It also helps at billing time – if I don’t write down what I did every day and for every project those costs probably won’t make it to my final invoice. Other consultants, especially bigger firms, have project tracking and accounting software, and dedicated staff to manage all that; but for some it’s still a manual task. Just as important as making a list, or a project schedule is keeping it up to date. Revising tasks, projects and schedules to meet constantly changing client needs and unplanned delays, is where time management becomes like a game of Jenga - knowing where and when you can cancel, re-schedule, and re-organize without your tower crashing to the ground.

    Take Some Time for Yourself
    Throughout the chaos and hectic pace of day to day consulting; don’t forget to schedule some time for yourself. Maintaining your health, and your physical and mental well being is just as (or more) important than maintaining your work schedule and project budget. If you fail to take the time and effort to eat sensibly, exercise regularly, get proper sleep and manage stress; you will likely fail to perform effectively in your business life. For most people work is a means to an end in being happy and comfortable in life, not the ultimate goal itself. So don’t feel guilty when you prioritize and make time for personal activities, vacations, hobbies, enjoying life and looking after family responsibilities. While it’s important to strive for excellence in your professional pursuits; this shouldn’t come at the expense of your health or well being. Some things just can’t be replaced, like missing important family milestones, or being absent to see your kids or grandkids grow up. Simply taking some personal time off for a vacation, or just to relax and re-charge will do wonders for your time management at work. If you are in management don’t forget to allow and encourage your staff to do the same, and lead by example in establishing a realistic work-life balance.

    Bill Leedham, P. Geo., CESA
    Bill is the Head Instructor and Course Developer for the Associated Environmental Site Assessors of Canada (
    www.aesac.ca); and the founder and President of Down 2 Earth Environmental Services Inc. You can contact Bill at info@down2earthenvironmental.ca