How I Manage an IT Staffing and Solutions Business
As a high school student, I was creating mini applications in my bedroom. Years later, I still do much of my work from home. Viderity’s office is a short drive from my house, but I rarely visit the place. Instead, I spend my days either traveling to meet with clients and staff or holed up in my home office, where I often blast music and work on Internet strategy and contract documents into the wee hours.
In the morning, I have certain aspirations. One of my goals is to avoid checking work e-mail for at least an hour after I wake up. Instead, I’ll go and brew some tea. But the computer’s always kind of pulling me toward it, so I end up looking at e-mail sooner than I’d like to. I also try to avoid alarm clocks as much as possible, because it’s just nice to wake up without one. I usually eat a big bowl of cereal for breakfast or two protein shakes. I also avoid morning meetings: The earliest meeting I’ll personally set up is 10 a.m.
I like to read first thing in the morning. I read a lot of business books, because I feel like I should figure out how to be a real businesswoman before someone figures out that I’m not one. I don’t read fiction. I find it a waste of time. There are so many amazing things that are real; I don’t need to spend any time on a made-up story. I also like to read psychology books and biographies, especially books about inventors and amazing leaders. Reading is my break. Otherwise, I go to sleep and wake up thinking about my business.
In my home office, I have a large, 30-inch computer monitor connected to two PCs. I also have a laptop, which I have with me all the time, whether I’m going overseas or to the doctor’s office. I’m pretty rough on my laptops. I go through one a year.
One of my favorite programs that we is Rescue Time. It runs in the corner of my computer and tracks how much time I spend on different things. I realized that even though I was doing e-mail only a couple of minutes at a time, it was adding up to a couple of hours a day. So I’m trying to reduce that. I have an email rule that runs and places high-priority e-mails into one folder and the rest go into others. Tim Ferriss, who wrote The 4-Hour Work Week, advocates checking e-mail twice a week, but that is too severe for me. Instead, I’m trying to implement Leo Babauta’s approach from The Power of Less. He suggests small steps, like checking e-mail five times a day instead of 10. It’s like dieting: People who binge diet gain it all back. That happens to me with e-mail.
Music helps me when I’m writing and researching, which is how I spend most of my time. When you’re writing a business proposal, you really have to be in the zone. I’ll listen to a single song, over and over on repeat, like a hundred times. And I turn off instant message and e-mail. If you are taken out of the flow, you’ve lost it. The moment you look away, it all falls to the ground, and you spend 10 minutes getting it all back in the air again.
I also manage people who are scattered all over the globe, from Washington, DC to New Zealand to Paris. My management strategy is to find extremely self-motivated and talented people and then let them go. There’s no manager looking over your shoulder every day, so you need to be able to completely direct yourself. For every person I hire, I might get 300 applications. I always start people on a contract basis. Everyone I hire truly loves playing with web technologies. It’s what they are doing for fun at night after they’ve already worked for eight hours a day.
I don’t believe in the 40-hour work week, so we cut all that BS about being somewhere for a certain number of hours. I have no idea when my employees do their work — I just know they get the work done and meet their agency’s requirements for being on-site during core hours, if there are such requirements.
When I’m working from home, my hairless cat, Teeky, requests that I cuddle and pet her for around 10 minutes every few hours. I initially find her annoying, but then really get into giving her love and rubbins. It is an initially unwelecomed, but well enjoyed, stress release for me and reminder of all that is good in this life.
I rarely have meetings with each team more than once per week. Meetings are often a huge waste of time, and they’re costly. It’s not one hour; it’s 10, because you pulled 10 people away from their real work. Plus, they chop your day into small bits, so you have only 20 minutes of free time here or 45 minutes there. Creative people in particular need unstructured time to get in the zone. You can’t do that in 20 minutes.
I almost always eat lunch at my desk while I reply to personal emails from family and friends and read stuff on the Web that’s goofy or discover something new. Lately, I’ve been eating lunches from diettogo.com. They are freshly made and heat up in the microwave. So, they taste a little better than frozen meals.
I don’t have big, long-term plans, because they’re scary — and they’re usually wrong. Making massive decisions keeps people up at night — I don’t like to make those. The closer you can get to understanding what that next moment might be, the less worried you are. Most of the decisions we make are in the moment, on the fly, as we go.
I usually stop work around 6 or 7pm to go to the gym for a fun boot camp or spinning class. I also go out to dinner most evenings after the gym, but I don’t like fancy dining experiences. I find people putting a napkin on my lap uncomfortable, and I don’t like worrying about using the wrong fork.
Around 10pm at night, I often get a real productive boost, and I do one to two hours of work. Usually the more complicated, detailed things that require deep thought. I like to keep up with the technical details of every project. It helps keep me sharp. Plus, I find it hard to manage somebody’s work unless I have an intimate knowledge of how to do it myself. Otherwise, how can you differentiate a good idea from a bad one or know how long something is going to take? But sometimes, I just wind down by reading or watching shows that I DVR’d, like Modern Family or Real Time with Bill Maher.