Mobility

10 things consultants can do to stay organized

The life of a consultant can often get hectic. Here are some tips for fending off the chaos and getting your workday under control.

As a consultant, one of the battles I fight on a day-to-day basis is remaining organized. When chaos becomes the rule of the day, the work becomes challenging, inefficient, and frustrating. But keeping chaos at bay is not always an easy task. Murphy's Law will take your feet out from under you at every corner. So how can consultants keep themselves organized? There are many ways -- and you might be surprised that it's not all about checklists and to-do lists. It's about working intelligently and efficiently. Let's take a look at some methods that will help you get through the day without chaos making you its lapdog.

Notes: This post was first published in TechRepublic's 10 Things blog. The post is also available as a PDF download.

1: Structure your day

When you arrive at work, you should have a schedule ready for you. Often times, that schedule is flexible. When that's the case, structure your day so that you have time to decompress after more challenging jobs. Don't set up your schedule so that you have one daunting task after another. Switch it up. Pad those difficult jobs with simple jobs. And make sure you schedule your day so that you have enough time for a good lunch. Never underestimate the revitalizing power of a good lunch.

2: Keep the driving to a minimum

Unfortunately, consultants drive a lot. It's part of our job -- going from client to client. But you still want to reduce the driving as much as possible. If you have four jobs one day that are taking you to different parts of the city, try to schedule them so that your driving is minimized. Don't go west and then east, only to go west again. Group as many appointments by location as you can.

3: Don't let the inside of your car look like it was hit by a tornado

One thing I have realized over the years is that chaos begets more chaos. If your car is a battle zone, your work habits will reflect that. So don't continue tossing those Mountain Dew cans and McDonald's sacks on the floorboard of your passenger seat. You spend a good deal of time in your car (although perhaps lessened with the help of #2). Don't let that time be spent in chaos.

4: Keep pen and paper handy

I understand that we're all geeks here and we want to project an air of geekery. We want tablet PCs to take our notes on so that people will be thinking, "Gosh that consultant is lookin' intelligent AND hot with that gadget." Well guess what: They aren't thinking that. Having an iPad doesn't make you look sexy any more than those jeans make you look fat. But without the means to take good and copious notes, you will look stupid.

5: Use a password manager

I have a long list of passwords for clients' machines. I can't just keep those passwords on a spreadsheet or text document. They must remain safe. To that end, I employ a solid tool to protect those passwords. Not only am I assured of the security of my clients' passwords, I don't have to remember all of them. Just make sure the encryption you use to safeguard the passwords is strong.

6: Organize your notes in files and folders

If you're like me, you carry around paperwork for clients -- even if only in the form of notes. If you have that paperwork stuffed loosely in a backpack, you're going to look like a fool. Have a folder ready for each client. Even better, take your notes and then, when you're back at the office, transfer them to digital format. Doctors do it, why can't we?

7: Buy a smartphone

At our consultancy, everyone has a smartphone that can access the Exchange server as well as help keep us all from getting lost. Some of us use Android phones, while others use iPhones. The brand and OS you use don't matter as much as their ability to keep you organized and in touch. And because most smartphones are all-in-one devices, you won't be carrying around multiple tools that only add to your lovely chaos.

8: Use a Bluetooth headset

Using a phone handset in the car is a special brand of chaos -- and it could lead you to an untimely death. Most likely you have a smartphone (see #7) that can connect to a Bluetooth headset. This is a must-have for a couple of obvious reasons. First -- driving. You do not want to drive with a phone up to your ear, leaving one hand on the wheel. You also don't want to be holding a handset up to your ear while you're frantically trying to type commands (or point and click) your way to another successful repair and restore. Buy a Bluetooth. Your family and your neck will thank you for it.

9: Don't forget your kit

Make sure you have a kit in your vehicle that includes any physical tools you need (pliers, screwdrivers, etc.) as well as spare cables you might need, tape (duct tape never fails), extra flash drives/external hard drive, and a flashlight.

10: Develop good habits fast

The sooner you develop good working habits, the faster they will stick. When you start that new job (or even after you make that resolution), don't put off getting organized. Do it now. Don't just say, "I'm going to get better organized." and then drive 20 miles out of your way for another paper sack and aluminum can to toss onto the floor of your car. Commit to those good habits and make them stick.

Have you managed to conquer chaos?

Share your suggestions and experiences with fellow TechRepublic readers. That way, we can all be as organized as humanly possible.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

47 comments
walter.itprosource
walter.itprosource

My key to success when organizing my day, is to give myself ample time to get to ALL my appointments - or even enough time to get to my office daily. People run on all different schedules, and no one is willing to wait to get somewhere first. The more time you give yourself to travel even just a few miles, the smoother and stress free a day will be.

richarddiver
richarddiver

1. learn to touchtype - this is the biggest improvement you can make as an IT worker 2. manage your emails - some basic filing, rules etc will make you more productive (if you have more than 3 days, or 50 emails in your inbox you need to think again) 3. I second time management - pick 3 things to achieve each day/week and don't let distractions prevent you achieving them

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

...but pack light. We reduced our loadout from about 380 pounds to 73 pounds for a full kit by dispensing with tools and bits we haven't used for 15 years and careful tool selection. We were afraid that productivity would go down because we'd find that we actually needed the whatchamacallit, but the opposite has been true. We can do more with less tools, deploy faster, and do it in some tight quarters. Beter still, rather than use trucks averaging 18MPG, we use smaller vehicles averaging 33MPG. It has been a win all the way around. As far as paperwork and a laptop is concerned, We upgraded to a netbook and bluetooth printer some years back. Consolidating CRM and billing and putting that on line has been a major benefit. The tech only needs to print the bill if the customer wants, otherwise it's emailed. Weight savings went from 26 pounds to 10. We just upgraded to the Motorola Xoom for field use. We are still working some bugs out, but it looks like this is going to be another leap forward.

Matt Burks
Matt Burks

I'm an onsite IT manager for a hospital. I can imagine ways to use this advice in my job but would like to hear others advice on ways to implement these same, or similar steps.

evanhove
evanhove

Research has shown that using a headset for your phone while driving does not eliminate driver distraction - it is still very dangerous.

lehnjoh colin
lehnjoh colin

Thats true. the 10 things consultants need to do to say organized is having a to-do list for each day, review their accomplishment for the day, plan for the next day and do well to stick to plan or restructure if need be

taiwoadeyanju
taiwoadeyanju

Great, Jack. In deed these ideas will work any day, anywhere, and for anyone.

eternal_life
eternal_life

Thanks I laughed out LOAD, I had a business meeting with a responsible, it was causal coffee, and smoking (no inhale) I do have a few similar twin alike looking very small ashtrays form the 50:ies decade,placed suitable on table on yes.. sort of random but NOT, after the meeting I finded that the my meeting partned has structurated and sorted the ashtrays, without being awaore the taken action, His brin/hands just "did" as he likes structure,is neat and polite and therefore of course a responsble person, LOL EVEN if not for ashtrays it was done "automatic. He is the greastet employed, I ever had in fact

uberjew
uberjew

Good post on things that should be obvious but aren't. Thanks.

JPCoffey
JPCoffey

I use JobTabs (jobtabs.com) to keep track of my contacts and people I work with on each assignment. It is written by contractors for contractors, so it is not so much as a day to day thing, but it is a god send when I am scrambling to get a new gig.

reisen55
reisen55

1. Maintain internet access from any point to your office systems, in my case, three systems left on 24 hours accessible through DYNDNS for remote access. Even at a Burger King I can get data. 2. Ancient DOS program, ROLODEX LIVE, is an excellent quick contact and note manager. As it is DOS, it also is FAST on search and easy to carry. 3. Invoice - Same Day or as projects move along. Use a project invoice as a worksheet and add your daily time EVERY DAY or action and save. Convert it into an invoice when done and submit that very day. Do not wait.

jason
jason

If you don't already use Microsoft OneNote. at least explore it. It is the sleeper program in the MS Office Suite and it, by far, the most useful tool to organize information. It is on my laptop and my office machine and I use it for both note taking and for keeping all the notes and related support documents for a client in one place. Check it out!

vinizio
vinizio

This list is great. I would like to complement it. What about keep in the trunk of your car a spare set of clothes (shirt, pants, even shoes). This will come in handy whenever you might need them. You never know but helped me a lot and in some occasions I was used to carry set of shorts/tennis shoes/t-shirts and when an opportunity came I changed and played tennis with clients. This allowed me to tighten the bond with them.

mpayton
mpayton

They aren't just, or even primarily, for the "cool factor." They are valid notetaking tools that are far superior to paper and pencil in almost every way. Proper usage of them can address points number 3, 5 and 6. I do still carry a pad and paper with me, but only as insurance--which I almost never have needed.

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

Interesting that the aricle said none are using Blackberries when they are still the smartphone of choice for business professionals and work well with Exchange Server.

TheProfessorDan
TheProfessorDan

I am not an IT Consultant and I think that most of these tips can apply to my personal life. I know that structuring my day helps me to get neccesary tasks completed as well as schedule some much needed "down time."

TheComputerator
TheComputerator

Once I was driving behind someone doing 40 in a 55 zone so I pulled out to go around. As I passed I could see him. He was holding a phone under 1 ear, had the HEELS of both hands on the wheel with a notepad in one hand and a pen in another. Driving and talking is bad enough; if you need to take notes, get a voice recorder or...just pull over!

seven2seven
seven2seven

All this is common knowledge. "Develop good habits" LOL sounds like "learn things you do for living before you try to do them in field" or "don't look like crap if you are meeting with a client" ....you can do better Jack than casual blogging. How about some linux+web stuff ;)

nmoorecsd
nmoorecsd

Keep reminding the manager how that peice of work would have taken longer to be implemented. Keep reminding government that use of Intra Company Transfers is killing long term the local skills base and hence flexibillity. STOP OUTSOURCING - longterm there is no gain!

no1kilo
no1kilo

Staying organized is a must but also and equally important is to stay healthy. Grabbing a quick lunch between appointments may be a must but consider the health benefits of that lunch. MickyD's and other fast food places are not healthy foods per se. Try taking a sit down approach from time to time to better recharge your batteries and consider the quality of the food rather than it's convenience. A healthy body better enables you to mentally manage how well things get done and makes for less stress in an often chaotic day. Quite often time gets away or is lost when your mind and body are drained. Managing your health is part of time management so organize your diet and your ability to stay organized is improved. In other words, a healty body equals a healthy mind equals higher efficiency in the work place.

PureCoffee
PureCoffee

Good article. With so many apps out there, does anyone have a time tested app for storing passwords? Of course I can google "best pw apps for mobile" but I always enjoy hearing, "In my experience". Thanks, /smf

cphillips
cphillips

Re. talking on the phone (handsfree or not)while driving _ JUST SAY NO!

karudzo
karudzo

Excellent post- I've found all of those to be helpful over the years.

RobbTR
RobbTR

Get a Business Manager to handle phones, paperwork, bills. Someone who keeps you Organized. From someone that Crashed from Chaos after 18 years. Get Organized,and let someone handle your small stuff so you can stay on Task Being the Brains and the Consultant. When your busy recovering a Clients Server, that phone bill, office lease payment,other small tasks seem Non-Important if you put your Customers First.

no1trini
no1trini

Great work! I have found that online storage services like Box.net and others have helped to be able to access client files and make updates if required while out in the field. Additionally, having a time-billing app on your smartphone helps. I used Billing on my iPod touch but I'm still looking for an android apparently for my N1.

slhollister
slhollister

I found this list applicable for my homeschooling. Thank you!

stephanisat_z
stephanisat_z

When I was working full-time as a consultant, I always scheduled at least one or two days a month not to work outside the office. On those days I would catch up on filing, paperwork, reading any new technical journals that had arrived, and deal with any general administrative issues. Now that I work on a more part-time basis, I still take time for those items, so that when I do have a job I can focus solely on my customer.

klmazza
klmazza

Great article. Yes, I manage chaos for the most part. Can't think of anything more to add. What's the password manager tool you use?

spawnywhippet
spawnywhippet

Maybe 'consultants' have a different meaning in USA, it sounds like they are technicians there. Here a 'consultant' would be a senior IT pro like an enterprise architect or senior business manager.

3dBloke
3dBloke

A useful post. Thanks Jack. Several items on this list will be receiving attention over the next few days / weeks :) As an Android (N1) user, can anyone recommend a Password Manager app?

justjackx
justjackx

I completely agree, handling your emails properly makes a massive difference. With everyone emailing everything, it becomes very easy to lose a vital note in the vastness of your inbox. I also love the idea here of limiting yourself to 3 things and not getting flooded with tasks. Keep focused and goal orientated, certainly helps me. sam - do follow list

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

... can use this advice. Just replace the bits that don't apply. Tool kit for me, for example, can mean either of three things. In my speaker's kit, I keep a lazer pointer, a witeboard eraser, a set of whiteboard pens, and two sets of flipchart pens (one thick, one thin). It all fits into a small plastic toolbox. In my writing kit, I keep my laptop, a mouse, a seperate foldup keyboard, my articles notebook, several pens and a pad of paper. It all fits into a small backpack. I keep both near the front door and grab them when ever I leave. My consultant's kit consists of a plastic file box, the current client's binder, file folders (plastic with zippers), a memory stick with my files, and copies of any forms I might need. I've been known to use a zip up binder to hold each client's kit with a seperate stick for each. It worked well when I had only a single client per day. But I'm trying this for now in the hopes that I can gain benefits across clients. As for the password manager, just substitute the appropriate software on a memory stick. For example, you may need a copy of powerpoint or the whole office suite or the open source equivalent. Hope that helps.

seven2seven
seven2seven

...your friends. This works ok if you are good with your clients....just be ware of time-suckers who simply need a partner for THEIR FREE time....which in return is your free time lost and no profit gained. Clients and PR have a value but my free time is priceless...

melissatutors
melissatutors

Being a road warrior myself as well as a Type 2 diabetic, I have to search out healthy food often. And Micky D's offers some good choices these days, including salads and apple slices (the apple slices are on the kid's menu!). One of their small hamburgers (which doesn't have gobs of fatty dressings) with a side salad works out great as well.

AECJRC
AECJRC

I've been using Spb Wallet (from Spb Software house) for some time. The PocketPC version includes a Windows Client version, and synchronisation between the two is easy. Recently they've also released a iPhone/iPodTouch version, but synchronisation (due to Apple 'control') is a real pain. Another I've used, is Acebit Password Depot, and they're currently developing a Mobile version (in Alpha).

rwhyton
rwhyton

The topic of driving and all the detritus that goes with it is a bit irrelevant when you work in the city (London, England). I don't need a car. I have the tube (the metro/underground/el/etc...). However, I have found that 20 years in the business helps with... just about every app or hardware problem that comes up, I'm asked about by my clients. Fortunately, I'm female (shock!!!) so I can multi task. Read all the other posts, and get the feeling you're all male. Well mostly. Tell me if I'm wrong. I'm currently working with clients doing development, project management, business analysis, training, documentation... need I go on? Glad to see all of us in the IT community are well and apparently thriving.... R

drwain
drwain

I too use KeePass. It is freeware available from sourceforge and I have it on Laptop, USB (Portable App) and Phone (Nokia E71). Password database is transferable between platforms. Phone version is a little clunky but the portability is fantastic. I also highly recommend Portable Apps for your USB. I run Thunderbird, Firefox (with a personal Intranet with hot links), KeePass, NotePad++, HTML editor, app installs, scripts, tools. Don't leave home with out it. I describe myself as an IT Consultant. Companies CONSULT me on IT issues. They can be contracted for x hours per month or one off consultancy jobs. I perform hardware and software task as well as infrastructure design and procurement, disaster recovery planning and data protection. The key word is CONSULT! David Wain Rampet IT Services Victoria, Australia

Birdbrain1959
Birdbrain1959

Definition of a Consultant: The person who is a chapter ahead of you in the book.

jbgarver
jbgarver

I am one of those "senior IT pro(s)" that you were referring to, but the consulting company that I work for also has technicians that handle the day-to-day work for companies that don't have an IT department or need it augmented.

Assaf Stone
Assaf Stone

Consultants are experts (i.e. anybody from out of town) in a certain field - technician, DB pro, Agile coach, etc. The difference between a consultant and an [contract] employee, is usually, that consultants don't spend all of their time at the same place. So you can ignore the part about screw drivers and flashlights, if you won't ever have to bend over under the desk and behind that PC. You still need your tools, which may very well include flash drives, ebook-reader, laptop, portable disk, etc. Hope this clears things...

cbennett
cbennett

I use Roboform and have found it a great tool. it allows auto logins to sites and stores passwords and secure notes.

davew
davew

Things we have done as a consulting/technical support company include integrating online billing (time entry) into our client support/ticket system. We use osTicket with customizations. We all use Outlook/Exchange and have adopted a GTD (Getting Things Done) approach. You can find info on this at http://www.davidco.com/. From there you can find many references to 3rd party software. You can become a "free" member for 2 weeks which will help you get started. Daily organization is critical. I carry 300+ todos on my list at any one time (not including personal) with 10-15 to complete per day. I concur with all of the other points especially driving. When you don't bill for local travel - organize you drive plan the day before. It really helps.

xian2384
xian2384

I realy appreciate the post Jack

no1trini
no1trini

I use keepass on my PC and never had any problems with it. Only as you asked for suggestions I decided to check for an android version and found it. I also use an N1 and will install it and try it myself. Sorry I'm not able to give feedback as yet.

bwatkins
bwatkins

...and who expenses the cost of the book to your account.

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