Working hours and productivity • 29 April 2008 • The SnowBlog

Working hours and productivity

I want to write this post because over the last couple of weeks I've had a few emails and comments that include, in passing, thanks and kind wishes to me about how hard I work. Hmm. I'm not so sure that I do and I don't want to be a big old martyr type of person, smiling weakly as people fan me with leaves as I bravely struggle on - because it's not like that at all. So I thought I'd spill the beans on exactly what it is that I do with my days. Warning: stupidly long post. Having said that I don't work very hard, we do seem to run an entire business with only three people, so what I really want to talk about is productivity. Generally speaking, here are some principles I employ: 1) Work, not manage Although it was nice at the time to have a team and work in the office every day, the difference to my productivity now I don't have a team to manage is amazing (Anna, being in MN, is self reliant!) I get three times as much done because I'm not talking all day. And of course I can work from home in the countryside, which is heaven. That includes keeping meetings to a bare minimum, as well as phone calls - I find email much more useful. Meetings and phone chats are nice enough, but not actually necessary. Sometimes, in fact, an email is better than a meeting because you have notes to refer back to easily. And I can tackle email in my own time (I get 50 actual emails a day, (and 2000-3000 junk which get filtered away) which I do in batches rather than as they arrive - seems to take so much less time. 2) Use scheduling tools I use Remember the Milk and Outlook tools. I have automated replies called Quick Parts which I use when I'm sending exactly the same email ('sorry, we don't publish childrens or poetry; please process this order for me') or snippet of email ('Hi there, it was so lovely to see you at Frankfurt' - then the rest personalised). In RTM I have various lists including a Waiting For list (very handy to contain things you need to chase up), a 2009 books ideas list, a One Day list and an On Hold list. Other lists are Snowbooks Company, Snowbooks Titles, Snowangels, and Personal. You save a task and give it a date you're going to do it - and I just make sure every day I do all my tasks. It's very motivational for me - it's how I work best. 3) Automate Forget location, location, location - I like Automate, Automate, Automate! It makes such sense to get repetitive tasks automated. I'd say that was the key to keeping a small team and low overheads. 4) Work is also my hobby Let's face it - although I don't work stupidly hard, I don't really stop at the weekends. See, I love my job, because it isn't a job - it's how I choose to spend a lot of my life. I would never do bookkeeping or dull stuff at the weekend, though - it's Special Project time (see below). Anyway, I have Wednesday afternoons off for Movie Night so it's like time in lieu. Regarding time I spend at my desk, it's 7-7 on a Monday, 7-9 or 10 on a Tuesday, 9-1 or 2, sometimes 3 or 4 on a Wednesday, 9-5 on a Thursday (then I drive to London), 9.30-4 on a Friday (then we drive back from London), and I have the laptop open pretty much all weekend. BUT you have to factor in a lot of googling, wikipediaing, reading of the Bookseller and the Guardian, reading blogs, XKCD, and staring at bunnies on the lawn. I start at 7 on Mondays and Tuesdays because I get up to take And to the station early. On Weds and Thurs I laze around in bed a bit longer. So it's a fair old week, but it's taken at a gentle pace. And now the actual tasks that I do, so you can see that whilst there are plenty of them, they're approached in a way that is pretty efficient and manageable. They are divided into things that have to be done regularly, things that have to be done once or twice a year, and special projects. 1) Regular tasks. Bibliographic data management: I send a weekly update to Nielsen, Bowker and BDS. Since it takes two keystrokes to output an ONIX message from the Anko Publishing Manager that we run, that task takes no more than 10 mins a week. I update the database as updates arise and as I remember - new reviews, availability, price changes (not that we do many of them.) Bookkeeping and accounts: I do the following weekly: Update Northwind: Northwind is our management reporting tool. Rob and I have got it so it's totally automated (except for one thing which we'll do one day). It grabs the (crappily formatted) sales, stock and returns data from LBS's 'r2w' system, reformats it (back into a raw data format - shame they have to prettify it in the first place when we just turn it back again, but you know what boys and their data warehouses are like), runs a set of calculations and spits out a weekly profit and loss account for each title. Very handy. I am bad, though, and tend to run it myself, look at the numbers and then fail to update Rob and Anna properly. I've got back into the swing of proper reporting now, though, and have just completed a massive TPS report (Trading Performance of Snowbooks Report, with hat tip to Office Space) summarising our performance over the last couple of years. I particularly liked the green shading I used to format the report - after all, style over content is what matters. (Ooh, for a moment there I thought I was back at Deloitte.) I do the following every two weeks: Cash flow forecast: I maintain a working spreadsheet in excel which is a record of all current and projected bills, all forecast income and current bank account. This is actually a manual duplication from Sage, which isn't very efficient, but it is accurate and this is such an important area it needs to be done. Invoicing and bills: Since we do consultancy as well as book publishing, I have to raise invoices. Thankfully LBS do the credit control, billing and cash collection for the thousands of individual bookstore transactions we do. I pay the bills when they're due, and chase invoices before they're due, every other week usually. Funnily enough, for all my talk of automation, I like to write cheques rather than use online transfers. It means I have a paper trail that really helps me with my bank recs. Also, the money stays in Snowbooks' account just that tiny bit longer. I run payroll monthly - takes ten minutes. I do the following monthly: Current account reconciliation: when the bank statement arrives, I rec it immediately. There are some items I can't rec, like the income from LBS (on the bank statement there is the monthly number received into the bank, but in Sage there is the net revenue ny week, the trust account entries, then invoices from LBS. I let Kundan our bookkeeper do this because, though I've tried numerous times, it's bloody complicated and I don't want to mess it up) but in general most of the entries are done as soon as I get the statement. Some of the entries will have been entered as I write cheques, etc, but I tend to wait till the statement's in then blitz it. Barclaycard reconciliation: same deal here. As soon as the statement comes in, I enter all the transactions and do the rec. It's easier than waiting to do the rec in one big batch. Website maintenance I did a refreshed design at Christmas 2007 which is XHTML and CSS compliant. If I get itchy fingers and want to do a redesign, I just have to rewrite the CSS (the bit that controls the design and formatting, not the content). Author pages, title pages, AIs and catalogue pages are all automated. I tend to do a major refresh once a month, and redo all these automated pages, which takes about half an hour. Some other pages have to be manually updated, like the home page, bookseller and author information pages and, of course, the blog. Rob and I probably spend half an hour to an hour between us a day updating the blog, I'd say. Most other Snowbooks things on the net are automatically updated, or ignored. Twitter and Squidoo are automatic; I don't bother updating Second Life and Myspace and I occasionally update Facebook, YouTube and Scribd. (Links at the bottom of any webpage on Production management Haynes, our printers, are very good indeed and don't actually need all that much management. A year and a half ago I tendered our print, and Haynes came out on top on all measures. We have saved 50% on our print bills (which makes me very cross at the previous printer, who I can't help but think was shafting us). Creation of books Ah! Something specific to publishing! At last. Anna creates all the files for her books; I do mine. I tend to manage the printers, though, so they have one point of contact. I use this file to calculate the file sizes which I wrote. You can donate money to Snowbooks if you use it and find it useful (or if you've got more money than you know what to do with, for instance).
With regard to the insides of books, they are time consuming, to say the least, especially the four colour ones which need a photoshoot, photo editing, a lot of editing, careful layout and illustrations. If I had just a bit more money I would probably hire an external proofreader as proofreading one book can take three days - probably not the best use of my time. But that's all as it should be; we're a book publisher, so we should spend the majority of our time on the books. Sales Thank god for Allison and Busby! Susie, Lesley and team have taken a huge amount of admin and worry off my hands by making sure that all the various retailer deadlines are met, forms are submitted, meetings are held, AIs are presented, books are provided and blads and samples are chased up. Thank you, ladies, you've improved my life - and sales. Marketing This includes PR, which is done by the excellent Cerub PR. Review copies are sent out by LBS, nowadays, so I don't have to spend hours packing up books and carrying them to the post office, and I send an email to let people know the book's on its way. Most other marketing is pretty well automated now - a few years of building up mailing lists, contacts and relationships means that I don't have to start from scratch on each project - and of course all our authors are excellent at identifying relevant, specific reviewers and marketing opportunities. What I don't do is a lot of running around organising festivals, days out, evenings out, events, signings, author tour things and so on. I just don't enjoy the hard work and the time away from the business. I feel sure it would sell a handful more books, but to be honest the extra work, extra money and energy I'd have to expend would be massive, the rewards in sales modest and the effect on profit negligible. I feel a bit guilty about this from time to time, but if I did all those extra things I really wouldn't have time for much else. Something has to give - and it may as well be the part I don't enjoy. 2) Once or twice a year tasks Royalties: Ah, royalties. I have the whole system automated, but then spend about four days checking, checking and checking again. It's too much money leaving the business in one go to make a mistake - and if a mistake is made, I can't very well ask for it back. Interestingly, I have heard from other publishers that some bought systems for managing royalties have some worrying flaws - like, for instance, one system can't cope with rounding very well, and if a large publisher runs it, all those rounding errors can add up to tens of thousands of pounds. I guess I'll stick with my obsessive compulsive approach for the time being. Catalogue: As you know, I've automated this. It now takes eight minutes. Lovely. Bookfairs: LBF and Frankfurt take a week each. We exhibit with the IPG which saves a lot of time, money and aggro since we don't have to build or break down the stands. I think if we had to do this, we wouldn't bother. Statutory stuff: includes P35s, P11ds, tax return, annual accounts and so on. Much of this is done by our excellent accountants, Vantis, so takes about a day a year. Prize entries: both for books and business. I have a list of prizes which I enter every book for, within the guidelines. And I enter the Nibbies and the IPA awards, as you know. It takes a Saturday per entry, and I think it's worth it. 3) Special projects You see, I just can't help but tinker. Special projects get me very excited: like writing websites, writing presentations (I'm doing one at the BA conference soon), doing IT projects like making Indesign use XML, and using Java, thinking about and writing proposals for joint ventures, and so on. But these do tend to be at the weekend, which is why I mentioned that it's helpful if your work is also your hobby. Things I don't do One person can't do everything. For instance, I haven't cooked a meal in five years, and I never wash up. We live in a very egalitarian household, you see. I don't really socialise, either, which I'm perfectly happy about. I like it at home with the cats and Andy, and Rob down the road and the internet. Sad, maybe, but I'm happy. And as I say, there are things I just don't do that other publishers do - like arranging author tours and events. I provide books if authors want that stuff for themselves, but I don't think those things are profitable activities and don't go out of my way to arrange them. So you can see, I hope, that though a lot goes in to running a business, we have it pretty well under control, and as much of it automated as possible. So don't feel *too* sorry for me and all the work I have to do! And never feel - especially authors - that you can't get in touch or ask me to do things because you think I'm too busy. I'm not, promise, and I enjoy it.


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