How Do Consultants Spend Their Time?

I recently conducted a presentation for the Association of Independent Consultants, highlighting some of my time study research.

Independent consultants work on their own providing a range of services from accounting to cost management, coaching, productivity improvement, graphic and web site design, and strategic planning. Some bill their time by the hour; others bill by the project and some are on retainer.

Over the years, a number of them participated in a time and motion study using our innovative TimeCorder device to track how they spend their time. Most tracked about 100 hours.

The main categories of activity where they spend their time include planning, marketing / selling, client service, administration and travel and other. The “other” category includes activities that are not part of other categories as well as personal time.

Overall they work 52 hours per week, a considerable increase versus other knowledge workers in our database who work 47 hours per week.

Selling time takes up 11 hours per week or 20% of the time. Veterans who had many years experience and a full calendar of clients spend just about as much time selling as those who are new to the business; 10 hours per week for the veterans and 12 hours for the rookies. The message for consultants is clear; you always need to be marketing.

As for client service time, it would be great to be billing every hour of the day. But the reality is that all the other activities need to be done. So client service time, most of which is billable, only reaches 13 hours per week, or about one quarter of the time. For those who are really successful, service time is higher, in the range of 20 hours per week or 36% of the time.

Planning is a key activity that represents 3.5 hours per week. Critical within this is 2 hours per week spent developing new products and services. Consultants recognize that they cannot rest on their laurels; they constantly need to be thinking about what new products and services they can introduce to their clients.

Administration is a huge time hog for most knowledge workers. And so it is for consultants who need to take care of all the tasks that are not connected to sales and service. General paperwork represents about 4 hours per week; filling out reports, submitting tax forms, and everything else that is required to keep a business going. This along with other administrative tasks adds up to 10 hours per week.

Finally, travel is also a necessity. Consultants who deal with local clients need to be there to do on-site work, present reports, and gather data and implement their recommendations. Typically consultants make 8 trips per week of 47 minutes per week, adding up to 6 hours altogether, or 11% of the time.

Check out the video below where I highlight some of the key points from the time study of successful consultants. If you are a consultant, be sure to allocate your efforts on your highest priority activities. After all, your time is worth it.

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Daily Planning – How Much is Right?

Time management trainers always encourage you to plan your activities every day.  This makes intuitive sense. But what does a time and motion study reveal about planning time? Read more »

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The Impact of Overtime on Non-Work Hours

We usually conduct our time and motion study projects using the TimeCorder device.  However, from 2003 – 2010 we asked visitors to a previous version of our web site to fill out the Tabulator. It tracked 11 major categories; work hours, family time, meal, television, community, spouse time, chores, me time, commuting, personal care and sleep.

I presented the findings in Oxford last summer, talking about the effects of overtime hours on other areas outside of work.

The Globe and Mail picked up the study and reported on it today.



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Only three-fifths of managers’ time adds value to the organization

There are many ways that managers add value to the companies they work for. Too bad they only do it for three-fifths of the time.

The pie chart below is based on our time and motion studies of 565 different activities measured by managers since 1990. These activities are combined into 12 major categories.

The participants are managers from 38 different job types; sales managers, bank managers, vice presidents, construction supervisors and others. All of them are responsible for managing people.

These managers each tracked about 15-25 activities, corresponding with alphabet letters on our proprietary TimeCorder device. Each manager typically conducted a time and motion study of his or her own time for two weeks. The categories that appear on the pie chart each consist of a number of individual activities.

Ask managers what they do, and they will tell you that they need to be coaching, supervising, managing operations, planning for the long term, etc. These high priority activities fall into the first 7 categories clockwise (people management, strategy / analysis, planning, selling, customer administration, customer service, and operations)

Altogether, these pie segments show that only 59% of a manager’s time is spent on activities that add value. The rest are administrative, internal, travel, training (oneself) travel, personal time and miscellaneous activities. These do not directly add value to the organization.


Companies need to recognize that operating at 100% efficiency or 100% capacity is simply not feasible. Time for long term priorities and daily responsibilities is limited. Numerous “requirements” or burdensome tasks will inevitably eat up time that managers would like to allocate to their priorities.

These job “requirements” are the unwritten or administrative tasks that are a necessary part of being an employee in the organization or that must get done eventually. These include administration, training, travel, personal time and miscellaneous activities. For managers, they can account for up to 41% of the time!

Managers should maximize their productive efforts by first understanding how they allocate their efforts through a time and motion study. Then they should look to improve processes, delegate tasks, automate, and get training on how to maximize productivity.

Following are brief descriptions of the main categories:

  • Planning – Activities oriented towards developing new products / services / clients, etc.
  • Strategy / analysis – Reviewing business results to aid in planning
  • Selling – Direct contact with prospects or customers to obtain additional business
  • Customer Administration – Internal activities that support sales and service
  • Service – Responding to customer requests or provision of products and services
  • Administration – Required internal activities not connected with main priorities
  • Internal Operations – Internal work that keeps the organization running
  • Training – Personal and professional development done on work time
  • Travel – Travel to customers, other offices, but not commuting
  • Personal time – Lunch, breaks, calls to spouse, short medical appointments, etc.
  • Miscelleneous – Activities not covered elsewhere



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The Administrative Time Hog

Managers spend much of their time doing everything but managing. With all of the daily crises, pressures, and trivial tasks that are thrown at them, it is tough for the typical manager to stay focused on the things that are important. So it is not surprising that administrative tasks are a massive time hog. Read more »

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When Do Employees Work Overtime?

When do most employees work overtimes at the office? Do they go in early or do they stay late after work? If you want to catch them, what would be the best time to find them? Data from our work measurement studies provides some insights.

If one considers a “normal” work week for knowledge workers to begin at 9:00 a.m. and finish at 5:00 p.m., this would add up to 40 hours per week, including lunch and breaks.

We examined time use by employees who tracked their own time using the innovative TimeCorder device. All of the data is anonymous, so employees felt comfortable in tracking the time they spent on work activities. Across a broad range of industries, our data shows that the average employee works 46.7 hours per week. This means that they work just over an hour per day extra, assuming a base of a 40-hour week.

For this analysis, we looked at people who work more overtime hours than the average . Examining the pattern of activity among 235 employees who work over 50 hours, TimeCorder data shows the average time worked for this subset of workers is 55.5 hours per week. 72% of these hours (or 40 hours per week) are completed during the 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. period. Of the remainder, 19% occur prior to 9:00 a.m. and only 9% occur after 5:00 p.m.

So overtime work occurs more in the morning than in the evening.

An expanded work day shows the same pattern. When the bookends of the day are extended one hour earlier and one hour later, the result is a work day that stretches from 8:00 a.m. in the morning until 6:00 p.m. at night. Among those with high overtime hours, the total time worked during this period now represents 85% of all hours. Earlier in the morning than that, hours worked are equivalent to 10% of the total. Meanwhile later in the evening, overtime hours represent just 5% of the total.

Clearly, when people work long hours, there is a greater tendency to come in early and do their work before the start of the official work day. The chart below show the percent of time spent during each of the 24-hour periods of the day, starting at midnight, the “0” hour.

(On the chart, it appears as if work drop off in the afternoon. This is because some  employees shift their hours by arriving very early in the morning and finish their day by 3:00 p.m. or 4:00 p.m. )

What does this mean for organizations? If they plan to provide snacks to those who work overtime, breakfast items may be more appropriate than dinner items. And if extra meetings need to be scheduled, employees may be more willing to come in early than to stay late. Finally, energy levels may be higher in the morning than at the end of a day when some employees have already worked ten hours or more.

Undestand the hours of work when you are most productive. Your time is worth it!

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Hours Worked By Job

Who works the longest hours? The sales rep trying to firm up a deal? The president who has to solve a delicate legal issue? Not surprisingly, there are a range of work hours, based on results from a number of time studies we have conducted using our proprietary TimeCorder device. Read more »

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How Long Is A Typical Work Week?

We have been collectiong time study data since 1990, and have recently taken an interest in overtime hours. Subsequent posts will review some of the findings from our database. To start, we were interested in what constitutes a typical work week for knowledge workers. Read more »

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