There are only so many hours a day and a seemingly never-ending list of things that need to be done. With personal and professional obligations, it can be very difficult to separate and prioritize what needs to be done from what should be done.
Let me start off this blog by saying that all of us probably need some work on time management. In fact, when I asked our co-owners if they had any advice on this topic, Stefanie said “buy a bunch of daily/weekly/monthly planners and never use them”. Sound familiar to anyone?!
So while we are all working to make the most of our time, here are some actual strategies that may help, in no particular order:
Trade Pessimism for Realism
How often have we said to ourselves: “Ugh. I didn’t get anything done today.” Then why are you so tired?!
The fact is that we often tend to assign value to some projects while thinking of others as having 0 value. Often, “valuable” tasks tend to be dream projects, professional goals, and so on. Meanwhile, “zero-value” projects tend to be things like responding to emails, answering client questions, business phone calls, accounting, and more.
Now – because we don’t associate personal value to these mundane, day-to-day tasks, we don’t mentally mark them down as being anything. But here’s some real talk: if you spent hours per day on it, it’s not nothing!
This is both the easiest and hardest strategy for creating more time: simply reframing your cognition of your time. Does this directly impact how much time you’re investing in tasks? No. But. By reframing your thinking from “I’m doing nothing” to “I’m doing tasks, just not my main goal”, that can help mitigate feelings of guilt and stress, all of which will help ease your mental load. Give it a try!
Create a Separate Work Environment
With many of us creatives working from home, it can be challenging to separate our work/home lives. Ideally, you can use a spare room as your craft room with a desk area for emails, meetings and/or consults and another area for creating. If you don’t have that kind of space, create little nook areas in completely separate spots in your house! I know that for me, I use a desk that is facing the wall, away from my crafting area so I am unable to even look at what needs to be done crafting-wise to focus on administrative work. Along the same lines, I sit on one side of my crafting table so I cannot see my computer.
It’s been said that the more times you perform the same task, over and over, you can get more done in a shorter period of time. Batching tasks is an efficient and effective way to do this!
Setting up different days or blocks of time to focus your attention on specific parts of your creative process and business is very helpful. For example, I know that after a weekend, Mondays are going to be spent responding to emails and scheduling any meetings for the week. I also reserve Tuesday and Thursday afternoons for working on research or writing blogs. Giving those days and blocks of time a specific purpose allows my brain to get in the habit of being ready to be creative and get done what needs to be done.
We recommend bucketing administrative and creative time into fixed days or blocks of time. This means everything will get your attention, but you can solely focus on one project at a time, instead of all projects all of the time.
Note that if you follow this strategy, consider letting your clients know in order to set clear expectations. “Email me at any time but please know my admin time is from 10am-1pm every day.” Find what hours make sense for your energy and creativity levels and block those times off accordingly. The more you stick to that plan, the easier it will become.
Keep Subdividing Until It’s Doable
Do you think you could read a 1,000 page book today? No, probably not. But what if we broke it up a little?
What about 100 pages? Could you do that? Maybe, but that’s still a lot of time.
Can you do 50? 25? A single chapter? A single page? A single sentence?
For any given project, if it seems daunting, just keep subdividing until you can. This is, in effect, creating a “non-zero day.” In other words, a day where at least SOMEthing happens in support of your workflow. And all successes are made up of a bunch of non-zero days woven together.
Changing your productivity to focus on those smaller steps will be a huge asset to the perception of your own time management.
I am a procrastinator by nature. Open-ended projects are more difficult for me to actually finish because without a deadline, chances are that the distractions that pop up are more likely to grab my attention.
Setting deadlines, even small ones, helps to ensure that those tasks will be completed in a timely manner. If my goal is to increase my social media presence and I’ve subdivided that goal into a task of 3 posts per week, now I should set my deadline of post 1 on Monday, post 2 on Wednesday and post 3 on Thursday.
Since the tasks are smaller, you can get into a routine of checking off everything that needs to be done on Monday (and actually do them on Monday!).
Make Budget Cuts. But Hands Off Of Your Self-Care Time.
Just as you’ll occasionally have to balance the financial budget of your business, so too will you have to balance its time budget. There’s nothing inherently right or wrong about this – it’s just an adjustment to help best position your business for success.
Now, you have probably seen and heard about hustle culture. Wake up at 4:30 AM! Never see your kids! Rise and grind! Blech. No. That is not what we’re advocating.
But, we are advocating being smart and reasonable about your time. Hypothetically, for example, let’s say you and your partner watch two hours of streaming TV every night. Could you drop that down to 90 minutes, and give yourself an extra 30 minutes per day? That adds up to another 125 hours per year, or 5 extra calendar days. An entire free work week! All from watching one fewer episode of Friends.
This is what we’re talking about: that still keeps a healthy amount of personal time, but does some slight reallocation to fund other time needs.
No, Seriously Hands Off Your Self-Care Time.
In the previous section, we mentioned reallocating your time to help create more of a time “budget.” It might be tempting to say “Well, I’m supposed to get 8 hours of sleep a night. Couldn’t I get by with 7.5? Or 6?”
Sleep is important. Family time is important. Exercise time and meal time are important. Unless your time spent in these categories is, in fact, in excess (e.g.: a three-hour daily lunch break could be reduced, for instance.), sacrificing too much time in any of these categories will be to your detriment. It will give you the false impression that the time allocated here can be used as needed for emails, client calls, and the like.
We highly, highly encourage you not to create a precedent. Once you cross that line, it’s very hard to uncross it. And while it gives off the impression of giving you more time, it is actually lower quality time because you’ll be lacking everything those things could have given you: rest, love, nourishment. It’s not worth it to squeeze out one more flower arrangement.
Sometimes, this will mean saying no. But, you’re the CEO of your small business. And “no” is a complete sentence.
To Summarize: Reframe, Reallocate, Rest
If you take nothing else away from this post, remember the following:
Reframe. You’re not doing nothing. You’re constantly working. You just need to remember that all the work you do – from calls to emails – count.
Reallocate. Do an audit of your time. If any categories are in excess, consider trimming small chunks of that time and reallocating it to other areas. Don’t hesitate to create specific, dedicated times to things like email responses or research.
- Rest. Increasing the value of your existing hours, rather than ADDING more low-value hours, could help with your time management. And this means not sacrificing self-care time. It may seem counterintuitive to do more by working less, but trust us: these categories (sleep, family) are not worth cutting.
What time management techniques work for you? Let us know in the comments!