Work Smarter Not Harder - Part I - Strategies for Makers - the reality of the 24 hour day

So, like many self employed people I set up my business as a one woman show. This was not a conscious decision- I never said, or even thought,

"I am just going to do everything!"

I just did one thing- I made something. And then I did another thing- I marketed it. And then I did another thing- I sold it. And then I did another thing- I shipped it. And then I made another thing and then I had to market that thing and then I sold it. And then I shipped it. You get the picture.

It sounds easy, but it's not.

This whole thing kind of snowballs -

(if we are lucky enough to have created the kind of snowball that turns into a snowman's ass or maybe his head or midsection ... well things can really snowball, but even if we have created the kind of snowball that melts or maybe sits in the freezer all summer, well we may not be doing the shipping step, but all the other steps take alot of time, too and we are suddenly working way too hard and way too much)

and I believe that whether we are working way too hard and making money or working way too hard and not making money - something has to change - the things that have to change are just a little different.

One part of all of this that needs to be figured out is time management - a very boring and unsexy topic, but without dealing with this we will just be running around putting out fires all the time.

(no fun unless you are one of those pyromaniac people, but I don't think you are)

Strategy 1 - Time Management and Focus

What time of day are we most alert, focused and ready to go? How long does it last?

I am a morning person and get most of my work done before noon. What I realized though is that this was exactly the time of day I was doing routine things, such as packing up orders, etc and not doing the things that required the most focus.

This was creating a situation where by the time I was finished with answering morning emails, making and packing up orders, printing shipping labels, etc - I was entering my brain-dead afternoon period and none of the big picture stuff was ever getting done.

Also I took a day and actually looked at how often while I am working I am not fully focused on what I am doing. It was shocking.

(although it shouldn't be with my ever dwindling attention span - I blame reality tv - damn you Project Runway)

I was often side-tracked and what appeared to be multi-tasking was actually procrastination and lack of discipline.

Interruptions are the arch enemy of productivity - think Batgirl and the Joker here, it's that serious

(you have to figure out a way to limit the interruptions without locking your kids in the closet ... well, at least for longer than you can reasonably calculate your closet's air supply to hold out - my closets are small, but if you have one of those walk-ins, well ...)

Cyber interruptions do not have to happen. Emails do not have to be responded to immediately. Checking your email 2-3 times a day is enough.

The great thing about the Etsy convo system is that you can read the convo in your email and see if it is from a customer (top priority) or from another maker (lower priority).

(I recently had a seller tell me she had convo'd another seller about a team thing and hadn't heard back and it had been two days and she was mad and I totally understand that feeling of not being heard, but ...

let's all just keep in mind that everyone is so, so busy and give each other a break. When I don't hear back from someone about something not purchase related - I assume they are busy and I will hear back as soon as they have the time to reply and I always do ... or I remind them ... I just picture them chasing a toddler with a diaper in one hand and a paypal postage label in the other and I feel a little better ... because I'm glad I'm not them)

Remember that old commercial where the guy says how he always returns calls the same day (I loved that commercial) and that if you don't hear back from him, he must be dead - well, that commercial was at a time when we might have five or six calls to return at the end of the day, not 46 emails in our 24 hour a day worldwide inbox ... so, if you don't hear back from me, I'm probably not dead (I hope) but just dead tired.

You can't get meaningful things done when you are constantly stopping.

Stop, start, stop, start = not good. You need to get in some alone time - long stretches of time alone is when most people are most productive.

When your mind doesn't have to shift back and forth between different things, you can get a boatload of stuff done.

WARNING - as your business grows this boatload of stuff will need to be accomplished alot more often

1. Make a big picture weekly to-do list - know what your priorities are and break them up over the days ahead (this is where having an intention for your business becomes crucial and makes it easier to prioritize what is most important)
2. Make a daily to-do list the night before (not a long list of things you will never get to)- know what is most important and get to that stuff first

(yes, even when it is the pain in the ass stuff, maybe especially when it is the pain in the ass stuff - sorry not sure where this obsession with the word 'ass' is coming from)

3. Set up a schedule to check email and stick to it
4. Know your peak energy times and use these high focus periods for high focus work
5. You need alone time - make this happen somehow
6. You build momentum by getting things done and then moving on to the next thing.

Finishing breeds more finishing, so get some small things out of the way and off your list - I realize this might go against tip #2 a bit, but you have to be flexible, no system is perfect

7. Stay off the computer (yes, I know you have an internet business, but that box in front of you sucks the hours out of your day - avoid it)
8. Decide how and when you want to do custom work and stick to it.

(I used to spend alot of time hunting for images for custom orders and often the customer would decide not to follow through anyway. If custom work is a big part of your business then obviously you should put the time into it. But, I found for me, it is not a big enough part of my sales for the time commitment it takes. I still make personalized items when the customer provides the images, but hunting down images for a one off piece at my price point this time of year does not work for me.)

Strategy 2 - Time Management and that Pesky 24 Hour Day

Now, of course all this focus stuff is only going to be so much help when the workload is just impossible - and I think if this is our problem we need to take a very real look at how we are spending our time.

Remember the old 80/20 rule of just about everything - 20% of the people do 80% of the work, 80% of the profits come from 20% of the work - yadda, yadda.

Well, when you are a one woman/man show - you have to figure out your 80/20's and you have to do it fast.

(and you totally do not have to be a one woman show, at least forever, hopefully, more on this when we talk about delegation next week)

you can't let 80% of your work have no results, you just don't have that kind of time, so you need to figure out your 20% NOW, so you can focus on that.

Now, I know that sometimes it is hard to figure out what is working and what is not working (some tools to help us with this in part II, next week) and sometimes you have to just put the energy into things even when you can't see how this thing will all fit together and I like to be diverse and do alot of things sometimes and see what will stick, but just be advised that doing these kind of things will take alot of time, so you really need to figure out your 80/20's at some point and know what needs to stay and what needs to go.

So to recap - GET EFFICIENT - Record and analyze what you spend your time doing for a week.

GET EFFECTIVE - Remember that getting efficient and doing things well doesn't necessarily mean you are doing the right things.

Next Week Strategy 3 - The Right Tools (now, some people use equipment as a crutch - you know that person who doesn't want to put in the hours on the slopes so plops down a ton of money in the ski shop - they are looking for a shortcut and so are we, but we are smart enough to realize that a Fender Esquire will not make us play like Bruce Springsteen)

The right tools can make a huge difference though and there are alot of them out there for us - more on this next week as well as Strategy 4 - Delegation - my favorite challenge of the moment (frowns at Olive)!


Yanik said...

Great post! I loved the part about focusing on my 20%. I often lose sight of what is working the best and waste so much time on the rest. Warm thanks for the nudge!

holly aka golly said...

Cat, I needed this kick in pants this morning! You are full of great reminders and suggestions.

gina said...

I love when you post about business advice/experiences. The posts are always full of extremely useful info. A lot of it is common sense, but many (myself included) get buried in the mess and need a good reminder. Thanks!

Kimmy said...

So helpful Catherine!!

I'm particularly fond of :
"well, at least for longer than you can reasonably calculate your closet's air supply to hold out - my closets are small, but if you have one of those walk-ins, well.."
BINGO!! Busting out steam like instrument and gauge to go measure! hehe

IfiHadaHammer said...

These are great tips! I can already tell you what I spend the bulk of my time doing. PROCRASTINATING! Watching shows I'm not interested in and getting on the computer every five minutes to see that nothings changed. bad me!

Viktoria said...

well, a lot of stuff to read after a day at construction area and two beers....nevertheless, thanks for this!

Brenda said...

Excellent! Fantastic insight and invaluable tips. It is amazing how freakin' hard and long you work as an itty itty business - efficiency and effectiveness are so vital!

Thanks Cat!

3 squares said...

thanks again for much needed common sense advice. your generosity and smarts continue to amaze me.

Artsnark said...

so true! Time management has been my kryptonite. Glad this link was posted over at Studio MME. Off to check out the rest of the series

Lrc said...

Time management nudges are very good for me...I was tipped off by M.M.E about your advice...thanks!