The Secret to {one of my least favorite phrases} Time Management

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I know you wanna know the secret.

You want to know the one thing you can do to finally prioritize your to-do list, manage all the things you need to do to keep your creative business running, and find time to relax and enjoy your friends and family. Sounds like a dream, right?

Are you ready for it? Seriously? It’s a big one. Okay, if you’re really ready, here it is:

Stop following everyone else’s rules. Do what works for you.

Don’t allow yourself to get boxed in by what other people do. I let people know what works for me and try to give them tips on how they can adapt it if they have different circumstances. But, what works for me isn’t always going to work for you.

If you have a full-time job and work on your Etsy shop at night and on weekends, you shouldn’t be comparing yourself to shop owners who work on their creative businesses full-time. Of course they can get more products made and listed. Unless you want to go without sleep, you probably can’t keep up with their 60-hour work weeks where they concentrate solely on their businesses.

Learn from others. Keep what works and throw out the rest.

When I give out business advice, I often include a caveat that there are always exceptions to the rule and what works for one person may not work for others. There are some things that you almost always need in order to succeed in the long-term such as outstanding customer service, but you have to pick and choose the advice you want to put into action.

I’m going to be talking about time management, to-do lists, and goal setting over the next couple months. During that time, I’m going to give you tips and advice. I think the best course of action is try it out, keep what works and throw out the rest.

If someone recommends that you spend an hour on social media everyday but you only have two hours to work on your business daily, you shouldn’t take that advice because it won’t work for your situation. You can get great ideas from others, and I definitely think you should. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but you shouldn’t try to force stuff that doesn’t work for you.

With that said, I want to mention that it takes time to build up new habits.

Don’t throw something out too soon. If you’re trying to get a handle on your to-do list and you take my advice of having a realistic to-do list of 2-6 items {depending on your situation}, it may feel uncomfortable at first. It might take you a week or two to really figure out what makes the cut and how to get all the important stuff done.

Research varies on how long it takes to turn something new into a habit, but it takes at least 21 days and up to 66 days according to research. Once you turn something into a habit, it’s much easier to do because you start to do it without thinking about it. You no longer have to make the decision to do that specific task–you just do it. So, if you start exercising, the first 21-66 days will probably be the toughest. After that, it’ll seem more natural and your body might even start craving it.

Here’s what it comes down to: 1. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Learn from others. 2. Try what you learn and give it time to work. 3. Don’t force something that doesn’t work for you. 4. Keep the stuff that works.

I know this sounds simple, but I’m pretty sure we’ve all fallen into the trap of trying to force something that just isn’t going to work for ourselves. There was a time that I tried to break things up by the day. For instance, I’d write blog posts on Mondays, make products on Tuesdays, work on marketing and the website on Wednesdays, etc. That didn’t work for me, because I crave variety. I tried to force it for a while and realized that I was getting less done.

I’d love to hear about what hasn’t worked for you. Have you tried out time management tips that just didn’t work for your situation? Please share in the comments below.

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21 Responses to The Secret to {one of my least favorite phrases} Time Management

  1. Erika July 20, 2011 at 8:53 am #

    The best thing I have done is doing what works for me and stop trying to get what works for others to have the same effect on me. (Took me a while to accept that was okay.)

    I like my paper/notebook way of keeping track of things. I tried to use computer software and technology because it works so well for my super organized husband. But as Mayi and you pointed in the creative planning guide I need something that taps into the creative part of my brain and paper does it!
    Erika recently posted..The Challenge of Creativity

    • April July 21, 2011 at 7:47 am #

      I can’t give up my notebook either! I do use Google Calendar, because it keeps everything organized and in the same place. It also works with Tungle, and I use that to book all of my consulting sessions. But I couldn’t give up my paper and pen! I love having all my appointments and date specific stuff in my calendar and my to-do list on paper and in my calendar. I know some people would say that’s crazy–but it’s what works for me.

  2. Erin July 20, 2011 at 9:19 am #

    I still don’t think I’ve figured it out, as I constantly find myself worrying about how much is on my plate. So I’m looking forward to your upcoming posts about time management. That being said, similar to what Erika said, the only thing that has worked somewhat for me so far is writing out lists on paper. I try not to put more than 5 or 6 things on that list and if that still overwhelms me, I prioritize each task. Taking the time to think through each task and really prioritize them helps calm me in a way. And no electronic device can give me that amazing feeling of crossing something off my list!

    • April July 21, 2011 at 7:47 am #

      I love that feeling of crossing things off, too! It makes me feel really productive :)

  3. Charity July 20, 2011 at 10:33 am #

    I have tried a ton of things, most of which have not worked yet. Limiting my to-do list to 6 items or less per day has proved to be very practical, I love the sense of accomplishment and peace from knowing that I accomplished what I set out to do. I am struggling with making a habit out of it, though.
    I have also tried breaking things up by day, but I have learned that when I get in the mood to create that I have to follow through at that time. I have not had very much success trying to schedule or force creativity. I have accepted the fact that I cannot create a brand new item to list daily or even weekly. But before the next month comes, I can have 3-7 solid items to post as new uploads for the month.
    One of the most valuable things I have learned is to avoid getting overwhelmed or severely frustrated, because that leads to anger and burn out almost every time. When I feel myself getting overwhelmed or too frustrated. I step away and do something totally different for a while, like catch up on reality TV or something.
    Thanks for this post April!
    Charity recently posted..Dark Brown Oval Wooden Disc Earrings

    • April July 21, 2011 at 7:55 am #

      Thanks for adding to the conversation Charity!

      There seems to be two camps on the issue of creating: 1. You need to sit down and do the work even if you’re not feeling inspired. 2. You should allow yourself to create as the mood hits you.

      I have to say that I’m with the first one. There are plenty of days when I don’t feel like writing, but I make sure to write every day {except for vacations and holidays}. It might take me 30 minutes to really get into it and I might not produce anything amazing, but I know I need to use that muscle, build up my skills, and practice. And, many times, I’ll get ideas or be able to move past my resistance and produce something I’m proud of.

      But, I also believe in the power of relaxing and taking breaks. I may only write for 30 minutes one day because I need to take the rest of the day to recharge, but I try to get in at least a small amount of time.

      I’d love to hear what more people think of this! I think I’ll write a post about it in the next couple weeks. :)

      • Martina Iring July 21, 2011 at 4:35 pm #

        I’ll add my 2 cents on this one – and my answer is both.

        When I’m just not feeling it, I will try to force myself to at least get a few things done. I usually look at my to-do list and pick either what’s the most pressing, or what I deem is the least painful of tasks. Once I’ve got a few things under my belt, if I still can’t get out of my funk, then I take a break and step away from it all.

        Others times, I throw that to-do list out of the window because I’m feeling really jazzed and I just go with the flow. If I’m on a writing bend, I won’t break it up with accounting stuff just because it’s on my list.
        Martina Iring recently posted..Small business marketing case study – don’t shy away from the bad in your biz with Stafford Street Hot Yoga

  4. Chris July 20, 2011 at 11:20 am #

    Love this. Like others, I’ve tried online/ computerized systems, but can’t stand them. Give me a stack of blank notecards and my favorite pen and I’m happy. What I do now is write my list for the week, then cross things off day by day. Doesn’t matter which ones I do, as long as I do 5-7 each day. I keep track by using a different color each day to cross off. That way I get everything done, but have the flexibility to choose what I’m drawn to that particular day. Limiting a list to 6 things has always just made me keep the rest in a mental file — putting them all on paper takes away the stress of having them in the back of my mind.
    Chris recently posted..New Work: Cleveland Desk Accessories & Jewelry Boxes

    • April July 21, 2011 at 7:58 am #

      I have talked to a lot of people that this system would work pretty well for, because so many people struggle with sticking to specific tasks for the day. But, you have to be good at making decisions without wasting time. I used to have a system pretty similar to yours, but I’d find myself wasting 15 minutes just trying to decide what to do next on my to-do list. For me, I like knowing what my specific tasks are for the day–but I try to leave about two hours in the day for stuff that I feel inspired to do.

      I love hearing about the different systems that work for different people!

  5. Kim July 21, 2011 at 5:18 am #

    Hi April! Thank you so much for this post! What you say about doing what works for you is so true. I’ve been playing it by ear each day doing a little bit of everything (with your suggestion of a list of 6 things to do which by the way works like a charm!). However this doing a bit of everything each day really isn’t working for me and my brain is scattered all the time and creative block immediately follows. I loved what you wrote about selecting one type of activity to do each day, for example one day for making blog posts, one day for designing new products, one day for marketing etc. I know this wasn’t what worked for you in particular but that just made a click with me! I’m going to try it this week and see how it goes. Any other time management ideas that you’ve heard of that you can give us?

    I love all the comments above about the paper vs. computer systems, I can totally relate to that. Thank you so much April!

    • April July 21, 2011 at 8:01 am #

      I’d love to hear how this works for you. It’s definitely true that what works for one person might not work for another and we have to figure out what works the best for us!

      I’ll be sharing lots more time management tips and advice over the next couple months. In fact, I’ve got about 15 books on my bookshelf on these topics waiting to be devoured. I’m trying to research as much as I can about these topics even though I feel like I know a lot about them from my educational/work history. I want to really dive into this stuff :)

  6. Martina Iring July 21, 2011 at 4:37 pm #

    One of my fav time management tricks is to put a time limit on a task. I’m certainly not a stickler, but I find that it helps me focus, as I have a tendency to tumble down the rabbit hole and emerge hours later :) Or hem and haw over things that don’t require that much attention. I have found that this is especially effective with social media. You hasn’t logged on to Facebook for business reasons and wasted gobs of time?
    Martina Iring recently posted..Small business marketing case study – don’t shy away from the bad in your biz with Stafford Street Hot Yoga

    • April July 22, 2011 at 8:42 am #

      That’s a super helpful tip. And, I’d like to add to this that you should give yourself less time than you think you need. If you usually give yourself an hour to write a blog post, try to do it in 45 minutes. We often take the allotted amount of time to finish something, because we’re used to “pushing around the mouse” while waiting for the clock to hit 5pm. If you’re really focused, you can usually shave some time off of some of your tasks.

  7. Bridgett July 22, 2011 at 7:38 am #

    I’m so glad I hear so many of you love having to-do lists on paper! I love the feeling of crossing things off.

    What I’ve started to do, and thank you gals for the Creative Approach to Business Planning, I’ve started to look at what needs to get done in a week and go by that. Some items I need to delegate to a specfic date, more like a deadline, but most of it I accomplish by how I feel that particular day. So far it’s working for me.

    Looking forward to this month’s posts about time management!!

    • April July 22, 2011 at 8:46 am #

      I’m so interested to hear more about how you make a decision for the next “task” that you pick to accomplish. I found that when I had a weekly to-do list I’d spend too much time deciding what to do next. It would take about 5-10 minutes on a regular basis to decide what to do next which doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but when you do that 6 times a day–it really adds up.

      I know this concept of a weekly to-do list works a lot better for some people than a daily to-do list. I’d love to hear more about how this works for you!

  8. Tabassum July 24, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

    April, I really like this post and I’m looking forward to the rest of this series since I’m always falling off the “time management” band wagon. I guess because I always put so much on my plate and everything has to be done perfectly. Here are some things that work for me:

    1.) Making a to-do list of priorities for the entire week but not allocating my list to any day in particular. Sometimes certain things don’t get done on Monday or Tuesday as I had planned and I felt bad about it. Now I know that these are the things that I have to get done this week when I can.

    2.) Limiting my daily taks to 5. I have this downloadable list from Mayi and at first I was thinking, ” Only 5 spaces?” I need a lot more.” But then I thought about it again and it was a great way to trim the fat off of my day. I narrowed my lists to the top 5 things that I have to do.

    3.) Not touching the internet until I finish (or get a good start on) a major project that I have to complete. In my full-time job I’m paid for submitting collections and blog posts and not for
    “researching” online for 5 hours. Once I had that cemented in my mind, I get so much more done. The internet is super distracting for me and I had to put some limits there.

    4.) Being creative everyday even if I don’t want to. As April said in one of the comments above, creativity is a muscle that has to be stregthened daily so that you can get to the level of producing amazing quality work without forcing it. Famous artists known for doing this are Pablo Picasso and Garavani Valentino. The latter was known to do about 100 or more designs early every morning in a perfect suit and look what he accomplished!

    A great book to buy is: The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life by Twyla Tharp
    It is part autobiography and workbook written by a famous choreographer. It is so worth checking out if you want to bulk up your creative muscle.

    Thanks again April for the great advice in this first part. It is really helping me to de-stress.

    • April July 25, 2011 at 8:38 am #

      Hey Tabassum! Thank you so much for adding to the conversation and including what works for you :)

      It makes me think even more about weekly to-do lists versus daily to-do lists. So interesting. And, I love that you narrowed down your tasks to 5 items. At first, it seemed ridiculous when I narrowed down things to 6 tasks–but it soooooooooooo works. Like you said, it helps to trim the fat.

      I have to close out my email and twitter account if I’m serious about working or else I feel like I have to check my email every time I notice a new email, and that’s not productive.

      I also enjoyed The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp–but I don’t agree with her stance that you have to pick one thing to concentrate on it for your entire life. Where would we be without people like Ben Franklin who did so much more than one thing?

  9. Kim August 5, 2011 at 6:16 am #

    Hi April!!

    I commented on this thread a couple of weeks ago and mentioned how much I loved the sound of working on one type of thing a day. You were talking about how this didn’t work out so well for you but it made me curious to give it a shot since doing a bit of everything each day really wasn’t working for me.

    Well, I’ve tried it for two weeks now and the results are amazing! I organized my schedule so I have one kind of “job” a day, for example Mondays for sketching, Tuesdays for all the metalsmithing, Wednesdays for enameling, one day for computer techie stuff and marketing, you get the idea! It really takes all the guesswork out and all that wasted time on figuring out what I should do next as well as all the stuff I still had to do after that. I organized it it my calendar and if one day I’m not in the mood for that task, I just switch that whole day with another. It’s worked so well that I’ve doubled the amount of work I usually did in a week! I’m so excited and I thought I might share it with everyone here just in case it might also work for someone else! It was such an amazing idea to have us comment on what didn’t work for us. That’s how I found my time management solution all thanks to you! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

  10. Helene Stafford December 8, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    I guess because I always put so much on my plate and everything has to be done perfectly. It also works with Tungle, and I use that to book all of my consulting sessions. Once I had that cemented in my mind, I get so much more done. In fact, I’ve got about 15 books on my bookshelf on these topics waiting to be devoured.
    Helene Stafford recently posted..Cancer Tips

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