As we all know, running your own business requires you to be diligent, productive and focused in order to make money. And managing your time effectively and efficiently is equally important for those who rely solely on their shops for income as well as those who have full-time day jobs and need to be especially productive in the wee hours left in the day after work and family needs are taken care of.
Certainly everyone has a different way of working; some prefer regular schedules, others work in short bursts when inspiration and motivation strikes; some like a rigid to-do list, others like to do whatever the mood strikes. You need to find what works best for you, your rhythm and your other commitments. That being said, here are some tips that many of you and those in the forums cited as being particularly helpful.
Schedules & Lists
Most Etsy sellers cite the use of a scheduling system as the most useful tool in helping to keep them on track and focused. In tandem with a schedule is a to-do list and many people will build a daily schedule around the items on their to-do list. Having one spot where you can visually see the tasks that need to be accomplished can help you better prioritize your time better. The important thing is not to get overwhelmed by your schedule or lists but to see them as tools to help you get sales.
Mary from MaryZoom, who recently scored a huge custom order with a local university, knows the importance of keeping on task and planning ahead. â€œI have an erasable white board up on the wall that is a 1-month calendar. I write on each day what task I plan to work on that day, such as ‘make x-number grey blanks’ or ‘cut out x-number iPad cases’. That way I have a visual at-a-glance picture of what I need to get done and by when. That way I don’t get so overwhelmed.”
Myra of AnarchyinBeauty echos the sentiment. â€œI plan ahead and have a schedule for listing and relisting products. I keep this on a physical calendar that I reference each day,â€ she says.
If you are one that uses a schedules and lists, one trick is to take 15 minutes at the end of your day or in the evening and re-evaluate and reassess your list and prepare your schedule for the following work day. This way you’ll know exactly what needs to be accomplished and will hit the ground running at the start of your day. This will also help you from wasting away your first hour of work trying to figure out what to do.
Another tip some suggest is that you select that top 3 things you want to accomplish the next work day, so that if all else fails and you get side-tracked you will have at least accomplished those tasks (provided you make them a priority).
Furthermore, it’s important to work around your circadian rhythms and spend time (if possible) on your most difficult tasks during the hours you’re most energetic, whether you’re an early bird or night owl.
The most common recommendation by Etsians in the forums (and one that I can personally attest to) is to batch your work when making and packaging items. In other words, if you specialize in making scarves, you should set one day (or block of hours) for cutting all your fabric, spend another day sewing, another packaging them, etc. This assembly-line production work means you will only be using certain tools each day, you won’t be as easily distracted and you can’t get lots accomplished quickly versus making one scarf at a time from start to finish. This is particularly helpful for those who sell a myriad of items in their shops, like me. I sell coffee cozies, hair pins, cards, gift tags, stickers, etc. and early on, I would start my day with whatever struck my fancy. I would jump from one project to the next, leaving a path of craft carnage in my wake. At the end of the day I’d have spools of thread, paper strips, open containers of glue and paint and more all over the place. Cleaning up and organizing was overwhelming. The other day, however, I set out to just make cozies and was able to churn out 15 in just a couple hours, more than I had ever made before, combined.
Another way I’ve used batching that has helped me out tremendously is with taking pictures and listing. I find I do best if I make things all week, then spend a chunk of about 4 hours taking all my photographs and writing up/copying my listings. Then before finishing/paying for my listing, I save it as a bookmark. This way, I get about 15 listings in the queue and each day I can list new items â€“ just go to my bookmarks, click finish and voila, new items in my shop daily!
Some sellers find that working on specific tasks/projects certain days of the week or times of the day also helps keep them on track. Says Jenn from ChuckaStone, â€œI try to list one new item every morning and promote on Facebook & Twitter. Then some days I write Green Leaf Reviewer blog and spend about a half hour reading and commenting on blogs. If I’m painting that week that’s about when I leave the house. If I’m writing I send myself into another room so I’m not distracted by my work station. I reserve evenings and weekends for creating new items for Etsy…and for relaxing so I don’t burn out!â€
Take technology breaks
Running an on-line business is a double-edged sword â€“ it’s necessary to have an on-line presence, but the computer and internet are most oft cited as the biggest time-sucks for shop owners. I once read a powerful time management book titled, â€œDon’t check email in the morningâ€ by Julie Morgenstern (not endorsed by Etsy or EcoEtsy, but something I read when I was a National Director for a department in a national chain and received over 200 emails a day while flying cross-country several times a week; I was desperate for tips on how to manage my workload). The basic idea behind the title was that too often we get sucked into email once we get to work that the next thing we know, it’s time for lunch and nothing has been accomplished. The author asserts that the first hour of your work day should be used to do strategic planning and attacking a big/important project so that after the first hour you will have a sense of accomplishment.
This alone can be a hard task for shop owner anxious to see if they have any orders awaiting them. However, I have learned to check my email for orders only at the start of my day. This helps me to prioritize my day, then I try to quickly shut down my email before I get sucked in (sorry team members â€“ I check in on you later!).
Many Etsians recommend setting a kitchen timer to help you from getting sucked into the online vortex. The forums are a popular place to get sidelined and while a valuable network, you should set a time limit and then get out! Some Etsians refer to the forum as the home-based business version of co-workers â€“ they can be fun, engaging and utterly distracting all at once so you have to learn to set boundaries and break away.
Staying networked, in touch with fans and customers and keeping current is part of running a successful online business but putting limits on it is key. Says Evon of Cleverscene, â€œI have a blackberry which keeps me instantaneously up-to-date with emails and such. It’s good when I need it but it’s easy to get sucked in and distracted by emails, facebook, etc. So to stay focused, I set my phone to â€˜phone calls only’ during my working hours and I do internet stuff at the end of the day unless it’s absolutely urgent.â€
In the aforementioned book, I also took away a valuable lesson that has really helped me to refocus when I get caught up on what I want to do, rather than what I need to do. The author refers to it as â€œdancing close to the revenue line.â€ That is, she suggests that you take your schedule and assign tasks a 1, 2 or 3, with tasks labeled 1 as absolutely necessary for making money. Making and listing items would be examples; you can’t make money without doing these necessary tasks. Tasks labeled as 2 are important and necessary to making money but secondary to â€œ1’sâ€ â€“ purchasing supplies might be an example of a â€œ2â€ task. Number 3 tasks are the â€œnice but not absolutely necessary to making moneyâ€ â€“ this might be organizing your studio, researching new ideas (if you already have a bunch of half-started projects awaiting completion), etc. These are just examples but might vary from seller to seller. For example, some people absolutely can’t work if there environment is cluttered, so having a clean studio might truly be closer to the revenue line than for others.
Says Kara from LoveForEarth, â€œI think *organization* is one of the best things you can do help with time management. There is nothing worse than losing 15 minutes or more looking for “____ in a certain color” or trying to find the right sized zipper in the right color, etc..or just looking for something The better organized your work area is, the less likely you are to lose time ‘looking’ for things. I like to use those rolling carts with drawers to store all of my notions, ribbons and other things and I label the outside of the drawer to help keep track of what is in there. I tend to have more supplies than I have room, but the better organized I keep thing, the more efficient the work time spent is.â€
Using a prioritization system can help you see if you’re spending time on the right things. Sometimes I get caught up on these unnecessary things because they are what I feel like doing at the time, but they won’t make me money for the moment. It’s all about balance really â€“ some people do well focusing 50% of their time on their 1’s, 30% on their 2’s and 20% on their 3’s allowing each area time and leaving them feeling more accomplished and balanced.
Six of one, half a dozen of the other
We all have those tasks we need to accomplish that we’re not so hot on or conversely, we get too wrapped up in. As such, it’s important to assess your level of discipline and make a decision on whether spending an hour at the end of your day or setting aside a block of several hours on another day to do it works better for you. For example, some people find they do better if they take an hour each day to do administrative tasks like cleaning up listings/photographs, bookkeeping, even spending time in forums. This can be especially helpful in addressing tasks that you can’t stand (thereby breaking it up into small, manageable chunks). Others find it better if they set aside a ½ day each week to accomplish these tasks but then skip it on the other days. You need to determine what works best for you, but having a plan and sticking to it will help you from putting off the necessary or conversely getting sucked into the enjoyable tasks that yield a low ROI.
Know when to close shop
Just as important as being productive it’s equally as valuable to know when to stop. Sometimes having family commitments will force you to stop at a certain time. It can be even more challenging for those who live by themselves to find work/life balance and make sure they don’t work 24/7. The better you manage your time, the more likely you’ll feel comfortable closing up shop at a reasonable time, leaving you space to nurture your relationships and other personal passions. You’ll be a better partner, friend, family member as a result and you’ll be excited to jump back into your work again having taken a break.
As much as I would like to work 7 days a week, I appreciate that my husband expects that I’ll take weekends off with him and though there are times when creative inspiration strikes and I want to run down to my studio, I instead write it down in my journal. By the time my Sunday night rolls around, I am bubbling with excitement to get back to work â€“ something I NEVER experienced with a regular job and I’m more refreshed and focused to start my week as a result. More importantly, spending time with family translates into happy relationships and more support for my work. And at the end of the work week, when I know that I won’t be working during the weekend, it forces me to be really focused and avoid getting sidetracked by â€œfluff.â€
And yet despite our best intentions, we get sidetracked and our grand plans go out the door. I myself find that I have ebbs and flows when it comes to creativity AND time management. Some weeks I do great, then I can go two weeks and be all over the place. I’ve just come to accept it yet it does get easier as time goes on and I get more settled with my business.
Cindi from BrassPaperclip concurs: â€œMy best effort so far has been to map out the hours in my week and try to schedule blocks of time for each “activity”, but it hasn’t worked very well. I also use the calendar and â€˜sticky notes’ apps on my laptop to keep running lists…again, not working so well. LOL.â€
It’s also important to listen to your cues. If you find yourself procrastinating a lot, your psyche may be telling you to take a break or try something new. The last thing you want is to loathe the very thing you normally love to do. Being focused is imperative to making money, but being flexible and working in a way that leaves you feeling fulfilled, accomplished and balanced is just as important.
What other tips do you have? Please share with the group!
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