Happy Wednesday, friends! Before we dive into today’s Navigating Entrepreneurship post, I just want to say quick thank you to all who have been reading along and leaving kind comments or sending sweet emails to let me know these posts are helpful. I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on building the strongest business out there, but I do know what has worked for me and what hasn’t worked for me, and I hope to share some of those insights with y’all. I’ve found that by building strong boundaries with clients, setting yourself up with healthy habits and a sustainable workflow, that you will not only see an increase in profitability but your overall quality of life will improve, too!
With that in mind, today we’re chatting all about time management. Last week we talked about setting office hours and other solid boundaries between your work life and down time, so how do you get the most out of that set work day? Personally, when I know I only have seven or eight hours to accomplish a specific number of tasks, I end up working harder and more efficiently to get everything done. This gives me the freedom to check out of work at the end of the day without piles of projects hanging over my head. I realize that everyone’s workload looks different but these are just a few ways that I am able to get the most out of my office hours. I find that if I’m not organized, it doesn’t matter how much coffee I’ve had or how motivated I am to make that day a success. Starting with a clear organization system is key for me to get through each day. That starts with a set of awesome tools that have made all the difference for me.
Y’all should feel free to snicker at my antiquated methods, but I am truly a pen and paper kind of gal. If I can write down a list of to-dos on an actual pad of paper and then physically cross something off that list as it’s accomplished, I feel much more productive than if I simply checked off a task in Entourage or iCal. For appointments, project milestones and other big picture items, I use a daily agenda. Mine is from Kate Spade, but I survived college just fine relying on a series of brightly colored agendas from Target. I also will jot down blog or social media content to help myself stay on schedule and promote items in some sort of chronological fashion.
Emily Ley Simplified Life Binder
Although I use my agenda on a daily basis, I need something a little more in-depth to manage my day-to-day responsibilities. Last year, I snagged an Emily Ley Simplified Life Binder before they were discontinued and I’ve been using a combination of printables from Emily Thomas and Em for Marvelousto stay on track. You can view a more detailed account of how I use my Simplified Binder here, but for my daily tasks, I could not live without a monthly calendar to map out my monthly schedule, check my progress with clients and be aware of upcoming project start dates. This blog planning printable from Em for Marvelous has helped me succinctly map out my blogging schedule and establish some sort of sequence for this series. 😉 For everyday tasks, I use an old daily to-do printable from Emily Ley. It features a space for Notes and To-Do lists, so I can get messy and cross off each item as I make progress. It also has time slots for every hour of the workday so I can fill in appointments, schedule post office runs and more efficiently manage my day. These hourly slots are especially helpful for this next time management trick:
Map Out Each Hour
Now that I’m aware of what has to happen on any given day, I can dive into conquering those items! I used to just jump right into each day’s tasks without any rhyme or reason, starting with the top priority items and working my way down. I found that while I was accomplishing a good deal using this method, I could easily lose track of time and end up spending two hours on one project when I really should have split that time between two projects. A few friends suggested designating a specific amount of time for each item on my list and setting an alarm on my phone to remind me to move on to the next task once that allotted time had passed. Although the thought of racing the clock all day long sounded super fun (not!), the idea of scheduling out my time for each day really resonated with me.
I sat down and drafted up how I would spend my ideal day, doing my best to allot for every hour during my workday. While I don’t have an alarm sound off when it’s time to switch gears, I do my best to be cognizant of the clock and what projects I should be working on at any given time. I found that if every hour or thirty minute increment had a specific purpose, then I was more likely to make the most out of my work day and would actually get further down my to-do list than before. A bit part of this is also actively saying “no” to distractions that vie for your time each day.
A great number of people have had success by using iPhone alarms to keep them on track. Personally, I think that method would really stress me out, but if it sounds like a practice that would really help you, then go for it! Nancy Ray recently shared an interesting idea of keeping track of how you actually spend your time each day, and I think I may try that soon. I’m sure if I really looked into it, I’d find I spend more time than I’d care to admit scrolling through Instagram when I really should be packing up print orders.
Don’t think that every day at the b is for bonnie studio looks exactly like this! Some days I am able to spend less time answering Etsy messages, or some days I have to spend more than 40 minutes packaging up orders. In order to make the most out of your time, you have to be flexible. Some days meetings will need to be rescheduled, a project will take much longer than anticipated or you will get sick. It’s okay! Take a deep breath and just roll with it. If you can’t clear your inbox in 30 or 40 minutes, it’s not a big deal. Evaluate what’s still on your list for that day and do your best to figure out if you can fit in a few extra minutes sometime to answer more emails. Most days, you won’t be able to leave the office with your inbox at zero, and that’s okay. If we give ourselves the same amount of grace we extend to others, I think we’d all be much less stressed as we go about our days. I certainly don’t expect a client to email me back the second they receive my email, so the world will not come crumbling down around me if I take two or three hours to respond to an email.
Even though this post is all about how I get the most out of my workday, it’s not about working yourself into the ground! Never underestimate the power of a well-timed break. Last year, I thought breaks were for the weak and would power through my entire day like a crazy person. If you work at a computer all day, you know how draining it can be to stare at a screen for eight hours straight! I’ve found that when I’m running into a creative block or have reached a natural stopping point while answering emails, it’s okay to stand up and get a glass of water or even step outside for a quick breath of fresh air. Getting my blood flowing and putting a little physical distance between myself and my computer can help me clear my mind and even gain a new perspective on what I’m currently working on.
Take Lunch Each Day
While we’re chatting about breaks, let’s address lunch, shall we? I think many of my self-employed friends struggle with this lunch issue. Last year I simply couldn’t be bothered with lunch. I’d eat at my desk or skip that midday meal altogether. What a terrible idea! Not only is lunch important to give your body the nutrients and energy it needs to get you through the day, but it’s also a great opportunity to step away from your desk and do something else.
Thankfully, my husband works close enough to home that we’re able to have lunch together most days. When I make the conscious decision to step away from my computer and engage in a face-to-face lunch with him over the dining table, everybody wins. Not only am I automatically in a better mood because I got to spend 30 minutes with my sweet husband, but he’s feeling appreciated and loved because I took time out of my day to spend with him, and my clients will in the end be dealing with a happier, well fed designer. See? Everybody wins!
Even if you aren’t able to grab lunch with a loved one or friend, taking 20, 30 or even 60 whole minutes to yourself will be so worth it in the end. If we worked in corporate positions, we’d most likely be given a set lunch break each day. Why should that change simply because we chose to work for ourselves?
Don’t underestimate the power of a well-planned day that includes a handful of spontaneous breaks, a balanced lunch and a heaping of grace. As business owners, we know that every day will bring its own unique set of challenges but through managing our time wisely and caring for ourselves along the way, I believe we rise to meet any occasion.
New to this series? Check out previous posts:
Navigating Entrepreneurship Intro
Navigating Entrepreneurship: Start Strong – Part I