Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Time Management - Setting Up a Schedule

Having a regular schedule to work by can be a very powerful time management tool. This is probably not earth-shattering news to you, and it is probably something that you have tried to do in the past, perhaps many times.

Usually the first thing that comes to mind when making a schedule is mapping out what you are going to do each day during specific times. This works great for a lot of people, and many planners are set up to work with this method. By all means, if this works for you then go for it.

However, there is another way. Lots of creative people have a hard time working within this rigidity and may find it easier to set up a schedule that maintains flexibility and spontaneity. A more flexible schedule may also work for small business owners as their daily tasks change from day to day and sometimes hour to hour.

In order to set up a flexible schedule that still focuses you and allows you to use your time wisely, you need to think about what tasks you do best at what times of the day. For instance, if part of your work includes writing and you do that best during the morning, then writing needs to be part of your morning routine. If you write better at the end of the day, then it needs to be included in your later time block.

You may wish to think of your schedule more as a routine for getting things done, and maximizing what you do best when. My routine consists of 4 daily time blocks, and my transition times are when I eat meals. I have a list of possible things to do during those times depending on what I am motivated to do each day. Here is what my routine looks like:

Early Morning:
- Kids ready for school
- Coffee
- Email
- Writing
- Correspondence

Transition: Breakfast

Late Morning:
Package orders
Work on outstanding orders
Clean work spaces
Inventory supplies
Order supplies
Outside cutting and other outside work (spring/summer)

Transition: Lunch
Early Afternoon:
Create new product
Prep materials for product
Outside cutting and other outside work (fall/winter)

Transition: afternoon snack, children arriving home

New product brainstorming
Sourcing new supplies

As you can see, there are not specific activities in my routine. However, most activities that I do will fall into one of these time frames, so on a daily basis I can extend the times I work in each block if needed. There are also times when naturally one activity will require more time and I allow myself to adjust as necessary.

Because my transitions are around things that are done daily, no matter what, it is easy for me to follow the cues of when it is time to change directions so that days are not too heavy in one area versus another.

If you are still having a hard time being productive, then make a list of general things that you can do and which category they fit in. This will help prevent the feeling of "I don't really feel like doing that today ... what else can I do?"

My secondary list looks something like this:
Early Morning
Visit groups

Late Morning/Afternoon
Create target for readiness for shows/shop
Work on things already prepped
Cut fabric and felt
when all else fails - clean house

Look for advertising opportunities
paper folding
meal planning
shopping lists

Please note that I may not do everything on my routine each day, and it changes based on upcoming events and outstanding orders. However, by writing down and mapping out my days I have allowed myself to think about what I do best at what time of day. I have also been able to get ahead with things that I was behind on. Especially writing, because since it isn't usually the most pressing thing on my list, then I would put it off to get the more pressing things done first. Which usually left me writing at the end of the day when I felt drained and not inspired. By giving myself permission to write early in the morning I am able to maximize the time of day when I do it best and that usually motivates me to perform the tasks later in my day even better.

I'm not sure what I will talk about next week! Please leave a comment to tell me what time management issues you are having!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Time Management - Working in Batches, Small Runs, and one at a time

Most of you know that your business runs more efficiently when you work in batches. By focusing on one or a few tasks you can reduce the amount of time it takes to complete a project since you are not wasting time looking for tools, switching areas, cleaning off work spaces in order to make room for a different task. You also may save money by preventing the wasting of glues, paints, paper, and inks. However, you do need to know your limits before going assembly line crazy!

This is especially important when you are building up stock for a show or busy season. You don't want the show to come along and have a bunch of half-finished product, and you also don't want your holiday rush to hit and not have time to finish products. So know how long it takes you to make items by working on them one at a time, and also how quickly you can make items in batches.

If you only make one type of item, then get real and know exactly how many items you can make in a 1 week time frame. Remember, that photographing them, listing them for sale, and preparing them to be shipped is also part of this time!

If you make several types of items try to find efficiencies between those items. Perhaps you use the same tool in both items - so try to coordinate your time so that you are using that tool for both types of items at one time. You may also find that you can prep items for multiple items at the same time that are made from the same materials.

You may also try to make your work space more efficient. You may set up stations for doing certain tasks - have all of your supplies and tools stored that you use for each task and store them at that station. If you only have limited space try to arrange your tools and supplies in the order that you use them.

Discovering your limits is very important, and can also be very helpful when pricing your items too. The best way to test your limits is to have an idea of how many items that you think that you would be able to make in 1 week, or 2 weeks and then do it. However, not only do you need to make the items, you also need to photograph them, list them for sale, and package them up. It is only when you pretend that you are selling that many items that you actually know how many you can sell in a given period of time.

Be mindful of how many of a particular item that you sell also. You need to spend more time making the things that you sell regularly, but don't forget that a small amount of stock of the items you don't frequently sell could be the reason that you don't frequently sell them!

Next week I will be talking about setting up your schedule.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Early Fall Favorites

{1 - Lightning Bolt Stud Earrings from TheAngryWeather, 2 - Mid Century Print Vintage Skirt from DeLaBelle, 3 - Ceramic Fawn Figurine from BarkingBirds, 4 - Papillion de Nuit print from reneeanne, 5 - Mini Feather Pouch from MilkandHoneyHandbags}

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Time Management - Creating Expectations

Now, you may think this is an odd topic for a time management post, but keep reading and you may understand.

I used to go to a restaurant once a week for really good Chinese food. I would always take my son, because he loved the food and trying to eat with chopsticks. Now, it was a little pricey, but the helpings were large so I was always sure to have enough left over for lunch the next day. One week we went there for dinner, and the helpings were really small. I commented to the person serving me that normally they gave us a much bigger scoop. The server commented back that they had been making a mistake before, and these were the correct proportions. I was very disappointed, and after that experience my son and I found a recipe, bought some chopsticks, and started eating our weekly Chinese dinner at home instead of at the restaurant. We have gone back a couple times in the last year, but we are no longer regular weekly customers and we have also turned the rest of the family onto our yummy homemade Chinese dinner.

My point here is that this restaurant created an expectation for me, and then changed. My opinion isn't a bad one of the restaurant, but because of their drastic change in portion sizes I no longer visit the store as a weekly customer.

From a business and time management perspective, I am here to tell you that YOU create expectations for your customers. You create these expectations in your descriptions, prices, policies, words and actions. You have the ultimate control over how your customers perceive your customer service and product. You need to set your business up with systems that are manageable for the long term and account for busy times, slow times, growth, and rising supply costs. You don't want your regular customers to visit your shop not knowing what to expect this time. You want your regular customers to know exactly what they can expect based on their experiences with you, and you want to set up systems that you can maintain.

From a time management perspective this means setting up times to respond to customers - will you respond to them in 2 hours, 6 hours, 12 hours, 24 hours, 48 hours? Set a schedule that you can conform to on your busy times, however perhaps not your extremely busy times. You may state that you will respond to people in 24-48 hours and the 24 hour mark is what you do in normal and busy times, but the 48 hours is what you do when you are extremely busy. Put these times in your policies, and also tell people when you will respond back to the with answers to questions and quotes that are not immediately available. Then - stick to it! If you are constantly late, then consider extending the time that you give yourself. However, you also don't want to be consistently very early either. You don't want your customers used to you responding to them in breakneck speed and then all of a sudden they don't hear from you for 2 days without some sort of announcement that you are out of town.

Set up appropriate times to complete orders and shipping ready-made orders. When you do this give yourself a buffer to account for bad weather, a sick day now and then, and also things that come up in life. You don't want to be cutting it so close to deadlines that you are constantly having to tell your customer that you missed a deadline that you ultimately set for yourself. You also don't want to be always sending orders days ahead of schedule and it to feel like you are late when an order is sent out on time.

Scheduling realistic times and deadlines for yourself can help you plan custom orders into your regular order routine, save time by consolidating like tasks, and to give you and your customers a solid system to expect for the long term. So, be nice to yourself, give yourself the time that you need to complete your orders and communications without being in a time crunch constantly.

Next week I will be writing about working in batches, small runs, and one at a time.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Time Management - Business is taking over my life!

I heard from many of you that you really need help shutting your work off and spending time with friends, family, or just doing personal things. I am here to tell you that it is not easy. The good news is that it means that you really love what you do, or that you are super busy with a booming business. Now, if you are super busy with a booming business then it is time for you to think about hiring a person or a service to do some things to free up some of your time. This might mean getting a housekeeper, bookkeeper/accountant, someone to help with shipping, or even hiring a company to take over some of your online presence and social networking. However, if financially you just can't bring yourself to hire someone or your busy but your sales aren't busy, then you need to get real about what you are doing and how much time you are spending on it.

It could be that you are spending a lot of time avoiding the things that you should be doing, and indulging in the freedom that you are giving yourself. So, if you are the boss, would you hire yourself? Are you being a good employee? If not, then you really are going to have to step things up and take your business seriously. Playtime is over, and it is time to get to work ... so that you can have playtime later!!

It could also be that you are spending a lot of time doing a lot of things that really don't have a big or meaningful impact on your business. Lots of social networking activities and sites are a great way to meet up with people and find a lot of information, but you need to make sure these things are bringing value to your business for the time that you spend doing them. If you think this is the case, then try to evaluate them using the following matrix.

You really want to avoid the things that fall in the lots of time/little impact. These are things that you spend a lot of time doing, but you really don't have any measurable results from doing them. You also want to be careful with the things that are little time/little impact - these things can add up to be a big time suck. All of those 5 minute activities add up to hours at the end of a week, and you can lose valuable time without knowing it. Your focus should be on the things that have a big impact on your business, and you want to make sure that the things that fall into the little time/big impact are incorporated into your daily routine. The items that fall into your lots of time/big impact can be increased and reduced to control your workflow - so you would do them more when you aren't very busy, and do them less when you are very busy.

I wish that I could tell you what these things are or will be for you, but unfortunately these are all different for each person and each business. This is when it comes down to who and what you know. Some sellers spend an enormous amount of time making treasuries on Etsy, and that translates into big sales and big exposure, others spend enormous amounts of time making treasuries but the results are only lots of exposure but not so many sales. There are also sellers that have the same experiences with twitter, facebook, blogging, etc. So, you really need to be honest with yourself and your business about what things you are doing that are worth your time doing them.

In my own business the little time/big impact items are purchasing ads on blogs. I spend time each month looking for blogs to advertise on, and when I purchase ads I don't always get sales, but through experimentation I have been able to find blogs that work for me and my business. So, basically this activity has moved around in my matrix so that now it is in the best category. The activity that I find to be the lots of time/big impact is creating and listing new things. This is the one activity that I if I give up my business slows down and if I spend more time on it my business picks up.

All other activities fall into the low impact areas on the matrix - All facebooking, tweeting, blogging, etc have fallen into these areas. Now, I have not stopped doing these things completely as I think they are important for my business presence, but I do not put them at the top of the list of things I need to do in a day. These are fillers that I do when I have a few extra minutes during the day, when I have coffee in the morning, or when it is rainy outside and I don't have other things going on.

I have also recently found a good way of incorporating these social internet sites into the other business and social activities that I enjoy doing. I have recently discovered some business minded groups on twitter that have a bi-weekly meeting and I try to attend that meeting. This activity keeps me on track with my business, I meet great folks on twitter when I am there, and I am also being active on twitter for social networking time. All of that in 1 hour twice a month! Groups like this are also popping up on facebook and other social networking sites. Consider talking to groups you are already involved in and see if you can take some of your chatting to a social internet site so that you can essentially accomplish two things at one time - a nice chat with friends as well as maintaining that social network presence.

Once you have done the matrix exercise and really identified the things that are big impact items and little impact items, try to re-focus your workday. Make sure you are doing those big impact items, and don't put so much importance on the little impact items. Leave work at an appropriate time and remember to do some of those big impact items in your personal life! Also remember, that just because you love your business doesn't mean that the people you love, love your business. Making time for yourself, friends and family does have a positive impact on your business, and prevents that dreaded thing called BURN OUT.

Next week I will be talking about expectations from a time management perspective.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Drum Roll Please....

And the winner in the Back To School contest is...

Jocelyn of Flowerleaf

with her cute and clever ring!

with Laura of LeAnimale coming in a close 2nd.

Prizes have been donated for this contest by our amazing team members TheRedBracelet , PixiePocket, and TuckooandMooCow as well as gathered from bead stores and craft supply shops!

To see more of the fantastic entries by AAG team members simply type in "Back2School" in the Etsy search. Both Vintage and Handmade items were entered!