This post is part of our November theme at Wholesale In a Box: Getting It All Done. We delve into that theme in the Monthly Brief that makers get, we write about it here on the blog... and we cover it on our Secret Podcast!
Earlier this year, I was reckoning with the fact that my work hours are more limited than they were before we had our baby. When the workday came to an end, I would slam into my time with the baby and then find myself ranting to Etan later, “Honestly, I just don’t have enough time to work. I don’t see how I can get it all done.”
But even as I said that -- and it did feel true -- there was a little voice in the back of my head whispering, “You don’t need more time. You need to use your time in better ways.” Which, obviously, annoyed me.
But I started thinking about it and realized it was true. I looked at my days from the outside and noticed:
Although I was doing a lot, I wasn’t always spending my time on things that made a real difference in my business.
I was putting out fires and bouncing between urgent issues or opportunities -- so my to-do list was often longer at the end of the day than it was at the beginning.
My work hours felt anxious, frazzled, and rushed.
It was scary to think I might be falling into the “Overwhelmed Mom” trap -- with the incantation of busybusybusy and the slightly deranged look of someone who never rests. So I took a step back and looked more holistically at how I was spending my time. Rather than giving myself a pass OR berating myself for failing, I tried to approach it as a kindly scientist would, asking, “What is happening? What do I want to be happening? What could I try to get different results?”
Bit by bit, I made changes to how I planned my days and weeks. And I got honest with myself about what was most important to me in my work with Wholesale In a Box. Soon, I saw some pretty dramatic improvements. I felt more peaceful, was getting more done, and saw things shift in the business.
Then, recently, I got several emails from makers sharing that they wanted to grow their wholesale business but just couldn’t seem to find the time. Their words echoed how I felt just a few weeks earlier. “It’s so hard,” each maker said. “I want to grow my business but between my day job, my family, getting orders out the door, and everything else, I just can’t get it all done.”
So this month at Wholesale In a Box, we’re focusing on “Getting It All Done.” We’re looking at what really matters to get done, how to focus and get organized, and tips for feeling more momentum and more peace in your business. By the way, if you’re a Wholesale In a Box maker by November 1, we’ll have a really powerful Secret Podcast episode for you with Melissa Shanahan, a productivity coach who generously shares tips that she usually only shares with private clients.
4 THINGS I’VE LEARNED ABOUT GETTING MORE DONE AND FEELING LESS FRAZZLED
1) Plan your work and work your plan.
The single most transformative thing I’ve learned to do with my time is to decide what I’m going to do -- do it -- and then to reassess. In other words -- to not constantly be doing all three things at once. Here’s how I do it:
I create plans each year, quarter, month, week, and day. Of course, the level of detail gets greater, as the time units get smaller. But what’s crucial is that once I create the plan -- whether for the year or for the day -- I try my absolute best to carry it out, come what may. There are a few reasons this has been so powerful for me:
I choose in a very intentional way what I’m actually trying to create, build, change, or improve in the business. Then, I choose projects that support that and I point all my energy, time, and resources in that direction.
This planning practice forces me to be honest with myself about how many hours I actually have to work (always dramatically less than I think I do) and choose wisely how I’m going to spend my time within that. I don’t just work off a never-ending to-do list. I estimate how long each project will take me and then I choose only the number of projects that will actually fit in the time I have. It sounds so obvious, but for me it was a very different way of working.
I have the chance to reassess after each time period… but I don’t let fear, or “shiny object syndrome” take priority over what I planned during the time period. So once I make my day plan, I try like heck to do what I planned to do -- knowing that I can always make a new plan tomorrow.
I’m less “ambitious” these days -- I plan conservatively to get fewer things done, but I actually do them. And I recognize at the beginning of the period how much time I have and what tradeoffs I’m going to have to make… rather than realizing those things later. As I get faster and more focused, I add in more things or pull off an “optional” list. But I don’t over-schedule the time I have.
2) Do one thing at a time and do the important things first.
If I ever start feeling scattered, frazzled, or overwhelmed during the day, it’s usually because I’m not doing one thing at a time. Instead, I’m bouncing from broken item to broken item… or interrupting myself frequently with emails or social media… or doing all the little stuff first and leaving trickier projects (like writing a blog post) for later in the day when I’m already tired. So the practice I return to is simple: I do one thing at a time and I do the most important things first.
If you know you should do that, but still find yourself bouncing around, here are some tips for making it happen:
Plan a chunk of time each day for emails and social media and have those tools completely off at other times. Do all your meetings and phone calls in one day. Do all your block-printing (regardless of which product it’s for) at once. Do all your business management things during one chunk of time and all your creative stuff in another. Batching things limits the mental load and attention residue of switching gears all the time. It lets you be more efficient. And it gives you a better sense (and more control over) where your time is actually going.
Start with rocks; then add pebbles and sand.
You’ve probably heard of the “rock, pebbles, sand jar story.” The concept is that if you have to fit a heap of rocks, a bunch of pebbles, and a few handfuls of sand in a jar, you can’t just add them at random. The only way they’ll fit is if you put the big rocks in first, then add the pebbles around them, and finally pour in the sand. That way, the rocks take up most of the space and the pebbles and sand full in the small gaps around them. If you try to do it in the opposite order, it won’t all fit. Similarly, it’s powerful to plan for, and do, the big and important things in your day or week first. Schedule for them and make sure they happen. Then, let smaller things (even if they’re very important, like customer emails) fill in the gaps around those things and take second priority. If you do it the opposite way, you’ll end up with a bunch of important stuff that just doesn’t fit in the jar.
Make meetings with yourself.
If there are things that are important to you, but it feels like they just don’t seem to happen, I recommend putting an actual meeting on your calendar and treating it with the same importance as you would if it were a meeting. If you had a coffee meeting on your calendar but things got busy that day, you wouldn’t arrive 30 minutes late or not show up. You’d probably show up to the coffee date, on time, and let emails or other things not happen, or happen later. I don’t understand the psychology of why we treat commitments to ourselves with less seriousness, but that’s the reality. So I try to schedule my week with actual time blocks for the things that are important to me. When I honor these promises to myself, I begin to trust my own ability to carry out my bold plans -- and that is a powerful thing.
3) Don’t do it all yourself.
Makers and small business owners are can-do people. If you didn’t want to get your hands dirty and actually do things yourself, you would have chosen a career in middle management, not as the proud owner of a handmade business.
Also: going too far in the Do It All Myself direction can limit you. So if you’re frazzled or overwhelmed, find ways to get help:
Get a coach or accountability partner OR do that periodic reflection work yourself, on a schedule.
Automate and systematize whatever you can.
Start to recognize your time, energy, and well-being as the most precious resources in your business -- and act accordingly.
4) Manage your thinking.
Kris Carr calls it “stinkin’ thinkin”: those insidious thoughts that sap the energy, verve, audacity, and focus from our plans. If I’m distracted or inefficient, I have learned to look for the fear. For instance, let’s say I find myself scrolling Instagram instead of writing a blog post. If I look for the fear, I notice that there is a ranting thought in my head saying something like, “No one is going to like this article -- these ideas aren’t worth anything!” When I can acknowledge that thought, rather than just jump from task to task to avoid it, I can see the rant for the fearful lie it is.
If you’re using the above strategies but still not getting done what you intend to, manage your thinking and look for the fear. Sometimes it’s not time but actually energy or motivation that we’re struggling with.
Know that you’ll have to keep working at this -- the ways you manage your time and attention are not things you fix once and forever. But even small changes can be very impactful and shift the way you experience your own life. People talk about bubble baths as self-care. But honestly, I think that creating structures that support focus and in your work and passion -- and being disciplined within that structure -- is the best self-care there is.
Curious how other makers manage their time and plan their work? Check out How 3 Makers Stay Organized + Sane In Hectic Times, 10 More Self-Care + Sanity Tips from Accomplished Makers, and Cupcakes, Spreadsheets, and Turning Pro.