Wednesday, January 20, 2016

managing details

I got an email the other day asking how I schedule my work week, break down my days between home, studio time, bookwork, social media, administration, and everything else in my life. This is a question I get all the time, and I always skim over it because it's a really long answer, and it's not an easy answer. I promised this person I would write a blog post about it so I can give my answer once and for all, which I did, and the post is so long that you may find yourself skimming over my answer.

So I'm breaking it down into parts and fleshing it out in detail, which I hope will help some of you who are struggling with scheduling your days around your creative business.  I will publish all the parts over the next couple of weeks and tag it with "questions answered" so you can easily read through all the posts. This part is my basic philosophy of how I approach my work every day.

The main problem with running your own business is getting overwhelmed with the details. The details are relentless and constant, and someone who is trying to be diligent will attempt to address every detail with a daily to-do list that never gets done. And it doesn't get done because trust me, too much stuff gets put on that list to begin with. There is only so much time in a day to cope with the details that shore up your business, and there is absolutely no way to do everything that needs to be done every day. There just isn't. So if you are feeling like a failure because you don't get your list ticked through every day, stop it. You're not failing, you just have too much stuff on there.

A business is like a ship, and the ship will sail even if it's not perfectly tuned up. It just needs to float, it must be able to move through the water, it must avoid hidden icebergs and shoals, and it must be regularly maintained so it doesn't sink. Yes, we want it to have pretty sails and scrubbed decks and a fresh coat of paint and a completely sober captain, but we can't do all of that every day. Keep that in mind as you write up your daily to-do.

I keep things manageable by systematically addressing the details every work day. Almost 100% of this is on the computer, so I get it out of the way first thing in the morning. I allow at least an hour and up to 4 hours for this part, and it will fluctuate depending on what's on the agenda. It will usually be in the 1-2 hour range, and the longer days happen when I need to deal with more deep maintenance items like marketing.

You've heard that prioritizing is important. The best way for me to mess up my day is to treat everything equally and just dive in willy-nilly. You. Must. Prioritize. It comes down to defining what is urgent, what is important, and what can be held over for another day. Knowing how to prioritize is a skill that is learned by practicing, it doesn't come naturally to most of us, and we usually have to put ourselves in a pickle any number of times before we figure it out. Every time you have a complete breakdown because you got overwhelmed is another tick on your learning curve.

The way I prioritize is before I turn on the computer, I make my list. It doesn't have to be in order. I can put a number by items to order them, or star the them to alert me to their importance.

The things that are the hardest and are nagging me the most are usually the most important, and I deal with those things first, such as a communicating with  an unhappy customer or printing out tags for items that will ship that day. Next I deal with details that come up every day, like social media postings and answering email. Then I look at irregular details that pop up like ordering supplies, updating my website, writing my newsletter, or paying bills. The goal is to avoid having to bail water out of my ship, which would be things like poor communication, missing deadlines, or making mistakes because I let things get away from me and I am now in a hurry.

Obviously the thing that can really trip you up here is the distraction of the internet. My personal weakness is Instagram, cat videos,  and the many newsletters I subscribe to. I have no magic here, it takes a will of steel to resist the pull of the rabbit hole. If you managed to get through that last sentence without clicking a single link, you have the potential for a will of steel. If you clicked, you're just like the rest of us. I tend to give myself a little goof-off time before I get started on the computer, and then reward myself with a little more goof-off time at the end. 

The key is consistency, which is such a nice word and so easy to say, but it is so hard to be consistent, especially when it is only yourself to hold you accountable for your actions. And many artists types are not necessarily consistent by nature, that is what makes us artistic... right? My next post will be about developing consistency through daily routine and how you can create a workable and fun routine for yourself that will help you run your creative business. Meanwhile, if you have questions about this post, please feel free to comment below and I will answer.