Managing time can feel like a nearly impossible hurdle. There are lots of books and resources on this topic — most sitting on well-intentioned and very busy readers’ bookshelves waiting to be read. We recently had a few Virtual Labs sessions on the topic and we have summarized the highlights below.
Before you start, take some time to think about why time management is so challenging. You may think that it should be an easy concept to master, but it’s important to understand why you’re having difficulty managing your time in order to address those challenges. Most of us like to focus on the easy tasks so we can feel like we are crossing things off our to-do lists. You may find yourself doing the things that have been requested by others, time sensitive tasks and scheduled or planned activities. Phew! When that is all done, there is not much time for things like attending to your shop, fulfilling orders and all of the creating you want to do for the holidays.
So what to do? There are three key components to time management:
- Plan – What do I need to do? When do I need to do it?
- Manage – How do I set up a personal system to be most effective and efficient?
- Organize – What do I need to do to focus my work and decrease time wasters?
Planning. Start the planning process by setting goals. Make a detailed list of actionable tasks necessary to accomplish that goal. Rank what you will do in the order you plan to achieve it. Below is an example of a goal to reach out to blogs, and the steps necessary to achieve it.
Estimate the time it will take to do each task, remembering to keep in mind all of the other commitments you have. I like to take a calendar and map out the time so I can visually see how long everything will take. Remember to be realistic!
In the planning stages, some other ideas that will help save you time in the long run include:
- Pre-ordering Packaging Supplies – Including boxes, international custom forms, bubble wrap and gift wrapping. (Offering gift wrapping is a great service to offer to your buyers.)
- Create a Mailing List of Your Customers – For all of those updates you plan to send during the holidays. (Only for those people who have opted in, of course.)
- Plan Your Promotional Activities – Order your business cards, stickers, etc. ahead of time and outline other activities such as pitching to blogs or local press.
Manage. It is easy to get distracted during the day, particularly with phone calls, drop in visitors, emails and instant messaging potentially filling up a big portion of the day. Take some time to measure how much of your day you spend doing these activities and you may find there are some hours to take back.
- Prioritize Your To-do Lists – Accomplish all of the high priority items on your list and fill in with the other tasks as you have time.
- Focus on a Few Key Priorities – Decide up front what those are.
- Attack the Important and Unpleasant Tasks Early – This will not only give you a big sense of accomplishment for the day, it will also be a huge relief!
- Batch Processes – Think about answering emails every two hours, instead of every two minutes. This will save time and will keep you focused on the tasks at hand. You can also do this with instant messaging, making yourself available only at certain times of the day.
- Block Time to Do Your Work, Ideally Without Interruptions – This is easier said than done, but if you can do more continuous work, you will get more done in less time.
Organize. There are 3 key areas where you might want to start organizing.
1. Record Keeping: Detailed and accurate record keeping is critical to track your costs, inventory, orders, supply purchase, tracking numbers and payments. You don’t need anything fancy for record keeping. Some options:
Pen & Paper: You can use a notebook, journal or bound general ledger.
Spreadsheets: We have an inventory spreadsheet you can download for free. There are also Etsy sellers that have a wide variety of spreadsheets to fit different needs, including JMMFinance, serena, simple solutions, Lldesign and lots of others.
Accounting Software: For large volumes or more detailed inventory tracking, you might want to consider accounting software packages like Quickbooks or Peachtree.
2. Organizing your computer and email: The ideas below work well for both your desktop and your email inbox.
Organized Desktop. A well organized desktop can help to alleviate many headaches during the holidays. Think about a filing system and what each file will be called. For instance, you might have a file for shipped orders, item descriptions and other components of your Etsy business.
Keep all Etsy-related files together.
Back up your work.
Create templates. Save time when it comes to frequently sent emails and answers to questions.
3. Organize your Space. Some people are fortunate to have a dedicated place in their home for their craft-related work and fulfillment supplies. If you don’t have a dedicated place, you still need to create a system using baskets, closets or whatever space you have. Regardless of your space, thinking about where you will keep your supplies, finished items and shipping supplies, as well as creating a system to utilize those supplies will help keep stress at bay. Mary Ink‘s work space is a great example of well-functioning, organized place to work. Rachelaustin and many of the other sellers in the Quit Your Day Job series also have great pictures of their organized work spaces that you can peruse for inspiration.
Tips You Can Try Today
1. Identify non-productive habits that absorb your time (and creates ways to limit them).
2. Create a plan and use it. Set goals and plan ahead by breaking down goals into smaller projects with deadlines.
3. Prioritize “to-do” lists every night for the next day.
4. Do the #1 priority task first and stick with it until it is done.
5. Use a calendar to help stay organized.
6. Block time on your calendar to create, or specific goals you are having difficulty accomplishing.
7. Keep specific lists.
8. Manage distractions and control interruptions (e.g. batch email).
9. Learn how to say no politely. (Don’t take on more than you can do!)
10. Just do it!!! Even when you are feeling overwhelmed, starting on one piece of work is a great start.
If you have any ideas or input on how you stay organized, leave it in the comments below!
For more how-tos about selling, see the Seller Handbook.