Entries in time management (3)


Task Management, The Key To Your Sanity

For the next couple of weeks Shelly and I will be sharing some of our favorite resources and tools in the hopes that you and your businesses will benefit from them as much as we have.

I’m going to kick things off with task management. I know forever the bummer here, right? But we all have a million and one things to do and I also bet that most of you have to-do lists scattered about your work area, stuffed in your purse, maybe even sitting by your bed. I was once that way too, but these days I put all my lists into task management software. I promise it’s more than just a to-do list online.

So What Do I Use? HiTask. Not a lot of bells and whistles, free and basic. But it does it’s job, everyday I login it tells me exactly what I need to do without me having to think. That right there is the key.

I like writing to-do lists, they calm me, help me sleep, even occupy me when I’m bored. However they tend to go on forever and come out as stream of consciousness with no order of importance, no due date, and no organization.

Enter Task Management Software. I type in my tasks, set a due date, assign a priority, and file them under a project all with a few clicks. I can set the task to repeat if it’s something I need to do every week or month. I can schedule a time of day even. Then I can look at my tasks sorted by due date or priority or project, whatever I need at that moment.

But for me the absolute best part is that I Don’t Have To Think. What I need to do that day is just there when I log in. This is extremely useful on those days when my mind is running amok because I’m balancing multiple projects or just feeling stressed about the busyness of it all. I just open the webpage and there it is, everything I said I wanted/needed/would do today. All I Have To Do Is Do it, no decisions involved.

However to make this work well I do set aside time to plan my tasks, make sure everything is in there and set to be due at the right time. Then throughout the week if little things pop up, I just quickly write them in. Once I know it’s in I don’t have to think about it again, it will come up when it’s time.

As I mentioned before HiTask is what I use, it’s Clean, Simple and has the basics you need. It’s also relatively pretty compared to some of the other software out there. You can prioritize, set due dates and reminders, file under projects and tag your tasks. There are multiple views and you can even invite people to your group and assign them tasks. All this for free.

The other option I would recommend checking out is Toodledo. It’s not quite as pretty, but it does have More Options in categorizing/sorting and it’s still free. It also has one big plus that is almost enough to make me switch. You can send yourself tasks via email and set the due date and folder with the subject line. HiTask allows you to send yourself tasks, but you have to go into the web interface to set the due date, put it in a project, etc. So if you don’t get to it soon enough it could get lost.

There are a number of other options, many of which may be totally new in the last 6 months since I decided I needed this service. So I encourage you to look around a little, do a google search for online task management and try a few out to see what works best for you. More importantly if you struggle with what you should be focusing on or get lost in your to-do lists, I urge you to pick something now and get it up and running ASAP.

What systems do you use, online or otherwise, that help you stay focused and on task?


Ready, set, go

Pinterest by Jacqui Wonder

It's that time! Craft shows, trunk shows and holiday sales - how do you prepare? Inevitably, I get nervous and the one big way to keep me relaxed, besides chocolate and breathing, is to be really, really organized. Below are some of my tricks to calm my jitters.

  • Create an inventory list complete with prices and a comment section to write collected information from customers.
  • Double check pieces - make sure tags and prices are attached, prints are signed and pieces are packaged properly.
  • Check promotional material and table supplies - bring enough business cards, flyers, mailing lists and a mirror if needed.
  • Bring a bank and a secure place to keep it. Think about your prices and what denominations of change to have. Definitely consider taking credit cards. My sales doubled once I started accepting plastic. I just use a knuckle buster and have a Propay account to process but Square is an excellent choice that you can use with your Iphone.
  • Set up your table in your house and even map out your table design if you wish. I even leave mine up for a few days so I can look at it a couple of times. Sounds a bit crazy but it really works for me.
  • Check out the parking situation at the venue. Nothing is worse then driving around in circles when you are nervous for an event. If there is a inexpensive parking garage go for it! It will be worth the money for some peace of mind.
  • Think about how you will organize the car with all of your equipment. Whatever you will need to set up first, put it in last. It will make for a much easier transition from car to booth. 
  • Keep a box of miscellaneous supplies - tacks, tape, scissors, museum putty, extra tags, sanitizer, cleaner if you are renting chairs and tables and anything you might need to repair a piece. I bring a lot of my supplies -  wire, jump rings, ear hooks, chain and three of my wire tools.
  • I also like to bring my own food, water and a few beverages. Anything that will help keep me energized and happy and so I don't have to eat the unhealthy food they might sell at bigger shows. 
  • I wear a big smile. I have been to way too many shows where I can't even get the attention of the seller. Not even the coolest design in the world would draw me to buy from grumpy miss grumpy pants. I can't imagine that I am the only person that feels that way.

Shows are also a great way to meet other designers and make new friends. I have created many incredible networking possibilities just by talking to my booth neighbors and I made my day a lot more fun.


Prioritizing Helps Keep You Sane

Photo by Katie GutierrezThis is the time of year when the to do lists seem to grow out of control. Our work lives get cluttered with holiday sales or the at least the effort to make more of them. We see the end of the year looming and want to get just one more big project completed. And then there's the holidays in general, events, gatherings, and family seem to take over any "free" time  you might have had.

I'm feeling the pressure myself just writing about it. However, if I take a step back I realize that much of the pressure is self imposed. That project that I want to get done, I'm the only one who cares that it happens next week. The extra workouts I'm trying to fit in to ward off any holiday pounds, is the stress really worth it? Yet there's still that pressing need to get things done, cross things off the list.

Here's a process my fiancé walked me through a few months ago that has worked wonders to help me put it all into perspective and calm the anxious need to accomplish everything-all-at-once-now!

Priorities, that is the key. I write a list of everything I want to do. (This works well for both personal and work lists, but I recommend keeping them separate.) Then I mark them with a High, Medium and Low priority. If you write your lists by hand try different colors, if you're using a to do software they may have an easy way already built in or again you might be able to color code them.

High, Medium and Low

For this to work you need to be honest with yourself in setting the priority of each task. To do that I use these guidelines: High priority means the business depends on it, money, life or death - paying the bills, following up on contracts, or getting a new product launched, etc. Medium priority means the task falls into best practice, something that makes the business better, but isn't crucial to its existence - keeping your Facebook page updated, getting photos from your last event on your website, or researching new packaging. Low priority items are the ones that only you will notice if they get done or not - changing your picture on your website, reorganizing your workspace, or reading all those blog posts you've been bookmarking. You may want to set up your own criteria, but I find breaking it down this simply really helps.

The I separate the tasks that are recurring like updating your Facebook page, returning emails, and keepingup on blog reading. These recurring tasks need to get on your calendar. Are they things you do monthly, weekly, or daily? Put them on your calendar at a specific time, not just with a general day and block out as much time as you need to accomplish them. You may answer email for an hour in the morning and then again in the late afternoon. You might also write in calendar an appointment to do bookkeeping or pay your bills or whatever else needs to get done regularly, but you always seem to forget about.

Putting Tasks Into Perspective

Now that you've got everything prioritized, I want you to set due dates for the High and Medium priority tasks. Be realistic with how long each task will take and when it absolutely needs to be done. I suggest you give yourself some wiggle room with those High priority tasks.

Those low priority tasks are going to wait until you find yourself sitting around twiddling your thumbs or something happens to move them up in priority. Yes, this means you may never get to them. Take a moment to accept this. If they are really worthwhile tasks you will suddenly see that they need to be raised in priority. Until then, I only want you to glance at them once a month and then put them aside yet again.

Not Too Many All At Once

Honestly it's only realistic to think you can accomplish three tasks a day. I know that sounds like a small number, but think about how your days go, unexpected phone calls, urgent emails, you forgot you made a lunch date with an old friend... Things happen that derail you, it's a part of life.

I want you to begin to really follow those priorities, if it's not High, think Life or Death, you'll be ok if it doesn't get done exactly when you want it to. You will, I promise.

Taking It Day By Day

Every High and Medium priority task should now be at least marked with a due date. Now we need to slot them into your calendar. Some may just be marked on due dates, but others may need to have a couple hours here and there set aside to get them done.

Each morning you should look at the list of activities for that day and sort them again in order of priority, but also take into account how easy it will be to check them off the list. I like to take the first two hours of my day and check off anything, High or Medium priority that takes less than 15 minutes to accomplish. Returning phone calls, sending out emails, looking something up, keeping up with social media, etc. Then I have the rest of the day to accomplish those one or two tasks that will take a few solid hours of my time.

After the quick stuff is done I go straight to the High priority task for that day. If there isn't one then I look at the Medium priorities, what has the nearest due date and which one is going to take the most time to complete. I weigh those to decide what to do next. If somehow I manage to finish everything on my list for that day, then I look forward to either try to cross off another High priority task or get a little bit of work done on bigger project that's only a medium priority.

Always Keep In Mind

This may sound like a lot of work for a to do list, but the idea is simple, whatever is most important gets done first. The more you walk through all the steps it will begin to feel like second nature. The simplicity of it is also my greatest comfort when I inevitably begin feeling overwhelmed again. What is the most important thing I need to do right now?

What do you do to keep yourself on track? Do you have a similar system that helps keep you sane when things get really busy?