Time management is a super popular topic in freelance and business blogs, presumably because nearly everyone struggles with it. There’s a lot to do, and it’s hard to snap out of the society-backed idea that we are what we accomplish, and that success doesn’t have to involve being busy all the time.
This is something I’ve thought about a lot with my business, particularly since I was able to catch my breath financially speaking by moving back in with my parents. I spent a year where I was perpetually behind, and my mental health was suffering, really suffering for it.
I wrote a post on how to relieve anxiety with various methods and how to get started with each of them. One of my recommendations was simply to quit. Quit what was giving you more grief than joy. Delegate it, automate it, or simply cut it out of your life or process. It sounds drastic, and it can be; I arrived at it through burnout, after all.
Now, however, I’m practicing ‘quitting’ in much lower-key, consistent, sustainable ways. There are many ways to save time when you’re a blogger or small business owner, and you don’t have to wait until you’ve been crushed by stress to implement them.
In becoming more intentional about my blogging and business and acknowledging the certain aspects of being a professional creative at which I particularly suck, I’ve been revising my habits and plans to be tailored to me — me and all the weaknesses it’s more effective to work with than against. And I wanted to share some of the ideas that work for me with you.
Disclosure: This post was written in collaboration with Avirtual.co.uk.
Know What You Do
Schedules and systems and all those scary things that start with an S — depending on whether the way you employ them is suited to you or not, they can be incredibly helpful and freeing or unbearably frustrating. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to assume you’re open to the idea of putting your business down on paper, or at least enjoy making lists enough to give it a go.
First, make a list of every process you undertake in your business. Be specific.
Then, think about what goes into each main process on your plate. You don’t have to do this all at once — a lot of systems go into running a blog or business, and the last thing I want to do is overwhelm you. Instead, keep a piece of paper — perhaps one of the worksheets below — handy, and, when you have some down time, unravel one of your processes into a detailed list of recurring tasks.
For example, take writing a blog post. In fact, take writing this post. It went something like this:
- I browsed a blogging website and found an opportunity for a sponsored post in collaboration with a virtual assistant company.
- I got in touch with them via the form.
- They emailed back.
- I came up with an idea for a post — this post — and gave them my rates and terms.
- They agreed and we had a bit of email back and forth about upfront payment.
- Then, we insert a whole host of time where I had to push the post back to October. It was more complicated than it sounds because I originally intended to have it up before my vacation. But then we set October 9 as a scheduled date.
- I made an outline for what I wanted to cover in the post.
- I came up with a title.
- I changed the title.
- I changed the title again.
- I started writing the post. I laid out the headings and wrote a bit of copy.
- I decided worksheets would be lovely to go along with my advice.
- I changed the title again to include the word ‘workshop.’
- On paper, I started outlining the post, and switched some things around.
- I let the PR know my post would be up three days late because I’d suddenly become some kind of perfectionist who wanted her blog posts to be value-packed.
- I opened Photoshop and created an editable PDF file for the worksheets. I put the title in it. I switched to Evernote again.
- I’m writing copy again now. And so on.
Every time you get into the nitty-gritty of a process, you’ll automatically identify what’s working and what isn’t, what could be done differently or in fewer steps, and a host of other things. That’s valuable information. On top of that, you’ll know more about how you work, which is incredibly important when building a business routine. Knowing how you work best allows you to tailor your processes to you, personally.
Here’s some examples of how you can use this data:
Every time it’s time to work on a process, you have a ready-made to-do list waiting for you, allowing you to track your progress and estimate how long each task will take, and leaving no room for ‘oh shit, I need a logo too. Fuck.’
If you need someone to step in for you, you already have a ready-made document showing them what they need to do.
When a new client approaches you, you can tell them exactly what to expect from working with you. This shows them you’ve done this before and you know what it entails, and fosters trust in your ability to deliver. Additionally, this will often prevent uncertain clients from trying to mess with your system, including your pricing, because hey, she’s a professional who knows what she’s doing, and she’s got the experience to prove that other people have found her system efficient, effective and valuable.
Also: contracts. That’s all I’ll say about that one.
Think About Your Day-to-Day
If you’d like to save time or energy — and are therefore reading this post — I imagine either of those things is something you find lacking in your day to day life. It’s important to discover how we work in order to identify what’s bringing us down — as well as what’s pumping us up.
Instead of go about this off the top of your head, take a working day and write down everything you do during it. Make a note when something makes you giddy, excited, tired, energized, annoyed. This file is only for you, so be honest. Make a note whenever you put something off and try to figure out where that’s coming from — lack of energy? Motivation? Dread?
Make a note of how long things take, as well. Is it time that would be better spent on something else? Is there a way you can drastically reduce how long something takes by automating all or parts of it?
What are your goals for your blog or business? Is there something you do now that you already know you’ll be eliminating or pawning off on someone else as soon as the option is viable? Is there something you’re waiting for just the right time to begin working on? Do you have a lot of ideas and aren’t sure how to handle all of them without doing a half-assed job on them?
Think about where you’d like to be with your business in one year. What fits in that ideal and what doesn’t? And can you spread out your smaller launches (e.g. I have a newsletter starting this month, a podcast the next, and a few product ideas in the works, some of which I’ve put on the backburner thanks to advice from Kate) so you don’t have to juggle them all at once?
For the things you are adding to your workload, map out what each one is going to require. Take my podcast as an example. My to-do list looks like this:
- Write a tagline and description for other sites
- Write copy for Podcast page
- Come up with 50 ideas for episodes
- Outline the introductory episode
- Create general and episodic imagery
- Figure out how having a podcast on iTunes or Stitcher or whatever works
- Find a guest for the episodes on unpaid internships and academia
- Download or find alternative to Pamela for recording guest episodes
- Put out a call for portfolios to showcase in the episode about academia
- Write copy for the newsletter announcing the introductory episode of the podcast
I’m on a shoestring budget of $0, so I’m doing everything myself. But if I weren’t, I can see several things here I’d be tossing out to other people: contacting guests, for instance; creating imagery (if I didn’t want to showcase my skills); the tech side of iTunes/Stitcher/the stuff I’m just not familiar with. And this is an incomplete list.
Identify The Flaws In The System
I’m talking about three types of flaws:
1. The things you don’t want to do, but must be done
2. The things that take longer than they should, but must be done
3. The things that aren’t necessary
Decide which ones you want to keep doing yourself, which ones you can do without, and which ones you’d benefit from having someone else do. If you’ve created the lists in the above steps, you have a blueprint for anyone coming on to follow. This section will give you more ideas on what you can do to reduce the time you spend on tasks you don’t like.
(bear with me, I wanted these to rhyme)
When someone contacts you about a brand collaboration or a design project: could you skip the back and forth by having a ready welcome-packet PDF, or a media kit to send through?
Would listing your prices on your portfolio cut down on the number of people with lower budgets than you can work with?
Email: Use Boomerang to write your responses in bulk, and have them all send out at a normal hour. (Great if you’re feeling like emailing people at 2 in the morning!) You can also schedule follow-ups and set them to send if no response is received by a certain day.
Write responses ahead of time and integrate them with your gmail account via the feature Canned Responses, available under Settings > Labs.
Social media: Schedule promo using Hootsuite or Buffer — or, if you’re just doing Twitter, Tweetdeck.
Blogging: Keep a running list of:
- post ideas
- brands to pitch
- photo batches to edit
- photo batches to shoot
Use an editorial calendar like the WordPress plugin to see all posts at once and whether they’re scheduled or still in draft mode, or simply lay out your posts on paper. Write ahead, if you can; in bulk if it works for you.
If you’re overwhelmed, remember that consistency doesn’t come, by design, with a given frequency of posting. Maybe you’re posting four days a week and would rather create two posts and put more time into each. You can do that! Give yourself more time if it’s needed.
Create an editable template for your post graphics and save variants on it you can easily access. That way you’ll only have to change the image, copy and sometimes colors and you’ll have your post header ready to go.
Keep a library of photos to pull from for your posts, whether you use your own photos or purchase/acquire stock ones. That way you won’t have to browse through four two-hundred folder pictures next time you’re looking for that one shot you know you got.
Now that you have a few lists of things you’d like to not do, you’ve got a starting point for delegating tasks. And since you have your systems laid out, you have something to give them to calm down your inner control freak.
Most of the tasks you may want rid of can be delegated to virtual assistants. In my experience, you can find a virtual assistant one of two ways: go to an agency like Avirtual, which will assign you a PA based on your needs; or ask for recommendations on social media. Facebook groups are great for this.
Here are some types of work you can hire out for:
- Design (website, branding, collateral, print) — ahem
- Social media management
- Photography (for products, fashion blogs, headshots…)
- Event planning and coordination
- E-mail (what I wouldn’t do…)
What about the tasks you’re doing that you really dread but can’t delegate? Maybe you absolutely hate Skyping clients. Nix it. Make it clear on your contract that Skype sessions are not allowed. Maybe you love social media but don’t see the point of Google+ or LinkedIn. Quit using them. Focus on the platforms you enjoy!
Maybe you love shooting portraits but find working with couples uncomfortable. Stop offering that service. Maybe you love doing branding and logos, but hate blog design. Stop offering web design, or outsource it on a case-by-case basis. (This is what I do with development.)
Weigh the benefits of each task you’d like to annihilate against how much you want to annihilate it, and pick the next step. Sometimes you can just cut the thing; sometimes it takes a while longer; sometimes you just need to find a way to make sure you’re not the one doing it.
Either way, get rid of it. It’s important.
Now, if you followed the steps above, you should have a fairly great idea of how to cut back on the time you spent on your business so you can spend more time in it — or, like, with your children, or your cat, or watching TV, or hiking, or napping, or whatever you need to do.
Below, you can find the worksheets I mentioned a time or two along the course of the article to help you identify the issues in your working methods and decide what to do about them. Print them and have some quality time with them — I personally find it quite relaxing.
I really hope you find them helpful! If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below.