Bright set of retro alarm clocks

Time is a difficult thing.  Supposedly we all have the same amount of it, but it never seems to be enough.  Especially if you own an Etsy shop or another creative business.

It’s a little bit deceiving when you think about it.  Everyone is always writing about starting a creative business online and telling you about how much money you can make.  But no one every discusses how much time and effort it takes to grow.

Between filling customer’s orders, managing customer service, adding new listings and marketing your business, running a creative business can feel overwhelming at times.  And that’s finally when it gets off the ground.  I’m not even going to list everything you have to do to get the business running. 

And did I mention that you might also have a family, stay home with your littles or play taxi driver after school (this is my new job this year).

No matter what stage you are at in your creative business journey, there never seems to be enough hours in the day.

Colorful flat lay with alarm clock and the text overlay "Tips to manage your work time as a creative business owner"

Managing your time is really important to get everything you need done.  Here are some ways to manage your time when you own a creative business or Etsy shop.

Take Care of your Customers First

This is how I start every work day and it’s made my creative business run more smoothly.  I check my Etsy conversations, emails and any other places my customers might have messaged me.  And I respond to them right away.

My customers come first in my business and I want them to feel that way.  It’s important to remember that you wouldn’t have a business without your customers.  

So before worrying about all of the admin and technical things you need to do each day, focus on getting communicating and working on your customers needs first.  

Sometimes I send their final files.  Other times I respond to their questions or create custom listings for special requests.  No matter what the task is, though, I get it done first.  By responding early and quickly, my customers feel like they are first in my business.  

Depending on how many orders you have and how much time you have to work, this might mean that you put off other tasks during busy times. The holiday rush comes to mind.

So before you start your work day, make sure that your customers are well taken care of.  And the best way to do this is to spend time wowing them. They are more likely to leave a great review and shop again in the future.  And this means that your business will grow organically.

Have the Rest of your Priorities in Order

After your customers are taken care of, it’s time to worry about all of the other tasks that you need to do.  And, most likely, there are a lot of them.

Make a list of everything else that you need to do each day to keep your creative business running smoothly.  This could be everything from renewing listings, replying to customers and sending out email communication.

Then, put them in order.  You probably won’t have time to work on every single task each day, so decide which tasks you want to work on that day.  

The good news is not every other task for your business has to be worked on every day.  If you manage your time correctly, you can spend some time one day writing your blog post and time on another day making product pins.  

Figure out which tasks you want to work on each day and schedule them in.  Understanding your priorities and goals for your business helps you decide the best ways to spend your work time.

Determine your Week’s Non-Negotiables

Every week is going to have a must-do list.  These must dos could include working at a full time job, taking care of your kids or going to a doctor’s appointment.

Before you start scheduling your business work time during the week, add these non-negotiables to the calendar.  Know when you won’t be able to work on your business in advance.  It will help improve your expectations about how much you’ll actually accomplish that week.

For example, if you know you work three days of the week then you won’t be able to work on your creative business during those days. Instead, you might schedule this work time before or after these shifts.

When you schedule your work time, it helps to have a clear picture about when you can’t work.  This helps to manage your time better.  It’s not very productive to plan a work time and then realize the day you scheduled time to work on a big project you also have a dentist appointment.

Write these non-negotiables onto your calendar when they’re scheduled.  Then it’s easier to schedule your creative business work time around them.

Keep a To Do List

In the front of each month of my planner, I keep my to do list.  On it I write my to do projects in two categories – business and personal.  This let’s me keep my projects separate.

Every week, I schedule time to work just on my to do list projects.  Most of my projects are related to my quarterly goals.  By having specific work time set aside to work on them, I’m able to accomplish my quarterly goals.

I’ve found that I have difficulty coming up with tasks on the fly.  My to do list reminds me about what I should work on, what’s important and the best ways to spend my time.

Make Quarterly Goals

I recently discovered how much your productivity increases when you make quarterly goals instead of annual goals.  I was notorious for writing annual business goals at the beginning of every year and then letting them get buried in a corner at the back of my desk.

Now, every quarter (instead of just the beginning of the year) I write down two to three big goals that I want to accomplish in the next 12 weeks.

I break each goal down into smaller steps and assign each step to the weeks to come.

Then it’s time to get to work.  This is a key part to accomplishing your quarterly goals.  You will fail at them if you don’t make time to work on getting them done.

So every day, I work on accomplishing things that get me closer to achieving my quarterly goals.  It’s pretty exciting to see the progress being made.

And the best part?  At the end of the first set of quarterly goals, you still have three more quarters of a year to go.  Can you imagine how much you could accomplish in an entire year?

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Carve Out Time to Go Deep

What does the word “work” mean to you?  When people talk about “work”, they usually refer to all of the tasks that you do to get a job done.

It turns out that there are two different kinds of work.  There’s shallow work and deep work.

Shallow work is the administrative and logistical tasks that you do each day.  For your creative business, this would include answering Etsy conversations, creating product listings, managing email and ordering supplies.

Then, there is deep work.  This is the work that uses our skills to create something of value.  You do deep work when you develop a new product line, make a new design, write an amazing blog post and learn a new skill.

Deep work is the backbone of your business.  If you didn’t have your creativity and products to sell, then you wouldn’t have a creative business.

The problem is that creative business owners get caught up in the “shallows”.  We are constantly managing the little tasks of our business instead of spending time doing the deep work that’s going to grow our businesses.

Schedule time each week to go deep with your work.  Spend at least one 2 to 3 hour block creating, designing, making and learning.  And make this time a non-negotiable.  Nobody can interrupt it and you choose not to schedule anything over it.

By spending time in the depths of your work, you’ll be able to manage your time better and grow as a creative business.

Stay Organized

Two weeks ago, I cleaned my desk.  Like really cleaned it.  I even found the kids’ school papers from two years ago.  No, it’s not something that I’m proud of.

Ever since I organized my work space, I’ve been more productive.  I actually want to sit at my desk every day and get things done.

Keep your home office organized.  Take time to clean it every now and then.  Put systems in place that will help you run your office space more efficiently.

No one likes to waste precious work time trying to find something.  So, take the time to make it function better so the space works harder for you.

Automate When You Can

This is a time management strategy that I’m still working on.  We are blessed with hundreds (probably even thousands) of apps that are designed to make our business run smoother.  Unfortunately, I’m still figuring out how to use them all.

Many of these apps are designed to make our creative businesses automatically.  Wouldn’t it be nice if you had an app that told you how much time you spent on a project or one that organized your to do list?

Lucky for us there are apps that do all of those things and more.  You can check them out here.

Spend some time finding apps that will let you automate your business more.  This will free up some of your “shallow” work time and give you more time to go deep each week.

Find your Groove

Everyone has a different routine that works for them.  When I would sit down with my Etsy shop, I used to work on customer orders first. Then I would work through requests, answer conversations and renew expired listings.

After all of those administrative projects were completed, I had the space to work on what I truly loved – designing and creating.

Find a routine that works for you and let’s you manage your time well.  I needed to get done my have to dos and customer projects before I could feel free enough to spend my time in designing.

And I’ll admit that there were days because of family needs that I didn’t get to design.  That’s okay.  I knew the most important part of my business – my customers – were taken care of.

Know your Weekly Focus

At the top of my planner page for the week, I always write one thing.  The project that I plan to focus on that week.  I write down the one big project that I want to work on.  And sometimes I write the same project for multiple weeks if it’s taking me awhile to get through it.

I like that daily reminder of what this week is all about.

Knowing my focus also helps me choose my to dos more carefully.  If I know that I want to improve my product photos, I might assign to dos that help me choose photo props, backgrounds and play with the best natural lighting.

Write your weekly focus where you can see it. 

Don’t use a planner daily?  You would write it on a mini chalkboard by your desk or even have it appear as a screen saver.  Just make sure you can see it multiple times a day so you remember what this week is all about.

Keep your Supplies Stocked

Have you ever gone to create an order for a customer and discovered that you don’t have enough supplies to make it?  My hand just shot straight up.

As a maker, it’s important to keep your supplies stocked.  Make sure that you have enough paper, envelopes, vinyl, craft supplies – whatever it is that you need to do your job.

If you notice that you are running low on supplies, order more.  Right then.  Don’t wait until it’s too late.

It’s never fun to beg a supplier to rush ship something (oh, that can be so expensive).  Or to be told that they are 2 weeks out from getting a new shipment on their end.  True story.

Group Like Tasks Together

This is one of my best secrets for ways to manage your work time better.  Many times you have similar tasks to do for the same project.  For example, maybe you have to make pins for three blog posts.  Instead of creating each of these sets of pins individually, why not create all of the pins at the same time.  I find that I complete a task a lot faster when I work on it in time chunks.

This time management tool is known as batching your tasks.  I like to complete similar tasks in a group.  Once I’ve answered one email, what’s the difference in answering five.

One way that I batch tasks each day is when I prepare customers’ final files.  I schedule two times a day to send out final digital files to customers.  One time is after lunch and the other is around 5:30 p.m.

By preparing and sending the files in batches, I am able to complete them faster and make sure that none of the orders get forgotten.

Know What You’re Getting Into

Have you ever written down a task and think that it will take you a short amount of time to complete?  So, you only leave half an hour.  The task takes two days and then you wonder where your week went.

One of the biggest obstacles to manage your work time effectively is knowing how long different tasks take. 

For example, every week I schedule pins using Tailwind.  At first I thought this task would take about 45 minutes.  As I got deeper into the task, I realized it would be double this amount of time.  Especially if I wanted to do a good job.

Turns out that I failed to estimate my time correctly.  Underestimating the time tasks take can be a big obstacle when it comes to managing your work time. 

Once I increased the time to an hour and a half in my schedule, I actually had enough time to get the task completed.  And I didn’t feel overwhelmed by it any more.

When you manage the work time it takes to complete different tasks, make sure that you are making a good estimate on how long a task will actually take.  It doesn’t help your schedule or time management if you are constantly underestimating the amount of time needed to complete a to do list item.

Celebrate What Did Get Done

Let’s be honest.  There are very few weeks where I complete my entire to do list or manage my work time perfectly.  Many times it’s because I’m working on ongoing projects or tasks took a lot longer than I thought they would.

Other times it’s because I’ve had hiccups in the week – kids get sick, family visits from out of town or an unexpected trip to the doctor.

No matter what the reason, instead of dwelling on what didn’t get done that week, I like to celebrate what did get accomplished.

In the Notes section of your planner, write down the dates of the week and the tasks that you accomplished.  I always include personal to dos on my list since those also need to be celebrated. 

Sometimes, I also write down how much money I made since many of my goals are currently financial ones.  

Then celebrate.  Do a little dance.  Call a friend.  Go out for ice cream.  You did it.  Another successful week in the books.  Congratulations!

Final Thoughts…

How you choose to manage your work time for your creative business is one of the most important things you need to do to run a successful creative business.  Knowing how long tasks take, prioritizing what to work on first and working towards clear quarterly goals will help you get more done each week.

If you find yourself longing to be more productive or a bit jealous of other creative business owners who are, it might be time to work more on your productivity.  Find a planner that you like and start using it.  Write down your goals and action steps.  And make a plan to use every minute wisely. (Yes, this means putting down your mobile devices and actually working!)

Try some of these time management tips for a few weeks and then check in with your progress. Are you starting to get more done?  Have you seen your Etsy shop or other creative business grow?

The more you find ways to manage your work time the more successful you’ll be.  Remember, we all have the same 24 hours in a day.  It’s all about how we use them!

 

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