Monday, July 20, 2009

TPP's Tried and True Tip Tuesday

~ This is a quick and easy tip that works so amazingly well - AS LONG AS YOU STICK TO IT! ~

The Computer Time-Suck: We have all sat in front of the computer to respond to emails, check the status of a supply order, update order status - and then suddenly, 2 hours have passed. It's some weird phenomena of time and space...or, something like that.

"That takes me about 30 minutes to make." - or does it?: I have sat down to create a custom piece (or even a piece that I have made multiple times) and felt that I had a good sense of how much time it was actually taking me to create from start to finish. I base my pricing according to how much of my labor goes into each piece (I'll have a post on pricing in the next week) so it needs to be accurate. I found that I was about 15 to 20 minutes off (sometimes more) my guesstimate.

"I can't seem to get my day organized.": When you look at your to-do list for the day, it can be daunting, especially when deadlines are involved. No matter how many lists you make (and lists are good!), I know how disappointed I am at myself when I did not cross off as many items as I would have liked to for the day.

Alright - so, the tip?

A Timer.

If you set up segments of time - say, 20 minutes to respond to emails from 9 - 9:20 - and the timer goes off and you aren't quite done...Tough. Time is up and you need to move on to your next task. You will be able to finish responding emails at your next alloted time. This 'time allotment' is something you can jot down next to each item in your to-do list.

You will be amazed at how much more productive you are when you know you only have a set amount of time to complete a task. I know that when I have those 20 minutes to reply to emails, I cannot get distracted by surfing the web for materials for my next project - if I need to look for materials, I need to put it on my to-do list and set up a chunk of time for it.

I set up segments for how much time I can spend packaging up items for shipment, talking to vendors, even eating lunch. There are, of course, times when I am interrupted by unforeseen, unscheduled events (my mother's helper had to go home early, my son falls out of a tree and breaks his wrist, the washing machine know the drill) but by and large, the timer is a magical bit of technology that you need to have as a staple in your home studio, office...wherever. I am honestly reliant on it to keep myself on track.

The use of the timer has also helped me to pinpoint exactly how much time it takes me to create/design a piece of jewelry so that my labor charges are accurate. I should not be undercharging for my time - that is crucial! And guesstimating your labor time is doing you a huge disservice. You would not guesstimate on how much it costs you in material, right? Your time is just as valuable, if not more.

Go out and try it - use your cell phone, or download one that you can put right onto your computer. Here are a few links:

Computer Timer

Time Left


I use a stand alone, digital, kitchen timer. It has three timers in one, so that I can set a timer for the entire time I have my mother's helper, one that counts up when I am creating my pieces, and one that counts down for the task I am working on off my to-do list.

Try it and let me know how it worked for you - or if you have any suggestions! I am always open to learning how to make better use of my time!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Guilt and the WAHM...

I know that as a Mother, we always are feeling some sense of guilt:

~ Guilt about wanting to go out without the children
~ Guilt about not having everything just perfect in and out of the house
~ Guilt about how much time we are spending on other things... which leads me to why I am writing about this topic :

Being a WAHM (work at home mom) generates and adds to the 'guilt list'. I have heard my 6 year old tell my mother (of ALL people) that "Mommy works all the time" and if you have ever heard those words - or even sensed them, you know how painful it is to digest.

I love what I do. I run my own small business, which provides me with a sense of accomplishment, pride, feeds my soul, and allows me to bring in an income AND still be available for carpool duty.

But, at what cost?

My sister-in-law was/is someone who has always dreamed about being a mother, raising a family and that was the focus of her life's work. After now giving birth to four children, she has started her own creative endeavor to have, not only a little escape from the day-to-day (those of us in the business of handmade know how therapeutic it is to have those meditative moments of creation), but to also have something that is just HERS. And she should have something that is her own - without feeling guilty that not every spare moment is spent having 'quality time' with the kids.

I deeply feel that the benefits of having a mother that is a WAHM, far out weighs any of the negatives. Here's why:

~ My son (6 years) comes up with different 'businesses' all the time. Not only does he have this wonderful entrepreneurial spirit, but he thinks about who his target market is, how he is going to promote, among a slew of other aspects of business that I had no clue about until I was, perhaps, a teenager. Watching me work and having him ask me (a bazillion) questions of why I do things that I do has become a catalyst for his own business adventures. He is also starting to understand the value of labor: why items are priced a certain way, even though the construction paper and glue did not cost that much to make the product...

~ My daughter (3 years) is getting the benefit of seeing her mother, a female, run a business and now knows that if she wanted to, she could, too. I am a HUGE believer in empowering women - that does not mean I have any less respect for full-time Mothers, because I surely do, but I want to make sure that all little women know and understand that there are no limits.

~ Both my children are pretty independent. I know that children who have been in daycare since they were 3 months old, on majority, are more 'independent' than those children who do not attend daycare, but by and large, those two hooligans can entertain themselves, use their imaginations and figure things out quite well. I don't expect them to whip up dinner, nor do I leave them to their own devices for hours at a time - but an hour? Sure. And, the GREATEST joy of being a WAHM, is that if they need anything at all - I'm a staircase away.

I would not be able to illustrate these lessons to my children in any greater capacity than having my work be from home. They see it on a daily basis and witness the up's and down's - though, I try not to project too much! It gives them insight on what it takes to work for yourself and HOW much work it takes. Nothing comes easy - and that is a lesson that must be learned, repeated, and UNDERSTOOD.

I do try and continue to improve my work/life balance. There is not a time clock I can punch that indicates the 'end of the day', or the drive home from the office I can use to switch gears. But I have to enforce limits. The time I spend with the kids has to be true, quality time. This is especially difficult in the summer when the kids are home all day!

I have hired a mother's helper two full days a week, sometimes three. I schedule, pretty much, every minute of time that she is here so that I can get as much work done as possible. The rest of the week is devoted on the majority, to the kids having fun and making all those summer memories that they are supposed to be having.

Do I still feel guilty? Yes and no. I love my work and I, of course, love my children. I just need to focus on all the benefits I am providing them because I am a WAHM and remember how absolutely grateful I am that the work I love can be done from home - where I can take a break and give some smooches - and get some.
Feed Shark

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Organize Thyself : The Tickler Filing System

When you are a WAHM, it is incredibly difficult to keep track of your business tasks and your personal/home tasks. I consider myself an organized person, but when I embarked on my own business and had to keep track of contacts, orders, invoices, supplies, etc AND still needed to make sure I RSVP'd for the grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary, picked up my son's Tae Kwon Do uniform, and stocked the fridge (cannot have the children eating pb&j for dinner AGAIN!!)...I was way beyond overwhelmed.

One of systems I used as a paralegal - and what David Allen, author of "Getting Things Done" has brought forth as a viable option for organizing our "to-do's" outside of the law firm, is by using a tickler file system - a system that "tickles" your memory as to what you need to get done and when.

This system has truly changed my life when it comes to order management and keeping the bills paid on time and doctor's appointments un-missed! Here is what you do:

The concept is based on having 43 folders: 12 folders represent the 12 months of the year. Then you have 31 folders, numbered 1 - 31, that represent each day of the month.

The system allows you to break down your daily to-do's by date. When the day is over, you move it to the back of the filing cabinet so it is in que for the next month. As you can see from my filing set up shown here, July's all set and you can see all 31 days of the month MINUS the 4 that have already passed. Those four dates (files 1, 2, 3 and 4) are now behind "August's" tab.

This is a small example how I use this system:

~ Order Management: When I get an order in, I find the date that corresponds to when the piece needs to start fabrication in order to be completed in my typical 14 business day turnaround.

~ Supply Management: Every 15th of the month, I place a large supply order. So, I put a note to myself on the #15 file telling myself that I need to place my order. I may even put a reminder message to myself on the 14th, so that I can get my lists together and ready to go for the next day.

~ Contact Management: When I get an email from someone that needs to be contacted at a later date, I print out the email, jot a note to myself and pop it into the appropriate date file so that I contact the person when promised.

~ Doctors, Dentists, and appointments in general: Most of these institutions mail you those handy-dandy "Your appointment is..." postcards in the mail about a week before you are to be seen, I slip these into the date file of the appointment. I also put a reminder message in to myself about two days before as a head's up.

~ Bills: Every time I receive a bill, I put it into the date file that is 9 days before the due date. This reminds me to pay the bill THAT DAY and, equally as important, gets that piece of paper OFF MY DESK!!!

~ Misc obligations, etc: The birthday gift I have to buy for my daughter's little friend's party, the 'Thank You' note that needs to be written and mailed, the repair service that needs to be called in for the refridgerator (AGAIN!)...the little day-to-day things that you may write down in your planner, in your Outlook calendar, on your phone's task list...every where that will remind you, but no where that will actually MAKE you do it. This system allows you to put the actual 'thank you' card in the file - with the stamp - so you will actually get it completed.

I create customized jewelry and run my household. My studio is in my home, so having an uncluttered workspace is integral in keeping tabs on things. This system keeps my desk free from stacks of papers, paperclipped, with sticky notes on them, and instead, gives me a spot to keep that paperwork tidy and ready to be handled when I am ready to - and supposed to - handle it.

Sometimes having things right up in your face just overwhelms you further - perhaps even paralyzes you from moving forward and getting things done. I honestly feel so much better knowing that I have spent a few moments of dedicated time looking at every piece of paper that goes into the tickler because I know that it is going to be taken care of in a timely fashion. No more waking up in a panic in the middle of the night wondering if I mailed out something on time!

The best parts of this system: It is inexpensive, there is hardly a learning curve, and works amazingly well. I still keep a calendar so that I can see at a glance what is coming down the pipes for the day, week, and month. But as for the day-to-day, to-do's (even when the vacuuming needs to get done!), I use this tickler system.

Try it out - send me your thoughts!
Feed Shark