Jan 232016

If you had told me, back in August when I started a full-time job, that my life would turn upside down, I wouldn’t have believed you.

“I’ll have time to blog,” I told myself. “After all, I’ve been working at home the equivalent of full-time—writing, crafting and volunteering.”

What I hadn’t counted on was how tired I would be at the end of the day, and how few hours would be left before bedtime for household tasks, socializing with my husband, and running my Etsy business.

My number one goal this year is to try to get back into some semblance of a blogging schedule, which means old strategies need to be reviewed, and new strategies may be in order. Time management is a topic I have discussed previously in these posts:

I must admit, however, that things look different when you’re on someone else’s clock for the better part of the day. After giving this some thought, here are three strategies that I think will work for anyone who wants to blog while working full-time away from home.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Find your focus

When you have limited time to write, knowing ahead of time what your focus will be is invaluable. In her article, Tips for Creating Catchy Headlines, Lauren Hooker of Elle & Company suggests you direct your attention to the title of your post.

It’s helpful to have a goal in mind as you’re writing your post. Creating your headline first helps you set that goal and maintain your focus; it gives you a reference point and a purpose to work toward.”

If you’re stumped for ideas about a title for your post, Lauren includes a handy list of title-starters that will solve that issue:

  • How to (Desired Result)
  • (Number) Reasons __________
  • What Every __________ Should Know About __________
  • Why __________ is __________
  • (Number) Ways to Avoid __________
  • My (Adjective) Way for __________
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Save the leftovers

You’ve probably heard it said previously that people today want their information quickly in short bursts, which leads to a recommendation that you keep your blog posts short, with short being defined many different ways. On the other hand, according to Shelly Pringle in Blogging Best Practices: The Ideal Length for the Perfect Blog Post, “After a lot of research I eventually found the answer: longer content tends to rank higher in search engine results pages, attract more inbound links, get more social shares and convert better.” But in terms of the time you have to write versus the length of your blog post, it probably serves your purposes well to say what you have to say, and if you have a lot more to discuss about your topic, save it for another day and another post. Find another point of view, an angle you haven’t covered, or a connection to something else, and spin that into another post. You can even promise your readers a follow-up post in the near future, giving them something to anticipate. Your posts, especially if you have limited time to write, don’t need to be encyclopedic in length, breadth and depth.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Throw out the “buts”

When you lead a busy life, it’s altogether too easy to tell yourself you would write more, but you simply don’t have enough time. Very few people have the luxury of large chunks of time that they can devote to writing. In her book, Writer with a Day Job, Áine Greaney says that the word “but” signals what we cannot do. In other words, it’s negative thinking. She says you should instead challenge yourself with but’s opposite, the word “can.”

“Okay,” she writes, “what can you do? Can you write for 10 minutes every morning?”

I decided to accept Áine’s challenge by taking my laptop to work several days of the week to write this post. I usually have 10 to 20 minutes left after I eat lunch, and discovered you can write an amazing number of words if you allow yourself to focus on nothing but your writing, even if you only have a few minutes each day.

For the typical nine-to-fiver, Áine suggests you set objectives for yourself that are achievable, measurable, and clearly stated. For example, you might promise yourself that you will write a single blog post each week during your lunch hour. Even if you’re only writing for a few minutes each day, your post is getting longer and you’ll eventually finish it.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Blogging is tough to fit into your schedule even if you don’t work full-time at another job. Your life may simply be filled with many other demands. “The key,” according to How to find time to write while you work, “is letting go of the idea of a perfect, unblemished block of time for your writing and looking for new strategies that will give you 30 to 60 extra minutes per day.”

If you work full-time away from home, how do you fit blogging into your schedule?

© 2016 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Jul 192015

One of the topics to which I keep returning on this Web site, probably because it’s a common challenge among creative people—particularly those who sell what they create—is time management. If you’re nodding your head because you can relate, read on.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Some of the strategies I’ve described for carving out time for creativity—or for organizational tasks, for that matter—include making lists, tuning out electronic distractions such as cell phones and e-mail, rising early or staying up late, and many other strategies. You can read about these ideas here if you missed my past posts:

I’d like to suggest yet another way to manage time. Do you ask yourself where to find time to write blog posts, product descriptions, social media messages, and e-mails? What about fitting in the “making” process of your products, and honestly—the rest of your life—possibly an outside job, friends, family and neighbors? Viewed as a whole, time management of all of these areas appears to be overwhelming. But broken into mini-challenges or even small chunks of time, getting to all of the tasks on your “to do” list suddenly appears doable.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In A Simple Trick for Adding More Hours to the Day, columnist Jessica Stillman of Inc. includes a video featuring leadership coach Jason Womack, who suggests that one way to manage your time is to view it as 96 chunks of quarter-hours in a day, or 96 chunks of time x 15 minutes = 1,440 minutes, or 24 hours. Ahead of time, imagine what you can accomplish in the space of 15 minutes. Better yet, create a list ahead of time of tasks that “push the peanut forward” and only require 15 minutes to finish them. Then, when you have 15 unplanned, unexpected free minutes, choose a task from your list and finish as much as you can.

Image courtesy of Rawich at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Rawich at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Womack performed an experiment while waiting to meet with a client. He pulled out his smart phone, his electronic notebook, and a piece of paper. Then he began working through tasks. At the end of 15 minutes, he was surprised to discover he had finished nine items. Imagine how much you could get done if you used even a couple of quarter-hours in a day this way. You might not have two hours, a half-day or even a full day to devote to a detailed project, but if you can spare just a quarter-hour a day, or several of these, you’ll eventually finish what you have started.

Image courtesy of Naypong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Naypong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Stillman points out that this idea borrows a concept from the pharmaceutical industry, the concept of minimum effective dose (MED), or—according to sociologist Dr. Christine Carter, “the lowest dose of a pharmaceutical product that spurs a clinically significant change in health or well-being.” In How to Find More Than 24 Hours in a Day, Dr. Carter writes, “Unless we like feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, we need to accept that more is not necessarily better and that our go-go-go culture, left unchecked, will push us not only beyond our MED—but beyond the ‘maximum tolerated dose,’ the level at which an activity (or drug) becomes toxic and starts causing an adverse reaction.”

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The bottom line appears to be, if you want to get more done every day, you need to figure out the actual length of time you need to be effective in your home life and your work life—not the time you want to have. To me this sounds like time management is essentially about setting realistic expectations, and being able to say “no” to both others’ demands and the ones you make of yourself, when they’re “over the top.” What do you think?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

© 2015 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Apr 292014

Most creative people I know lament the lack of time they have to pursue their creative passions. “Finding balance continues to be the hardest part for me,” says LeAnn Frobom, a sewist from Nebraska. “Every day is a juggling act, and some days I can’t seem to keep all the balls in the air.”

Sound familiar? In my previous post, A development plan for creatives: 12 simple steps, I discuss how easy it is to be distracted by e-mail and phone calls. Then there’s the lure of Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and dozens of other social networking interruptions. The next thing you know, it’s time to run to the grocery store so you can cook dinner. After dinner, you tell yourself the light is too dim to sew (believe me: I’ve used this excuse!), so you turn off the creativity switch and curl up with a book instead—not that there’s anything wrong with reading, mind you—that is, after all, my favorite leisure activity. The point is that we make it difficult for ourselves to carve out time to be creative by allowing every distraction and interruption to take priority. What can you do about it?

Here are 12 ways to carve out time to be more creative:

1. Go on an electronic holiday. Turn off your phone, computer, laptop, and tablet. Need an hour to create? Set a timer for 60 minutes, 30 minutes, 15 minutes—whatever works for you—to help you enforce the electronic OFF switch.

2. Break up a large task into smaller steps that take less time individually. Work on just one of those tasks. If you have only 15 minutes, then get as much done in that period as you can. You’re not reporting to anyone how much you have accomplished, so does it really matter if all you have time to do is pin a few seams until your next quarter-hour arrives and you can stitch them together? You’re the person in charge of the time you have, no matter how few minutes those might be.

3. Keep frequently used tools within easy reach so you don’t waste creative time, collecting them. Nearly every household I know has too many coffee mugs; re-purpose them to hold your tools. At the same time, have a work space, no matter how small, that you can call your own. When it’s time to start or stop, you don’t want to have to reset your space when you could be creating instead.

Mug Coffee Cup Aprons Covers Have Stuff will Organize Sewing Basket Watercolor Hearts

This coffee mug apron cover from LexiBri on Etsy holds sewing tools or any other slim-profile tools you need to keep handy. (Click on image for more details.)

4. Take a break from cooking dinner every evening. Consider batch-cooking some re-heatable meals on weekends or one evening a week so you can have relatively uninterrupted creative time during another part of the week. Or buy some pre-cooked foods that don’t take a lot of time to prepare. Make a deal with someone else in the household that you’ll cook on certain days while they cook on other days. This way, you both get a break that you can use creatively.

Wood iPad Stand Cutting Board Style Cookbook Holder

You can locate batch recipes or quick cooking recipes on the Internet. Consider getting a cookbook-style stand for your tablet to make reading of the recipes easier. This tablet stand was made by UptownArtisan on Etsy. (Click on image for more details.)

5. Create an assembly line. If you create items that involve a repetitive process, make multiple items one step at a time, consolidating the process. Yep, we’re talking about production line assembly, but that doesn’t make it less creative, but instead more efficient. If you sew bags, cut out all the pieces at one time for multiple bags of the same type. If you make books, as I do, make all of your covers during one period of time, even if that means you spend several evenings doing the same task. If you paint, gesso your canvases or other surfaces in one batch. Look for commonality, in other words, between one project and another, and consolidate those elements.

6. Clear your head. Take a walk, hop into the shower, iron a stack of pillowcases, mow the lawn, or even vacuum a few rooms. In other words, do something mindless that will clear out the daily minutiae that clutters your mind. Then, when you sit (or stand) to make something, you’ll be ready to fly—creatively-speaking, that is. I find my best ideas while taking a shower!

7. Create a habit of readiness. Always keep a notepad or sketchpad handy to jot down ideas, list reminders or draw models of what-could-be. In this way, when you’re ready to sit down and create, you won’t waste time by trying to come up with something to do. If you prefer to record your ideas, impressions or reactions electronically, smart phones make it easy to take photos, record voice impressions, jot down notes, or use a drawing app to make a quick sketch.

Custom Journal - Paws for Thought - Made to Order Sketchbook Journal BLANK pages

This blank book by Beadedtail on Etsy is perfect for sketching or listing ideas as they occur. (Click on image for details.)

8. Give yourself permission to take time off. The sky won’t fall if you don’t do the laundry on Saturday, order in a pizza instead of cooking dinner, pay the bills on Monday evening instead of Sunday, or any number of other mundane tasks. You probably take a personal day at work to run errands, so why not do the same so you can create? Leave at noon for a half-day of creative play. Are you a stay-at-home parent? If you can afford it, pay a child-sitter to keep your kids occupied while you create. If that’s not an option, provide supplies for your children to keep them occupied while you work on your own project. Or maybe you can trade with a friend; she can watch your children while you create, and then you’ll return the favor another time.

9. Consolidate your errands. Instead of running to the bank, the Post Office, the grocery store, the dry cleaner’s, or the pharmacy on separate occasions, choose one day to run all of those errands. It’s amazing how splitting up the errands can interrupt the flow of your creative time, so don’t allow it to do so! Likewise, consider shopping online instead of visiting brick-and-mortar shops. Yes, you will probably pay shipping charges, but you’ll gain creative time that is priceless.

Daily Planner - to-do lists, tasks, goals, schedules, daily menus, errands made for home binders (Printable and Editable)

A daily planner can help you get more organized so you can fit in creative time. These downloadable planning pages were designed by umbarella on Etsy. (Click on image for more details.)

10. Divide and conquer the Household Management Demon. Let go of perfection, and agree to share ordinary household tasks with other people, such as your spouse or children. If you can afford to pay someone to come in once a week to vacuum, dust, clean floors and tidy up bathrooms, that’s great. Or maybe you can hire a teenage student to take care of your yard on Saturdays when you’d rather be creating. In all cases, you reclaim creative time.

11. Adjust your schedule. Rise a half-hour earlier than everyone else in your household, or stay up 30 minutes longer. You can use this time either to complete household tasks that take up creative time, or you can simply begin creating. It’s your choice. Alternately, identify what time of day you feel most creative, and then schedule that time in the same way you schedule anything else in your daily routine. Discourage interruptions, distractions or cancellations.

The "Joyful Giraffe" designer wall mounted clock from LeLuni

Who says you can’t have a whimsical clock that matches your mood when you’re trying to set aside time for creativity? These giraffe clocks are made by LeLuni on Etsy. (Click on image for more details.)

12. Don’t try to do it all. Identify your creative goals, and break down your tasks into short-term (today), medium-term (this week), or long-term (in a few weeks). This gives you some breathing space. The same is true for household tasks and errands—determine whether they really need to be done today versus later. It’s all about setting priorities!

If you can think of some other ways to carve out time for creativity, let me know in the comments below. If not, you might also wish to check out the following posts I wrote previously about the same topic:

© 2014 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.