Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dear Miss Mignonette - Getting Things DONE

Miss Mignonette - A Savvy Coquette

Note from Jen, SF Etsy Team Captain: I am absolutely delighted to introduce today's post, the first Dear Miss Mignonette column! Dear Miss Mignonette is an advice column, written by SF Etsy's own Kpoene' Kofi-Bruce, owner of Miss Mignonette and Mignonette Craftsulting. (By the way, did you see yesterday's post about this fantastic business and the amazingly generous offer she's made to SF Etsy members? No? Then go read it now then come right back!)

Dear Miss Mignonette will be a Wednesday column, offering insightful answers to solve the problems faced by crafters, artists, and other creative folks. You can ask Miss Mignonette a question for a future column via email.

And, without further ado, here's this week's dilemma!

Dear Miss Mignonette: I have been running my knitting business for three years and have finally gotten successful enough to quit my job and just focus on the business. This is a dream come true - the only problem is that now I can't actually get myself to make anything. I'm in a rut!

One of the biggest things I struggle with as a self-employed crafter is forcing myself to actually make things. With one thing and another, this month has already proven especially challenging (this post, for instance, is four days late), because it seems like the nice weather, the sudden need to start elaborate baking projects and work through my mending basket, and the seductive powers of Hulu have all conspired, along with my oh-so willing to be distracted brain, to keep me from finishing even the simplest of tasks related to my actual business.

This seeming inability to get anything done, combined with the fact that I am missing deadlines, all adds up to one big, bad feeling: I'm a failure, I'm a terrible crafty business owner, and I should just go get a job at a coffee shop because I'm obviously never going to succeed.


That was pretty painful, wasn't it? But for those of us who aren't masters of organization (and I'm the first to admit that I'm not one of 'em), it is easy to spiral out of control like this every time we fail to meet a self-imposed deadline or spend too much time playing around on the Internet.
Naturally, we want our businesses to be sources of creative pleasure that are just parts of the wonderful lives we hope to have - As makers, however, the very thing that brings in the bucks is often the last thing we feel like doing when faced with a sunny day or a particularly messy kitchen (have you ever noticed how, when you have a really big order to fill, your household chore list suddenly becomes strangely compelling?).

Here are a couple of tips that I have gotten from fellow business-owners, my therapist, my wife, and from my years owning a business.

1) Don't let your task list get the better of you.

You know that you have an end result you would like to achieve, say getting 300 necklaces assembled for bazaar bizarre, or knitting 50 hats to send to a store.
To top it all off, Thanksgiving is a couple of weeks away and you are hosting, AND you've volunteered to make the costumes for your kid's star turn as a jar of frankincense in the school Christmas pageant. Yikes!
The idea of hunkering down and actually tending to all this stuff seems so huge that all you want to do is curl up in a ball and watch reruns of House until it's time to make dinner.
Sound familiar? We've all faced times in our life where everything seems so big, and equally important, that it feels impossible to tackle them and we either end up running away or getting everything done and having a mini nervous breakdown. It doesn't have to be this way.

2) The next step is to take a step back and look at what your goals are. Make a list with separate columns for each project, giving yourself enough space to write under each project. Now look at your tasks. Prioritize them based on when they are due, order of difficulty, etc. You may discover that some deadlines you thought were looming become less scary when broken down to their component parts.

Now parcel out the steps needed to get from point a to z of each project. Every time you finish something, cross it off the list. Soon making a list and crossing it off will become rather addictive!

3) Now that you've got the task list, get on it.
Something else that is difficult for us as business owners is keeping ourselves on task. Nobody likes to be micromanaged, least of all by themselves, so treat yourself like a valued employee and establish a rewards system! This might sound silly, but you may even find that one task becomes a reward for another (i.e. the fun of turning your budding thespian into a biblical spice jar, or perfecting your pumpkin pie recipe, can be a reward - and a necessary break - from a task that feels less fun.

Establish a daily schedule so that you have time carved out to work, and balance it with time carved out to play (and also time to clean the house).
Remember those 50 hats you need to deliver? How much time will it take you to finish the hats? Parcel out a chunk of time every day that is only, ONLY for making those hats. Let nothing else interfere with that time. Play around until you find a routine that feels right to you, but by all means make an effort to stick to it. One good way to relieve any potential monotony is to switch up different business tasks from day to day, for instance - Monday is the day you update your blog, Tuesday is the day you add new items to your Etsy page, Wednesday is the day you work on marketing, etc. (this is also a good way to tie in the goals list that you made earlier and start establishing a really good schedule for yourself, complete with weekly tasks).

4) Establish a workspace.
For those of us who don't have studios it can be hard to stay on task when there is an entire house we can distract ourselves with.
This is dangerous because not having an established workspace can subconsciously prevent us from taking our work seriously. Think about an office that you worked in (or still work from) - do you use your desk in that office for anything besides work (and Facebook, of course)? Probably not. Having an orderly, well-organized workspace with all of our necessary tools signals to our brains that our crafting is deserving of serious effort and a clear head.
Take your craft seriously enough to carve out a space in your home that says "this area is for my business ONLY", and soon you'll find that you do your best work in that space.

And don’t beat yourself up if you don't find yourself falling into line immediately, or find yourself letting things fall by the wayside. The more you dwell on the things you didn't accomplish, the crappier you'll feel.

This is where the most important exercise comes in:
Do take time whenever possible to write down a list of all the things that you did get accomplished that day, for instance, though I didn't finish making a dress that has been nearly done for weeks because I was watching Gosford Park for the 20th time instead, I did get a great idea for a detail I want to add to the dress from the movie - see? Research!
I also took the time to see three different friends that I don't get to spend enough time with, and that yummy positive energy will carry over until tomorrow, when I get to sit down and work on my business some more. On my own schedule.

What tips have you found help keep you and your business on track? What obstacles have you faced in staying on task and focusing on your business? Share them in the comments!

If you're an Etsy seller in the San Francisco Bay Area, contact Jen from Mama's Magic Studio about joining SFEtsy!


Fire Pixie said...

Great suggestions! List-making works really well for me. My other one is journaling.. I try to take 20-30 minutes, first thing every morning, to write in my journal. Sometimes it comes out as lists, sometimes complaints, sometimes gratitude.. but if I can discipline myself every day to write in that journal first thing, the rest of the day always somehow falls neatly into place.


Jen (Mama's Magic Studio) said...

Great suggestion, Erin! I used to be a journaler but that energy goes into blogging these days.... I've been tempted to start again, though. Hmmmm...

El at Tantalizing Stitches said...

Thanks so much for sharing your tips. I have found lists help me sleep. Otherwise, I stay awake all night thinking about what I need to do the next day.

El at Tantalizing Stitches said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lisa said...

I get so easily overwhelmed, breaking tasks down into small steps is like gold to me. I used to think it wasn't worth it to do such itty bitty steps, but last weekend I reorganized my office and files -- a task I'd been putting off for months -- just by taking it one tiny step at a time and rewarding myself after each one! Thank you for the great tips!

Kmat said...

Wow, that pretty much describes me exactly! I feel so much better knowing I'm not the only one and those were some great tips as well as some great advice on how to look at things, like valuing spending time with some friends instead of feeling guilty for not working on some self imposed ideas right away. thanks!

ourhobbytoyourhome said...

Very good reminders/suggestions... I make lists all the time, matter of fact my family mocks my lists.

But, what I was missing is my work on there, I have chores, and Groceries but not the most important thing which is succeding with my business, was not on my list.
I went full time in April and could'nt be happier. I just need to learn how to organize my priorities. I am pretty much flying by the seat of my pants. :)
The best thing I took from your message is to break it down, I cant do everything everyday!!!!
(Let me write that down) :) lol

Thank you for the great reminder of the importance of list making!!!

Kim's Crafty Apple said...

great post! It's like you've stepped right into my life! Thanks for helping me look at how to break it down and make it seem not quite so overwhelming :)

Estylo Jewelry said...

This is great advice! I really need to establish my "business space" I'm just all over our house!


Karen said...

thanks for the grand advice. having a dedicated work space is the key for me. i have my "stuff" everywhere and it takes so much time and energy to gather it up, that the job is too far out of reach. i will be spending tomorrow arranging all of my "stuff" into labeled containers, right after i pick up my turkey! thanks

Anonymous said...

It is refreshing to hear that I am not the only one who struggles with staying on task and finishing things. I too, tend to beat myself up when things start to spiral out of control, often more than anyone I am accountable too (clients, family, friends, etc.) I really enjoyed your honesty and your tips. I promise to put them to good use!

thenightowl said...

Earlier today i was pondering whether a clocking-in-machine at my studio door could be the answer to all my problems... Then I found this post!

Great advice, so well put that I'm now feeling highly motivated at 00:57am GMT (could this be a part of my problem?)

Love your suggestion about the daily list of accomplishments. Have thought about doing this before and wanted to call it my TA-DA list! Tah-dah I did it!!

EvesLittleEarthlings said...

I always procrastinate on making new original things and need to add that to my "to do" list.

AlliesAdornments said...

Thanks for sharing. Now I just need to quit reading blog articles & get to work.

Marit said...

All You know, how difficult it is to work from home. While working on your stuff you feel as if stealing time from the household. Guilty!!!
Another thing is, when you get things rolling on Your work then hours fly by and it is hard to stop. Just you have not done enough for today. Guilty again!
Sure the list and crossing off things that are done will make things easier.

feltbyfern said...

Very timely, seeing as I found your blog while procrastinating from the projects that must get done this week. Thanks for the tips! Breaking things down always helps me to feel like tasks are more managable and as a result, more productive. Best of luck on the advice column - will check it out again!

Raskol Ink. said...

awesome! Thank you miss Mignonette...designating different tasks for different date of the week, I think, will be very helpful.


Raskol Ink. said...

awesome! Thank you miss Mignonette...designating different tasks for different date of the week, I think, will be very helpful.


Sim said...

Thanks you for saying kindly and clearly what I needed to hear.
I'm a perfectionist and it's all or nothing (which often ends up as nothing) but writing a list of things I have done (no matter how little) can help give that confidence boost.
May I also add to the Mums/Dads/carers out there that putting a baby to sleep is equivalent to climbing Mt. everest some days, so three cheers!

Jackie said...

Making that end-of-the-day "what I did" list is a HUGE motivator for me, and pulls me out of those crappy moods real fast.

I ALWAYS end up having done more work than I thought, and that brings my self esteem up and helps me avoid burnout by forcing me to realize that I deserve my R&R at the end of the day! :D

Melanie said...

I do ALL of the things you advice yet the work doesn't get done as I wish. I would like to be more productive and less of a day dreamer. Just now writing this comment is taking me like 10 minutes, some call it ADD...

I think it just means I have to try harder to focus on ONE thing at a time.

Oh! And what helps me most to start a day with loads of energy and positive attitude is working out first thing in the morning. Break a good sweat, get the blood flowing.

Thanks for this post ;)


Luloah said...

Thanks for this advice. My work area is my dining room and I waste so much time moving bags of fabric and half finished products around that I could have used more productively. It also annoys me and blocks my creativity. So once Ihave finished making my christmas tree outfit today I will spend a couple of hours reorganising- cos you have given me permission to do so- THANKYOU

Alice said...

Thanks so much for this great article, it was exactly what i needed this morning. i've got so much to do and don't want to do any of it! Funnily enough, I was thinking of watching Gosford Park again! LOL!

Lisa said...

Thanks for the advice. I'm happy to know that I'm not the only procrastinator out there!! It is amazing how on the run up to a big show I have the most tidy and organised house in the world... that huge pile of ironing just looks so appealing!

I am a great believer in to-do-lists and certainly since having my little girl in July they have become invaluable!!

grayscrafts said...

I do make something every day - regardless of if it is a weekday or a weekend, if I'm sick or healthy, alive or dead. I know that I just have to make 1 thing every day. If it is a complicated thing, like a wall composition or an art doll, it takes a few days to make it; then I plan and make certain parts of it every day. Great stimulus for me is that, as I'm almost blind, it makes me need a daylight. This, in turn, makes me to get up in the morning and work intently through the daytime (it gets dark where I live at about 4:30 p.m.).
I also keep a list of the contests in which I participate (quite a few), with clearly stated deadlines, and follow that list, planning ahead, designing and calculating how long it will take me to make an entry for each of them.
Another thing which makes me go faster I discovered is that I'm recording some of my projects to later make them downloadable tutorials, and this camera constantly pointed at me does not let me to slow down.

Miss Antique said...


because sometimes (always?) starting to work is the difficult part I tell myself

"you only have to do it for 15 minutes", whether it is listing, taking photos, replying emails, organizing, cleaning,sewing. when the 15minutes end, I ask myself "another 15 minutes?".

If not, that's ok, at least I've done something in 15minutes, but to tell the truth, if you break it in 15minutes parts you just keep doing and in the end you feel good about yourself! Yey!

Melanie said...

Ooh! Me like fifteen minute rule! (Tiny claps)

- said...

thanks! love your advice. I also quit my job to be an artist full-time and I have thought more than a few times that I should just give up and work at a coffee glad I am not alone. It made me laugh out loud

shawnasie said...

I completely appreciate your straight forward approach to this topic. You called, and I am sure many others, out when talking about specific things that distract.

I already use lists to get things done but find myself wanting to sit around and relax for much longer than necessary once a few things on the list are complete. I find myself passing over the large tasks in order to complete a couple small ones...

I do plan to incorporate writing an accomplishments list at the end of the day. I am sure it will show me just how much I am completing on a daily basis and help me to feel better about my accomplishments.

Thanks for your wonderful post!


Thea said...

Great suggestions! I especially like the idea of rewards!

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