Creating a Foolproof System for Just About Everything

Over and over again I hear the same tired excuse from people that they just don’t have enough time… “Oh I’d love to blog more but I just can’t find the time…”, “I can’t possibly reply to all my emails, I just get too many…”, “Yeah I’d love to take a holiday/work on a personal project/spend more time with my loved ones, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day…”

Now forgive me as this is probably going to irritate you but seriously? Let’s cut the crap. Yes when you run your own business free time can be a luxury, and finding extra time is difficult, but if you really really want to do something then you’ll find it. Be honest with yourself now – is it really lack of time or lack of effort that you’re suffering from?

No one is telling you that you have to blog/reply to all your emails/take a break/do a personal project/edit a wedding in two days/turn around design commissions in a week etc etc, and if you don’t want to then fine… so let it go and stop making excuses. But if you do want to make some changes then stop blaming the imaginary time stealing fairy, take some responsibility and prioritise!

OK so now I’ve beaten that out of you, how exactly does one regain control and get things done? Well, in a nutshell, to feel in control of your business you need to keep on top of your work as much as possible. That may sound totally obvious and easier said than done but honestly, it really doesn’t have to be that hard. It’s easy to be in control if you create a system and stick to it. Set up a process for anything and everything that needs constant attention. Emails, social media, editing, bookkeeping, blogging… basically anything that you have to tackle on a regular basis.

Email

Oh the dreaded inbox. A source of such joy (Enquiries! New opportunities! Messages of love!) but also such stress (1057 unread emails, arrgh!) So how do you keep on top of it all?

I get between 200 and 300 emails a day. And yes, every one gets a reply, usually within 48 hours. So am I some kind of mutant fast-typing superwoman? Er no… but what I am is strict with myself and in lieu of superhuman speedy fingers I have a plethora of templates at my disposal.

I figured out pretty early on that a) I couldn’t possibly write custom replies for every email I receive and b) that the majority of the emails I get fall into similar categories – i.e. submissions, advertising enquires, press releases/crap from PR companies, and questions from my readers. So I wrote draft replies for each of these options (and the potential follow up emails) which I can send back to each email that comes in with seven mouse clicks or less (yep, I counted…) and BAM! Done!

Of course there are some messages that don’t fit into these drafts (namely when readers ask for advice) but honestly… that’s probably less than 10% of the emails I receive. If you don’t have any draft replies in place, do it. Do it now!

Do I wish I could send in depth replies who everyone to sends me an email? Of course. Is there anyway I could physically do that whist simultaneously completing every other task I have to do on a daily basis? Christ, no. But you know what? I just have to let that go. My feeling on the matter is that people (especially if they’re sending me a submission) would rather get a template reply which answers their query as soon as possible over waiting days or even weeks for an eloquently written and personalised retort.

Emails can be a massive time suck but they don’t have to be. I usually tackle my inbox first thing in the morning, for about an hour. Then, if I have the rest of my work completed, again for about an hour mid-afternoon. It’s not the most exciting part of my job but it is definitely one of the most important.

Blogging

Obviously this isn’t one of those tasks that I find that difficult… it’s my job after all! But what I did used to struggle with was making sure I had content ready to go at my predetermined times each day. I can imagine that this is much harder for wedding suppliers who have to, you know, actually run their businesses as well as blog about it!

My advice would be that firstly don’t feel you have to blog every day and don’t beat yourself up about it! What you should do however is make a pact with yourself to blog at a certain time each week/fortnight/month (whatever suits you). Then make a note in your diary stating which days you will publish something and for goodness sake stick to it! Seriously, if you don’t do it no one else is going to do it for you. If blogging is something you want to get better at then you have to work at it, it’s not going to just happen magically.

Pre-scheduling is your friend. I always work at least two to three days in advance, so on a Monday I’m writing my blog posts for Wednesday, on a Tuesday I’m writing my posts for Thursday, etc. This way I don’t have to stress the night before that I haven’t got my blog posts for the next day written and I can allow myself more time to mull over my ideas and improve the articles. If you’re struggling then set aside a block of time on a quiet day to put a blog post together. Maybe on a Saturday or Sunday morning – whatever suits you and your lifestyle. If you don’t do it, then fine… but don’t go blaming the fact that you have no time to do it. It’s all about being organised.

Social Media

Arrgh social media pressure! Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest… it can all be a little overwhelming at times. Do you ever feel like you have to be in every place, all the time? Yeah me too but I can’t. So what I do make sure of is that I have something to go up on each platform each day.

Social media is a hugely powerful tool and one that you should be leveraging in some capacity, but don’t allow it to suck the life out of you. I personally make sure I update my Twitter and Facebook at least a couple of times a day (as well as pushing my blog posts on them ONCE – seriously, any more than that is really annoying!) and spend maybe 1/2 hour a day replying to messages or comments on the various platforms (as well as blog comments). However if you’re struggling with time management my advice would be to a) make sure you’re being strict with yourself about how much time you’re spending procrastinating on there and b) use our friend the pre-schedule. Did you know you can pre-schedule tweets and Facebook updates? Let the technology do the hard work for you!

Keeping up to date with others & reading other blogs

Three letters – RSS.

Subscribe to the blogs you want to keep up to date with using an RSS reader (I use Google Reader) and resist the temptation to click every link that you see people posting on Twitter! If you want to see their blog updates, subscribe to them and you’ll never miss a thing. As with my email, I make sure I methodically go through my Google Reader every day – usually mid to late afternoon when my brain can’t cope with any more taxing tasks. There’s nothing worse than getting to your Reader and seeing the dreaded “Unread Items: 1000+” (arrgh!) so make sure you check in regularly.

So in conclusion my advice to you is this:

♥ Be strict with yourself
♥ Have a system in place for each menial task
♥ For goodness sake pre-schedule

…Honestly, it’s the only way I can function!

I’d like to know what is a massive time suck for you? After reading this do you think you could do with putting a slicker system in place for anything? Can we help with some ideas on how to streamline something? Hit me up!

All Photography Credit: ‘Sweet Pastel’ by Joanna Kustra for Tantalum Mag

24 comments

  1. Post author

    haha no i’m not.. anyone can do it! im just a whip cracker and a big fat nerd. :-P seriously, ask poor gareth “hey gareth have you done that job yet?! have you? have you? HAVE YOU!!!???”

    im the worst boss ever i swear

  2. Brilliant post – I’m trying to get into the habit of only checking email & social media a couple of times during the day so I have big chunks of time without getting distracted. I also recently read ‘Eat that Frog’, which I heard about via Jen from Head Full of Feathers (http://www.headfulloffeathers.com/news/to-work-or-not-to-work-that-is-the-question/) and that really kicked my butt into gear… I now make and prioritise to-do lists for each week and day and I’m getting so much more done! I’m nowhere near perfect at being organised, but a few little changes have definitely upped my productivity.

    p.s. Love the photos in this post!

  3. Post author

    Helen – ah yes ive heard of this too! probably why i do my email first thing to get it out of the way!

  4. I love this. I mean, okay, I don’t have kids or a thriving business to run in my free time so my own personal blogging/blog-reading/Twitter-stalking can be done whenever and however I like (though I do have a method for all of them), but I used to be the temp the agency would send in to clear big backlogs because I was so methodical and organised I would just blitz through them. I had a job at which I received 500 emails a day AND processed several hundred paper applications AND was constantly off sick (because I hated it) and yet I never got behind schedule. And it wasn’t because I’m superwoman (I mean, I *am* but…); it was just because I was organised.

    Also, the posting the same link on Twitter multiple times per day thing? I’m with you – it’s a surefire way to make me unfollow a person.

  5. i have been complaining about lack of time for a good couple of months now, and even though i have been more busy with my home life, i know see it just lack of effort, i just cant be arsed, which makes me wonder if i have lost my blogging mojo? either way the get organised part is good way forward! great post :)

  6. Great article, Kat, and one that I’m going to print out and stick on my pinboard to give me a kick up the arse whenever I get a bit lacklustre about the boring admin side of my amazing job. The way you run your business is pretty inspirational, lady!

  7. You are on the button Kat! and an inspiration to all of us lazy arses! I don’t know what I would do without my constant ‘TO DO’ list and definitely being organised and planning and forward thinking makes my life a lot easier. Thanks for all the great tips. Kx

  8. You could launch an app Kat, with alarms that go off for different jobs and you cracking a whip or kicking a bum or just shouting a personal message to the user! I’d use it!

    xx

  9. Love it! Thanks Kat, especially the email templates idea. I’m going to set aside some time to set these up. Ashamed to say I have emails that are over a year old in my inbox!

  10. Lucy

    It’s always interesting to see how other people deal with crazy busy lives and jobs. I’d definately agree that lists and planning are vital. The problem is that in some jobs you can’t schedule everything. There will be days when the phone won’t stop ringing or urgent issues come up that HAVE to be dealt with immediately and then that lovely schedule is right out the window and the e-mails are piling up! I suppose I just wanted to say don’t beat yourself up if even with all the planning in the world you still find you don’t have times for those things you want to do. There are only so many hours in a day!

  11. I smiled (painfully) at the bit about wedding suppliers finding time to blog and actually having to make things too. On the nail with that one!!! I’ve spent today making things, photographing them, editing the pics, and writing a couple of blog posts about them (for starters)…
    But I’m on the right track. I’m halfway organised. And my blog is scheduled every week. I feel like I’ve got some brownie points for that. Thanks… and this is me now —-> :-)))

  12. Great post Kat! I’ve definitely learnt a lot from you regarding the amazing approach you have to staying on top of your to-do lists xxxx

  13. THANKS KAT! I have this quote up in my office ” if you want something bad enough you WILL find a way, if not then you will find an EXCUSE”. I am a professional makeup artist balancing my wedding clients, a single mommy to two babies 10 months apart, and now a new blogger and editor…..I just discovered tweetdeck and I literally got teary eyed lol. Okay don’t laugh, it really did save me at least an hour a day of posting, and an hour IS AN HOUR!

  14. Just got round to reading this article … (whoops thats me not regularly checking the blogs I follow!) … and totally agree with the email thing! I used to work in a sales job where we had a time limit to reply to clients emails .. every email had to have a response of some sort within 2 minutes and a proper response and answer to any queries within 2 hours!
    Now I’m not suggesting that anyone running their own business has to be this strict but it really taught me a few lessons, and so now I have a bell which rings on my computer every time I get an email and I will acknowledge to the person sending it that I have received it straight away ( unless of course its unneccesary spam!) They are then not hanging around thinking your just being rude and ignoring them.
    I really do have to set up the whole template thing though .. that’s a great idea!

  15. Great post Kat. When I started working (old job, 10 years ago), time management wasn’t my strong point, I always felt I was on the backfoot. But I learned quickly, as my boss really kicked my backside about it. I think the best tip I can offer, is if you’ve got a diary, allocate specific tasks to each day at the start of the week/month. And if you need to know where your time is going, make up a simple time sheet and be brutally honest, record it over the course of a day/week. I think we all have something we go to for “half an hour” and find it’s eaten up a whole afternoon, and still convince ourselves it was only half an hour!

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