Is it really possible for an entrepreneur to have it all? A thriving marriage, happy kids, health, financial wellbeing, a social life and a successful company? To be honest, not always. It’s a LOT to manage. You can’t always predict when a swell of new business will come, and it can leave you reeling for a while. Your kids may get sick and you fall behind in work. Perhaps you have to move and your house is in chaos. You may find yourself working double time to build a new product, temporarily cutting date nights and sports games from your life. Success has it’s demands.
Read on for a cool task list system that I use to make each day as successful as possible!
It is important to know what to pay and when. Is now really the time to invest your savings into a rebrand? Will the kids be ok without their weekly mommy date night for a few weeks? Do you eat out for a few nights to squeeze in an extra hour of work before meal time? At times you will find yourself sacrificing things that matter to you or your family. Sometimes you will need to and this is OK, as long as you or your family reap a reward from your investment.
It is also important to know where your priorities lie, so that when the unexpected happens outside your control you know what things to put on the back burner and how. Nobody is perfect, you won’t always get it right. But by keeping clear sight of what matters most to you and those you love most, you’ll make smart sacrifices and keep your sanity!
Throughout the years I have employed many systems of daily planning. Some have worked but been hard to maintain, others were too involved and took more time than they were worth, sometimes they just didn’t jive with my brain processing, they didn’t tend to enough detail, or I found too many things falling through the cracks. So I sampled and tweaked, created and recreated, finally settling on a few methods of my own that really worked for our life. The best part, they were easy and flexible with the changing demands of my photography business and life.
There is NO one size fits all solution. Your brain may process pictures better than text, you may want a more kinaesthetic approach to scheduling, electronic options could fit you best or perhaps you need an old school journal. So what works for me may not work for you at all. But I’m happy to share how I create and accomplish my task list. If it benefits you please let me know in the comments below!
TO DO LISTS
Mine is SUPER simple and I’m curious what you’ll think! It is important to note that this process actually only takes me about 20-30 minutes each day, but it saves me hours of twiddling my thumbs and spinning in circles. My productivity is at an ALL TIME HIGH every time I prioritize this important process.
I take a blank piece of paper, a ruler and pen. First thing in the morning, or just before bed, I sit down in a silent space and mark out the following categories, with space underneath for itemized lists. I make the page into two columns and write small, because there is usually a lot to think of. Typically I begin with just two categories, one in each column, and then add a new category underneath as I go. Then I start jotting down everything that comes to mind.
- Errands. Any outing goes here: the kids doctors appointment, my trip to the bank, fueling the car, coffee with a friend
- Financial/Money. Bill payments, invoices to send, something to price out, a budget to tweak
- Order/Purchase. A gift for my friend, prints for our family photo wall, a new lens, office supplies, a photo album for our client, order new checks, etc
- Messages. If I have to send it, it goes here, work or personal. Responding to a client, emailing an inquiry, messaging back a new Facebook connection, sending a newsletter, an image to my mom, etc
- Calls. Similar to above, anyone I need to pick up a phone and ring is listed
- Child. Each of my three kids gets their own section where I jot down everything important they need to do today, which is over and above their typical schedule/needs
- Me. Personal care such as that shower, taking my vitamins, trying a new recipe, a stretch, practicing piano, coffee with a book, date with the hubby, etc. I find this category especially important, as I will otherwise tend to forget about myself completely and wind up exhausted or sick
- Cleaning. I don’t jot down my spring cleaning list here, just a few items I want to prioritize such as our laundry, the main floor bathroom and vacuuming the basement
- Organizing. I always make sure to put down at least one item to be sorted, organized, reorganized or decluttered. Often this is something like sorting my son’s clothes that are too small, sorting images on my hard drive, or filing the stack of papers on my desk
- Cooking. My meal and snack prep tasks are listed here
- Creating/Planning. If I have to make it or plan it, I jot it here. Designing an album layout for my client, writing a blog post like this one, working on a PDF, client questionnaires, a gift package, product promotion strategy, trip packing list, etc
- Editing. Any projects for clients or our family, including backing up photos, batch editing, photoshop retouching, etc
- Web/social. Updating our Pinterest page, inputting a new form on the blog, posting a Facebook promotion, updating our web portfolio, sharing a post on google plus, it’s on here
- Other tasks. Do I need to fill in an application, create a task list for an employee, or do something else that doesn’t really fit it’s own category? This extra session is for all that
By now I usually have a page FULL of things to do. Sometimes I have to extend to the back of the page itself. There’s usually too much to fit into one day. So I now grab a coloured pen and quickly write a number beside EVERY item on the list. It’s my overly generous estimate of how long this task is going to take. Each email is probably only 2-3 minutes to send, so I will estimate 4. But if it’s a detailed email I am responding to, perhaps as much as 20 minutes will be jotted here. An editing project may be 2 hours on the other hand, a decluttering task 45 minutes, etc. I always ad a bit of extra time to each task…25% as a general rule. This is so that I actually have a chance to fit in more things than anticipated, which completely boosts my morale and makes me feel good haha.
Once each item has a number estimate beside it, I quickly tally up how much time this list will take to accomplish. Almost always my list is 14+ hours long. In any given productive day, I can usually only fit ten hours of tasks. Life happens, and I have to leave lots of flex room for that. So this list most certainly rolls into the next day, or possibly the one after that if I feel extra tired or need to make a trip out of town, etc. So the MOST IMPORTANT final tasks I do is to grab a highlighter and highlight each and every task which must be finished today without exception. So if my client will be upset I didn’t respond to them, they get highlighted. If my appointment is essential, such as a doctor, it gets highlighted too. At least one self care item must always be highlighted. Also at least one cleaning tasks or my home starts to fall apart.
Sometimes I find myself highlighting too many things, because so many tasks are very important. So at this point I will grab my pen again and put a star beside the highlighted items which are non negotiable because someone is counting on me, or my mental health and sanity depend upon it. Then I set to work accomplishing, usually first sketching out a rough schedule for my day. I will write an article soon on how I schedule out my week with a super accommodating Block Scheduling system I created. It works so well for a work from home entrepreneur with children.
I make sure to regularly cross items off my list throughout the day so that I can feel accomplished. This usually makes me more productive as well. I also make a game out of racing the clock, trying to finish a task in less time than originally estimated. This also serves to teach me a lot about how to realistically manage my time and expectations of myself.
I love this To Do list system for so many reasons. The paper is disposable. My cluttered brain is forced to segment it’s thoughts into manageable pieces. Hand writing tasks out helps me remember them and feel more inspired to finish them well. I sleep better at night knowing that nothing important is being forgotten. I usually leave a bit of space under each category so that I can quickly ad to my list when I hop into bed and remember those 15 other things I’d somehow forgotten needed doing until just that moment when I was about to fall asleep haha. And I’ve become so much better with prioritization and time management, skills I very much lacked when I first became a mom and wife.
Try it out and see what you think, the please comment below to let me know. And share your own tips if you have them!