“How do you get anything done?”

It’s something I hear more now that I have a 16-month-old at home, being a mom boss ain’t easy. But it comes up all the time in freelance circles, too. I touched on some of the methods I use in my talk on burnout, but I didn’t get too specific. The answer that I gave on a panel for freelance workers was, “I am organized as HELL.”

Getting really organized has helped me to get things done, without working myself into the ground. I used to have a really bad habit of working every available second, which is unhealthy, and exhausting, and really hard to do any kind of project management around. So I made a system, which is super low tech, but it works for me. This exact set-up might not work for you, but it might inspire your own system. So now I’m gonna get specific about it.

Step one: Figure out how long things take you to do.

Some people are good at estimating their work time, I’m not. I use OnTheJob as a time tracker, and I separate larger jobs like weddings into smaller tasks – culling, editing, administrative, etc. I tracked a few to get an estimate on how much time different tasks take me, and I keep tracking them to see if those estimates are still about right.

Step two: Figure out your work blocks.

I can commit to one hour blocks of work. Right now, my kid naps from 1.5 to 2 hours, but I can’t count on 2 hours. I can work an hour before he wakes up, or an hour after he goes to sleep, without giving up all of the downtime that I need to be a sane person, or I can work an hour after my husband comes home without killing all of HIS downtime. So I split all of my tasks into one hour blocks. Say culling a wedding takes four hours, I’ll have four entries on my calendar that say “wedding culling.” If editing a portrait session takes three hours, that’s three blocks that say “portrait edit.” This may still be the easiest way for you to plan your time, even if you can commit to larger blocks, but you may want to split them differently. Maybe knitting a hat takes two hours, but it has to be two consecutive hours. You might make two hour work blocks instead.

Step three: Figure out how many hours a week you can work.

This is the part where you get really honest, and realistic, about your time. I can’t help you make more time available in your week, and I can’t decide for you how many hours you want – or need – to work. But this is how I organize it. Personally, I’m working part-time right now, because we don’t have our kid in any sort of daycare or preschool. This means I had to scale back on how much work I accept, because I have a finite amount of hours that I can devote to work. So look at your needs, figure out your work hours, and then plug in those work blocks. Say I have six hours a week to work, this is what my fictional calendar I made looks like (except for the John Wick 2 entry, that one’s real.)

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I have six hours, so I put in six work blocks a week. This helps me in two ways. One, I know what I’m working on that day, and I know what I need to get done in order to stay on schedule to finish a project. This pretend calendar only has one wedding, but I’ll figure out these work blocks for however many projects I have going, and slot them all in. It takes care of my to-do list panic. Two, it helps me determine when I can take on new projects, because I can easily see when I have free space on my calendar for them. I know how many weddings and portrait sessions I can do in a month, because I know how long they take me, and how much time I have to work. Math is GREAT.

Step four: Do the work, then stop.

This is the hard one. Once I do my hour of whatever, I delete it off of the calendar, and I stop working. Yes, some days I do another block to get ahead on things, and I’ll delete that one off, too. But most days, I can’t afford the extra time. Either my kid is up and needs something, or I have things around the house that need to be done. But since I’ve done all this wonderful math, and I got my schedule set up, I don’t have to feel guilty about not working anymore. If I did my work blocks, I know I’m on track, and I don’t have to work in a panic until it’s done. It’s been amazing for my stress levels. The other important part of this is that my one hour block does not account for making lunch, or putzing around on Twitter, or watching Gray’s Anatomy or whatever. Work time is WORK time, and I’ve gotten really efficient when it comes to work time. You can get a lot done in a short time if you seriously focus on it.

And THAT, friends, is how I get shit done. Mom boss.

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