Time Management: 3 Simple Rhythms I Use to Eliminate Overwhelm, Stay Focused, and Get It All Done

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Creative Rising Episode 301

[TRAINING]

Let’s be real. Time management is hard. I have a lot I want to accomplish in the next twelve months, and I bet you do, too.

But let’s be honest. New Year’s goals can fizzle out quickly.

There’s so many things that demand your attention – client needs, overflowing inboxes, social media posts – that it’s easier than ever to feel overwhelmed, forget your goals, and leave important work undone.

So it’s more critical than ever to prioritize your time and be intentional about how you work.

There were a lot of years in our business that I rarely got to the important things on my list.

And it’s because I didn’t know how to step out of overwhelm and manage my time to put those big goals first.

Something had to change.

A few years ago, I developed a time management system for myself that’s helped tremendously in accomplishing my big priorities for my business, and I’m sharing it with you today for the first time ever!

This time management strategy has been the biggest game-changer for me, especially as I’ve become a parent and cut back to only working two days a week.

With less than half the hours I used to work, I still move my business forward in big ways!

 

In this episode I’m sharing:

  • The single mindset shift that completely reshaped how I think about my time
  • The three simple categories I use to block my time that will work for ANY wedding photographer
  • The key to how I get important work done, while living an intentional life free from overwhelm.

 

Even if you consider yourself a free spirit and you don’t love routine, the way that I manage my time gives you the structure your business requires while also gifting you with the freedom you want.

I’m so excited to share my time management practices with you to help you achieve big things in 2020 – while living a life free from stress and overwhelm!

 

Quick Guide:

  • (01:53) Time Management is Hard
  • (10:44) Rhythm #1: Permission
  • (18:10) SPONSOR: KISS Wedding Books (Thank You!!)
  • (21:10) Rhythm #2: Accounting & Curating
  • (30:27) Rhythm #3: Boundaries
  • (34:21) Time to Work ON Your Business
  • (39:51) Time to Work IN Your Business
  • (41:18) Time to Be FREE in Your Business

 

EPISODE MADE POSSIBLE BY: KISS WEDDING BOOKS (Thank You!!)

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**Listen to the podcast episode above or read the blog post below!**

Time Management is a Struggle

The beginning of every year feels fresh and exciting.

I know I usually feel incredibly hopeful and a sense of possibility. I look ahead and think about all of the plans I have and all of the things I want to accomplish.

But here’s the thing. Life doesn’t change just because the calendar does, right?

Life is still demanding. There are still a million things pulling at us from a million different directions.

So the big question that plagues so many of us wedding photographers is ‘How do I get done what I want to get done?”

Nod your head if you feel like you have too much to do and not enough time to do it, and you feel that at least 50% of the time?

So you don’t feel this way ALL THE TIME, but overwhelm is definitely a common experience for you.

This is where we’re all at. Life is busy.

Time management is a struggle.

I want to acknowledge that. That no matter who you are or what life stage you’re in, if you’re a wedding photographer, time management is a very difficult thing.

And the pressures that you feel – the pressure to achieve, pressure to grow your business, pressure to show up how you think you should show up – all of that is so very real.

So if you’re struggling with overwhelm – if you’re constantly feeling like you’re behind on all of your tasks, if you feel like there’s no way you’re ever going to clear your inbox (much less get to those back burner projects) – then you’re not alone and you’re not crazy.

In this post, I’m sharing with you three simple rhythms of time management that I’ve come to rely on.

I believe that these time management rhythms, these practices, ring true for any stage of life and any kind of wedding photography business.

Whether you’re working full time on your business or it’s a side hustle.

Whether you have kids or you don’t.

Whether you have a team (or a business partner) or you’re a solopreneur.

And I know that’s a big claim to make – that these time management practices will work for anybody – but hear me out.

I have experienced dramatically different stages of life in our business. We got our business off the ground as a side hustle while having a corporate job. Then we quit our jobs and ran our business with no kids, no mortgage, and no team. Then we acquired a team, and now we have a team AND we’re parents.

When we bought our commercial studio, Bauman Photographers, in 2012, and we went from doing whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted, to leading a team, it forced me to figure out how to manage my time better.

Because, honestly, I was terrible at time management before. Thankfully, though, over the course of those years of running the studio without a child, when I could work as much as I wanted, I developed some really powerful time management practices that have served me well now that I have a son and I’m only working two days a week.

Because here’s the thing:

The demands and responsibilities of our life have always been growing for us over the course of our business… and they’re going to keep growing.

As we get older and (hopefully) have more kids, we’re going to have more demands on our time.

But my hope, my intention, that I have developed over my years of running this business is that I want to establish good time management habits NOW so that I can:

  1. Handle the current demands on my time (and handle them well)
  2. Prepare myself for the bigger demands that are to come

I don’t want to get to that next stage of life and business and crumble because I didn’t practice healthy time management while things weren’t as demanding.

Plus, I don’t want to live in a perpetual state of overwhelm.

I don’t want to experience constant stress. That kind of life isn’t worth it to me. It’s not life-giving.

Why am I running my own business if it’s just stealing my joy?

Well, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Success and stress don’t have to go hand in hand, and I’m living proof of that fact.

Right now, as a mom of a toddler, working two days a week, running a large commercial studio that just brought in well over half million dollars last year, I don’t experience anywhere near the same level of overwhelm and stress that I did when I worked 60 hours a week with no kids and no mortgage.

I feel more satisfied and stress-free than ever, and that shouldn’t make sense considering the life stage and business stage I’m in.

So I want to walk you through the three rhythms of time management that I use to eliminate overwhelm, stay focused, and get it all done.

These three rhythms are:

  1. Permission
  2. Accounting & Curating
  3. Boundaries

Time Management Rhythm #1: PERMISSION

The first Rhythm of time management that I consistently practice is Permission.

You need to give yourself permission to be in control of your time.

As soon as you read that, you may get really tense and really skeptical about what I’m going to say next, especially if you have kids and especially if those kids are school age.

Because the reality is that when you have kids, your time does not feel like your own. At all.

So let me explain. This time management rhythm is about your mindset.

I’m going to focus on your mindset about your business in particular. So leave your family time aside for a minute and let’s talk about the time you have for work.

It is so common for wedding photographers to allow the needs of their clients to take over and determine their time for them.

But here’s the thing – your clients do not control your time. Your inbox does not control your time. The needs of your staff, if you have one, do not control your time.

Now, don’t get me wrong – all of those demands are real.

Clients do need things from you. Inquiries need to be responded to. Images need to be edited and delivered.

All of those things ARE pulling at you. All of those things ARE demanding.

But if you’re in a place where you feel like you’re constantly blaming your clients or blaming your email for the fact that you don’t have time to do what you really want to do, then you need to work on shifting your mindset.

(For example, if you blame your clients for being high-maintenance and that’s why you didn’t get your website rebranded this year, then you need to shift your mindset.)

Because at it’s core, that is a victim mindset.

You are choosing to be a victim of the demands of your business. You are choosing to let your business be in control.

Now that can be a really challenging thing to hear, because these victim mindsets run really deep, unraveling yourself from a business that has taken over your life is not easy.

Here’s a real life example:

I used to get really annoyed that I spent so much time answering (what I felt like were) unnecessary questions from brides. I spent all day on email. And it made me really cranky.

What I had to realize what that I needed to take control and do a better job of educating my couples so that I was answering less emails.

Jeff and I were also really exhausted at one point running our business, and we were constantly eating poorly because there was never food in the house, the laundry wasn’t getting done for weeks, and things were just generally chaotic.

So we decided take Mondays off after weekends that we shot a wedding. We used those Mondays to live our life. We went grocery shopping, we planned our meals, we did laundry, and we hired a house cleaner to give ourselves some margin.

Now, it was a little scary to take a weekday off? Yes.

But we decided to take control of our business, and we didn’t let the fear of emails going unanswered or brides not understanding (which they did understand) decide for us.

We gave ourselves permission to be in control.

So give yourself permission to choose. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, you are ultimately in control of your time.

Especially if you run your business full time and you don’t work another job for someone else, YOU are in charge and you must give yourself permission to be in charge.

Now, yes, there are certain things that you cannot control. If you do work for someone else, then yes, they are in charge of certain aspects of your time.

Depending on the job, you need to work certain hours, clock in and clock out, etc. But that is still only a portion your life. Within those hours, there is still an element of control. You control how you do your job.

What I’m really getting at is this:

Don’t let your clients, your inbox, and your to-do list determine your life for you. Take charge wherever it’s possible for you to take charge.

This is really important!

If you don’t practice this mindset of permission, then no time management tool will ever work for you.

You could try all the strategies, buy all the yearly planners, and use all the apps to track your time, but they will get you nowhere because you will continue to be a slave TO your business instead of the owner OF your business.

And I’m not gonna lie to you. This practice of permission can be really hard.

I refer to these steps as Rhythms for a reason. Time management is a continuous practice.

This isn’t a one time thing. You need to practice habits and discipline. Especially if it’s a new mindset for you, then it’s going to take time to get used to it.

Remember, just because something is simple doesn’t mean that’s it’s easy.

And that’s certainly true for these rhythms of time management.

Time Management Rhythm #2: ACCOUNTING & CURATING

This rhythm is a two-parter, but it’s two sides of the same coin.

This is where you decide WHAT you’re going to do with your time.

Accounting

When Jeff and I first started with our transformational life coach, Julia Woods of Beautiful Outcome, she had us do an exercise. (This was before we had our son, but we did have our big studio with three brands and staff.)

Julia had us take a physical calendar and write all of the things we wanted to do in our life on the calendar.

Things like:

  • Exercise
  • Prayer & Meditation
  • Hanging Out with Friends
  • Date Nights
  • Vacations & Travel

Once all of our life desires were in place on the calendar, then we got to see what hours were left for the business. Those are the hours the business got.

This is how you create a business that supports your life, instead of a business that takes over your life.

So often we spend all of our time and energy crafting an amazing business, but we neglect to do the same thing with our life.

I want to challenge you to do the same thing.

I want you to create your life FIRST.

I want you to take a full account of what you would most LOVE to do with your time outside of your business. And this should be a fun and wild brainstorm.

Don’t think about what’s possible. Just think about desire.

  • Do you want to take a dance class?
  • Do you want to travel?
  • Do you want to spend more time with your kids?
  • Do you want to make memories with your spouse?
  • Do you want to form habits of spiritual practices?

Then we need to Curate.

Curate

In the Accounting process, you will probably create a list that is WAY too long to actually be possible.

If you did all of the things on your list, you would get exhausted and burned out!

So now we need to take that list and make some decisions.

This is where we prioritize, but I don’t love the word priorities because it’s overused. It’s like the word balance – it’s become meaningless and unattainable.

For Jeff, ‘priorities’ means that he needs to choose the most important thing and it actually paralyzes him. So instead of choosing what’s important to him, he does nothing.

For him, thinking about this process as ‘curating’ is really helpful.

In other words, what are the things on your list that will help you show up how you want to show up in your life?

There are a lot of ways to figure out what’s most important to you on your list, and you can feel free to use whatever guidelines work best for you.

The one question that is most helpful for me, though, is this:

What are you not willing to FAIL at?

For me:

  • I am not willing to fail in my marriage to Jeff
  • I am not willing to fail at being a great mom to James
  • I am not willing to fail at taking care of myself spiritually and physically.

Those are the things that I will fight for the most.

So if I know those are the most important things I need to give my attention to, how can I craft a life that allows for those things to thrive?

Well, it is extremely important to me to spend a lot of time with my son while he’s young. Spending time with him gives me the space and the margin to show up as the mother that I want to be.

However, I’ve also discovered that being a full time stay at home mom is exhausting, and I’m NOT the mother I want to be when I’m exhausted.

So the perfect work hours for me are part time. I work two full days a week in the studio, plus I get up early each weekday morning and I work from 6:00-8:30am at home.

Knowing that the most important thing to me is my son helped me determine my work schedule.

Then exercise and meditation and spiritual practice is how I take care of myself, so I make time for yoga. I can only go to my yoga studio once a week in this season of life, but right now it’s enough and it’s wonderful.

Lastly, Jeff and I do a date night every week. Usually, that date night is staying in and making dinner after James goes to bed. It’s not a crazy date night where we go to a new hip restaurant like we used to, but it really works right now and we love it. 

Lastly, in terms of time management, think about your non-negotiables.

What are things you are not willing to DO.

For example, one of my non-negotiables is that I will not work on a weekends, except for weddings. Maybe one of yours is never taking your laptop on vacation. Or you will never do work while you’re present with your kids.

Those are the kinds of things that I’m talking about – the intentional daily, weekly and monthly rhythms that help you become the person you want to become.

 

Time Management Rhythm #3: BOUNDARIES

Once you’ve curated the things you want to do with your time, then you need to create boundaries around those things and protect those boundaries.

If you think of this whole time management concept as a house, then the foundation of the house is the permission mindset.

Everything has to be rooted in the permission mindset or else the entire house is going to be shaky or simply collapse.

Accounting and Curating is deciding which rooms are going to be in the house and building frames around those rooms.

Boundaries are like putting walls and doors on those rooms, and knowing when those doors are open and when those doors are shut.

Boundaries is about allowing yourself to fully be in one single room at a time, and no other room at the same time.

Because here’s the truth: You cannot be in two rooms at once.

As in physically – you cannot fully stand in one room and then at the same time fully stand in another room. It’s physically impossible. 

But we treat life as though we CAN be in four rooms at once. This is called multi-tasking.

You might be with your kids but you’re actually answering an email and texting a friend about brunch… You’re not really mentally present in the moment. Instead, you’re trying to do all things, all the time.

And in the process, nothing is truly getting your full attention, especially those things that matter the most. 

It doesn’t have to be that way. 

Instead, what if you treat your life as though you can only stand in one room at a time and you cannot ever be in another room at the same time? This is called PRESENCE.

When you’re with your kids, be with your kids. When you’re with a friend for coffee, be with them at coffee.

Don’t be posting to Instagram or answering emails.

But presence doesn’t just happen. We need to set ourselves up for success to be able to be present.

How can we handle our email in a way that means we don’t have to be answering emails when we’re with our kids? Or have to cancel a date night because there’s too much work?

So that’s what I’m gonna talk about now, those concrete tools and time blocks with your work that will help with all of that.

How I Use Time Blocking (and why it’s better)

Within my work, I use boundaries as a way to compartmentalize my time. And this time management tool looks a LOT like time blocking.

However, the way I structure my time isn’t like the typical time blocking that I hear about a lot.

When I say time blocking, I don’t mean that I schedule out my entire work day down to the minute. I don’t schedule 30 minutes for email in the morning followed by one hour of “marketing work” and then one hour of “sales”, etc

That’s not how I do it, because for me, that’s not sustainable.

As an entrepreneur, every day is different. So I can’t stick to a concrete schedule like that every single day in my business. I need more flexibility and more margin than that.

Instead, I create larger time blocks to compartmentalize my time.

These time blocks are:

  • Time to work ON my business
  • Time to work IN my business
  • Time to be FREE in my business
Time to Work ON My Business

The first big time block that I use in my business is time to work ON my business.

A few year ago, I started implementing this thing that I’ve come to call Focus Time, and this is time that is set aside to do the important work in my business that requires deep focus. 

Now, this idea of Focus Time is not a new concept. A lot of time management recources have taught and written about this same thing. In fact, I first learned about it from Amy Porterfield on her podcast, Online Marketing Made Easy. Amy refers to her Focus Time as Tiger Time because she protects this time like a tiger protects its cave.

No matter what you call it, though, Focus Time is time that is set aside to do important work, and ONLY important work.

No one and no thing can interrupt this time. Phone calls, emails, texts, messages, kids, spouses… everything gets shut off and shut out!

Now what qualifies as important work? It’s the work that is important but NOT URGENT.

It’s the work that if you do it, it will dramatically move the needle in your business. But because it’s not urgent, you never get to it!

This is usually deeper think work like rebranding your website, changing your prices, researching a new album company, implementing a whole new editing workflow, finding an outsourcing solution, etc. 

These are the projects that you do when you put on your CEO hat, and you work ON your business. 

And what I’ve learned about time management in the 13 years of running my own business is that unless you intentionally make time for this work, it’s never going to happen.

When I first learned about Focus Time in 2016, within six months I researched, validated, created, and launched my very first online course for photographers, Discover Your Ideal Client, while running our studios and shooting weddings. I didn’t have a kid at the time, but I still do Focus Time, and it’s been a game-changer for our business.

Focus Time has been the key that’s kept me moving things forward as I’ve dramatically cut my work hours back to part time. 

Right now, my Focus Time is my morning work time from 6:00-8:30am every weekday. I wake up before anyone else, then James wakes up at 7am and Jeff takes care of him and his morning routine so they get quality time together, and I get Focus Time early in the morning before my staff is at work and messages start coming in.

That’s what Focus Time looks like for me, but this will look different for you based on your business and the season of life you’re in.

Maybe you’re only able to implement two hours of Focus Time per week. Maybe you can have Focus Time every single morning for four hours!

The rule of thumb is that you need to do Focus Time as often as you can, ideally once or twice per week, but at least every two weeks. Also, Focus Time needs to be at least two hours long so that you have the space to get into a deep work mode.

(A great resource on Focus Time is Deep Work by Cal Newport. Love this book!)

No matter what life looks like for you, though, the critical thing to remember is that important work doesn’t just happen. You need to be intentional.

Schedule Focus Time regularly. Because unless you mindfully set aside time to work ON your business, it will not move forward.

Time to Work IN Your Business

The next big time block I use in my time management strategy is time to work IN your business.

This is the time when you do the tasks that you have to do to make your business run. Emails, going on shoots, editing your images, booking new clients, etc.

This is the important work that’s actually urgent.

I call this time Flow Time, because these kinds of tasks are nearly always tied to a workflow. They are repetitive tasks that turn the wheels of your business, and you are the one making the machine run.

Which also means that Flow Time will be the majority of the time you spend working. 

My Flow Time occurs during my two full work days in the studio, and the exact days shift and change every few months depending on my childcare situation.

So once you’ve scheduled your Focus Time, then decide when all of your Flow Time will be. For a lot of people, the afternoon is when it’s more difficult to focus on deep work, so it makes sense to do more of the day to day Flow Time tasks later in the day, and reserve some morning hours for Focus Time.

Time to be FREE in Your Business

The final time block is time to be FREE in your business.

This is where you get to create margin and freedom.

A lot of us decided to run our own business because we want freedom.

We don’t want anyone else telling us what to do. We want to work where we want and when we want. 

What happens, however, is that when our business starts doing well, this business that was supposed to give us freedom, begins to trap us.

We’re chained to our laptops, our clients and customers get demanding, and we find ourselves right back in the same place as we were when we worked for someone else – only this time, our boss is our business that we created.

This is why I don’t like time blocking that gets really super detailed.

I don’t like scheduling every minute of my work day because that schedule becomes a boss. It makes me feel trapped.

I like to allow for flexibility and freedom. So once you know when you’re going to work ON your business and when you’re going to work IN your business, then set aside some hours in your week in which you can be FREE in your business.

I call this time Flex Time, because this is time that can change at a moment’s notice to meet the demands of whatever life throws at you.

In other words, if a friend calls you up for coffee in the middle of the day, I want you to be able to say yes if you want to say yes! That’s why we own our own business!

If you want to take an afternoon and go on an artist date with yourself to do something fun and creative, then I want you to be able to do that.

So when should you schedule Flex Time?

Flex Time hours are when you normally plan to work, but if you feel like doing something different, you can.

Your Focus Time should not be flexible at all. If someone calls you up for coffee during Focus Time, first of all you won’t pick up the phone because it will be on do not disturb, and second, you’ll call them after Focus Time and say, “my afternoon is flexible, so let’s grab coffee then!”

Flow Time is also pretty inflexible as well, because you just have to get emails and editing done. I have childcare during my two full days a week so I’m going to honor the fact that someone else is watching my kid for me, and I’m going to get work done!

But Flex Time is amazing because it exists to serve your life and your creative soul!

My Flex Time is when James is napping during the week. Most of the time, I sit down at my desk at home and work during his naps, and I like to work on tasks that are simple and don’t require deep thought, like social media or emails.

However, if I’m exhausted or the house needs attention, then I use James’ naps to clean the house and do laundry. Or I sit and read a good book. Or I take a really long shower. Or I practice yoga. Whatever feeds my body and my soul.

Because I had my Focus Time that morning, I feel good about using my Flex Time to catch up on life, because the point of my business is to support my LIFE.

Remember, I’m not willing to fail at taking care of myself, and this Flex Time is how I do that in real practical terms.

In Order for This to Work…

In order for these time blocks and any of these time management rhythms to work, it requires Discipline & Practice.

For me, I’ve found that I’m naturally gifted at compartmentalizing. It’s simply how I’m wired.

And I’ve discovered that I do really well with consistency, routine, and structure. I love knowing what I’m going to do when.

But it’s actually taken me a long time to realize that about myself and then even longer to actually figure out how to create that routine, develop the structure, and get in the practice of it.

Jeff, however, is a personality that does not naturally love routine. In fact, he HATES routine. Routine to him feels like a trap.

For Jeff, stepping into the practice of time management is a matter of shifting his mindset to understand that discipline and routine is not a trap, but a way to gain freedom from chaos.

Chaos is the real trap. Chaos is the thing that will ensnare us and hold us back more than anything else because it’s the opposite of vision and clarity. 

This is why I love doing bigger time blocks with my time management because it creates space and margin within the boundaries of your work while still giving you the clarity you need to move forward.

Within those big time blocks, those boundaries you’ve created for yourself, you still get to choose what tasks you do with your time. You can still go down your menu of items and decide what feels life-giving for you in that moment.

You’re just limiting yourself to a certain category of tasks.

But the most important thing about these three kinds of time blocks is that it carves out time for you to do the important but not urgent tasks.

And friend, those tasks are the game changers. Those are the ones that will move your business forward.

And by forward I mean it will create the dream business you see in your mind. One that’s life-giving, challenging, creative, and joyful all at the same time.

It will create a business that finally serves your life instead of a business that takes over your life.

But those boundaries are what’s important. You need to be disciplined about holding to those boundaries and be in the practice of committing to that time.

Steps For Your Time Management Strategy:

First, take an account of all of the things you most want to do with your time. Get creative and have fun with it.

Second, curate the list and choose the items that are most important to you. Consider your non-negotiables and makes sure you’re designing the life you really want.

Third, create boundaries around your time and carve out some hours every week to dedicate to Focus Time. Communicate your needs to those that should know you’ll need focus (spouses, employees, kids, etc). Commit to this time.

Fourth, decide which hours of your week are going to be your Flow Time. Commit to this time.

Fifth, set aside some hours that can be Flex Time every week. Take advantage of this time and go have some fun!

Hugs,

Erin 

 

WELCOME

Hi there! We’re Jeff and Erin Youngren, a hubby and wifey wedding photography team in San Diego. We shoot together. We travel together. We dream together. And we believe the best thing to hold onto in life is each other (+ a great glass of wine…)

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