The last few weeks have each touched on the idea of scheduling in some way, but we haven’t really dove into what it looks like to REALLY manage a schedule - especially when you have A LOT going on. It’s hands-down one of the hardest parts of my business, and the reason that I have not done well at consistently blogging or writing newsletters in the past (but that’s changing this year).
Over the course of last year the way I worked with clients shifted in a big way. I became more like a member of their team, versus just a contractor, and that affected how available I wanted to be for them. I felt obliged to drop everything if someone had a request, to work late, or on weekends, if something came up last minute, and to basically disregard all of what my contract explicitly says about turn around times, scheduling, etc.
Here’s another one of those “learn from my mistakes” moments.
YOU are in control of your schedule and YOU can set boundaries of when you work on what. That was a big lesson I had to learn over the course of last year and something I started implementing more strictly later in 2017 and very diligently in 2018. For me, it coincided with some moments of clarity like, “hey I’m actually a really good designer and I am helping these businesses,” and other moments of realizing my worth - but we’ll get to that step in a second.
Rule 1: Set Established Time Blocks
We’ve talked about this earlier this month - but I’ll reiterate the concept. Plan out the schedule for your week that has blocked off times for general needs in your business. Maybe it’s Monday morning - 2 hours for creative brainstorming and content generating, or Friday afternoon - 1 hour for reflection, tracking stats, and balancing books. Maybe you block off one hour in the middle of your day everyday to get up, walk around, stretch, and have a good lunch. It’s totally up to you, but it needs to be a total non-negotiable.
Here’s mine, if you want some encouragement and examples:
Monday - 9:00-10:00am - CEO TIME: The tasks within this time can vary, but I start my week doing something for MY business (not my clients). Lately it’s been focused on goal and intention setting, journaling, and visualizing “the big picture” for my biz. And you know what? It’s been working - I am starting to really narrow in and focus on something that will be BIG for TheCrownFox and that I’m super excited about.
Tuesday - 4:00-5:00pm - CONTENT TIME: I usually write content over the weekend, because it’s when I feel the most relaxed and natural, but I do have this time blocked off to edit and perfect everything, as well as schedule newsletters, create graphics, etc.
Wednesday - 4:00-5:00pm - FB LIVE: I go live on Wednesday’s at 4:30pm on my Facebook page. I give myself time beforehand to relax, read over my outline, and prepare mentally (going live is still stressful for me).
Thursday - 9:00-10:00am - CONTENT TIME: I take time Thursday morning, before client work, to get my video up on YouTube, schedule my 2nd newsletter, create a content upgrade, etc. This has to be ready by Friday, so I do it first thing Thursday just in case my day ends up getting crazier-than-expected.
Friday - 4:00pm-5:00pm - CEO TIME: I use this time for reflection. I journal about gratitude for what I’ve accomplished that week. I think ahead to the next week and write some intentions and goals. I unwind and try to let go of any anxiety that the week has stirred up.
Your blocks will probably be different - but as you can see it’s just an hour or so a day that I have blocked off, put in my Google Calendar and my paper planner, and don’t budge on. Seriously. It’s MY time to make sure my business is still running and operating the way I’d like. You need that too - or perhaps you need more than that. Later in the year, closer to launches of different things, I’m sure I’ll expand those times because I’ll need more time for my business and to actually create things.
Rule 2: Set Established Days for Meetings
I mentioned this last week - I don't love meetings. I get nervous if it’s a new person, it breaks up my creative flow if it’s a client meeting, and I have to put on makeup. Blegh. Not to sound ungrateful, but it’s just the truth. So, I now only take meetings on two days: Mondays and Wednesdays. Want to know why? Because Mondays were just the established norm for a few clients, when I made this decision. And Wednesdays I’m going to put on makeup anyway to record the Weekly Wine Down, so we’re good there, too.
I’m fairly strict on this decision. What it took me a while to come to terms with is that a meeting at a random time on a random day isn’t just the 20-30 minute meeting I have on Google Cal. It’s time to get ready. Time to mentally get ready. I have to stop a creative flow of whatever I’m doing before hand, or try to time things out so that I’m not in the middle of something. And then I have to get back into that flow afterward. PLUS if it’s a potential client meeting, there’s always the chance they stand me up and it was all for nothing (this still happens, no matter how successful you get).
So, decide what is best for you. Obviously sometimes this one has to have a little bit of wiggle room. If Oprah wants to meet with me on a Thursday, you better believe I’m going to figure that ish out. But, mentally, it is just a big ol’ SIGH OF RELIEF to wake up on a Tuesday and know I can just WORK and not have any distractions or bumps. Give yourself that sign of relief, friend.
Also, on a personal note, I've mentioned how I am more introverted and need quiet/alone time to refuel. The final decision to move into this schedule was after I had a week with in person and virtual meetings every day, by Friday afternoon I was so mentally fatigued from being "on" - and I realized that meetings every day actually exhausts me more than working 12-14 hour days. You may be different, but pay attention to how you handle different stresses and create a schedule that minimizes stress for you.
Rule 3: Use Scheduling Software
Now, to really ensure that the aforementioned 2 rules stick - use something like Calendly or Acuity to schedule appointments with people. No emailing back and forth and getting fed up and finally just saying whatever time is best for them. Nope.
Be professional and send over your open times. Calendly has a free version guys! Free! (As of posting this, I learned that apparently Acuity does too!) It syncs with your Google Calendar too, so if you actually set up these blocks and make them repeat every week, you’re solid.
My Calendly has my two days of availability (with my Rule 1 times blocked off). If someone wants to chat, I send that over. It says in the sign up form that we are meeting on Zoom in my meeting room (also free). It’s quick. It’s done. There’s no room for questions or mindless emailing back and forth. Cha-ching!
Rule 4: Elaborate on Specifics
I’m going to tell you something that I used to be guilty of. I’d send over a contract and spend so much time wishing and hoping that it was “good enough” and no one would question anything in it. I wouldn’t go into detail about anything like my working hours, or the best way to contact me, because I never wanted to risk rocking the boat. Granted, it said it in the contract, but I didn’t specifically mention it on the call beforehand.
Well, that bit me in the ass like 3 times and I was like YOU KNOW WHAT?! NO MORE. So now, in my onboarding or potential client calls I go down a straight up checklist:
You cannot Facebook message me and we cannot be friends on Facebook. Period. There’s pics of me in college in there, no one needs to see that. Also FB messages are reserved for personal friends, distant relatives, and random people from high school trying to sign me up for their latest MLM.
My working hours are 10-5pm EST. EST. EASTERN. EASTERN STANDARD TIME. I emphasize this a lot if I know someone is not EST. Because a last minute request at 4:00pm Pacific on a Friday night is 7:00pm Eastern on a Friday night and I am probably out having a cocktail, let’s be real here.
Phone calls must be pre-scheduled. If you have my phone number because we’ve spoken over the phone at some point (something I don’t do anymore), do not call me randomly. I will not answer. This same rule applies to my parents and grandparents, so honestly, I don’t expect people to be offended by this. Call me a millennial, but talking on the phone sucks and I need time to mentally prepare for it, as well as find my headphones, turn off re-runs of House Hunters probably playing in the background, etc.
Turn around times for projects. Yours will vary, but mine says ‘for normal projects like blog post graphics and things of that nature 3 days turnaround time.’ For anything larger, we will discuss a turn around time at the time of assignment. Now, I do say at this point in a call, that I understand there are emergencies from time to time and I do my best to go out of my way to help clients BUT if it’s a consistent issue we will need to discuss the potential of RUSH FEES (words that clients usually understand).
My point here is that you should create these boundaries. And tell people about that. Don’t do like I did and shirk away from that authority and responsibility. You know what having these sorts of established rules that you are confident enough to speak about does? It says “I’m an authority and I am professional. I have the experience to run this as a real business, and that should make you, paying client, feel better.”
Rule 5: Actually Charge Rush Fees
This also falls into the category of treating your business like a business. “REAL” Businesses (because you might be reading this and thinking of yourself as a freelancer, or a newbie, or whatever) charge rush fees for rush projects. Seriously. Go to your local printer and ask to have something ready by tomorrow. IF they can do it, they’ll charge you a rush fee.
And you my friend, you are a legit business owner. You have permission to treat your business like all the other real businesses out there. Protect your time, your sanity, and yourself - IF you can do something (keyword: IF) and if you WANT to make the exception (keyword: WANT), then go for it. But charge a rush fee. I swear on everything, if you don’t, it will become the norm. That client will have rush projects all the time. They will not learn to respect you or your time.
You don’t have to be mean or snappy. It can simply be, “Yes! I can squeeze that in, but it would be considered a rush project. It will be XYZ for this one to get back to you by tomorrow. I’ll wait for your confirmation before getting started., I’ll need to know by XYZ time to make this work.”
Here’s tough love: do NOT say, “is that okay?” or “Can I?” or anything else that sounds wish-washy about this matter. Say the truth - I CAN do it, but it IS a rush, and now I am pushing other paying clients’ work out of the way to get yours done. I have to compensate myself because I’m putting those relationships at risk, OR I’m staying up until midnight, OR I’m flaking on my own needs like time to watch The Bachelor, or be social, or cook dinner for my kids.
If it’s not okay, you better believe they’ll answer back REAL quick. And if it is okay, they’ll also answer back REAL quick because they’ll want you to go ahead and get started. Either way, you’ll know the answer and I’ve never had anyone reject a rush fee, honestly (I bet they use them in their business too!)
Rule 6: Know Your Worth
All of this leads me to my final rule in managing your schedule and avoiding overwhelm. It’s the simplest sounding but the hardest to implement. You are awesome at what you do and people want to pay you to do it for them (and make their lives easier). That is absolutely incredible and something you should be so grateful for, but don’t forget that it boils down to the fact that you are doing something amazing, helpful, and needed.
If someone is going to walk all over you and have no regard for your time and schedule - they are not a good fit. But YOU need to take action to set yourself up for the most success and best schedule before anyone else is even involved. Set boundaries, set repeating events, and commit to actually doing them when you say you are going to. It took me a while to decide on a word of the year, but two weeks ago I realized it was “consistency” -- and I encourage you to be more consistent too. It’s the quickest way to find success in anything you do!
I’m Kaitlyn, your design assistant! I work with successful creative entrepreneurs to create cohesive, clean, and compelling visuals for their businesses. You can keep being the #girlboss you are (but with more time to focus on growing your empire)! Let's set up a time to chat!