the papercraft lab

6 Time Management Tips for Crafters


I am a time management and productivity junkie. I read a lot about it, especially when I'm stressed out - I guess that's my way of coping and trying to manage chaos.

In the past year, since I "quit my day job", I've been fortunate enough to have a steady stream of orders coming in from my online shops. Since I am also wrangling two young children, one of whom isn't in preschool yet, I thought I'd share some of my strategies to keep everything straight and shipping on time.

Made these today. $20 shipped in gift box to US/Canada, or $24 everywhere else. via Instagram


Do similar activities in batches  

One of the things I make are custom handstamped metal tags for pets, luggage, jewelry and gifts.  It's much more efficient for me to make several in one session and do each step for all tags before moving to the next step.  I hate to call it 'assembly line' since it's handmade, but that's what it is.  This includes packaging for shipping, too.  It's easier to print the invoices and labels all at once than packing each order individually and then printing the next one.  

This is physically more efficient because I'm not constantly swapping out tools and equipment, but also mentally easier to "get in the zone" when I can get a good rhythm going with the same task for a while.

Pre-make what you can

I sell GeekMagnets pretty consistently in my Etsy shop, so I make lots of them at a time rather than waiting until I get orders. I also cut out and drill the sheet metal for my standard tag sizes when I get a spare moment, so I'm ready to stamp them when I get orders.

For my custom scrapbooks, I have a supply of albums ready to go.  I've also set up a folder system on my server to add a new client's photos quickly and efficiently to my virtual workspace. I have standard questionnaires for new clients based on their album type and update those as I think of new items to add. 

Like most crafty people, the joy for me is getting my hands dirty in the creative part of the project, not handling administrative stuff like moving photo files around or ordering materials from my suppliers.  I try to do those "boring" things at slow times, so that when I'm working on a custom order for a client, I can immerse myself in the fun stuff and do my best work.

Have a realistic game plan for each day.  

Since graduate school, I've come up with a list of 2-3 things that I *must* accomplish that day.  If I get more done, that's great, but those 2-3 things are top priority.  When I write them down, I find that it solidifies my commitment to doing them.  And they almost always get done.  

I've read about this many time management blogs and books as "Most Important Tasks", but I'll always remember it as the Post-It trick my friend Jon taught me 20 years ago when we worked in the same lab at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center here in Seattle.

Clean up as you go

This is true for cooking, chemistry experiments and crafts - a multi-disciplinary tip!!  I don't lose my tools in the mess on my bench, I don't get nasty glue all over my tags or jewelry, and I don't waste money buying additional supplies because I couldn't find the ones I already had.  With scrapbooking and paper crafts, it's especially important, because once dirt gets on paper or photos, it's extremely hard to remove it.

This also has a mental benefit - a clean workspace helps me be creative and open to ideas.  If it's messy and cluttered, it makes me feel like an ostrich who puts its head in the sand.  I don't want to deal with the mess, so then it's easier for me to waste time on Facebook than try to make something.  And of course, that's no good for me or my shops.

Do activities in their designated place  

In first grade, we had "stations" in our classroom - there was the art station, a reading station, number games and a few others.  You did each activity in its area, and then after a certain amount of time, we moved to the next one. 

There's real wisdom in this.  Supplies and tools stay in their place, I have an assigned area for a particular craft or activity, and I can focus all my energy and time on the *one* thing that's in front of me. 

I keep all my shipping supplies together so I can pack things up in one spot, and my jewelry supplies rarely come out of my studio unless I'm traveling.  Now that I have my new fabulous craft space, I have a separate counter-height table from IKEA for shipping - printer, scale, yardstick, and all of the packing supplies and business cards are within reach.  And they stay there, so I'm not rambling all over the house trying to find the right envelope or the clear packing tape. 

Make daily progress on the Top Project

This is a hard one for me and my most important tip. I know at any given time what my most important project is - it's often a custom order for a wedding, so it has high stakes and a hard deadline. Sometimes it's a scrapbook I'm making for a client who intends to give it as a gift, so again, there's a hard deadline and it's crucial for me to get it right.

As you can imagine, this is kind of stressful. People are putting their faith in my creative abilities for their Big Life Events. It is an amazing feeling, but also extremely daunting. Which leads me to procrastinate.

Since high school, I've always been great under pressure. I wrote a 25-page AP History research paper the night before it was due rather than spending the whole summer working on it like I was supposed to. I got an A+ on it.  Not the lesson my parents hoped I'd learn, right?

This was all fine and good in high school when I was relatively unencumbered by Big Responsibilities. But now I have two kids, a husband, and duties other than working in my craft room for hours at a time.

So now, I work on that Top Project EVERY DAY. It may not be much - it may just be a matter of putting the order details in my tracking notebook.  Or going through a batch of photos and archiving the ones that are unusable. Just one tiny little bit of progress.  

And often, once I've done the little task, I'm motivated to keep going on to the next one.  I may set a very modest goal to edit 5 photos, and then I get going and do another 20 for good measure.

Since I started doing this, there's a noticeable decrease in my anxiety over these Big Projects. I can see myself making progress.  I can see that it's going to be a series of small steps, all of which I'm comfortable doing, instead of "OMG YOU ARE GOING TO RUIN HER WEDDING. QUICK GET ON FACEBOOK SO YOU DON'T HAVE TO THINK ABOUT IT."

There's FAR less 11th hour pressure to be creative and do high quality work this way, too. If I mess something up, I have time to do it again. If one of my kids gets sick, I'm not half-heartedly soothing her while wishing I was in the craft room finishing up that order that's due the next day. 

All you smart creative people out there, what is your best tip for staying organized and managing your time wisely?  I'm always interested in picking up more!

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