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Ditch the “To Do” List!

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015


Time blocking ICAP



Do you still use your “to-do” list and prioritize all the items on it? According to a recent article in Forbes Magazine by Kevin Kruse, millionaires do not make to-do lists. What they do instead is live by the calendar.


What is the problem with making a to-do list? According to what Kruse discovered after talking with more than 200 successful people, the to-do list does not consider the time involved in completing the tasks, so you do not complete what is on the list; it does not let you distinguish between the urgent and important; and not completing items adds to your stress.


If successful people do not make to-do lists, what do they do? They live and work from their calendars. Yes, they may make a list, but they schedule the time to complete the specific item on their calendar and adhere to it.


One of the most successful approaches to this is to use time blocking. This is something that I do and that most of my private clients do.  Time blocking is a method of allocating or pre-assigning time for specific activities throughout your day. It helps me keep my day and life more balanced. I accomplish more because I have structure to my day, I can focus on a specific task with a high value, and I am able to manage interruptions. I am the one in charge of my day. Here is how to do this:


1. Review your daily and weekly activities.


  • Can you determine how much time you spend on specific tasks? It might be helpful to track your time for a few days so you can see how much time you do spend on those activities. For example, do you check your e-mail every couple of hours and find that you spend at least 15 minutes each time answering them?
  • Do you have like tasks that are spread through out the week, e.g., teaching every day, working with new clients, or taking in new quilts to longarm? Can these tasks be handled on one or two days, so your energy focuses on one activity?
  • Do you have tasks that need attention that do not seem to get any? For example, dedicated marketing time is key for any business. Artists want to spend their time creating and often have trouble reconciling the need to spend so much time marketing. This task is often relegated to the leftover time when it needs to move to the front burner.
  • Do you have uninterrupted time for creative work? Even though we run creative-based businesses, the time should still be dedicated to the task.


2. Consider your short- and long-term goals.


  • Do you have a big project that needs to be completed? Start with a list of the tasks involved to complete it and estimate how much time is involved for each.


3. Consider your own personal work habits. When are you most effective? I’m a morning person, and I know I am more productive in the morning. For me this translates into activities that require brain-power earlier in the day.


4. Consider your life values and block time for them first. If you do not block time for your vacation, for your family, or exercise if these are important to you, they will get short shrift.


5. Armed with answers to those questions, get out your calendar and begin to block off time for your activities. What most of us do is set appointments with others and that’s what is on our calendar. We then fill our time with items on our goals or to-do list. This system lets you set an appointment with yourself for your work. Once you have shifted to an “appointment” mindset, it is often easier to accomplish tasks on your list. I like to start with the time that has to do with my life values and block that first. With your goals in mind, then put the important tasks first so you will accomplish them. If I do not block time for the key tasks, I can easily spend lots of time on simple tasks, like straightening art supplies or reading the latest quilt or art magazine or checking Facebook or Pinterest. These items don’t move my business forward in a significant way.


Here are some things you might like to time-block:


  • Quilt intake time on one or two afternoons or evenings a week, rather than spread out at odd times.
  • Time dedicated to longarm or production work
  • Creative time to design
  • Marketing time
  • Bookkeeping, if you don’t have outside help
  • Order fulfillment, if you don’t have outside help
  • Learning time
  • Time to work on blog posts and your communications with clients
  • Writing time if you are working on a book
  • Time to complete samples
  • Time to read and respond to emails (I know you will have times when you need to check for something particular. When that happens, just handle that one item and save the rest for the blocked time.)
  • Time to develop new classes
  • Breaks in your day (This can be crucial if you are standing or sitting at a machine most of your day.)


To give you an idea of how I time block my week, I have our ICAP member calls and coaching calls on Tuesdays rather than spaced throughout the week. I block Monday afternoons for work with my mastermind clients. I allot one block of several hours during the week on one day to work on my blog and ezine articles. When I am working on a new program, I block time during each day to work on that. It is a goal with many smaller tasks that need to be completed. I also block out time twice a day for e-mail, so I am not checking constantly. I have an hour each day blocked out for reading or learning something new I can apply to the business. I block out Wednesday afternoons for errands. Because I know that is the day for errands, I try to schedule doctor appointments during that time, and I have already scheduled my hair appointments through the end of the year. And, I block out time for family and self-care first so they do not get lost.


I am not rigid with the time blocking, and, of course, I have other appointments to put in. I may have a networking meeting that comes up or the opportunity to go to a gallery opening. Because I accomplish more by time blocking, I am freer to make adjustments.


In the end the reason I think this works is because when you pre-assign the time for a specific activity, you are more focused on getting it done. In a sense, you created a deadline for yourself. And by batching like tasks together in the same block (like the quilt intake sessions), you work more efficiently.


Let me know how time blocking works for you. Leave a reply below or leave a comment on the ICAP Facebook or Google+ pages.


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Please do! Just use it in its entirety and be sure to include the blurb below:

Morna McEver is the founder and CEO of the International Association of Creative Arts Professionals where creative arts entrepreneurs craft business success. Her weekly e-zine offers tips, techniques and inspiration to help you craft business success from your creative arts passion. You can sign up for a FREE subscription at



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After the Show

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

aftershowDo you ever go to a trade show, an event or even a show and come back with lots of notes, papers and business cards? Well, I know the answer is yes to that one. What do you do when you get back to the office? Here are some tips to make it easier:

    1. This first tip makes it easier because you do something at the multi-day event rather than waiting until you return. At the end of each day, go back through your notes and mark the top three as far as action items are concerned. Be sure to do this every evening. At the end of the event or the next morning when you are back in the office, look at your list for each day, prioritize and then narrow the list down to five overall. What actions can you take in the next 30 days to move these ideas to implementation? Schedule it.


    1. What about the mass of business cards? Ideally you do this as you meet the person, but it is not always possible. I like to look at each card, try to remember the interaction and what next action is necessary. I will write this on the back of the card. It might be as simple as the person wanted to start getting your weekly newsletter. It may involve additional follow-up from you. Whatever is required, take care of it or schedule it.


  1. Onto the handouts. I know I come back with flyers for products. Ideally you go through them in the evening and toss what you do not want. I have found that I may not have time for that and they end up in a stack. When I get back in the office, I toss out what I do not need. I sort other materials into what needs more information and what needs action. Then I schedule time to do this.

What are your tips for dealing with events? I know that it is very easy to let the notes, cards and flyers just stack up in the corner without attending to them.

How Is Your Clutter Control?

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

small_4342382904I am really a very organized person. I know where to find what I need. I could say, “A place for everything, and everything in its place,” only that is not quite exactly true.

While I am organized and I know where everything is, I can become someone who is consumed by stacks of this and that. Yes, I know what is in the stacks, but all those stacks are robbing energy from me.

When the space is clearer, so is my mind. When my mind is clear, I will work better. I know this to be true. I also know that once I start working in a clear, clean, cutter-free environment, new opportunities show up for creativity and for business. Why would I not want this to happen?

Last month I decided I really needed to get back in control of my space, back in control of my energy, and I launched a clutter reducing plan. (I think the visit to the used book store where I couldn’t find my way was part of the incentive. I am making it fun for myself. I have got three days a week that will have clutter-reducing activities. They are Toss-Out Tuesday, Weed-Out Wednesday and Throw-Out Thursday. I really only have to schedule a little time each day to reduce what I am saving.

And, I have planned my rewards. In addition to a treat at the end of the de-clutter session, I purchased an orchid to keep on the quasi-desk I have behind my computer. It looks nice in its new space!

It is nice to have the files in a drawer, and fewer files in the drawer. I managed to get rid of quite a lot. I have boxes of books in the garage waiting for a friend to pick them up and deliver them to the Virginia Quilt Museum where they will be sold to support the museum. Old quilt magazines are set aside for another pickup. And, the recycle bin has been quite heavy on its weekly trip to the street. Why was I holding onto this? In some cases, I thought I might need the material in the future. (Wonder if I would remember where it was?) Some I felt guilty about having purchased and not used. Some were pretty projects that I wanted to make. Of course, I have not yet, so I tossed 90% of those, too. Not to mention my tastes have changed over the years.

Will you join me? As you pick a time to sort through what you have, ask yourself some questions. Why are you holding onto this? What happens if you toss it? Will you really even miss it?

Will you join me and make space for good energy in your business and life?

photo credit: Vanessa Penagos via photopin cc

Are You Working Out Your “Done” Muscles?

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Done!A lot of us have problems getting things finished. Several reasons come to mind: procrastination, the need to be perfect, distractions by other things, failure to prioritize. Here are eight tips for exercising what I call your “done” muscle.

1. Get clear about what it is that you are trying to accomplish. Once you have clarity around your goals and/or a particular project, it is much easier to move forward. As you work, keep your eye on the prize. This will help you progress.

2. Break your project down into manageable tasks. When you look at a goal or a specific project, it can seem overwhelming. If you can break it down into bite-size pieces, it is always easier to see how you can accomplish it.

3. Look for where you need help. Just because you have a big project, does not mean that you need to do it all yourself. Remember, it is not necessary to know how to do everything, just what needs to be done.

4. Prioritize what needs to be done. This can apply to a specific project or your daily “to do” list. It is easy to look for the quick and uncomplicated things to do each day so you can check them off the list. The problem is you are not really accomplishing what you need to accomplish. What you should be doing is tackling those projects that move you towards completing your goal.

5. Consider the ROI. That’s Return on Investment. You can look at your tasks and see if time spent doing these tasks is worth your time. Maybe you should delegate the tasks or not even do them at all.

6. Finish what you start. Make that your goal. Really look around at how many people actually finish what they set out to do. Many people say they are going to do something and do not ever complete it.

7. Remember good enough is often good enough. Sometimes we spend so much time aiming for perfection that we don’t accomplish our goals.

8. Don’t over-think everything. As the Nike ad says, “Just do it.”

If you have a tip for exercising your “done” muscle, please share it on the blog.

About Those Magazines

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

magazinesAre you really going back to look at the magazines you have stacked in the corner of your bookshelf?

I know from where I speak. I used to have a huge stack of magazines, some read, some waiting to be read. Sure they had great designs in them. Problem was when I wanted to be inspired I had way too many magazines to look through.

So I didn’t.

How about you? What does your stack of unread magazines look like?

All those magazines just take up space in our environment and at the same time rob us of something we really need, like energy to do our work.

So what to do about that stack that you have that just keeps getting bigger? Here are some ideas:

  1. When the magazines first come in, take a quick look through the contents. Neatly tear out the ones you want to refer to again. Store the articles in a folder or binder.
  2. Create an inspiration journal and save particular designs in it.
  3. If you can’t bear to tear into the magazine or don’t have time to really read something, put a sticky note on the cover and mark the pages with content you need to read. After you’re finished, file the articles to save and toss the magazine
  4. Periodically go through the articles or patterns you’ve saved. You may find your tastes have changed. That’s what I noticed, and then I just tossed what I saved. No need to save what no longer interested me.

How about the influx of mail order catalogs? I start by removing the order form. Then as I go through the catalog, if something sparks my interest, I remove that page and paper clip it behind the order form. Once I’ve finished checking out the catalog, it goes into the recycle bin. I place my order as soon as I can so I can toss the extra papers. If I find I don’t order within a short time, I just toss the papers.

Here’s a quote to motivate you to eliminate.

“One does not accumulate but eliminate. It is not daily increase but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always runs to simplicity.” Bruce Lee

Are You Focusing On MGAs?

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

U.S. Coins and Paper MoneyAs a creative entrepreneur you probably struggle with a large to-do list. I know I do. Even as your business grows and you have assistance, it can still seem overwhelming to get everything done in the allotted time you have.

The key is to put money generating activities (MGAs) at the top of the list. If you look at the last five things you did in your business, how many were related to sales or marketing in your business? You need to prioritize those activities if you are going to bring income into your business. Here are some tips to do that.

  • Capture all the things that you need to get done in one place. No more sticky notes or little pieces of paper. You can create one master to-do list or one for each project. Just the act of getting the tasks out of your head frees up thinking and working energy. I like to use a sheet of paper in a three-ring binder.
  • Go back and decide what you need to do today. You will probably have other tasks to add each day that may not be on your master list. Rank the activities so you can see how many are really money-generating activities. You can use A1, A2, A3, B1, B2, C, etc., ranking system to prioritize them. “A” tasks are those which will make you money.
  • Get going and finish your A1 task before moving to your A2 task. It will take disciple to stay focused on those A tasks, and that’s what you need to do to generate an income.
  • Look at the tasks you are doing with the thought that maybe someone else can do them. Consider taking one of these and train someone else to do it. You’ll be able to spend your time on MGAs while your team can handle other work. You’ll actually be happier and more productive.
  • Watch getting sidetracked by little tasks. It’s easy to look at the list and think you can winnow the list down by doing some quick items, e.g., the phone call, answering email, checking your Pinterest page. I’ve tried that and what happens is that I don’t get to the big stuff because I did the little stuff.
  • At the end of the day, look at what you accomplished. Ta-da!

Please share your tips about how you stay focused on MGAs below.

Book Review: 2013 Quilt Engagement Calendar

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

2013 Quilt Engagement Calendar 
Klaudeen Hanson
American Quilter’s Society; $13.95

Last week I wrote about creating a very large marketing calendar for the year. If you’re like me, you also use other calendars. And, as quilters and fiber artists, we have a wonderful selection to choose from. My favorite each year is the AQS Quilt Engagement Calendar, though I don’t use it for engagements. You’ll find my calendar in the car come January where it serves as my mileage log. It’s the perfect size to tuck right next to the seat. Plus it offers great inspiration when I’m stuck at traffic lights. Enjoy your search for the perfect calendar.

Look for the book at your favorite quilt or book retailer. Here’s a link to Amazon if you would like to learn more about the book.

Have you started planning for 2013?

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Have you started thinking about your plans for 2013? I know it’s mid-November, and we still have more than 45 days left this year. You still have enough time left to make an impact on your results for 2012. I like to do some looking back at the year, seeing where I am currently, and some looking ahead. Of course, I still have to be engaged in the tasks I have at hand if I want to finish the year in a good place.

One of the recommendations I made to my private clients in the past couple of weeks was to start planning 2013 now. Many of them had plans for the first quarter, maybe as far as May and Spring Quilt Market. Most also had big picture ideas, only they didn’t really know where the projects fit in. That’s why I like using a very, very large calendar of the entire year. You can get one like this from an office supply store. It’s erasable and has really big spaces for writing.

If you want to be more creative, here’s another idea. A couple of years ago, one of my clients covered cork boards with batik fabric to complement her office. She then printed off letter-size sheets of each calendar month from a calendar program on her computer. Here are the boards before she added the calendars. The beauty of this system is she can take down each month as it ends, move the calendars and then add another for the next year. The system is a perpetual 12-month calendar.

And, if your studio space is limited, go ahead and print out the individual calendar pages and keep them in a binder where you can take them out and look at the whole year at one time. The idea is that you can get this bigger look at your year.

I’m sure you have goals that you want to accomplish next year. Here are some steps to take to put them onto the calendar.

1. Block time to work on your calendar planning. If your goals are important, it’s important to have time to plan when you’ll accomplish them.

2. You might want to create some kind of color coding system that works for you. For example, if your activity involves travel away from the studio, you might want to mark that in red.

3. Start by adding the commitments you already have, the teaching gigs, the shows, etc.

4. Go back and look at the big goals that don’t have dates, for example, the book you want to write.  Then look at the calendar and plan backwards. If your book is due Sept. 15, look at the steps involved and mark due dates for each. You might want to have the outline of the book done on Feb. 15, Chapter One done on March 15, quilts for Chapter Two done on April 30, etc. You are more likely to accomplish this if you assign deadlines and won’t be stressed by having to rush to get the job done. Deadlines lead to commitments.

5. Include vacation. It might be marked in blue. We all need to recharge, and if you don’t put it in the calendar, it’s likely not to happen.

6. Include planning time. I’ve read that the time spent planning pays back 10 to 1 in time executing. I’m not sure about the accuracy of that estimate; I do know it saves you lots of time.

7. Once you have a good look at your year, where are the holes in your calendar? Use this opportunity to see where you can market more to bring in income. This could be adding a new class or developing a new pattern for example.

What ideas do you have for planning next year?

Please share them below.

Do you view your quilt business as a business?

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

In the past month, I’ve had several conversations with quilters and fiber artists about how they view their “businesses.” Several really don’t think of themselves as business people. They are happy to share their work/skills and don’t think about the money beyond meeting their expenses. Is this running a business? Not really; it’s supporting your hobby. And, if that’s what you want, that’s perfect for you. If, however, you really want a business, here are some tips:

1. Start to think about how you view your business and work on your mindset if needed. Do you buy into the starving artist mentality? Why? A business is supposed to make a profit. It’s not a bad thing. Is your business structured to do that? And, are you ready, willing and able to do that?

2. Consider how others view your business. Do people think you are running a successful business? Or do they think you make quilts or art for fun and sell it on the side? You might look at how other business people view you vs. how your family and close friends view you, too. Do you have established routines and discipline or do you invoke the solopreneur’s version of “writers’ block” to run an errand or go shopping? Do you want other people and your family to view you as a business person? And, if they don’t, does this affect how your view yourself?

3. Do you know your numbers? It’s critical that you know how much money is coming in and how much is going out. You need to track these numbers and use the information to make decisions about your business. If you don’t understand your numbers, The Professional Quilter is currently running a terrific series by Sue Tucker, who is the CFO at Studio 180 Design.

4. How do you structure your day? Remember back when you had that corporate job. You had tasks to complete. Your role had a place in the company and its profit structure. Now that you are on your own, the freedom is great. That freedom, however, imposes a requirement for discipline. If you used a planner/calendar at your corporate job, consider adapting the same or similar system now that you run your own business. Committing the appropriate time to your business will make a difference.

Running your business is much harder work than pursuing your hobby. It’s just as much fun. And, in the end, it has the possibility of being much more rewarding.

Please share your thoughts below.

Book Review: The Pumpkin Plan 

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

The Pumpkin Plan

The Pumpkin Plan
Mike Michalowicz
Penguin Books; $26.95

This week’s book isn’t directly about quilting, it is about building and sustaining your entrepreneurial business. The Pumpkin Plan: A Simple Strategy to Grow a Remarkable Business in Any Field is an entertaining read that you can really learn from.

In the book, author Mike Michalowicz uses the growth of a freakishly large pumpkin – you know the kind you hear about at state fairs in the fall – as a metaphor for how an entrepreneur can successfully manage and grow a business. He addresses entrepreneurial burn-out, how to handle clients that sap your energy, how to staff your entrepreneurial business, and how to recognize when it is time to make a change in your offering. And throughout the chapters, he includes “Work the Plan” sections that will help you to create great success in your business.

Look for the book at your favorite book retailer. Here’s a link to  Amazon if you would like to learn more about the book.

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