What to Do When One Part of Your Life Threatens to Overwhelm the Rest

Subtitle: all the things I didn’t do which led me to not post on this blog for a month and a half.

As a polyentrepreneur, life is about maintaining an incredibly delicate balance; neglect of any area can cause it to whither away (especially in talents where daily practice is critical) and neglecting more than one can create a crisis. But even the best-laid plans can go awry. My recent absence from this blog so soon after its launch was due to something beyond my control: my jewelry company got a massive rush order that had me working 10-14 hour days and had contractors over at my house at all hours to help. We barely finished on time, and during the weeks before the due date I got nothing else done.

No singing. (I’ve lost a couple of notes off my range.)

No writing. (I’m kicking myself over readers I must have lost when they saw that June 9th was the last time I’d posted.)

No working on other orders. (I’m still trying to catch up.)

However, though I didn’t have a choice in getting the order or the time frame, there are things I could have and should have been doing every day that made it so I could have handled this order without completely dropping my other obligations.

Always have some things prepared ahead of time.

Etsy allows you to save draft listings to post on your own schedule. Blogs can also save drafts and can even be scheduled ahead of time to post. Facebook can schedule posts. I can take pictures and edit photos of up to 30 new items in a day. I know what my bestselling items are in my jewelry shop and keep intending to make some spare sets. And yet when this order came, all those tanks were at empty – and I didn’t even use the couple of days I had before I could start the order to fill them up.

Not only will having drafts saved make it easier on you in the future, it often takes less time to prepare listings/blog posts/product photos in batches anyway. In more organized times I’ve assigned a different job to each day of the week (product photography, preparing new listings, etc.) and spent an hour or two doing that job that day. Usually this leaves me with more than a week’s worth of finished posts/listings, so if I stick to that system I’ll be fine if another huge order comes!

Make realistic daily goals and stick to them.

I knew I was in trouble right off the bat. I needed to make about 250 bracelets a day to finish on time, and I estimated based on nothing that I could only finish 50 bracelets a day by myself. However, I went ahead and a) only made 50 bracelets a day, spending substantial time goofing off (turns out I can make more than 100 of those bracelets a day, something I only found out a week later); b) assumed that my two main contractors could handle at least as much a day as I could (turns out one of them averaged 20 a day); c) didn’t take steps to bring on more help until days later; and d) pretended that the deadline didn’t actually exist.

This turned out about as well as you’d think it would.

We were lucky in that we were able to get a week extension on the deadline (though I promptly got behind again because I’m professional like that) but extension or no I would have saved myself a lot of stress (and gotten a lot more sleep) if I’d had and met realistic personal and overall quotas. I don’t know what I’m most ashamed about: pretending that somehow the extra bracelets would get done (magic?), or not realizing that I could (and needed to!) make 100+ bracelets a day.

Check in with everything else for a few minutes a day.

My goal going into this order was to do at least the bare minimum with my other responsibilities every day. I was sure, especially in those early days when I was only making 50 bracelets, that I could still keep up with my shops, my photography, my writing, and my singing. I actually kept that goal for the first few days, but that was almost part of the problem – instead of the bare minimum I was spending hours away from the order. Then I switched into crisis mode and let everything drop entirely, hurting my voice, my online presence, and the momentum I’ve slowly been building in my jewelry shop after several months of slow sales.

Next time I’ll actually stick to my goal and do it right. First thing in the morning I’ll get everything out of the way – answer emails, package orders, sing for a few minutes, etc. I’ll keep an eye on the clock and do these things as quickly as possible before starting on the day’s quota. When I break for lunch and dinner it’ll be back to the computer to take care of emails, to write a little and edit photos, before switching right back to the order.

ORGANIZATION.

I spent hours in the last few days counting bracelets, alternately finding that we were a hundred ahead or a hundred-plus short. The day before they had to be shipped I had to run to the store at least twice for thread and beads we didn’t have. I was actually unable to make the last few bracelets because we didn’t realize until the last minute that the client hadn’t sent us enough beads and I didn’t have time to find replacements. It was awful.

When I have orders like this I always assume that I should throw myself in and figure out the specifics later, and for smaller orders that works okay. It wasn’t until this order that the inherent flaws in that system became clear. So learn from my mistakes – I would have saved myself a lot of time and money if I’d organized everything from the beginning: separating out thread and beads into packages of 50 or 100, buying supplies in bulk instead of driving all over town to find a few skeins of thread in an obscure store, planning meals I’d serve at our hours-long bracelet parties instead of throwing whatever looked good into my cart. Next time I’ll definitely start with a plan and a spreadsheet.

Squeeze in a little self-care.

What we did do fairly well with this order was take frequent mini-breaks. Every hour or so everyone currently at my apartment would get up, stretch, take a short walk outside, and get a snack. Even just a minute or two made a huge difference in our focus and our bodies – my cousin even got more flexible, and I was able to keep the wrist pain at bay (I’m at risk for carpel tunnel).

Though that helped, it didn’t quite cover it. I was pushing my mind and body to the breaking point and when I finally put down my work and headed to bed, they took downtime whether I wanted it or not. Every night I found myself getting on my laptop intending to do work and still wandering aimlessly around the internet an hour later, or pulling up a fanfic on my phone in bed intending to read one chapter and finally turning off my light when I’d read “the end.” And the worst part is that because I spent the whole time chiding myself for “wasting time” I wasn’t even getting the full benefits!

So schedule time for yourself. No matter how busy, you can take half an hour to read a book, play video games, or go to the gym. This will not only keep you sane during your busiest times but will also shorten the time you’ll need afterword to recover.

Good luck with your future huge rush orders, hell weeks for performances, and taking of massive tests!

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