I got an email this week from a blog reader named Sarah who asks a really good question.
Hey Abby, I’m curious as to how many hours per day you work and put into your business? I feel like the constant distractions from my kids doesn’t lend well to getting stuff done. I feel like I need a lot of time everyday to get the things I need done. And this is why I’m curious what’s a realistic amount of time I should expect to pour into my business? I’d love to read a post or article about this to hear what others schedules are like.
I know Sarah isn’t the only person with this question (several people have asked me similar questions over the last few years) and although I really try to share what I know about running a small business from home, especially as a mom of three young children, this is a question that I feel I can’t answer. I got some advice on health and safety for small business owners.
I did write back to Sarah, though, just to explain why I can’t tell her exactly how many hours she should spend on her business and then I thought maybe I’d flesh out my answer further here so that we might discuss the question of time when it comes to building a creative business. There are also times that you would have business travel and this Jettly services here can help your travel planning and transportation as easy as possible!
First and foremost, I think purely looking at time spent on a task is not helpful. It would be really misguided for a school teacher to say, “You should study for this test for four hours. If you study for four hours you’ll get an A+.” Or, “You should pull an all-nighter to finish this paper. Only people who work for eight hours straight, all night long, will do well.” That type of prescription simply doesn’t work. Some people can study for 25 minutes really intensely and ace the test and other people can study for 6 hours in a less productive way and get a C-. In the same way some days I have just 45 minutes to spend on my business and I’m incredibly productive, plowing through my to-do list and getting to inbox zero. Other days I have four hours to work and end up taking a nap and clicking “like” on friends’ Facebook posts while eating chocolate chips on the couch for most of it.
Each person’s family situation is also very different. Some people have local grandparents or aunts and uncles who can care for their children during the day, while other people don’t have that. Some people have a husband or partner who works from home and can divide childcare duties, while others are single parents or have a partner who works a 9-5 job or who travels a lot for work. Some people have a child with special needs or are dealing with the chronic health issues of a family member while others aren’t facing these challenges. Tied to this is our individual financial situations. Some people can afford a babysitter or even a nanny to help with their children while others can’t or don’t want to do that. Some people can pay someone else to clean their house and mow their lawn while others can’t or choose not to. All of these circumstances dictate the time we have each day to spend on our businesses. Many people that run their business from home are also choosing to use a virtual office, as it gives a much better level of privacy. So just choose a local virtual office service like one in Birmingham and you then get all of your mail forwarded to you, so you don’t have to list your personal postal address for your business.
On top of this each of us learns differently. Some of us can read a few articles about a topic and feel ready to tackle it ourselves. Others need longer to think things through and still others need to experiment on their own or have someone show them how things work in order to really grasp a new concept. All of these ways of learning are valid, but they don’t all take up the same amount of time.
And finally if I were to write specifically about how I divide my time each day to make my business work it would be easy for someone to say, “Well, I don’t have that amount of time or that family arrangement so I can’t do what she does,” when maybe they could, but in their own way. It’s not following my exact breakdown that’s important. There is no secret recipe to make entrepreneurship work. Instead it makes more sense to think about how to best use the time and situation and learning style you actually have. What do you need in order to succeed? What’s in your way right now? Should you hire a virtual assistant to delegate some of your tasks? What small tweaks and compromises could you make so that you’re able to get what you want.
I was talking with a local friend a few years ago. She’s a painter and she has two young boys. We were talking about how we use our time in the evenings after our children are in bed. “My husband wants me to sit with him in the family room and watch TV,” she said. “He hasn’t seen me all day and that’s what he expects that we’ll do in the evenings.” Although he craved togetherness and chill-out time after his 9-5 job, she craved solitude and creative time. Once she was able to articulate this to herself, and to him, they came up with a better plan that allowed her time several nights a week to be in her painting studio.
So, Sarah, I hope this better answers your question, or why I can’t actually answer your question. If you feel you can’t accomplish your goals because your time is too limited or two divided right now, try to articulate exactly what would make it better and then work so see if you can make small improvements so that you get what you need.
Great post Abby, I identify with your friend, my family likes me with them in the evenings too. When I was studying dressmaking I had truck loads of homework. Thankfully it was all theory, so I spent about 2 1/2 years sitting at the coffee table ‘listening’ to the TV with my head in by work booking drawing up the different design lessons.
I have also struggled with the whole thing of feeling I’m not being productive enough. This all came to a head last year for me. Hubby had taken on Pastoring a Church in a neighboring town, which has resulted in extra work for me, plus both Lindsay [husband] & Tim [son] work from home too. Both need to talk through their problems, so some days I can have a few hours all to myself and other days – hardly any time at all.
I’t all came to a crashing halt last year when I got a really bad cold that left me on the couch for the best part of a month. During this time I did a lot of soul searching & came to the realisation that there are only so many hours in the day, & whatever I get done, I get done – the rest will have to wait.
I think working from home also teaches you how to prioritise better too, sometimes there are jobs we might like to do, and then there are jobs we need to do. Also learning to accept ‘done’ over ‘perfect’ really helps. And learning to accept that life is constantly changing, what is working for me right now may not [& probably wont] work next year or in 5 years.
Life is an evolution – enjoy the ride & try to make the most of the moments — they are the ones we remember =)
Recently discovered your podcast and I am “binge listening” while I go on walks or while crafting starting from episode 1. Thanks so much for this wonderful podcast. I did not even realize you are the author of the book I bought a couple months ago – Stuffed Animals. Thank you for the inspiration!
That’s wonderful to hear! I’m so glad you like the podcast and thank you for buying my book!
Very well put Abby. Thanks for taking the time to answer my question.
You actually did answer my question although it should have always been obvious to me from the beginning. I do not have a 9-5 job so I should make my business fit into the 9-5 box. I have to make the schedule work for me. As long as Im being productive, that’s what counts.
Thanks again, I look forward to reading more from you soon.
Thank you for asking such a great question, Sarah.
Marliese Richmond says
This was an interesting post. I have my own online business although it’s more of a ‘pay for itself’ hobby rather than my main income – I’m a printmaker, a fabric designer, and most recently a mechanical card fanatic. I’m a big fan of producing a really comprehensive To Do list at least every week, covering lots of different aspects – the projects I’d like to start, the materials I need to have purchased to do a project, writing up tutorials, art work I have in mind to create, instagram photo batches etc. I find it really helpful to have gone through this thinking and planning process – and then when suddenly find myself with some time to spare, instead of wondering what to do with it, I can look at my list and choose what to do. I’ve also become very aware of how my energy and concentration levels really influence what I’m able to achieve – if my daughter’s asleep and I’ve just had a coffee, I love doing the more technical challenges of pop up cards – but if I’ve done long hours in my ‘day job’ I just want to lose myself for 30 minutes in carving out a linocut that’s already planned out. Even if I’m exhausted, there’s usually something on my to do list which appeals, and makes me feel I’m continuing to drive my creative journey onwards.
Very well said Abby. I try to spend some amount of time each day on my quilting blog and my etsy shop. Time put in is time well invested but it is always a trick to find balance and get to the other tasks that need to be done.
I’m a university professor and students who do badly will often tell me “I studied for X hours.” I always think to myself, “Well, I guess you don’t know how to study, then.” The fact is, their grade is based on output, not input, and so is one’s business success.
Conzilia Nunn says
Thanks for a wonderful article , I have a family who like my attention which makes it hard as they don`t understand that although I am at home during school days and work 30hrs a week mostly nights to cut back on child care and building up a business ,time is very precious.My hubby always complaining that he often watch tv on his own ,as a 8-5 worker he thinks we need to all sit and watch tv after our evening meal whereas for me that will be the right time for me to get down to business when meals , dishes are done and kids in bed. I enjoy reading your articles especially as I would like to learn to sell PDF patterns and kits.
That really is the BIG question, isn’t it? How much time to spend? I’m in a different situation than most of your readers in that I am single, older and have my elderly mother and and elderly golden retriever at home with me. Mom is slowing down so more and more responsibility is falling on me. I would love to pay for more help, but it’s really not in the budget. I have to take time in the middle of my day for doctor’s appointments and vet appointments and errands. What I do is run a Pomodoro timer and set a goal of 30 solid hours a week to work in the business. I include marketing time, blog post writing and pattern design as part of this time budget. (scrolling Facebook and IG or knitting time is not included, but scheduling posts in Later is part of my work time) Sometimes it takes me 7 days in the week to hit the goal and sometimes 3 days. Depends on what else is going on. For me, setting that weekly goal and then using the timer that I can stop and restart as I’m working really helps me stay on task and be sure I get in what I feel like is a reasonable goal for me and my business. Let’s be honest. There’s always more we can do! It really never ends so I think setting an achievable goal for yourself and getting to that target is helpful. For Sarah who has children and husband and those extra responsibilities, maybe 15 or 20 hours in a week is more reasonable. Maybe 10 hours is what is right for her. You have to be present for your family and for yourself, so working endlessly is not a good solution. I like to get up early and get in a good 3 hours before I go exercise and get going with the day. Then I only need to get in another 3 to complete my goal. That feels more attainable. I also started using Trello to organize my content plan and other odds and ends, and I think that’s going to help me with productivity. Thanks Abby!
Jennifer Duenes says
I read a book by Laura Vanderkamp awhile ago called 168 hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, and it was about finding the time to do the things we want to do. I have been trying to lay out my week and figure out how much time I need for each obligation (a stay-at-home mom who homeschools 3 children along with a toddler). The thing I am realizing is that time is not just a number or an object – it has different qualities depending on the time of day, people’s needs, what’s going on that week, etc. It is not as easy to manage as I thought it would be, at least right now!
For me, it has taken awhile to figure out when my energy levels are best and when my husband is available to watch the kids. Unfortunately those two don’t overlap until Saturday mornings :). But thankfully he is willing to watch the kids other parts of the week too and they have gotten used to me not being around after dinner – I’ll put on my headphones, go to our bedroom, and sometimes work on sewing/cutting out a pattern or figuring out a new pattern. I’ve realized though that my husband can’t do this indefinitely without feeling neglected, so I budget in a little buffer time each evening where we can hang out together, I can embroider, etc. I also budget “everyone together time” on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in the evening plus Sundays are off entirely. I’m hoping that this will feed everyone’s “love tanks” so that I can be gone other times.
I appreciate your thoughts on things like this, Abby, but I also love reading the others’ comments. It helps me feel like I’m not alone in my struggles!
Thank you for a very interesting and thought provoking post. As someone above me mentioned, it is not the input, but the output that matters. What I like to do is to first set a goal, and then work backwards to see how much time is needed to reach the goal Say your goal is one quilt per month. How much time do you need per quilt? Divide that number by the amount of weeks or days you have available. Remember to add in time for “administrative work” (anything from buying supplies to answering e-mails to searching online for new inspiration). There you will have your answer as to how much time you should be spending. Check if this fits your life situation and adjust your goals as needed.
I also like to set up weekly plans and always leave a buffer at the end of a project. So if I need to have a dress finished in four weeks, I will make a three week plan for finishing it, and then know that I have that extra time if something comes up (as it almost always does).
Sarah Heredia says
That’s a really great way to go about it. I’ll have to give this method a try. 🙂