Stuck In A Rut, and I’m To Blame

15 Nov

Dear Miss Mignonette: I have been running my knitting business for three years and have finally gotten successful enough to quit my job and just focus on the business. This is a dream come true – the only problem is that now I can’t actually get myself to make anything. I’m in a rut!

One of the biggest things I struggle with as a self-employed crafter is forcing myself to actually make things. With one thing and another, this month has already proven especially challenging (this post, for instance, is four days late), because it seems like the nice weather, the sudden need to start elaborate baking projects and work through my mending basket, and the seductive powers of Hulu have all conspired, along with my oh-so willing to be distracted brain, to keep me from finishing even the simplest of tasks related to my actual business.

This seeming inability to get anything done, combined with the fact that I am missing deadlines, all adds up to one big, bad feeling: I’m a failure, I’m a terrible crafty business owner, and I should just go get a job at a coffee shop because I’m obviously never going to succeed.


That was pretty painful, wasn’t it? But for those of us who aren’t masters of organization (and I’m the first to admit that I’m not one of ’em), it is easy to spiral out of control like this every time we fail to meet a self-imposed deadline or spend too much time playing around on the Internet.
Naturally, we want our businesses to be sources of creative pleasure that are just parts of the wonderful lives we hope to have – As makers, however, the very thing that brings in the bucks is often the last thing we feel like doing when faced with a sunny day or a particularly messy kitchen (have you ever noticed how, when you have a really big order to fill, your household chore list suddenly becomes strangely compelling?).

Here are a couple of tips that I have gotten from fellow business-owners, my therapist, my wife, and from my years owning a business.

1) Don’t let your task list get the better of you.

You know that you have an end result you would like to achieve, say getting 300 necklaces assembled for bazaar bizarre, or knitting 50 hats to send to a store.
To top it all off, Thanksgiving is a couple of weeks away and you are hosting, AND you’ve volunteered to make the costumes for your kid’s star turn as a jar of frankincense in the school Christmas pageant. Yikes!
The idea of hunkering down and actually tending to all this stuff seems so huge that all you want to do is curl up in a ball and watch reruns of House until it’s time to make dinner.
Sound familiar? We’ve all faced times in our life where everything seems so big, and equally important, that it feels impossible to tackle them and we either end up running away or getting everything done and having a mini nervous breakdown. It doesn’t have to be this way.

1)The first step is to take a step back and look at what your goals are. Make a list with separate columns for each project, giving yourself enough space to write under each project. Now look at your tasks. Prioritize them based on when they are due, order of difficulty, etc. You may discover that some deadlines you thought were looming become less scary when broken down to their component parts.

Now parcel out the steps needed to get from point a to z of each project. Every time you finish something, cross it off the list. Soon making a list and crossing it off will become rather addictive!

2) Now that you’ve got the task list, get on it.
Something else that is difficult for us as business owners is keeping ourselves on task. Nobody likes to be micromanaged, least of all by themselves, so treat yourself like a valued employee and establish a rewards system! This might sound silly, but you may even find that one task becomes a reward for another (i.e. the fun of turning your budding thespian into a biblical spice jar, or perfecting your pumpkin pie recipe, can be a reward – and a necessary break – from a task that feels less fun.

Establish a daily schedule so that you have time carved out to work, and balance it with time carved out to play (and also time to clean the house).
Remember those 50 hats you need to deliver? How much time will it take you to finish the hats? Parcel out a chunk of time every day that is only, ONLY for making those hats. Let nothing else interfere with that time. Play around until you find a routine that feels right to you, but by all means make an effort to stick to it. One good way to relieve any potential monotony is to switch up different business tasks from day to day, for instance – Monday is the day you update your blog, Tuesday is the day you add new items to your Etsy page, Wednesday is the day you work on marketing, etc. (this is also a good way to tie in the goals list that you made earlier and start establishing a really good schedule for yourself, complete with weekly tasks).

3) Establish a workspace.
For those of us who don’t have studios it can be hard to stay on task when there is an entire house we can distract ourselves with.
This is dangerous because not having an established workspace can subconsciously prevent us from taking our work seriously. Think about an office that you worked in (or still work from) – do you use your desk in that office for anything besides work (and Facebook, of course)? Probably not. Having an orderly, well-organized workspace with all of our necessary tools signals to our brains that our crafting is deserving of serious effort and a clear head.
Take your craft seriously enough to carve out a space in your home that says “this area is for my business ONLY”, and soon you’ll find that you do your best work in that space.

And don’t beat yourself up if you don’t find yourself falling into line immediately, or find yourself letting things fall by the wayside. The more you dwell on the things you didn’t accomplish, the crappier you’ll feel.

This is where the most important exercise comes in:
Do take time whenever possible to write down a list of all the things that you did get accomplished that day, for instance, though I didn’t finish making a dress that has been nearly done for weeks because I was watching Gosford Park for the 20th time instead, I did get a great idea for a detail I want to add to the dress from the movie – see? Research!
I also took the time to see three different friends that I don’t get to spend enough time with, and that yummy positive energy will carry over until tomorrow, when I get to sit down and work on my business some more. On my own schedule.

What tips have you found help keep you and your business on track? What obstacles have you faced in staying on task and focusing on your business? Share them in the comments!


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