Make Your Work Hours Count!

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The years 2011 - 2014 are a bit of a blur. I don't remember everything, but I remember the way I felt after coming home from work each day. I remember crawling in bed night after night thinking to myself, "I just worked my tail off, but did I actually accomplish anything? I worked hard, really hard for 12 hours today, but did I even make any money? Why am I working so hard and have nothing to show for it?"

During those years, I could have won an academy award for my act.

"How's business?" they would ask.

"Never been better!" I'd reply with a great big fake smile. 

Oh I was good at that little charade. I was so good - I could even convince myself before I fell asleep each night that I was on the path to success. 

Except I wasn't. I was no where near it. In 2014, out of complete desperation I put $10k on a credit card and I hired my business consultant, Shanna Skidmore

Fast forward to today - 2017 - When people ask me, "How's business?"

I say, "It's never been better!" - but this time I'm not acting and the smile is genuine (and that credit card now has a zero balance!).

 If you were to ask me what is the ONE thing I do today in order to achieve success - this would be my answer:

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I make my work hours count. I'm not going to tell you what I think you should do for your work day because I have no idea what your work day looks like. I'm just going to share with you what I do in hopes that you'll find something to take with you to make your work hours count too.

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1) I INTENTIONALLY BEGIN MY DAY

This is something I just started doing in January of this year - 2017 - and I cannot describe to you in words the tremendous change it has made. Have you heard of Jesus Calling?

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE:  Friends, let me say this to you. When I talk about Jesus and my faith I hope you know how NOT perfect I am with this. I hope you know that I crave a life of wanting to encourage NOT judge. I want you to know that I enjoy a glass of wine at night (for any southern baptists who might be reading this - enter winking emoji here!), and I NEED to own the t-shirt that says, "I love Jesus but I cuss a little." 

So have you heard of the book Jesus Calling? It's a wonderful daily devotional. I love it because it's short (remember:  a three-year-old and twin 19-month-olds - momma needs something ACHIEVABLE!), it's to the point, and it's always relatable. I read the simple three or four sentence devotional before I get the kids out of bed in the morning (some mornings it doesn't happen!) but then I tuck it into my work bag. When I get to the studio at 8am, before anyone else arrives,, before I open my computer, before I open my planner and look at my to do list, before I open the blinds, before anything - I pull out the book and I read those same three to four sentences again, this time from the perspective of my business

My pastor recently said these words and they hit me like a ton of bricks:

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Putting Him FIRST in my work day has improved they way I work tremendously.

Next, I pour myself a glass of water, I take out my computer, my planner, my simple office depot yellow legal pad and a pen. I take a look at the to do list located inside my planner (more on this and how I plan my days later!). I DO NOT, however, open my email until later in the day (more on this next time!).

2) I THOUGHTFULLY SCHEDULE MY DAY

My goal is to be at the studio at 8am. I don't put anything on my calendar until 9am because I know I need a full hour to get settled in and prep for my day. KNOW THY SELF. If I schedule a meeting at 8:30am, I’ll feel rushed and frantic and it won’t go well. KNOW THY SELF!

My 9am meeting time slots are for people on my team:  Kellie (admin!), Casey (book keeping), Shanna (business consultant), Danae (second designer), etc. These people know me. They know my heart and my intentions. They also understand if I text them and say something like, "I'm running 15 minutes behind! Zeke figured out how to open his sippy cup and poured milk all over the car." 

A client, however, probably would not be as understanding nor would I ever want to send them such a text. So as a guiding rule I do not schedule any important meetings (client, mentoring, etc.) until 10am. I do this for two reasons:  

  • I like to be fully prepared. If I'm meeting a client at 10am - I have a full hour before to review their contact form, their wedding inspiration, etc before actually meeting with them. I don't just seem prepared - I AM PREPARED. Want to know what I've learned over the past few years? When I'm prepared, I book the job. The client feels confident in me because I've shown in the meeting my preparation and professionalism. 
  •  There is one reason and one reason only that I will ever cancel a client meeting - if my family needs me.  If Stella wakes up at 7am and has a high fever - guess who is taking her to the doctor? Me! Not because I feel obligated but because that is my baby girl and I want to take her myself.  In this case, I feel like 8am is an appropriate enough time to contact the client and let them know I won't be able to make the meeting - this gives them a full two hour notice which I think is just good business. 

3) I END MY DAY BY PREPPING FOR THE FOLLOWING DAY

I reserve the last 30 minutes of each work day to set up for the following one.  My work day ends at 3pm (read here why I quit each day) so at 2:30pm here’s what I do:

  • Turn off my email. Turn it off on my computer (I don’t have it on my phone - more on this next time!) - turn it off. I don’t want email to be the first thing I look at when I open my computer the next day (more on this next time! Can you tell I'm desperately trying to get you excited about an entire newsletter dedicated to email?)
  • I get my planner and make my to do list for the following day. I make that list achievable! I put the thing I need to accomplish the most at the top of the list.
  • I clean up my work space. I throw away my sonic drink cup (because 9 times out of 10 I have one). I put my water glass in the dishwasher. I wipe off my desk and throw away anything that needs to be thrown away. I want to arrive tomorrow to a clean space.
  • I close out all programs on my laptop. I physically close my laptop. There is something about physically shutting down those things - it's as if it sends a message to my brain much like when the final school bell would ring at 3:30pm growing up saying, "It's over! Go home!"
  • I turn my legal pad to the next blank page -ready to jot down any notes I need. I pack up my planner (that thing is my life and goes everywhere with me).
  • If I’m meeting a client the following day, I make sure I have their proposal printed and ready to go. I make sure I have bottled water in the fridge for them. I make sure there is soap, toilet paper and paper towels in the bathroom. I empty the trash cans in the meeting room and bathroom because those are the two rooms they will be in.
  • The next day when I come in, everything is clean. It’s ready to go. It feels like a new day.

4) I DO NOT MULTITASK

I used to think multitasking was a good thing. What I now know is that trying to do several things at once not only exhausted me, but it took me longer to accomplish than if I had focused on each of those tasks individually. It took me a long time to break my multitasking habit, but now I DO ONE THING AT A TIME

5) I CUT OUT THE DISTRACTIONS

Right now, as I type these very words on my computer, my phone is on silent and it is sitting behind my laptop so I can't physically see it. Even if it's on silent, that screen still lights up from time to time and we all know that's distracting. 

Before I began typing these words, I turned off my email on my computer because if that little ding goes off, here is what will happen:  I will innocently look to see who it is from, then I will see it is from a client, then I will open it to see what they need, then I will start responding to them, then another email will pop up distracting me from the first one and then I'll forget all together that I was even writing this tip on eliminating distractions!

This newsletter - start to finish - will take me around 45 minutes to write, upload, and complete because it is my sole focus. I'll check it off my to-do list (more on that later!) and feel good that I've accomplished this task, rather than being distracted from it, not completing it, and feeling bad about my unproductive day...again.

I schedule one specific time during my work hours - just one - to check social media. I usually allot anywhere from 15 - 30 minutes, depending if I'm posting and engaging (replying to comments) or simply engaging. I only look at MY business page and comment on what I need to comment on. If someone tagged me in something, I'll click on it and comment back. I DO NOT use this time to look at other pages or profiles. It's too distracting and I won't get my list done. KNOW THY SELF! This didn't happen overnight. It took me a while to get control of this one, but the best thing is because I have a scheduled time slot for this each day - I don't feel guilty about when I am on it. I know I'm being productive with it. 

WORK AT HOME MOMS!  You already know the answer to this, but I have to ask you:  What's your #1 distraction?  Yep. You guessed it. KIDS. Our sweet, adorable, want to hug one minute, want to strangle one minute kids. If you haven't already, I encourage you to read my last newsletter:  TOUGH LOVE FOR THE WORK AT HOME MOM. There are some good tips in there for you!

6) I GIVE MYSELF HARD DEADLINES

I work so much better and more efficiently when I give myself hard deadlines. For example, this newsletter series pre-2014 me would have wondered and thought about and worried about the order in which I was going to release these and on what dates I'd release them, but not post 2014 me. Now I know the beauty of hard deadlines. When I opened my planner this morning - from 11am to noon was blocked off and it read: 

HARD DEADLINE! FINALIZE NEWSLETTER ORDER AND RELEASE DATES

This gave me one hour - only one hour to sit down, get focused, and figure these two things out. Without any distractions, I went to work and by noon I had the order and I had all 25 release dates scheduled in my calendar. Now it's done. Now I can focus on the next thing.

I hope this has been helpful and encouraging to you. Now do me a favor - I'm pouring my story out and I'm needing to be filled a little with your words too! Will you take a moment and comment in the comment section below? I'm not looking for praise - I want to know if this is helping you. If so, how? What changes are you excited to make? Your comments fill me up in a way words can't describe. Your feedback encourages me. It helps me to open up more and ultimately to share more. 

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Welcome to the blog

Hi! I'm Jessica Zimmerman, top wedding planner and floral designer.

Born and raised in Arkansas, I’m a proud wife and mama to a 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old twin boys. A true believer in freedom, flexibility (and of course, incredible flowers), I’m wholly devoted to creating a life I love to live every single day–not just on the weekends. From travel to business to weddings, this blog is full of features designed to inspire other busy mamas (and businesswomen) to make a living from their passion without giving up their lives.

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