Establishing a Routine

Contributor post by Rena Tom

If you are like most small business owners, you wear many hats to keep your business running. There just aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done, and tasks can fall in the cracks and not get done at all. It's easy to get sidetracked with something fun when you are doing something you don't like. Conversely, you may find yourself in fire-fighting mode literally all the time.

Establishing a routine can make your work-week activities more evenly spaced out yet make sure you don't miss a crucial deadline. It will also help you get over paralyzing roadblocks, and let you be more efficient with your time. Finally, if you do get derailed mid-activity by caring for a sick child or repairing a leaky roof, the routine is there for you so you know where to pick back up after the emergency is over.

To create a routine, you must know what you are already doing, and when. First, write down all of the processes you do - and I mean ALL of them. Break them down into individual tasks. Note which ones are rote and repetitive, which are easy and which are complex. Estimate if the work happens daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly. 

Try to group the processes naturally so you don't struggle when shifting gears. You might have groups like:  catching up on email, website updating, ordering and paying bills, production time, creative time, packing and shipping, and connecting with your community via blog or social media.

See what you can either automate (with a technological solution) or delegate (to an employee, temp hire or intern).  These are going to be key for you to move forward with your business, unless you can clone yourself! Try to allot some of your profit toward reducing the amount of work you do that is basically grunt work.

Now, draw up a calendar for daily, weekly, and monthly routines (and yearly - income tax, anyone?) and fill it in as completely as you can. This part can seem either depressing or exciting, depending on if you are a glass half empty or half full kind of person. Just remember that you do so much for your business - you are amazing!

What about free time? Don't eliminate it from the routine, but do budget for it. It's important to pencil in some creative time, a day to hit the museums for inspiration, a weekly lunch with a friend to get you out of the studio, and plain old free time to play hooky and see your family.

If you are worried that this kind of scheduling does not allow for quickly responding to your customers or clients, the key is to set their expectations from the start. Let them know the timeframe they can expect a response. You must remember that not everything is an emergency, and you'll be better able to respond to their needs when you aren't feeling rushed or put out.

Finally, decide what a drop-everything situation is, and allow yourself to respond accordingly. It could be bad (the school nurse calls) or great (Real Simple wants samples ASAP) but if you know what to do beforehand, your business won't suffer while you are attending to your top priority.

What kinds of routines do you have in place that are effective for how you do work?


Rena Tom is a retail strategist for creative business owners. She previously owned Rare Device, a boutique and art gallery with locations in New York and San Francisco that was renowned for its carefully edited collection of design objects, books, housewares and accessories, and for supporting small, innovative designers and artists whose work was not easily found in stores. Rena blogs about personal projects as well as retail trends and small business tips at She lives in San Francisco with her husband and baby boy in an apartment filled with too many laptops, Sprecher root beer, half-finished craft projects and overdue library books.

Jan Halvarson


Laura Evans said...

something i really need to work on, even if it's just putting aside a couple of hours of my day to focus on photography with limited distractions ... thanks for sharing this. working from home & with the craziness of our lives we sometimes for get how important it can be.

Kat Greene said...

I am in the process of creating my routine and this article is a huge help/inspiration.

Arianne Foulks / Aeolidia said...

Great post, Rena! I am very late to the routine game, but the closer I get to my dream routine, the better I'm feeling.

I would like to stress delegating again. I have to force myself to remember that I'm not the only person who can do whichever task comes up (and not always the best person, either!).

It feels great every time I shift something over to someone else's capable hands, freeing up time for me to focus on the heart and soul of my business, rather than the day to day details.

Jennifer Bewerse said...

How did you know I had a "how am I going to get everything done" scheduling meltdown today?


Creaciones Verdes said...

Very interesting post I have a little problem with routines a lot of days I feel that I lose my time and the things that I need to do are piling up!

Anonymous said...

I'm currently trying to balance a full time day job and trying to build up my own business to eventually do that full time. In order to both (for the time being) a routine is key and this post was very helpful! Thanks!

Hannah said...

Great post Rena, and just what I need right now. I find time management so challenging, particularly as I'm juggling a full-time freelance job with my new creative venture at the moment.
I've noticed that I make silly mistakes when I try to do too much, so I really need to set aside time for specific tasks and remember to take time out!
Thanks for sharing these tips.

Unknown said...

This is great! One of my biggest struggles has been finding a balance between the creative stuff and the business stuff. I decided I needed some sort of set schedule, which I'm working on setting up now. This will be a great help! Thanks for sharing!

Bobalong said...

Just what I need to do! I'm working hard but sometimes (most of the time) it feels like I haven't achieved much at the end of the day. I will definitely use your time management tips for using my time more productively. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Where are the calendars in the photo from? PS. Great post!

Jan Halvarson said...

Anon - there's a link right under the image - to droplet -

blake said...

such an important post. I am a notorious do-it-all-myselfer, but it's just not always realistic or fair. thanks for the reminder!

rena said...

hi all, thanks for such great comments! it's interesting to note that sharing the wealth and sharing the work can be the same thing. i needed help with my blog and i put the call out and a week later, i have 6 awesome contributors lined up! they get to sharpen their writing skills and be exposed to a new audience, and i get a little breathing room to do other work :)

don't feel bad about delegating or asking for help!


Khristian A. Howell said...

This post is great! I am in the process of reclaiming my routine now. When I was working full time, I was really good about taking the time out for me and working super efficiently. I am working really hard to honor these things now in my business. I have some new systems in place, buy you have really given me some good things to consider as I find my way in this new space. Thanks!

Johanna said...

I really appreciate this post. When I am unorganized I lack all motivation. It has really been a struggle lately. Thank you for the inspiration!