Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Some thoughts on productivity

One of the comments I get all the time on my blog is something to the effect that it's amazing how much I get done in a small amount of time, in my busy life, and so on. So, given that I'm in for a bit of a long haul tonight while watching the election results roll in I thought I'd share some thoughts on how I manage to be as productive as I am - who knows, perhaps some of them will help you as well...
  • Dedicated space. One of the main things that helps me get a lot done is having a dedicated sewing space. Now, I am lucky enough to have a room - albeit a small one - where I can work, so I am able to leave my sewing machine set up (though not my iron & ironing board) and leave projects out - this helps a lot, as things are ready to go when you are. If at all possible, I highly recommend having a dedicated sewing space - even if this is just a little table somewhere in the corner of a room, with your sewing machine set up on it. Obviously, it's not always possible. If not, I'd recommend keeping your sewing materials in an easily accessible place - the simpler it is to set up and get ready, the more likely you are to do it, even if you don't have a huge amount of time.
  • Range of options. Another way to help productivity is to have several projects in progress at once - I don't mean, necessarily, the dozens of things I tend to have going on, but three or four different types of projects in different stages can actually increase productivity. For instance, if you have only a large bed quilt which is at the quilting stage on the go, if you only have 15 minutes you might very sensibly not want to tackle it. If you have a project which is in the process of being pieced as well, you're more likely to be able to use smaller amounts of time. Not to mention, sometimes you just aren't in the mood for one type of thing, but you might be for something else. Having a range of options available at any given time means you are more likely to have to hand just the right thing to work on.
  • Forward planning. It helps productivity to have a clear idea of what you want to do before you start. I don't mean you need to plan everything out, but if you go to your sewing space with a clear plan, you won't waste any time worrying about what you want to do. I often use "waste time" to plan some of my sewing - I mean things like the time you spend standing in queues or walking to school to get the kids or driving to the supermarket. I might use the time to think of a design to try for a postcard or test a quilting pattern idea in my head, or even just something as simple as think about what project I want to work on and whether I know where all the bits of it are.
  • Tidiness & organisation. This is related to forward planning - if your workspace is a mess and you have no idea where things are, you are going to lose time when you are ready to sew. You might also be frustrated. I periodically tidy up my sewing room, especially when I'm feeling uninspired anyway.
  • Listen to your muse. Go with your gut instinct rather than second guessing all the time. And also, listen when you aren't feeling inspired with a project - putting something aside until it speaks to you (or until you really can't avoid the deadline any more) is a better use of time than persisting with something which isn't working - you may well end up undoing work later - or simply hating the piece.
  • Use your time/multitask. I've sort of said this before, but basically, don't write off small amounts of time. Even 10-15 minutes can afford an opportunity to work on something. If you plan ahead, you can have something ready to work on in those little bits of spare time. And use time which might otherwise be a bit wasted - I do handwork (& cross-stitch) while watching telly - even if you aren't a big handworker, things like binding can be done while watching TV. If you knit, that can easily be done while watching telly (simpler patterns, anyway). Have a portable project you can take with you and do while waiting for appointments or in queues. I have a quilter friend whose kids compete in gymnastics - she's done tons of work while waiting for them to have their turns in tournaments.
  • Value your work. Teach your kids (and DH if necessary) to respect the fact that when you are working on your art, it's just as important as if you are doing work in an office, etc. Because most of us do our art in the home, people tend to think they can just interrupt willy nilly - obviously there are times when being interrupted is the right thing, but I'm training my kids to be more self-sufficient - or to ask Daddy for help. You don't need to be the one to get the drink of water or put the video on (obviously, this depends on the ages of your kids - my youngest is nearly 6, so there's a lot he can do himself or have his sisters help with). One way to approach this is to have a chat with the rest of the family before you start working and say that you are going to sew for an hour (or whatever) and is there anything they need before you start... Some of this simply practical logistics, but some of this also to do with valuing your work yourself - if you constantly let yourself be interrupted when you are working, people will assume it's okay to do it, and things will never change. A perfect solution would be to have large blocks of time on your own to work, but that's not practical for many of us. Likewise, if you do have time with no other people in the house and you are working, don't answer the phone (unless you are expecting an important call). And so on.
  • Focus. Don't get distracted. This ties in with valuing your work and your time. If you decide you are going to spend an hour, a morning, a day, a weekend sewing, then don't let yourself get distracted from it by small things. If something comes up which needs to be dealt with relatively soon and you are worried you will forget it, write it down to do later. For instance "oh yeah, I was going to clear out that cupboard"... Once you have set aside some time to work, keep to it. Unless, of course, you are frustrated and uninspired, in which case, by all means do something else!
  • Give up sleeping. No, just kidding - just wanted to see if you were still reading :)

18 comments:

Vicki W said...

All excellent points. I am lucky to 3 large dedicated spaces. That makes all the difference in the world. I'm not sure I have enough projects in process though! ROFLOL!

mumzy said...

I, too, have a room just for my quilting, sewing. But I still don't seem to have much time to spend in there. Too many other distractions.

Give up sleep - I'm a nighthawk, and love to stay up at nights but I hate getting up in the morning.

Jenny said...

These are all very good thoughts!! I was surprised by how many I do already. I do need to have my many projects at different stages though as I tend to leave them all at the "needs to be quilted" stage. I also need to spend more effort in the "value your work" category, as I often feel like it isn't worth the value of a "real" job because I enjoy doing it so much. Does that make sense? Anyway, thanks so much for taking the time to write this all down--it was much appreciated!

jovaliquilts said...

Good tips indeed. The other thing I might add is one that is difficult for me -- if you have quilting projects that for one reason or another you feel you MUST do, always have one going that you really WANT to do, and give yourself permission to work on it for a certain amount of time each day.

Really you're staying up? Our polls close in Illinois in 3 min. I plan a long night, but it's 6 hours earlier here. I'm feeling really stressed!

black bear cabin said...

a designated sewing area is my problem...i notice when my machine is set out, i work more...even if just for a few minutes here and there. Guess thats something ill have to work on!

Andrea said...

Great post Kate ! Little and often is my motto too - that's just the sewing mind you - lol !

Louise said...

Great post - thanks. I don't have a sewing room, but I do have a table which is *mine* - I sew mostly by hand so the machine doesn't have to be set up (it lives underneath), and the table is organised by project so that I can grab and go when I need to.

At least four projects on the go at the moment - you're so right about the importance of variety. And much of what you said about carving out time/space to work at home resonates with me from a freelance point of view as well as sewing - being a work-at-home mother is the hardest job in the world to set boundaries around.

Shasta said...

These are wonderful tips Kate. Thanks for sharing them.

McIrish Annie said...

great rules now just to follow them! I definitely agree with having several things going at once that way you can pick your poison!

Margeeth said...

Great points, I totally agree with you.
Have you tried piecing on the train? I find it very relaxing and have managed to do al lot of (traditional) piecing that way.

Anne Wigfull said...

Excellent Kate. I think that Range of Options is a far better name for the box previously known as UFOs and WIPs

Penny said...

Those are some really useful tips.

If you haven't got a dedicated space, you can still get it ready in advance. For instance if the dining room table is used for your sewing machine and for breakfast, you can set up the machine before you take the children to school, even if you won't be working on it until after lunch. (This does depend on whether you are also searching for lost socks at the time.)

dawn.u said...

Give up sleeping - yep the way to go!

Anonymous said...

Amen on the productive time issues. People are amazed at how much I get done. They don't understand the 10 or 20 minute periods of time that can be very productive...

Liz

Julie said...

Lots of sound advice Kate. I certainly need to be more organised. I have my worktable in one room and most of my materials in another so there' lots of to-ing and fro-ing. Lots of stuff gets mixed up too so I do waste time.

Chocolate Cat said...

Thank you for sharing this, a lot of commonsense but somethings we need to be reminded of to make what time we have work for us!!! I took quite a few points from it.

Jessica's mom said...

It's always nice to see the things you must to be true written out by someone elses hand. I have a very small space, but a space none the less. One day of frequent phone calls ending in an awful evening and two days rethinking and reworking a quilt.

Or perhaps good just to know my many states of projects is a good thing. Hey at least I don't currently have any UFO's.

WinterStar said...

Very good points, Kate!
Alas! I really can't give up sleeping... I'm really a sort of a bradipo at night :)... I just can read (and not very much!)... I will think about get up earlier in the morning... mmmmh, that I think will suit me: I'm a morning bird!
Enough projects? Uhh, too many!!!