How We Do It: Organizing our Work

13 February 2018

Work is not something I talk about often on Em for Marvelous, so hopefully this installment of How We Do It will be an interesting glimpse into another facet of my life, one which many of us have in common!

To catch up any new folks: Nancy Ray and I are writing an eight-part series every Tuesday in January and February covering “how we do it” in eight different areas: the rhythms, habits, and routines that help us get things done and make the space and time for what matters most. You can read more of the backstory here.

Let me begin by saying I love my job, and I feel incredibly, incredibly lucky to have it. There are a number of reasons for this, but here are a few:

1. I find my work deeply meaningful. It’s personally meaningful to me, and I can directly see the positive impact my work has on other people’s lives, adding meaning to theirs. My work is one powerful way I’m able to share the gifts — the unique personality traits, the skills, the experiences — that God has entrusted to me.
2. I work for an amazing company. It’s a small business, and I have an impact on the decisions it makes, the direction it takes, and the opportunities it pursues. I have autonomy in how I structure my days, I feel valued, and I earn a steady income. As someone with an entrepreneurial heart and drive but little interest in owning my own business, this company is a perfect fit.
3. I love the ladies with whom I work. They are kind, they are smart, they are fun and funny, and they are passionate. Did you ever have the experience in school where you hated group projects because you always just wanted to do everything yourself instead of entrusting things to other group members? (Both hands raised!) Well, I never feel like that at work, and it’s something I still don’t take for granted! It’s incredible to work on a team where you trust everyone else will do their work just as well as you would, if not better.

I know my situation is unique, and again, I feel incredibly lucky. It’s one reason why I never seriously considered quitting my job altogether when June was born. I knew if I were to let go of it, there was no guarantee that I could ever find anything like it again when I wanted to reenter the workforce, say, when she was in elementary school.

I did, however, make a few adjustments when she came along, and they’ve made it so much easier to be both a mama and a team member. I now work a shortened day, from 9 to 4. I also work from home three days a week. To be clear, June still goes to school on those days, but since her school is literally two minutes from our house, we don’t skip a beat in the afternoons, and we still have time to play outside, go on an adventure, and get dinner on the table without feeling rushed or stressed (usually!).

As our family grows and kiddos get older, I’m grateful that further flexibility is a possibility, whether that means working 8 to 3 to match elementary school hours or cutting back to four days a week to accommodate the growing complexity of multiple kiddos and activities. Again, part of the reason that flexibility is a possibility is because of my longevity and loyalty to my company (I’ve worked there nine years!), and the equity I’ve built – something younger readers might want to keep in mind as you consider the shape of your career :)

Someone asked in my survey last year how I keep my work feeling fresh after having the same job for so long. The answer is in part everything I described above, and the other half is that, working for a small company, things are always changing whether I like it or not! (And y’all know I like stability!) In my tenure, we’ve grown from 3 to 9 team members, and the ways we do business, the ways we generate revenue, and even the structure of the company itself have changed drastically. That keeps you on your toes!! My role has also changed significantly over the years, which has led to plenty of opportunity for growth and learning.

So that’s a little bit about how I integrate my work and home life. Now, here are a few strategies I use for staying organized at work:

1. When I’m at work, I have child care. This is without a doubt the thing that makes being a mama and a team member sustainable and enjoyable. Though I am grateful to have the flexibility to work from home when June is sick or home from school on the odd holiday I don’t have off, I kind of hate working while she is at home — for me, it’s the only time when I feel like I’m failing as both a mama and an employee. When I’m with her, I’m all-in, and when I’m at work, I’m all-in — and confident that she is having so much fun with her friends and sweet teachers at preschool! This does not come cheap (gracious, no), but the peace of mind is worth every penny.
2. I try to use a one-touch email system. That means I’m okay with letting emails sit unread for hours or sometimes even days, but once I open them, I make an immediate decision and get them out of my inbox. That eliminates the time wasted of diving back into the parameters of a decision or situation multiple times without solving it and moving on. I also take advantage of Gmail canned responses whenever possible. Those things are lifesavers!
3. I use Asana to stay organized. Asana is a project management system, and our team is a bit obsessed with it. We implemented it about two years ago, and though it sounds cliched, I’m really not sure how we got anything done before we did. Not only does it help multiple team members contribute to and stay up to date on each project, but we have taken the time to document “process templates” for everything we routinely do, whether that’s writing a blog post, planning a photo shoot, or hiring a new team member. Each time I’m faced with a task, I just plug in the steps and follow them instead of starting from scratch each time, potentially overlooking something important.

4. I use Pomodoros in especially busy seasons. Usually the day to day rhythm of work is enough to keep me focused, but if it’s crunch time or I’m feeling extra distracted or frazzled, I’ll use the Pomodoro technique. Basically, I set a timer for 25 minutes, and then put my head down and work without interruption until the timer goes off – no email checking (unless the task I’m working on is email!), no Instagram checking, no getting up for a snack, etc. When the timer goes off, I set another for five minutes, when I can do anything I want – stretch my legs, check my personal email, respond to text messages, etc. Then, it’s back to another 25-minute stretch, and so on and so forth. Those little distractions can really add up, and I’ve found this technique a great way to curb them.
5. I use my PowerSheets to track my goals. I generally set quarterly versus yearly goals for my role, and my PowerSheets are a great way to continually be reminded of them (which is more than half the battle for making progress!). I keep them open to my tending list on my desk – a peek at February’s below!

6. I use a social media planner for loose scheduling. Sharing on my personal platforms is part of my job, and this simple doc I designed helps me keep track of what should be said when. There’s lots of flexibility here, but it’s a helpful guide in busier seasons! If you’d like to try it yourself, you can download it here.
7. I keep a generic background image on my laptop. This might be the weirdest tip :) But I find if I have, say, a family photo as my desktop background, feelings of sadness or distraction might creep in every time I closed a window – or, at least, I’d be jolted out of one world into another. I do have framed family photos on my actual desk, and I’m not sure why I feel differently about those, but I do. My pretty sky scene is also a neutral backdrop that offers breathing space instead of adding to visual and mental clutter. (And on that note, I try to keep just 1-3 icons on my home screen at any one time, always including my To Do List Word doc :))
8. If there’s something I need to bring with me the next day, I put it in the car the night before. Guys, this is such a simple tip, but it has been huge (HUGE!!) for me. I’ll talk a bit more about getting everyone out the door in the morning in the upcoming Kiddos post, but this small step is one key. Need to bring styling items, a book, a piece of clothing, or a box to mail? They’re rounded up, walked to the garage, and placed in the car the night before. I can’t count the number of times I’ve raced around in the morning collecting things I needed for the day, or worse, gotten something ready the night before and then left it sitting on the counter. This simple habit eliminates both.

I’ll finish by adding just a few notes about Em for Marvelous organization. Even though it is not my job (I make about $15-20 per month on affiliate links, and that money goes to cover hosting and web development costs, not our mortgage!), I approach it quite seriously. Posts take at the quickest half an hour to write, and at the lengthiest, six-plus hours over multiple days. I generally write on weekday evenings after June is in bed, and sometimes while she is napping on the weekends.

The most important tool I use to stay organized is the blog planning sheet I created several years ago. This is far and away one of my most pinned posts, so I’m glad y’all have found it helpful over the years, too! My goal was to create a place to both brainstorm post ideas for each month as well as to schedule those ideas throughout the month. The top section has blank lines, and ideas get crossed off once their posts have been completed. The bottom portion is a blank calendar. I try to keep sheets for the next six months or so printed out so I can jot down season-specific ideas as they come to me.

I recently updated the PDF to include the nine most popular EFM topics (voted by y’all in my last survey!) in the brainstorming section to help me plan content that covers a wide variety of topics. I’ve loved this update, but y’all can still download the original sheet here.

I’d love to hear: What helps you stay organized at work, whatever work might look like for you? Share in the comments, if you’d like – I love learning from you all! And don’t forget to check out Nancy’s post for a business owner and all-around awesome person’s perspective. Thanks for being so wonderful, friends!

Where we’ve been and what’s coming up:
Time: Em’s post and Nancy’s post
Finances: Em’s post and Nancy’s post
Home: Em’s post and Nancy’s post
Personal Lives: Em’s post and Nancy’s post
February 20: Relationships
February 27: Spiritual Life
March 6: Kids

Affiliate links are used in this post! Pink shirt photo by Ally & Bobby, June photo by Katelyn James, and bulletin board photo by Ally & Bobby. Do you like that I’m wearing the same shirt in two different photos from two different occasions? :)

22 Responses to “How We Do It: Organizing our Work”

  1. This is so interesting to read! As someone who has witnessed you both in your job and in your home, I can say I have loved learning new ways to consider using my time and work differently because of you. Great tips, Em.

    Em

    Thank you, friend! It has been so much fun to work alongside you! :)

  2. I am so glad that you are so fulfilled and completely smitten with your job! I too have an entrepreneurial spirit, but little desire (or drive) to own my own company. I’m still searching for my “right” place with a small, creative company local to the Twin Cities, MN area. If you hear of one, could you let me know ;)

    Em

    I am rooting for you to find it, Allison! I sincerely wish more companies and jobs existed like mine, but sadly I think they are pretty rare :(

  3. Such great advice! I’ll have to try the one-touch email system myself. I have a bad habit of leaving emails unread and thinking about them all day.

    Em

    Yes! It doesn’t work for every situation, but it’s a pretty good guide for most things. Most things are not as urgent as other people might want us to think :)

  4. Kate

    I think this is my favorite post of this series so far! My current job is just a job to pay the bills while my husband is a graduate student – looking forward to a time when I can (hopefully!) be in a position where I enjoy and am as invested in my job as you are. I was taught to work hard in whatever position I find myself in, though, so that’s what I’m doing at the moment. :)

    When I was growing up, my mom always worked 75% of full time, and as an adult I am beginning to realize what a great arrangement that was. She was able to be fully involved at work, but also had extra time at home to spend with my sister and I (and for her own wellbeing, as well – she was able to exercise and do other things she enjoyed much more consistently than I am on a full time work schedule!). I’m really grateful for women like her, who pioneered the parttime work schedule in the corporate world, so that our generation can have so much more flexibility in working on the schedule that suits us and our families best!

    Em

    Love all that you shared, Kate! Even a job that you love is still work – there are hard days and easier days, and nothing is ever as glamorous as it might appear in professional photos :) I wish more companies, roles, and schedules like mine existed!!

  5. Em, I LOVE that photo of June in the Ergo! It reminds me of photos of me as a baby when my mom was building a gift basket business. Ha! :D

    I am so grateful to have a fellow mom like you who is so similar to me to “look up to” since you’re one small step ahead of me in your motherhood journey. Thanks for blogging, even though you’re not getting rich off of it! ;) Oh, the misconceptions about blogging, huh? :D

    See you next month! :)

    Em

    It is without a doubt one of my favorite photos, even though the days I am working with her by my side are in the minority – but I am so grateful that I can do it when it makes sense. And also grateful to have my Mom just out of the frame waiting to step in and help!!

  6. Friend. Way TO KILL IT this post. I loved every point! Agree that my fav picture ( like everyone else ) is the one of you styling that bride while wearing baby June. LOVE. Also my favorite points are the WHYs behind you loving your job, how you can feel all in when June is well cared for (me too with my girls!), and putting something in the far the night before. GAME. CHANGER. I didn’t do this until kids, but man it’s a good one!

    Em

    Me, neither, but it totally makes sense for everyone, regardless of kid status!! Ha! Thank you, friend!

  7. I have been LOVING this series!! Honestly hearing you talk about your work makes me be like- “I need a job I can be passionate about!!” Haha! I’ve said it before, but you are so incredibly gifted at what you do and it is so inspiring!

    Em

    Thank you, sweet friend! That means so much! As if I haven’t said it enough, I am incredibly grateful to do what I do… I just wish there were more companies and jobs out there like mine!

  8. Wanda

    Get it girl! Hehe- you are doing so awesome at working full time and being present with both your job and family. It’s not every day you read about someone who seems to handle both worlds so well. 💗
    It is great to feel passionate about your job, I feel the same! I actually think a convo we had many years ago about how much you loved your job and helping people prompted me to pursue teaching haha! So thank you!
    Also- I totally do the leaving stuff in the car thing! It’s such a lifesaver.

    Em

    Love you, friend!

  9. emma

    Okay, I have a few thoughts to share!
    1. CONGRATULATIONS on baby! :))
    2. I have been feeling so …ugh.. about my work and my work schedule. I would LOVE to work 9-4, heck 9-5 would be amazing too! I’m currently 9-6 and get home closer to 7pm. With 1.5 year old I am feeling like I’m starting to miss out. :( I get home and have dinner and then he goes to bed. I want adventure more often, not just on weekends. You have inspired me to keep on going after the dream because it IS possible to achieve. It DOES exist, I just have to find that one perfect fit.
    3. The image of you and June and the bride is very iconic to me. I just love it. It is everything I want to be: working and with the baby! So… when I bought the ergo I had that image of y’all in my head. It inspired this Instagram post over a year ago (screenshot because my profile is private): http://image14.photobiz.com/9223/28_20180215111642_5011097_xlarge.png
    hahah! I did figure out the ergo and it went a lot better after I released the leg flaps (oops) but this image is still just so funny. :)
    Thanks for sharing your life!

    Em

    I have a few thoughts, too! :)
    1) Thank you!!
    2) That is so tough. Aside from job hunting, my best suggestion (and you might already be doing this) would be to streamline dinner prep as MUCH as you possibly can. Cook on the weekends, eat the same thing every day, whatever you can do to carve out as much time together as possible.
    3) That is very kind of you to say, and in a way, I kind of agree. However, it’s a bit of a deceptive photo in that it depicts a very unique day in my work life and certainly not the norm… but, in a way, it is representative of the balance my job gives me, as well as some of the things that fuel me. One of my favorite photos for sure :)

  10. Elise

    Love this series but LOVING this post the most so far. I haven’t yet used Asana, but your mention of “process templates” makes me think it would be very helpful in my efforts to create an editorial calendar and workflow at my job (I’ve been resisting!). Are you able to share snapshot of what your process templates look like or how your team flow gets set up? I would love to learn from them. PS – congrats on baby #2! Your announcement photos are so joyful :)

    Em

    It is so awesome!! I’ll email you :)

  11. It makes me feel WAY more accomplished as a person to know that some of your organizational tools I also use! I am constantly trying to make my day-to-day work more enjoyable (it’s a struggle since I don’t necessarily love my working situation) and I have learned that being organized helps me stay focused which ultimately allows me to enjoy my work a little bit more. I really loved your tip for putting everything in the car the night before! I am notorious for getting it all in one spot but then completely forgetting to grab it in the morning!

Em Likes comments!

Em reserves the right to restrict comments that are not kind or do not contribute constructively to the conversation at hand. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!