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Managing Your Time as an Apparel Business Owner

We can’t prove that you do have time. But we’re going to tell you that you can prove it.

We make time in our lives for the most important things all the time. That might be your business, your children, or your hobbies.

As an example, there’s a sports star you love to watch play. You’ve got a full schedule tomorrow, but they call you up and ask if you’d like to have lunch with them. Suddenly you’ve found two hours for lunch.

It happens to us almost on a daily basis, but with much smaller things. You get invited for lunch because a friend happens to be in your area. You go to pick up supplies and spend 30 minutes talking to your friend that works in the store.

All these things come into play. Whether they’re small grocery store interactions or the phone rings unexpectedly.

Time begins to disappear. Think of time as another aspect you need to budget – because time is money.

We started a project within Colman & Company about budgeting time. As we were learning about money management, we had an epiphany:


“When am I going to find the time to do this?” We recognized that it was important so we spent a bit of time every day doing it. Then realizing, “I did have the time for this.”

If time is money and we’re budgeting money, why aren’t we budgeting our time?

What are you using your minutes every day? Where are they going?

Colman & Company has about 20 employees. The more people that work together, that also like each other, the more opportunity there is to waste time.

We decided to borrow the concept of budgeting money. We created some rules for time budgeting and created a spreadsheet. Then we brought in a few members of the team to try it out.

It’s not about reducing the amount of time you do tasks in. If a shirt job is going to take 4-hours, it’s going to take 4-hours. You can work on honing that down to 3.5 hours, once you get past the first steps of time budgeting.

With money, before you can reduce the expenses you have to know what your expenses even are. Same thing with time. You need to know how much time each task will take.

You have to write everything down.

We asked our employees to write down all the tasks they needed to do each day and how many minutes they were going to take. Putting them in a spreadsheet, they should add up to an 8-hour day.

One of our employees did two things:

1. She used a timer to track when other employees came by her desk to ask how she was feeling (she was sick a few days before).

2. Then she was timing her little breaks to get water, grab a snack, or use the washroom.

In doing that she noticed she spent 25 minutes on those little breaks. Those are necessary things, but she now needs to factor in that time.

It was also another 20 minutes of people coming by her desk to ask how she was doing. She saw that as too much time, time that she wanted to be spending on productive tasks. It was her decision.

Just like with money, the act of watching where your time is going, you will learn to be better with it.

Six rules for maximum time budgeting

1. The rules can always change​

This is a new project for you. You need to make your rules malleable so that they are right for your business

2. Every minute needs to have a task​

One of our days could be broken up like this:

120 minutes of shooting video
60 minutes of preparing for a video
30 minutes on emails
30 minutes on reviewing advertising
100 minutes on meetings
30 minutes on new ideas
30 minutes on fixing problems
30 minutes on staffing
20 minutes on reviewing email marketing
30 minutes for lunch
That all adds up to an 8.5 hour day.

3. Roll with the punches​

You have a t-shirt job you think is going to take 3 hours. It takes you 3.5 hours to complete. You need to do the job, that’s not a negotiable task.

You now need to look at how much time you have left in your day and move it. Where can you remove 30 minutes?

The good thing about time is that you can add time. However, you still have to remove it from somewhere.

You’re budgeting 8 hours for work and you have to add 30 minutes to your workday. What does that mean later?

Are you not going to watch a TV show? Are you going to heat up leftovers instead of making dinner from scratch?

4. Prepare for the unexpected

One thing that an employee noticed was someone else would email and ask for things right away. You can still budget for that.

Make an estimate on how long that “unexpected task” will take. Then adjust if it takes longer or shorter.

5. Age your time

If you have an order that isn’t due for a month, don’t wait until the week it’s due to get started. Fit in 15-30 minutes where you can to do tasks to get you ahead.

For example, order the blanks. You could finalize the art. Separate the sizes out. Do things now to buy yourself time in the future.

This way, next month, you’re doing other tasks you can get ahead on that aren’t due for a few weeks.

This also helps you be better prepared for the unexpected. Just like keeping an emergency fund of money, you have time saved up.

Often in business what will happen is you’ll finish all your today tasks, so you take the afternoon off. What did you do with that time?

What if instead, you did something that needed to get done tomorrow? Then tomorrow you do something that needs to get done the day after.

6. Change your time budget

Over time your budget will change. You might buy new equipment and it takes less time to finish each shirt. Where is that extra time going to be allocated to?

Do you want to spend more time on marketing to reach new clients?

You might decide to offer a new service. You have to figure out where the time comes from to train yourself on the machine.

What can you do to reduce the time you need for certain tasks? Can you get an app to help you with some tasks?

Job Management vs. Time Management

We asked our Custom Apparel Startups Facebook Group for tools they used to help them manage time. The answers were quite surprising.

Over 60% didn’t use anything. Some used Google Spreadsheets or an Outlook calendar. A few used Trello. Others just used whiteboards and desk calendars.

However, their tools were only for their production schedule. It was what they used to ensure the job got out on time.

No allocation for any other tasks needed to run their business.

Job management and to-dos are different than managing your time.

Job management is what you do when an order comes in and how you track it to ensure it gets to the customer on time.

Your workflow management is part of how you make the most of your time. It’s very important in preventing mistakes and keeping customers happy. However, it doesn’t mean that during that workflow you aren’t wasting tons of time.

You can have a perfect workflow, but perfectly broken time.

Running your business vs. making your product

You look back at your business and one month you do awesome and the next you don’t do as well.

When things are slow your production budget is not filled, so you don’t have anything planned for your time.

You use that time to make sales calls, drum up business, go to networking events, work on your website, etc.

Then once that’s done you get a lot of orders, so you stop doing those things. You produce your orders. Once those orders are done, you go back to making those sales calls.

It results in really busy months followed by a slow production month. This is a result of how you’re managing your time.

You want to prevent this “feast/famine” trend in your business. You can prevent some of this by managing your time.


The tools that you use to manage your tasks can also help you manage your time.

Use apps on your phone, such as reminder apps and calendars. They might not be the perfect solution, but they’ll help you get on track.

Using a calendar you can schedule in recurring activities, such as meetings and weekly reports. You can also schedule in time to review your Facebook and Google ads.

Schedule in your production time, your time to check email, etc.

You can search the app stores or online for time management apps. Look for something that feels like something you’d want to use.

You can also go into Excel and find time management templates. Trello and Asana are commonly used as both task and time management tools.

Find something.

Starting your time budget

On a piece of paper, put the number of hours you’re going to work this week. Be honest with yourself. Don’t put 40 if you know it’s going to be 60.

Then list all the things you do in a week that you consider your work hours. Ordering supplies, doing production, talking to customers, answering emails, doing accounting, etc.

Then write down next to it, how many hours you think each of those tasks should take. And add them all up.

It is not going to equal the number of hours you work. It will either be way high or way low.

With that, add some things that are on your wish list. Maybe you’d like to spend an hour each week doing marketing research.

This is the beginning of your time budget.

The next step is to track your week. You can do this manually on a piece of paper or use an app like Toggle. See how it compares to what you thought.

You’re going to make the time to do this exercise and start by just doing it for a week. Be self-aware of time that was ‘wasted’/non-work time.

You went to make a delivery to a customer, budgeted it for an hour, but stopped to visit a friend on the way back. That’s non-work time. That counts as time wasted because you didn’t need to do that. And it isn’t a task for your business.

It may have taken you 40 minutes to do the delivery and 20 minutes to chat with your friend. It wasn’t an hour task.

Tips and Tricks

Tim Ferris’ most famous book is “4 Hour Work Week.” He has a bunch of tips and tricks for time management.

One that we really like is to start your day by writing down your intentions.

If you want to start managing your time, write down everything you want to get done today. You’ll either feel really good or really bad as the days go by.

Tim Ferris also talks about focusing on doing the right things. Which means you need to prioritize.

If you have an order due tomorrow that’s more important than chatting with a friend and not working.

If you have things that eat time from your day, turn them off or make them harder to access. Facebook might be one – take it off your phone.

The act of looking at how you spend your time is going to improve your business and personal life.

Have a good business!

Direct To Garment Printing

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