Canadian designer Crystal Collinson juggles multiple roles by setting up productive systems that let her get the important things done.
Managing life with productive systems
Crystal Collinson is an interior designer who lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and two children. She runs a business full-time and jokes that she is a part-time Uber driver with no pay as she and her husband have to take turns driving their children to various activities. Her days are full but she wouldn’t trade it for the world! In this episode, she shares how she manages to balance her busy work and family life and get the things that matter to her done.
A typical day
During the school year, Crystal gets up at around 5:30 a.m. to enjoy the quiet before everyone else wakes up. She has her coffee and heads into her home office to triage what needs to be done that day and picks her top 3 or 4 items. Then she likes to get in a workout at home or go for a power walk. When she gets back home, her kids are up and getting ready. Once they're out the door, she goes back into her office and starts her work day.
Her work day looks different depending on what stage her projects are in. During the planning stage, before construction is able to begin, her workload is heavier as she needs to get drawings and plans over to the construction team. Once a project has entered the construction stage, she sources materials and finds samples. She tries to contain meetings to Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday so Mondays and Fridays can be focused work days. She’ll get off work around 3 p.m. to drive her kids to their various after-school activities but may squeeze in another hour of work before she has to go pick them up again. She’s usually in bed no later than 10 p.m.
In running the household, Crystal tag teams with her husband. They share a calendar and if there is an empty slot in the calendar, they assume the other is available. They touch base in the mornings to confirm who will take which kid where. Because her husband is a contractor and can't always be checking his phone, she likes to send him friendly reminders not to forget things.
When it comes to housekeeping, her family members are generally good about tidying up after themselves, but she does have a cleaning person come once every two weeks for a full cleaning and laundry.
Biggest Productivity Challenges
Crystal’s biggest challenge is managing time. There's always so much to do in a day, so she tries to be intentional about her planning. She sits back and asks herself, “Realistically, what can be done today?” She finds that her morning routine allows her to be realistic and prevents her from over-committing herself. She also thinks about what is most important to her in this stage of life. For her, that's her children and family, so she adjusts her schedule and routines to accommodate them.
Crystal is an extremely organized person by nature, which she believes is the secret to being good at managing her time. She says it's a matter of being on top of things and seeing two or three steps ahead, which helps her with prioritizing.
Tools Crystal recommends
Crystal is an avid Trello user. She uses it to create a master plan that she refers to during her morning routine to figure out what needs to be done that day. She and her husband, both Mac and iOS users, use iCal as their shared calendar. Recently she’s also started using Google Docs, which is a great tool for sharing documents with her clients.
She loves reading books and recently started listening to audiobooks. Two of her favorites are The One Thing and Essentialism, which both share the message of focusing on one thing at a time. (See below for links to past TPW episodes where we discussed these two books.) This message really spoke to her as she has tried multitasking in the past, but it was ineffective, and she wasted more time getting back to doing what she was doing.
What happens on a day when everything gets away from you?
Crystal shared that things happen where she has to drop everything she’s doing and get over to a project site to take care of issues. She tries to roll with the punches, then takes a step back to regroup and starts again.
She’s trying to meditate more during her morning routine as well. When she’s stressed out, she notices her breathing gets shallow so she’ll tell herself to stop and take deep breaths. It’s all about stopping yourself before you get in the frenzy, she says, and developing that ability to recognize when you’re getting stressed out. She agrees it is easier said than done, but when you’re a big tense knot, it doesn’t do anybody any good thinking, “There’s just so much to do! How am I going to get anything done?” She reminds us that sitting in a panicked state doesn’t get us anywhere, so we should take it literally one step at a time.
What’s on the horizon for Crystal
Crystal has been studying productivity in order to juggle her multiple projects that are underway simultaneously, and she has developed systems and procedures to figure out what the priority is. She recognizes that a lot of creative people do not have this ability to see the big picture because they are so focused on the creative element, so she started a new side business called The Productive Designer. Her goal is to help other designers and creative types to figure out their business systems, not in the sense of how to get more clients or ways to make more money, but more about helping them to develop procedures and achieve work-life balance through different stages of their lives. She wants to help other designers get organized through coaching or bringing a neutral set of eyes to take a look at how the business is running.
Last thoughts on making a life that matters
Crystal’s last tip to listeners is to adopt one or two little tweaks in your life so that you can have some time for yourself to set your intentions for the day and figure out what you need and want to get done. This way, you’re not feeling like you’re rushing into your day and you can get into the mental space to take on the busy day ahead of you.
What do you think?
Connect with Crystal
- On her business website (Collinson Interiors)
- On The Productive Designer website
- On Facebook
- On Instagram
More about Crystal
Crystal Collinson is an interior designer in Toronto, Canada with over 16 years of experience. At the same time she is raising two busy kids with her husband. Crystal is a self-proclaimed productivity geek and has the unique ability to be both creative yet extremely organized, which has allowed her to develop a workflow system that allows time for all of life’s priorities, achieving the coveted work/life balance. Crystal has also established a new business called The Productive Designer to help other design professionals to create systems to help their business run more efficiently.
Resources and Links
- HoursTracker App
- Google Suite (Google Docs, Slides, and Sheets)
- TPW133 – Productive Reading: The ONE Thing
- TPW 032 – Choose What's Essential
Announcements & Reminders
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