What a wonderful question, Eileen - and wonderful answers from everyone so far! So how DO I get stuff done? Well... there's not a lot of magic about it. First of all, I'm lucky. I don't cook (much), I don't clean (much - I try not to let things pile up), my kids are grown (though they and the grand kids get all the time they or I want together!), my husband loves to see me happy (which means I get to quilt a lot), and I have space to keep things "set up" (which sometimes translates into "space to keep messes lying around!"). Bottom line: I can find time to quilt.
Beyond that, I can offer some tips that are meant to save time when working on a project. Don't get me wrong - I'm not "racing" to get projects done - but because time is one of the most valuable resources we have, and it's limited, I like to make the best use of it! Here's how:
-- I always, always have one or more "take-along" projects at hand. It can be applique, circle-making, binding... something that is easy to put in a bag and take with me to work on if there is time. I keep scissors, needle, and thread for the project in zip-lock bags or totes so that when I pick up the project, it's all there, ready to go. It takes a little planning, but it becomes second-nature to do that. Then, when I go someplace I am ready to get some sewing done.
-- I look for - and use - short cuts that save time. For example, when I baste a block for applique, I don't baste just one piece at a time. I baste the whole block (or as much of it as I can at one time). Think how much less stopping and starting there is when all the fabric is in place, ready to sew, at the same time! I often baste a whole set of blocks for a quilt, wrap them around swimming pool noodles, and then I can take the set with me and work on one block at a time because they are all ready to work on!
-- I keep projects together in plastic bins or ziplock bags. This keeps the fabric and the pattern and the sewn/unsewn blocks all together - I don't have to hunt down the missing pieces when I open the bin/bag - it's all there! That way, if I put the project aside so that I can work on something else... it remains ready for me to pick up again at a later date.
-- I don't bother with tools unless they make the job more efficient. I think that sometimes we rely on too many tools. Example: I use regular paper for paper foundations. I don't have to run to the store to get special foundation paper when I do paper piecing. Now you can carry that too far - for example it would be easy to use only white thread for ALL sewing... but that doesn't make sense, right? So think about what is efficient.
-- I know it's silly but I track how much time it takes me to do things. For example, I know that it takes me 1 minute to applique 2 inches. What difference does that make? None... but if I am looking at 2" leaves, I can begin estimating that appliquing a leaf will take me 2 minutes and if there are 10 leaves on the block, it will take me 20 minutes to do them... and so I know how long it will take me to finish them and I can start thinking about what I need to do in 20 minutes. It's not really important to know how long it takes to do something - it's more important to think about what your next step is, while you're doing the current one, so that you can mentally plan what you will need next. Does that make sense? And I can think about that for multiple steps -- if I can estimate that it will take me 6 hours to applique 4 blocks, then I know that if I can work on the quilt 3 hours a day, I can finish the blocks in 8 days... assuming that I can work 8 days straight. Then... I start looking at my calendar. And I start establishing priorities and setting goals... to finish the 4 blocks by next Wednesday... and to work on the borders for the next 3 days... and to baste it on the following Monday... and... you get the idea. Again, the timelines are not as important as the fact that I am PLANNING ahead... and when I do, I am mentally setting aside the time to get the work done. I think that many of us (me included) sometimes just "let life happen" and time gets away from us and we wonder what happened. The only remedy is to not let time get away: capture it, tame it, and make it work for YOU!
-- Set goals!!! Decide what you will get done today, this week, this month, this year. I start off each year with a list of things I want to get done. Some things on the list are trivial ("move azalea to back yard") and others are more substantive ("make XYZ and ABC quilts"). I review the lists and sometimes divide them into months ("January-March: design and make Rose Medallion quilt") - so that I can check my progress during the month or year. Sometimes I set goals on my daily calendar (1/5/11-finish quilting 2nd block; 1/6/11-quilt half of 3rd block). This keeps me focused on getting things done.
-- LOOK at how you spend your time now. We all have the same 24 hours; we all just use it differently. I don't expect anyone to quilt more or less than I do... but for myself, I love quilting. So when I look at how I spend time in a day and realize that I could EASILY spend 4 hours a day in various 1/2 hour segments, in front of a computer... that's time when I'm not sewing or being with family or taking care of chores. It would be interesting for each of us to take a week and put our tasks into a journal: how much time is spent cooking, cleaning, shopping, at the computer, personal grooming, sewing, family, school, reading, other hobbies... My guess is that we would all have a real awakening "A-ha!" moment when we find out how we REALLY spend our time... or to put it another way... how much time we let slip through our fingers. Notice: I am not saying how much time we "waste." We all make choices - and what may seem like waste to one person is just chill-out or relaxation or take-a-breather time to another person. If I need that or you need that... so be it!
-- Be involved in the quilt world: join a guild, join a bee, invite folks over to quilt... I belong to a guild and 5 bees. It averages out to a day a week that I have a bee - some are just an afternoon, some are all day. But it is focused time when I can sew -- and I plan ahead (with those take-along projects so that I have things to do at those bees!) and get stuff done... but more importantly, those bees are places where my friends and I get excited and challenge each other to do more, try new things, learn new things, etc. Being part of a quilter community is important to me.
-- There are a lot more simple ways to save time and get more done - use bias bars to make stems, use paper foundations for piecing, do projects in parallel rather than serial steps, keep a clean work space (messes make me procrastinate because I don't like being around them!), take classes (you'll learn and when you do, things get easier to do), etc. Find what works for you.
-- Put down the things that you are working on that you don't enjoy or don't want to do. Work on things that excite you -- I love working on things that I can hardly wait to finish! They keep me energized - and that's how I get a LOT done!
-- And finally... you've just spent how much time reading this long note????? when you could have been sewing????? Well... I hope that you at least learned a thing or two!
Happy sewing -