This is going to sound really dorky, but I used to get REALLY excited about the first week of classes in college, because my favorite part of the whole academic process was plotting out all of the assignments, midterms, and finals in my new yearly planner.
Once a professor handed me a syllabus with the class schedule, I had pens and highlighters uncapped and ready to transfer important dates to my planner. I don’t want to say this is why I was successful in school–but it definitely helped. It’s been 6 years since I graduated college and I’m still buying the same brand of planner and highlighters for my business.
Staying organized is really important as a business owner. I have multiple tax deadlines to remember, event dates, commissions, social media posts, a blog schedule, blocks of time to work on art and record videos, and more. As an artist, I find that a visual form of organization really helps me stay on track.
In the spirit of ‘back to school’ excitement, I’m going to share with you all of my ways for keeping organized as a student, an artist, and a business owner.
1. Get a Planner
Or make one. I don’t care if you use printed sheets of paper, a bullet journal, hand drawn weekly task sheets, Google Calendar, or desk top calendar. Have a way to be able to look at your tasks and keep track important dates. You don’t have to keep things in one place, but try to create a system that works for you. Just don’t keep things in your head. Yes, some people are really great at mentally tracking their life, but you can accomplish more when you write it down.
Every year, I buy a new Blue Sky yearly planner. I usually get a new planner in December, but since it’s back to school time, these mid year planners are a great deal. I prefer the larger planner as I tend to write a lot of things down.
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I have four ways I look at my tasks for each year.
- Yearly– I have a printed single sheet of paper with all of the months of the year. I use this to block off important dates like tax payments, events, and art shows. There is a page in the planner that shows the year at a glance, but there wasn’t enough room for me to write notes–so I printed one.
- Monthly- On each month page of my planner, I keep track of my schedule for social media posts, blog posts, appointments, short term deadlines, and reminders for long term deadlines.
- Weekly/Daily- Then for each week, I break everything down into small tasks and spread them out over the week.
Basically, start with your goals for the year, and work your way down to the daily tasks you need to reach those goals. The work you do each day is most important.
2. Take notes and write down all ideas
I’m a night time thinker, which means I usually remember to do something around 11:30pm when I’m trying to fall asleep. Every night, I put my phone on “do not disturb” on my night stand, but keep it available to capture any random thoughts using Google Keep or OneNote for the morning.
You’re going to forget things. Just write it down. Either digitally or manually, capture those quick thoughts and leave them for when you have time to review them and add them to your planner.
3. Set Reminders
Are you forgetful? I can be. Last night, I put a note into Google Keep with all of the tasks I wanted to remember for this morning and then I set a reminder for it to pop up at 8am today.
I love digital tools like Google Keep and Google Calendar. I set reminders on all of my events and task lists so they are fresh in my mind when they need to be. If you are one of those people that need gentle nudges to stay on task, I suggest taking advantage of digital reminders.
4. Take advantage of colorful tools
Staying on task can be boring–why not make life a little more exciting and color code your tasks? In college, I used to write down my weekly tasks on loose leaf paper with little check boxes next to them. Then, I’d go through and highlight each check box a different color. Sometimes it was just a list of alternating rainbow colors–it served no real purpose other than to make my task list more enjoyable to look at.
If you are inspired by color, use color with your organizational tools. Get some highlighters, colorful sticky notes, use different colors on digital calendars and task lists, and more.
I’ve personally never gotten into bullet journaling, but I’m pretty certain I would love it just because they are so visually appealing.
5. Create a daily or weekly ritual to check iN
Check In #1: At the beginning of each year, I plot out my goals for the next 12 months. I loosely schedule my goals for each month and start filling in my yearly and monthly calendars.
Check In #2: At the beginning of each month, I outline my events and tasks with confidence and get an idea for what the month will look like.
Check In #3: At the beginning of each week, I outline the tasks I want to complete and the deadlines I need to pay attention to for the next 7 days.
Check In #4: At the beginning of each day, I refer to my lists and start crossing off tasks.
I check in with my planner all the time. Each day, each week, each month, each year. These are my little rituals to make sure I am staying on track. Set time aside for yourself to check in. Whether it’s over coffee each day, or every Sunday evening. Check in often, and make it a habit.
6. Create an order of priority
When I plan out my week, I have a handful of tasks that are high priority/must be completed. I usually highlight those and keep my focus on them until they are complete. Then I have medium priority tasks that are set aside until the first batch is finished. Then low priority, and optional tasks.
When your schedule starts to fill up, it can be really overwhelming to view it as a whole. When you start to separate the priority levels of your tasks, it feels much more manageable. Start with the highest priority and work your way down.
7. Schedule down time
I am the type of person that can do short, intense bursts of work, but then I need time to recharge. Since I know this about myself, I leave empty blocks in my calendar to account for the down time I may need. If I don’t need to rest, then I tackle optional tasks. If I need to slow down, I have the option built in.
Take a look at yourself and the way you work and schedule your time accordingly.
I’m not perfect at staying on schedule and completing all of my tasks (for example this blog post was supposed to be finished yesterday…), but all of the tools above help keep me motivated and organized. You are 100% accountable for all of your actions when you are self-employed, and so you have to create a framework to follow. Use your calendar and your reminders to be a substitute for the supervisor you’d normally have telling you what to do with your work day.
I hope this was helpful and gives you a little encouragement to pay more attention to the oh-so-wonderful planner. This system works for me, but everyone does things a little differently. As long as you are working from big goals to small tasks and checking in often, then you’re on the right track.
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