Schedule your Work/Schedule your Life

Planning is key
photo credit: Alicia Chenaux – Ch’Know Blogs

If there is one thing that will make a difference to running a creative practice, including a business, it is scheduling your work. Scheduling includes breaking down your projects into workable to-do lists, blocking out time on your calendar, and working to real deadlines.

Why should you schedule your work in this kind of detail?

Productivity

Block out or “chunk” good sized periods of time. This allows you to take substantial actions and be prepared for your day of work. The work expands to fill the time available – have you noticed this? If you don’t have an endpoint, the work feels like it will never end – and then suddenly your deadline is upon you, and you have to rush. That is probably my biggest single challenge – stopping at the stopping time.

Write everything down that needs to be done, assign a time frame, and then add it to the calendar.

  • One great resource I use to break down projects into tasks and milestones is Workflowy. It is a highly intuitive app, that allows me to layer the to-do’s. I have it right on my toolbar. But it doesn’t have a calendar.

Assign your daily tasks on your list a priority. Once that is done, just keep going.

Time for Inspiration

Don’t wait for inspiration before getting started. Push at your creativity. Sit down to work at a specific time. Just the act of going to your workspace might get you started.

Use a jumpstart to jump in to your work. If nothing is happening, try one of the creativity jumpstarts here – List, Mindstorm – or try a writing prompt. I have more jumpstarts coming soon, that I am currently testing.

If you are still uninspired on your current project, don’t wait. Do Something Else. Sketch, make notes, plan out a different project, while your current problem mulls along in your subconscious. Having plenty of time before your deadline, because you have scheduled your work, lets you do this.

Increments add up

We’ve all heard “the longest journey starts with a single step” yada yada. But it’s TRUE. Every small action builds on the one before. Even if you only have a few sentences, that is a few more than you did have.

When you are at the beginning of something – a childhood for example – and you look forward, 20 years seems like forever. But when you look back at 20 years, you wonder where the time went. It went by in days and hours. Increments.

You allow for Flow

If you have scheduled a long block of time, no interruptions and on the calendar – you are creating the opportunity for Flow to happen. You will find that time goes by unnoticed and you will be wonderfully productive.

Schedule rest and “doodle time” too.

You won’t have to wait for new inspiration if you have a backlog of ideas from your doodling. Inspiration may not strike in a timely manner but it can be encouraged. Use your doodle time to try out new techniques – maybe make some ATC’s – or do some learning – watch a technique video or read something inspirational.

How To Schedule – Step-by-step

  • Work Backwards – break down your projects into steps with milestones. This is where Workflowy is so helpful because it lets you layer the tasks within each project.
    1. Go as far as you need to, to get to the very start. If you think “but first I have to…(clear a space, buy some essential element, find the unusual tool where it it stored, gather supplies, or finish some other task)” then you are not yet at the real start. Include those other tasks. “Prep the workspace” is my perennial starter block, that I often forget to allow time for.
    2. Then always add a date, a deadline or a time span to the To Do list, depending on the type of task. For my blog posts, I write the day it will post. For my daily plan, I note how long I will be devoting to the task today. In my weekly plan, I will make a note over several days when I plan on working on parts of tasks.
  • Work Forwards – this is especially good for doodling time, sketching, or “planning the planning”. It is also good for long term projects like writing, when the deadline is so far in advance that it feels unreachable, or like you have “plenty of time”.
    1. Instead of a deadline, allot a time span for each activity. When I was writing my biography, instead of planning milestones, I planned time to be spent, on a daily basis, and jotted down the word count each day. It is a good way to learn how long something might take over all.
    2. Prioritize – assign a number to each item on your To Do list in order of importance (and sometimes urgency). Yes, I’m repeating this point. Once you have both a number and time frame, you can actually block out the calendar.

What kind of calendar works for you?

Computer, on the wall, a planner book, bullet journal, a combination? I use a combination of my computer calendar and bullet journal. I transfer events into my bullet journal month page, and then by week. But the Calendar sends me reminders for events and appointments.

Your Mission: Choose a Calendar or two that you will use for your creative practice

Monthly Calendar –

  • A Digital calendar on computer, tablet or phone – good for lots of appointments; repeated events; things that need reminders regularly (eg bills); annual, quarterly or monthly events or deadlines; combining several people’s schedules into one; travel; month-by-month big picture. Makes moving things around easy.
  • A Wall (or Desk) Calendar is the analog version of a digital calendar, in that it should supply an easy month-at-a-glance. The main difference is that it won’t send you reminders, but you don’t have to make an effort to go to it, if it is hanging in a visually accessible spot. I like to use a lot of color coding to help me see where too much is going on at a time. Color code people, types of tasks or individual projects.

Bullet Journals – good for remembering things and planning out the weekly view. Keeps all kinds of information in one place because it also functions as a note book. Takes ongoing work – but that helps the user focus and return to planning and scheduling regularly.

  • It’s possible to make them decorative and beautiful if you want to put the time into that and it will help you focus. Don’t use that as a procrastination tool! Sometimes people use washi tape to mark a task as done, and then end up with pretty pages to use for art journaling. I don’t because, I like to be able to access the record of past weeks, so that I can see where my time management needs improvement. I keep mine simple with very few coded “bullets”.
  • One of the keys to this system is that you can migrate undone or unfinished tasks forward, and you get a feel for what is genuinely possible in a day. So, for that reason, bullet journals can be good for people who over commit themselves (like me!). Sometimes that means going back and forth between pages, and they are not as good for layered appointments, compared to a digital calendar.
Two bullet journal pages
Not pretty but they work for me.

Daily Planner – good for complex to do lists when managing multiple priorities or interests every day – not as good for the big picture over a month, quarter or year. For someone who likes having the pages premade. I use my Bullet Journal for the daily planner functions. Other people like a digital version. Here’s what Marie Forleo recommends. This works!

Project planning software – other than Workflowy, I have not been enthused the few times I have tried different digital project planners. Most of the time these appear geared towards teams – delegating tasks, with deadlines. They look great but are excess to my needs. YMMV – and please let me know if you have found a fantastic one for creatives.