If you’re anything like me, leading a well-organized life does not always come naturally. Spreadsheets are scary, eye-glazing beasts. I will pick the fun, creative tasks (anything involving design, pretty colours, social media, writing) over the boring administrative tasks any day. This is why the notifications in my email inbox have on occasion tended to creep to three (gasp, four?) digit heights.
Building and running a creative business has forced me to get my act together and improve upon these necessary organizational skills. This post will offer some of the tips I've learned (or, am still learning) to help you stay on track with your workload. If you're a creative type who loves the fun work, and dreads the admin tasks, I get it. This is for you.
The majority of my working hours are spent at my kitchen table. From 9 am – 2 pm, I am on my computer doing administrative or behind-the-scenes tasks for Crescent Choirs (and now The Bortzes!) From 3 pm – onwards, I’m usually teaching lessons or in choir rehearsals.
Andrew and I share the admin tasks for our businesses and thankfully the tasks that we each find enjoyable are very different. He is the finances man (budgets, invoices, taxes, payments, spreadsheets) and the technology man (he is endlessly patient and can spend hours troubleshooting, improving, and problem-solving). I spend most of my time on communications, marketing, web upkeep, and musical programming.
It’s really easy for me to get swept into a fun project and put the horse blinders on to all of the other important tasks. By no means have I developed a perfect system for keeping up with the admin work, but over the past few years, I’ve learned some helpful things (through plenty of trial and error) for how to establish an organized working routine.
1. Get to know your body’s peak focus times.
Start paying attention to the times of day when you feel the most energized, mentally alert, and able to focus. For instance, I am a morning person. I do my best work (creative or not) before lunchtime. In university, pulling an all-nighter to finish an assignment or study for an exam was out of the question. I hated working after dinnertime, so if I had a paper deadline, I would go to sleep early and set my alarm for an ungodly hour like 4:00 am to wake up and get down to business. You have to find your rhythm. I now schedule all of my tasks that require the most mental focus (emails, writing, rehearsal planning) for the morning and save the easier things for after lunch.
2. Google calendar is your best friend
"Pro"-tip number two: schedule everything. Everything. Meals, meetings, workouts, phone calls, emails, deadlines, social media, rehearsals, prep time, breaks, social events. You name it, it’s on my calendar. I map out my entire day in 30-minute intervals and do my best to complete the scheduled task at-hand before moving on to the next thing.
This helps me stay accountable, on track, and minimizes wasted time. If I don’t complete a task on Monday, I simply drag it over to Tuesday. Bonus: every calendar item can be colour-coded which makes my nerdy heart sing.
3. Build a routine
As a creative who is easily sidetracked and loves new projects, I need structure. I am a much happier person when I'm following a daily or weekly routine. For me, this means waking up at the same time, going to bed at the same time, dedicating certain days of the week to specific tasks, etc. When my routine is interrupted by anything (sickness, returning home from travel, lack of sleep, a big life change, overworking), I get anxious. Having a predictable schedule is key to my mental health and productivity.
4. Time-batch that sh•t
What the heck is time-batching?
In a nutshell: instead of switching between a bunch of small, similar tasks throughout the day, you group them into larger periods of time to maximize productivity.
For instance, I try to only reply to emails between 8:30 and 9:30 am on weekdays. Unless a message requires a critically time-sensitive response, I’ll save a reply for the following morning. This way, I don’t spend all day checking my inbox and thinking about replies. Similarly, instead of writing social media posts daily, I will spend a few hours on Monday creating content for the entire week. I create rehearsal plans for all of my choirs on Thursdays. I grocery shop on Saturday and spend Sunday afternoons cooking for the entire week. You get the idea.
Once you get the ball rolling working on a task, it’s easy to keep the momentum. If I’m constantly switching between tasks (replying to emails or posting to Instagram or thinking about a rehearsal), I lose momentum and don’t accomplish as much in a day.
5. Find secret organizational mentors (they don’t even have to know they are mentoring you!)
Get inspired by others. One of my dearest friends, Sena, is an organizational wizard. I had the pleasure of working with her last year on some projects for Crescent Choirs. She brilliant at her job and helped us get on track with communications. What she doesn’t know is that in addition to working her magic for Crescent Choirs, she has also helped transform how I organize my business. Small example (because there are too many to share): before any of our phone calls, she would send me a point-by-point schedule for our conversation. This way, we would (mostly) stay on topic with the important items we needed to cover. So simple, so brilliant.
One of my dad's favourite sayings is, 'you become like the people you surround yourself with.' Spend time with people who inspire you and motivate you to nourish the parts of yourself that need some growth. In my case, some highly organized people. They'll rub off on you (not literally).
There you have it! Five pro-tips from a not-so-organized (but learning) creative professional. Make sure to check out Sena's blog because in addition to being an organizational wizard, she's also a thoughtful wordsmith.