A few weeks ago I met up for coffee with a friend and we talked about his struggle to finish creative projects. He told me that every time he starts working on a new idea, the same thing happens. He experiences a burst of energy, which results into two or three random sessions, after which his initial excitement lessens and the project is left to gather dust on the shelf.
He poured out his distress, sipped his coffee and looked at me with a hint of jealousy in his eyes, "If only I were like you," he sighed, "organized...".
Am I permitted to say this pissed me off? This being my blog, permission has been granted. This pissed me off! Let me get clear on one thing straight off the bat, organizing your life is not a trait you have / do not have. It's a choice you make.
It's true that I have a knack for organization and I do like rulers and highlighters. I'll also admit to being a spreadsheet geek. Even still, it's an ongoing commitment for me, too. I sit down at least once a month to revise, [re]organize and [re]plan. It's not entirely sexy, but it's necessary if you want to stay clear of chronic overwhelm.
So let me share with you how I do it, in four steps.
You know how sometimes - just when you're propped up with a book, a cuppa and sweet treat - you suddenly remember that one vital project you'd meant to start, like, asap. That new idea for the novel you wanted to write, that Pinterest board you meant to begin, that complete and utter metamorphoses of your wardrobe...
How hard can it be to finally unwind with all of this unfinished business floating around your hemisphere? Pretty damn hard, I know, I've been there.
All you have to do for an instant mental cleanse, is take a large sheet of paper, a pen, and unleash. Write down everything. From the recipes you want to publish to the holiday you've been meaning to book. E-very-thing.
Done? Now, it's confession time. Do you really want to learn Italian, or do you just like the idea of it? Is that cupcake side-project really essential to your purpose in life, or, is it just the munchies talking?
Believe me, learning to strike-through is essential to honing in on what you're meant to do with your life. Be brave and cross off any projects, any ideas that just don't feel right. Remember, your time matters. Fill it wisely.
Look closely at the leftover tasks, projects and ideas, and start making an overview.
I like to do it like this:
(1) in three months,
(2) in six months,
(3) in one year, and
(4) in three years.
This step can be done on your computer, or - if you're old-school like me - you can do it on paper. I've tried both; I've worked with spreadsheets and made my own paper-based version. For me, paper works best. I still look at my digital plan sometimes, but I find it's easy to 'forget' about something that isn't right in front of you.
My tip is, make it beautiful. Use your favorite colors, add a some artwork, make it count. I actually framed and hung my masterplan on the wall, so I can see it every day. This helps me keep focused and on track.
Alright, so your goal is to finish one (or more) large-scale project(s) within a certain time-frame. Now, how do you get there? Start with breaking down that large, slightly daunting goal into ten (or more) little steps. You don't have to get it perfect, but you do need to make it manageable.
For instance, if you want to write a novel within three years (tip: don't attempt to write it in six months!), your first step may be creating a two-page treatment. Your last step may be sending off the first draft of a manuscript to an editor.
Try to keep your steps simple and give yourself enough time. One thing almost everyone trips over, is that we tend to underestimate how long things take. Don't feel bad when you've missed a self-imposed deadline. Instead, try to give yourself credit for what you've achieved so far. It's about the journey, not the destination.
So, once you've broken every goal down into a few, doable steps it's time for list-mania!
By now you've unleashed, revised, scheduled and broken down your main goals for the next three years. Darling, you deserve a treat!
The next and last stage is organizing all the little steps into one weekly schedule (or a couple of small schedules, or both - whatever works for you). Again, this can be done digitally, for instance in Google Calendar, or it can be done on paper.
What works best for me, is a global overview on paper. I've tried working with Google Calendar and setting myself reminders, but it made me feel overwhelmed and kind of restricted. I realized I needed more freedom in choosing what I do each day. So, my week-to-week schedule looks like this:
I've got six broad areas that need regular attention - they help me achieve the larger goals set in step two ('your grand masterplan'). The little subheadings underneath are the steps I need to take.
For instance, under "Online" you will see: WS, Sa/Et, and Blog. This means that every week, I need to put some attention into my website (WS), my Saatchi and Etsy profiles (Sa/Et) and my blog. Once I've done that, I put a little cross down.
It's impossible for me to tick all the boxes each and every single week, and I don't have to. I know I'll figure it out as I go along and if I start to feel like I'm making a mess of things, I look at my masterplan to be reminded of my main goals.
Before I end this blog post (which was a treat to write!) I want to emphasize that life is not about disappearing behind a plan. On the contrary, making a plan is supposed to free you up. Having a plan helps you get to the core of what is most important to you. It helps you make decisions on a day-to-day basis.
You may diligently follow through on these steps, only to realize after some time that your goals aren't in alignment with what you want to do. That's okay, because you'll have released all the things you thought you should be doing. They're not swimming around in the back of your mind anymore and you'll actually be closer to where you should be.
PS: My 4-step cure was inspired by a lady called Marie Forleo and other tips & tricks I've picked up along the way. What you read in this post is my unique & personal approach to the techniques I've learned.
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