Make This Your Year!

Several years ago, I was struggling setting goals, planning and staying focused enough to accomplish much. Remembering my professional days at the Ad Agency, I thought I’d try using a good old-fashioned planner. After trying several and finding they fell short, I developed one to fit my needs as a creative entrepreneur in today’s multi-faceted environment.


I shared my custom planner with other creatives as a Best Practice at a Mastermind workshop led by Alyson B. Stanfield of ArtBiz Success. The response was overwhelming and as a result, the 2019 planners was the first year available. Current users are already requesting the 2020 planner. It makes me so happy to help others be successful!

I’m going to share how I use the weekly planner to help set goals and plan each month, all the while staying focused and getting shit done. Let me warn you – this is a long post! But it’s only because there’s so much to share and I hope you can take away a few tips and make 2020 all you want it to be!

Let’s get started.


Up First – Goals

Pick Three

What would you like to achieve in 2020? Reach high! When December 31, 2020 arrives and you look back on the year, what will you be most excited about having accomplished? Would it be spending more time with family? A business goal? Don’t limit yourself, write down all your thoughts.

Now look at the list, what three resonate the most with you? Write each one into the planner.

Why are these three goals important to you? How will you feel having accomplished these goals? Explore your thoughts in response to the questions and write out the reasons these goals are important to you. Connecting to the why behind each goal is important to help strengthen the commitment. I’ve also found it motivating to read back through these thoughts, especially when feeling lost.


What can you do each quarter to get you towards your year-end goals? Looking at each of your year-end goals, identify the steps you can take each quarter to move you closer to achieving them. If you’re having trouble getting started, brainstorm on a scrap paper or try mind mapping around each one.

What do you have planned? In each column for each quarter of the year, write in any vacation plans, workshops, seminars, events, or trips that you have. Even if they aren’t “work” related, include them! It’s important to get a clear picture of what commitments you have so you can plan around them and be fair to yourself about your time availability.

Track Growth

For some of you reading, this may not be important to you – skip ahead to the next section. Still here? Good! For most creative entrepreneurs today, having an online presence is a big part of the game. And as Alyson B. Stanfield likes to say, “You can’t grow what you don’t track.” Record the numbers for the online channels at the beginning of each month to see the growth through the year. Are the numbers good? Do you need to change things up or keep doing what you’re doing?

Refocus Each Month

At the start of each month, I like to set aside an hour to regroup and outline a plan. To help keep focused throughout the year, a planning worksheet is included at the beginning of each month.


Sum it Up

First step – flip back to the month that just passed and write a “month in review”. Do you ever have trouble remembering what you did 2 months ago? Or get to the end of the year and base the whole year just on how the past couple of months went? I have and that’s why a month in review is so important and valuable. It can help to answer questions like “Why am I so behind? Oh yea, that happened and I lost a few weeks of work.”

Look Forward

What’s one thing you’d really like to get done this month? Keep it simple!

What three things can you do this month that move you closer to your year-end goals? This is pretty self-explanatory but a great step to keep you focused and moving forward. I jot down one step for each goal.

What other action steps do you need to take during the month? Anything left from last month that needs to be done? Double check that it really is an important task and not a “should” do. Look back at the quarterly break down and add any tasks that need to be done from there. What else do you need to work on this month?

Please do not feel like you need to write something on every line, there’s a lot of space here to brainstorm.


The Heart of It

This is where the rubber meets the road, where all the previous work is transformed into a plan for the month. Take a little extra time at the beginning of each quarter (January, April, July, August) and assess where you are at, make any necessary adjustments.

Schedule Commitments

Working with the month’s weekly pages, schedule in any commitments you have such as Dr. appointments, meetings, and social outings. Be sure to include family commitments, dance recitals, concerts, and so on.

If you like to color code things, this is a great opportunity to do so. That’s not for me so I like to draw brackets around [commitments], blocking off the time they’ll take. This indicates and separates commitments vs time on tasks and provides a quick visual.

Outline the Plan

Now that you know what you have to do and the approximate time involved, it’s time to start outlining the plan for each week of the month.

Depending on time available around [commitments] each week and how long you think a task will take, assign action steps and tasks by writing them in the To Do section for each week. Include items from the month’s worksheet as well as the quarterly breakdown page and other tasks you think off that need to be completed. Anything not finished, add to the next week’s To Dos.


Make Time

Block in time during the week for the important tasks like writing a blog post or painting! These may not be appointments or commitments, but they are essential to your success. It’s been proven we as humans will take as long to do a task as we have time to do it. Usually, there are exceptions, a lot of which have to do with how unpleasant the task is. Cleaning the bathroom? I get that done as quick as possible!

Block it in and protect that time!

After a few months I found a rhythm to blocking in tasks – I got a better understanding of the time steps took and this made me better at managing my time and using it productively. Remember this is a working plan, it will change, and it needs to evolve.

Write it Down

During the week I use the planner as a time keeper, writing in what I’m doing and drawing an arrow for how long it takes. I also write in important phone calls I might need to track. “When did I last call the gallery?” I can look back and see.

By doing this is I’ve gained a better idea of how long something takes to complete. For example, I’ve learned I need to block off three hours for drafting a blog post.

An added benefit is it creates a written record of how I spent my time, what I worked on, and when. An example is in a block of time designated for painting, I’ll make a couple of notes with either the location plein air painting and/or the painting worked on.


A Few Extra Tips

Habit tracker

Moved the habit tracker to the weekly pages this year because I found I need the constant reminder and motivation each week. Posting to social media, working on the blog, keeping the website current and creating – all the weekly essential task necessary for success. And, who doesn’t love checking things off! There’s a key to the symbols on the third page, below the Social Media Growth chart.

Tracking Special Dates

As an artist, one thing I need to keep track of are entry deadlines for exhibits. When the dates are published, I write the information in the goals section of the week prior to the due date.

Keeping track of the date a painting is finished is also important. The day a painting is finished, I write the title and inventory number in the bottom gray area.

Removing Hesitations

Just like a blank canvas, clean and empty pages can elicit the same feelings of doubt or hesitation – the pages are so clean and neat...I don’t want to mess them up. For a perfectionist like me, I use Pilot’s FriXion erasable pens. Make a mistake, change my mind, just erase it and start over. It’s important to note that the ink remains erasable, so don’t go signing any checks with it. Checks? Who uses checks anymore? I think I just officially became and “old” person.

Oh, and they come in lots of different colors and you can buy ink refills – how cool is that!

Remember it’s an evolving system, and honestly some weeks I do better than others. Life happens, things change (that’s why I use the erasable pen).

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end of a very long post. I hope that you’ve found a few helpful nuggets to help you make it the year you want it to be.

2020 Weekly Planner
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Que the Clothespin!

When painting a subject that flits around as much as birds, it’s almost impossible to get the right pose, in the good lighting, AND perched on a branch with interesting shapes. Not impossible, but darn close to it. Subsequently, many of my bird paintings are a compilation of several photographs and other reference sources including sketches, direct observation, and color notes. (Watch for future posts where I’ll detail these other sources and methods.)

© Nancy Murty • Seasons End • oil on linen • 10x8 in

© Nancy Murty • Seasons End • oil on linen • 10x8 in

Being greeted by the Bluebird's cheerful melody every time I stepped out the door is one of the things I miss from our old house. They were constant visitors to the yard during the warmer weather months. Every year it was a little sad as Autumn drew to a close and the Bluebirds headed south. But come spring, they’d be back serenading from the Crabapple tree and hunting for bugs in the lawn.

This was the inspiration behind Seasons End.

Que the clothespin!

One of the reference materials used for  Seasons End,  the  Bluebird was placed where clothespin is.

One of the reference materials used for Seasons End, the Bluebird was placed where clothespin is.

Since birds don’t take direction well, I often use a clothespin as a stand-in, clipping it to a spot on the branch where I’ll place a bird in a future painting.

Two main benefits are…
1. I can decipher the direction of the light by the highlights and shadows cast on the pin.
2. I know the exact measurements of the clothespin and use this to get the proportions correct between the size of the crabapples and a bird.

I carry a clothespin in my purse, several in my backpack, plein air gear, and in Sarah (my Jeep) in the hopes that I will almost always have one with me. On this particular occasion, I’d run to Staples early in the morning for a few errands and was captivated by the early sunlight on the crabapple trees in the parking lot. I snapped lots of photos with my phone and you’ll probably see them used more than once for future paintings.

I often get some strange looks from people wondering what in the heck I’m doing. Sometimes I feel a little self-conscious and wonder if people think I’m weird? By the way, don’t look up weird in a thesaurus – it’ll really make you feel like a freak.

There you have it – the how and why I travel around photographing clothespins clipped to branches. Not that weird, right?

Answering "What Inspires You?"

Laying in bed last night, I found myself contemplating the question I’m most often asked, “What inspires you?”

Some nights I wish I was like Paul – asleep within 10 minutes of his head hitting the pillow. I, however, tend to lay awake…pondering. The topics can vary from the day’s events to a book I’m reading, a movie, recent conversations, or even important life questions like – finding a way to be able to continue eating ice cream despite becoming lactose intolerant.

I digress, back to the question at hand, “What inspires you?”

I dread this question, I really do. It’s not the question as much as the implied weight of the expected reply. “Oh, I don’t know…nothing, everything” is usually the first thing that pops in my head. Followed by, Oh Shit, they’re serious. They really want to know what inspires me; they’re expecting something profound! I’m a jeans and t-shirt gal…what you see is what you get…I’m not profound. Isn’t the art suppose to speak for itself? It’s just a momentary panic, one that passes just as quickly as it arrived.

I believe the question is really just a way to break the ice, a way to start a conversation. At least this has come to be the way I prefer to think of it when asked “What inspires you?” Instead, I replace it with “What is it that inspires you to choose to paint what you do?” It’s much less panic inducing.

What inspires me to choose to paint what I do? I’m so glad you asked.


"Light. Emotion. Color. These are the three things that have the greatest influence on my choice of what to paint. And, not just what to paint – but how to paint. The source of the inspiration helps to inform other decisions, such as what to emphasize, what to edit or leave out, how to crop, what format (horizontal, vertical, or square), high key vs low key, and more."

© Nancy Murty •  Autumn Harmony  • oil on linen • 6x6 in • SOLD

© Nancy Murty • Autumn Harmony • oil on linen • 6x6 in • SOLD


The play of light and shadows across and object or landscape will often stop me in my tracks with a “oh, look at how the light is hitting _____, it’s just gorgeous.” To which my husband (if he’s with me) usually replies with a “Yea, that’s nice.” He’s such a good sport. He really is. Light can often set the mood of a painting and I find the light and shadow pattern adds an abstract quality to the composition.

The light and shadow patterns cast on the crabapples and leaves, specifically on the leaf with the two smaller crabapples in front, was the inspiration and excitement I had for this painting.

© Nancy Murty •  Passing Through  • oil on linen • 6x8 in • SOLD

© Nancy Murty • Passing Through • oil on linen • 6x8 in • SOLD


The anticipation of watching for the White-Throated Sparrows in the yard once the Forsythia blooms and then the joy of spotting the first one was the inspiration behind “Passing Through”. It’s hard to separate art from emotion, both for the viewer and the artist. I don’t know, can they even exist apart?

© Nancy Murty •  Apple.1  • oil on linen • 5x7 in • SOLD

© Nancy Murty • Apple.1 • oil on linen • 5x7 in • SOLD


Who can resist the seductive lure of color? It may be a color harmony that attraction my attention and other times it will be something much more subtle. The beautiful bright red of the apple surrounded by the various green leaves with all their subtle changes in hue and temperature…color gets my paint brush flying every time.

There it is, light, emotion, and color, the three things that inspire me to paint what I do. What inspires you to do what you do?

Please leave a comment below, I’d like to know where you draw your inspiration from to do what you do.


What the Heck is Bird Banding?

Have you heard me mention volunteering at the banding station and wondered what the heck that is? Well I’m putting on my bird nerd persona and happily sharing it with you. Picture a huge grin on my face as you read on cause I can’t stop smiling when I talk about my days spent with the birds.

© Nancy Murty •  Seed Breaker  • oil on linen • 9x12 in •  available

© Nancy Murty • Seed Breaker • oil on linen • 9x12 in • available

For eight weeks in the spring and ten weeks in the fall, one day a week I drag myself out of bed one and a half hours before sunrise. The bad thing about spring is the time to get out of bed comes earlier and earlier every week. In the fall, the alarm clock rings later and later as the days grow shorter and shorter, so every week I get to stay in bed for five or ten more minutes.

It should be noted right here; I am not a morning person and I don’t like getting up. Therefore, volunteering with the birds must be pretty darn special for me to drag myself out of a perfectly warm bed, cuddled up with the cat every week.

Bird bags hanging by the banding table. The birds are very calm in the bags.

Bird bags hanging by the banding table. The birds are very calm in the bags.

The schedule each day revolves around what time sunrise is. I arrive at the station a half hour before sunrise and 15 minutes before sunrise we head out to open 30 mist nets. These nets are made of very fine threads that are hard to see and contain a series of horizontal pockets called trammels. Every 30 minutes the nets are checked, birds collected, placed in draw string bags, and marked with a numbered clothespin indicating the net number. At the station, the bags are hung from hooks located in the areas where the banders stand. This is my job currently, lots of walking, often in the mud, but I love it.

Left photo    - Banding table with bands and tools all set for the day.    Right photo    - Bander with a bird, taking the band off the string.

Left photo - Banding table with bands and tools all set for the day. Right photo - Bander with a bird, taking the band off the string.

The bander gently removes the bird from the bag, reads the band number to the scribe and put the band on the bird’s right leg. Next the bander measures the wing chord, tarsus (lower leg bone), and amount of fat the bird has formed. During migration the birds store the energy needed to fly long distances in the form of fat located in the wishbone area and along their sides. One important aspect of the research is to identify stop over areas where the birds can forage and replenish their fat stores for the next leg of their migration.

Left photo    - Bander measuring the tarsus.    Right photo    - Bander looking at the wing feathers for molt limits to age the bird.

Left photo - Bander measuring the tarsus. Right photo - Bander looking at the wing feathers for molt limits to age the bird.

Next the banders identify the sex (male or female) and try to determine the age of the bird by looking at the feathers for molt pattern, coloration and/or condition. In certain species, eye color can help tell if it is a younger or mature bird. In the fall the banders will look at the top of the skull checking for complete closure of the bone. The banders finish by weighing the bird and then release it.

The scribe’s notebook and bird code cheat sheet.

The scribe’s notebook and bird code cheat sheet.

During the banding process, all the information is recorded by the scribe. I started volunteering as a scribe and learned so much about birds sitting across from the bander. The biggest thing to get use to was the four-letter code system used to identify species, a Black Capped Chickadee = BCCH. Cardinal = NOCA (Northern Cardinal).

I really look forward to my days at the station (run by the Braddock Bay Bird Observatory) and it is so invaluable to my artwork. Watch for a future post on why that is.

Have a great day.

Do You Know Where Your Time Goes?

You’ve created your goals for the year, have a list of tasks or To Dos that you’d like to get done and a weekly calendar full of blank pages. Are you feeling a little lost as to how to move forward? Not quite sure how to convert your lists into actions?

Just like a blank canvas, empty pages can elicit the same feelings of doubt or hesitation on taking the next step. For perfectionist like me, the pages are so clean and neat...I don’t want to mess them up. And, that’s why I use Pilot’s FriXion erasable pens. Make a mistake, change my mind...just erase it and start over.

I’m sharing how I schedule and plan my time using the weekly planner. Of course you don’t have to use my method, but I’m guessing your at least curious if your reading this. Hopefully you’ll pick up a few tips that’ll help you make the most of the year ahead.

Before the Week Starts

Usually sometime on the weekend, I’ll sit at the kitchen table, watch the birds at the feeder and plan the week(s) ahead. I start by reviewing the Monthly Action Plan worksheet and goals for the year, this helps me reconnect with my long term vision of how I’d like my year to go.

planning your schedule in 2019

Section A – Goals

I start by writing in the tasks for the week that are directly related to my goals for the year. They are often the same each week of the month but may change from month to month. I keep these separate from the To Dos because they are the most important things for me to get done to stay on track with my overall goals for the year.

Section B – To Dos

These are more like a traditional list of items to do for the week. Some of these task will have come from the Monthly Action Plan worksheet, others from the editorial calendar. They may be deadlines, reminders, or just shit that needs to get done during the week. Often this process prompts me to think of things that need be be done, but NOT this week. If I know when they need to be done, I’ll write it on that week’s page or jot it down on a piece of paper I keep to the side..

At the end of the week, any uncompleted tasks are added to the next week’s To Dos section. If you find you keep transferring the same task from week to week, ask yourself questions such as why am I not getting this done? Is it important? Do I need help? Sometimes finding out what the hang-up is with a task, will help in deciding to either get it done or it’s not really important and let it go.

Section C – schedule commitments

The first thing I do to plan my week is to write in any hard commitments. These are usually appointments, webinars, scheduled phone calls, travel, workshops, meetings...I think you get the idea.

I bracket in the approximate duration of time for each using a PaperMate Flair marker. Each year I pick a dedicated color, last year was light blue, this year is yellow. I use a color because at a glance of the week or looking through past weeks/months, I can tell how much of my time was spoken for. Last year I discovered I was over scheduling myself with volunteer work for the building my studio is located in.

It’s also helps me realize some weeks I won’t be able to get much done because three days are committed to a workshop for example. Being able to make adjustments to my Goals and/or To Dos, helps me both be realistic with my time, and to NOT feel like I didn’t get anything done for the week.

Section D – schedule goals

Second thing is to block in the time for Goals. Remember I said these are the most important and get me towards my long term, year end goals. To give them more of a visual priority this year, I’m using a second color (gray) to bracket in dedicated time. These times are sacred, no phone calls, no checking email, looking through social media, no scheduling of other activities.

If there is a lot of scheduled commitments for the week, I may need to look at the goals for the week and make an adjustment. I know that I’m not going to get much painting done the week my sister is in town, I’ll need to schedule more painting time the week before and after her visit.


Section E – Record what you do

I leave unscheduled blocks of time in the week to work on items from the To Dos list...or follow where the mood takes me. Oh come on, who hasn’t said “I feel like doing. . . . .”

Example of how I record time spent during the week.

Example of how I record time spent during the week.

I record what I did and draw a vertical line, blocking off the time spent. This is important for two reasons, the first is I start to get an idea how long something might take to do. How long it takes to write blog posts for example.

The second reason is it creates a written record of how I spent my time and what I worked on when. For example in a block of time for painting, I’ll make a couple of notes with either location of plein air painting or the painting I worked on. And that brings me to the last section, F.

Section F – Special Notes

(Refer to first image.) I use the gray area at the bottom of the page to record when a painting is completed, or to make a special note for/or about the day.

In the image at the beginning of the post, I’ve made a reminder note to schedule time with Rachael, who I’ll be seeing at the meeting that night. Other examples are having received a special phone call or shipped a painting. Since I don’t write in this area all the time, it’s easy to look back through to find important dates.

That’s it!

That’s how I use the weekly planner to schedule and plan my weeks. It’s an evolving system, and honestly some weeks I do better than others. Life happens, and that’s why I use the erasable pen. :)

So pick two markers in your favorite colors, erasable pen and find a comfy spot to plan your schedule for the week or weeks ahead. Stop being reactionary to what happens each week, take control and get done what you want. I say this as much for myself as you. :)

I’ll have one more post for you about wrapping up at the end of the month so check back then.

Always open to suggestions so if you’d like to share what works for you, I’d love to read about it.


Pilot’s FriXion erasable pens are available on Amazon and come in lots of different colors. Replaceable ink cartridges are also available.

PaperMate Flair marker can be found at drug, grocery, craft, and art stores. Other markers that work well (don’t bleed through the paper) are also available at most craft stores in the scrapbooking section and art stores.

2019 Weekly Planner designed for creatives, is available in the online shop.