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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.