Organisation tips for creative entrepreneurs
When it comes to running a business, it’s not always easy to strike the right balance between being creative and being organised. Most creative entrepreneurs would prefer to spend their time making things, yet the reality is you’ve got your paintbrush/hammer/whisk in one hand, and your iPhone in the other.
I think a lot of creative business owners feel that they don’t really like the admin side of things, but they find ways to be efficient out of necessity – to get through it quickly and make space for the part of business they love the most – making stuff.
For me, I don’t mind the organsiation bit. I was given a pretty strong OCD gene, and I’ve stretched its legs over the years with a ridiculous amount of spreadsheets and to-do lists. But that doesn’t mean that I enjoy admin any more than the creative parts of my job. For me, being organised means I don’t waste brain space worrying about whether I’ve forgotten something, or what I need to do to prepare for the next day. It’s about having a plan to get stuff done so that I can stay focused and clear on what I need to do.
I’ve gathered a few tips, tricks and apps over the years to help me stay organised, so here they are:
Everyone has their preferred email system. I remember the day I was forced to move from Outlook to Gmail: it was a hideous day of denial, pleading for it not to happen, a bit of keyboard bashing, and, finally, acceptance as I cried over my lost folder structure. These days, Gmail and I are good mates. I love Google Docs to store documents in, and the calendar has as much function as I need at the moment.
I try and keep my inbox as close to 0 as humanely possible because it seems to reduce the amount of time I waste staring blankly at it. I’ll try and respond to emails within the same day, and then they get filed away. Or, if an email requires action, I’ll make a note of it on my to-do list and then file the email away in an action folder. I get all prickly under the armpits if I have more than 50 emails in my inbox, so I keep it pretty clean and then I find I don’t waste time worrying about it. Some people run with thousands of emails in their inbox, and that’s cool if it works for you, but there is a much higher chance of feeling stressed out by it, or missing emails, which you can’t always afford to do when you’re running your own business.
Another thing that is great for productivity is to have set times to check and answer emails and social media and be strict about following it. We all get carried away in the immediacy of email and social media and the demands they make on our attention are hard to resist. Sneaking in for a quick peek can easily become an indulgent hour-long binge (how does that happen??!). Getting some sort of control over this can make a HUGE difference.
To do lists
If you’re anything like me, you need to-do lists to get through the day. And you live for the moments you can tick something off and shout ‘Done!’ triumphantly to nobody. I’ve got two to-do lists – one is on Evernote, which keeps a running list of everything I need to do, and has little sub-categories:
- Client work
- Website maintenance
- Business development and marketing
- Business admin
- Social media
The other is a paper list, which I usually create each day or sometimes one for a week, and it contains my most pressing tasks. This is because I’m a slave to paper, and I really can’t let it go. And having a sheet of paper right in front of me keeps me focused on the important things that I want to get done before the sun goes down.
But we’re all different. For others, post-its do the trick. Or, there are so many apps on the market that you can try. All of the apps I've suggested below are free for the basic functionalities like making lists and managing and sharing them, and they can all be accessed from any device, so you can sync straight from your laptop to your phone. If you want fancy things like custom filters, mobile and email reminders and comments, then each of these has a premium version that you pay for:
Free downloadable planners
As a little gift to you, I've prettied up my daily and weekly planners to help you get organised.
This one might seem fairly obvious, but it’s something I don’t do all the time and I can tell when I haven’t. It seems a bit easier to focus on your day if you’ve written down the most important things you need to get done. If you’re struggling to know where to start, think about the tasks that will bring the most value to your business. Or figure out the tasks that you can’t ask anyone else to do. Delegate or outsource what you can, so that you are as free as possible to concentrate on all the important stuff.
If you’re dying under a mountain of tasks and can’t focus because you’re panicking, you could try using David Allen’s two-minute rule, which is pretty simple. He says that when you’re clearing a backlog, if any task takes less than two minutes to action, then do it straight away. A lot of tasks that we procrastinate with can actually be completed in those two minutes. It feels good to bash a few things out of the park, and can get you on a roll to start getting other things done.
A calendar is a must if your day includes meetings, appointments or events. Depending on how complicated your day is, the inbuilt calendar on your phone or email system might be enough for you (or you might have a paper diary), or if you’ve got meetings coming out of your ears, there’s a few handy apps out there that can help you stay on top of your day.
Notetaking and inspiration
This is one area that I fall down on – I see a website I like and I bookmark it, and then somewhere else I have lists written with links of articles that have inspired me, and then I have notes of things I want to remember somewhere else.
Evernote is the app that’s widely acknowledged to bring all these random brain wanderings into the one place, although I have to admit that it's one of those apps your either have a love or hate relationship with. I started using it about 6 months ago and I still can’t say I’ve completely got to grips with it. I feel like it needs quite a lot of work to set up folders and tags and categories, so that you can actually find what you want. But, I’m persevering because I want to be able to actually find my notes after I’ve made them, and I like the idea of having them all in the one place.
Whatever you use to scrawl your notes in – whether it’s an app or a notepad – try and keep it all together so that you don’t have bits and pieces of your brain scattered over different apps and devices that you can't piece back together.