Lately, I’ve been feeling a little disorganized, which usually happens when I don’t plan out what I’m going and allow things to pile up, or add new projects before I’m done with the old ones. This usually lead me to streamlining, organizing, and planning my business for the year.
Now some aspects are easy to plan, like how long it take me to write, edit, and publish a book plus two extra months for buffer time, or create a book cover with one week off every five weeks for catch up time and non-urgent administrative tasks that I left waiting until I can get to them.
Over the past year, I’ve found that I like a paper planner over the digital and that making my own is the only way to have a planner that fits my needs. I like to use one planner for all aspects of my life so I can see everything I need to do in a day at-a-glance. You might like a digital planner better. Whatever you decide, using a planner will help keep you on track and these seven tricks will help you create a workable schedule for you.
Trick #1: Know your Goals & Top Priorities
For me it’s finishing my client’s book cover design on time and meeting my publishing deadlines for my next book. Everything else that I want to do, like redesigning my website, promote my business, opening that Etsy shop for the half-dozen crocheted shawls and fingerless gloves I’ve created, or helping my uncle edit and self-publish his books can all wait. To me they aren’t as important as the two stated above. Your goals and priorities are probably different from mine.
Remember, goals are different then dreams but both are needed for a business to succeed. Goals are attainable and within your control. Dreams are attainable but not always something you can control. Goals have a date when they should be accomplished. Dreams usually don’t have a date attached.
Write down your dreams and goals. Put them somewhere you can see them. Make sure you write down your goals and a deadline when they have to be done. This will give you a time-frame to work with.
Trick #2: Create a Master To-Do List
This is the point where I break out my notebook and pens. Not sure what it is about the tactile, but it’s the best way I’ve found to plan and if I want to get something done, creating a To-Do list is important. It’s daunting to see a long list of things that you need to do, want to do, or should be doing and aren’t, but creating this list will give you a visual of what needs to be worked on.
I also like to color code according to the type of to-do it is. Blue for my Book Cover Design Business, red for Writing and Publishing Business, green for Administrative/Business Tasks, purple for Platform Building, and orange for Family/Home Stuff. It allows me to see, at-a-glance, what aspects of my business I need to work on.
Trick #3: Purge what doesn’t belong from the list
Once I have my list, I need to know if they work with or against my goals. Trust me, you probably have a few things. Or if you’re like me, you’ll find that you have a surprising amount of tasks you’ve created for yourself because some guru in your field told you how you should be doing this, that, and the other thing to be successful. Or maybe a relative or friend talked you into doing something you didn’t really want to do and you are still doing it.
Starting at the top go through each task and ask yourself if that task will help you reach those dreams and goals. If it doesn’t belong, purge it from the list. Get rid of things that will hold you back and focus on things that will help you reach your goals.
Every time you think of a new task to add to the list, ask yourself if it will help you reach your goals and if you really need to do it. If you don’t, drop it. You will be happier if you do this every time a new task or project arrives.
Trick #4: Estimate how long the task will take
After I have purged tasks from my list, I like to go through the list and write down an estimate of how long each task will take me, and then I double it. I always find that it takes longer then I think it will, especially with children at home. A good way to get an idea of how long reoccurring tasks will take is to track your time and add time for distractions. This will help you schedule your time.
Trick #5: Print out a Planning Calendar for each part of
your Business & grab some small Sticky Notes
I like to print out a calendar for each part of my business. Partly because each business needs a different type of calendar and partly because I like to see what I am doing for each part of my business. My Publishing calendar is a yearly one, the Book Cover Design is a by week, and the Business Task and Platform Building ones are monthly calendars with more details on when to do things.
I start by crossing off days and weeks when I won’t be working, like holidays, vacations, appointments, and conferences. Then I write in reoccurring business dates, like quarterly sales tax and self-employment tax payments, annual reporting, payroll, etc. Fill in both the deadline and when it should be done by.
From the Master To-Do list I take the immediate tasks, like client work, and add it to my calendars. My Book Cover Design calendar is a yearly calendar with weeks 1-52 down the side and a space beside each week to write the design project or client name. I place this in the front of my planner for quick reference. My book cover design schedule is usually set for a month to two months in advance.
Next, I take the longer tasks/projects, like publishing a book (about 6 months), and break it down into more manageable tasks like research (2 weeks), planning (1 month), writing (3 months), editing (1 month), and book setup (2 weeks). I set a release deadline and a personal deadline. My Publishing calendar is a yearly one with a box for each month. I write down a task on a sticky note for each book I want to work on and working back from the personal deadline, I plan tasks so I know when to start the project. The sticky notes allow me to move things around when I find that I have too much going on in a month or something won’t work. My publishing schedule is set up for the next five years.
Lastly, I take the smaller tasks and if I have a place for them I put them on the calendar. If I don’t they stay on the To-Do List and when I have a bit of time that matches the estimated time I wrote down, I’ll try to complete it. I like to keep my planning calendars in a zip folder to be pulled out when it time for planning.
Trick #6: Place it in your Planner
After I finish my planning calendars, I pull out my planner and I write the set dates directly into my planner because those things don’t move. Next I add the tasks only for the current month from each calendar into my planner. Every evening I look over my schedule for the next day and add to the list if needed. It’s really hard to schedule phone calls ahead of time. I also take an hour each week, if my schedule is too uncertain like it is in the Summer time, or once a month if it is more set like during the school months, to plan my time.
If you used sticky notes like I do for some tasks, you can transfer them from the calendars into your planner. This makes it easier to move them around if you miscalculated your time and finish tasks ahead or behind schedule and need to re-schedule them. Also if something is reoccurring you can move the sticky note to the next time. I’ve found that a set plan helps me know what to do and manage my time so everything gets done.
Trick #7: Weekly & Monthly Evaluation
It might seem redundant to look over your planning calendars constantly, however, things happen and we have to change our plans. This is one of the reasons I don’t like to write my plan into my planner too far ahead. What I think I’ll be doing in six months to a year from now doesn’t always happen. I find that sometimes I need to place a tasks on hold for a better time or needs to be dropped altogether. What I planned to do next month might not be viable for my business goals and abandoned.
I found that to be most successful in managing my time I need to take 10 minutes every morning to look over my schedule of tasks and add anything that needs to be done, 30 minutes every week to plan out my tasks for that week, an hour every month to look over my calendars and fill in my weekly projects, and to evaluate my progress every three months. Sometimes I’m on schedule. Other times I need to re-plan.
One thing I’ve learned is that taking the extra time to do these seven simple tricks to plan my work has actually saved me hours of wasted time every month. I hope these tricks help you, too.
What strategies do you use to plan your days, weeks, and months?