Reduce Fret & Increase Creative Organization: 6 Cool Tools
Note: A recent article discussed how Mind Rooms can shift how you organize tasks and desired creative actions into meaningful, pleasurable categories. This piece follows up with what to do next with those Mind Rooms and what tools can help you.
I led tele-conference recently on “creative organization for creative entrepreneurs.”
More than one participant bemoaned that she didn’t want to spend hours organizing instead of doing. It’s a good point. You could obsess about color-coding and labeling files and creating elaborate systems that you then forget about.
But if you’re busy and juggle multiple projects, a simple system of creative organization is crucial for you to flourish with less fret. It can help a creative person with a regular job become a freelancer (relying on income in most ad-hoc singular client situations) and a freelancer ultimately become a creative entrepreneur (someone who has many related enterprises and income streams that allow her to flourish with her own creative projects without being impoverished).
Consider this: If you juggle multiple projects, you likely get anxious for three reasons:
1) you feel overwhelmed with having too much to do with too little time;
2) you fear you will forget to do something or that you’ve already forgotten something;
3) you in fact forgot to do something.
The result of creative organization? Simple rituals and tools ease your mind so you can focus on what matters most: creative projects and productivity.
So, to review from the previous article on Mind Rooms, I place items on my master list of tasks (obligations) and responsibilities (creative actions on behalf of my best self) into their respective Mind Rooms. I then prioritize items according to their urgency – steps to complete this week, this month, and beyond. Three slashes (///) next to a task = this week. Two slashes = this month. One slash = backburner. I don’t fret and over-analyze during this step. I work by gut reaction and trust it.
Here are six tools and rituals to help you shape your creative mind into more pleasurable creative organization and productivity.
1. Use a White Dry-Erase Wall or Board. I’ve wanted one for years. Last autumn, I bought six feet of “peel-able” dry erase board material that sticks flush on my study wall and on the back side of my study’s barn door. The one on the wall I use to map out ideas for my book. The one on my barn door I use as my Mind Rooms Blueprint.
One red column for the TRACKING WONDER WRITER ROOM (book, poems, and blogs). One blue column for the CREATIVITY CONSULTANT ROOM (clients and gigs). One green column for the EMBODIED CREATIVITY TEACHER ROOM (workshops, retreats, gigs).
The top third lists the week’s priorities for each room. The middle third lists the month’s priorities. The bottom third lists the backburner projects and the name of the month when I plan to prioritize each backburner project.
Try it: There are numerous ways to use these tools to help your mind organize itself visually. You find a way that works for you.
WHITE WALL RITUAL: Each Sunday evening, I take a bar of 88% dark chocolate and clean my Mind Rooms. I erase what I’ve completed and reprioritize for the next week. That hour of pleasurable planning saves me hours of fretting and grief and unconscious tension during the week.
The result? Your mind doesn’t have to juggle six or nine months’ worth of projects or even two weeks’ or even a week’s worth of tasks. It can focus on today because the rest of the tasks will have their time in one of my Mind Rooms.
WHITE WALL OPTIONS:
Opti-Rite Lite: I bought a six-foot roll of Opti-Rite Lite white board at MyWhiteBoards.com., has great products and customer service. (I’m not an affiliate but should be given how many referrals I offer.)
IdeaPaint. This product is Scott Belsky’s and Behance’s variation. Smooth application. Fairly odor-free. Quick drying. Easy erasing. It’s an elegant solution if you have the wall space.
Presentation White Board with tripod. If you lack the wall space, you might experiment with this option. I have one for when I travel for an extended period and work on my book. I have to map and draw and “download” ideas and connections.
2. Give each week day a theme. Since I attended fun-packed yet organized days at summer camp as a tow-headed boy, I’ve been obsessed with how to improve the quality of each day.
I finally have the organization and way of life that lets me shape each day with more meaning and pleasure. Except when I’m traveling to give talks or presentations, these are my current priorities each day:
Mondays and Thursdays: Client/Consultant Days
Tuesdays: Project / Teacher Project Day
Wednesdays & Fridays: Book/Writer Day
Saturday and Sunday: Family and Homesteading
I still do other things besides what the theme states (i.e., I try to write five days a week; I do get outdoors and I do play with my little girl every day!), but my mind knows what the priority is.
The benefit: Your brain is notably more efficient when you concentrate on one task or a series of related tasks (i.e., tasks that generally use the same region of the brain or associated brain regions) for an extended period of time. Again, a little planning will save you mind time.
Try it: How could you shape at least one day of the week to give your mind a pleasurable priority?
3. Use a Weekly Shaper to shape times of the day for pleasurable work-flow shifts. Several clients use a simple chart I’ve created for them called a Weekly Shaper. It simply divides each work day into threes for Morning, Afternoon, and Evening. If they cannot give a whole day a thematic priority, they often can give some mornings, afternoons, and evenings a thematic priority.
For instance: Monday and Wednesday mornings – Painting. Tuesday afternoon and Thursday afternoon – Painting Workshop development.
These clients’ priorities often change from week to week, so they print out multiple copies of the weekly shaper and use four or five of them a month at a time.
Update: I have since designed these ideas into
the Mind Rooms eGuide: bypass overwhelm, make time, and shape your creative work flow.
It’s kind of game-changing for hundreds of creatives.
4. Keep an iCal or Microsoft Outlook Calendar. These little programs changed my happy little productive life a few years ago. I could never keep up with those office schedulers. They were one more notebook I had to juggle. And they’re generally not pleasant or pleasurable to work with.
Enter iCal and the Outlook Calendar. They’re both intuitively designed to help you transfer some of your white wall focus to your computer calendar.
The color-coding features help my mind quickly see when I have client meetings, when I have writing and research time, when I have client preparation scheduled, and so forth.
Because I do spend several hours at the desk, this nifty program helps my wandering mind remember where it’s supposed to be.
5. Keep an Action Cahier in your pocket. You’re not always at the computer or the white wall. And we all know that we get ideas or remember tasks while lounging and reading, while walking or driving or shopping for groceries or having a conversation. When you’re out and about, in other words, your mind wants to sneak quickly into one of your Mind Rooms.
Scott Belsky and Behance (again) have created a slick and very usable notebook called the Action Cahier (French for “notebook”). Its compact, soft-back design lets you slip into your pocket. The left-sided page has dot grids so you can sketch, design, or reflect on an idea. The right-sided page has a place to write in a topic or, as I use them, the name of a Mind Room. Then, seven bars below let you write in action steps. It’s a quick way for me to organize a dynamic task list when I’m out in the field or on the road. Again, I’m not an affiliate but should be given how many of these Cahiers I’ve given away and recommended to clients.
6. Use Evernote to keep tabs on your research and ideas. Phil Libin and Stepan Pachikov and team wanted to create a simple product that would help you “remember everything.” That’s Evernote’s motto, and their memorable elephant head icon reiterates the mission. You can download the basic app for free. The elephant head appears at the top of my Firefox browser, left to the home icon.
Now, whenever I’m researching or surfing online, I can select part or all of an article, click the Evernote elephant head, and – trunk roar! – it’s saved in one of my customized Evernote folders. When I’m ready to dwell for an extended time in the WRITER/TRACKING WONDER ROOM, then I can read through the week’s research and update my bibliography.
This product or something like it is essential for thought leaders and creative entrepreneurs who want to keep abreast of research and ideas in their respective fields.
DROP IN THE HUT
What tools help you organize your mind and actions? What rituals help you prioritize and organize? Do you think creative organization a waste of time or counter to your creative productivity? Join the conversation.
My mind bogs down when I try to capture too many tasks for too many projects. Instead, I spend a minute or so each evening putting down the three to five tasks (preferably just three) I most want to complete the next day. Those few tasks encompass all of the various projects I have going at any given time.
I rest easy knowing that I will feel good about the next day’s work if I complete those most-important tasks. If all of my tasks don’t fit on that small list, I put some on the next day’s list, or the day after. Sometimes I get to that day, and the tasks there don’t seem all that important. So much the better; now there’s room for what’s more important to me that day.
You asked about tools. I use the Tasks list in my gmail account. That way I can see and check off tasks anywhere I find myself—at the office, at home, or out and about with my phone.
Lately I’ve been on a clutter busting kick, clearing out closets, my backyard shed, my papers, everything that snags my mind as I focus on what’s meaningful to me right now. It’s amazing how this process clears the mind as well as one’s physical space.
Michael: I, too, find limiting overall number of tasks per day more gratifying and productive. Readers might find useful the tip on the Tasks tool on gmail accounts. Thanks for adding to the conversation here.
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