Organizing your creative life.
The last few weeks have left me looking like this:
This fall/winter I feel like I'm the busiest I've been in years! It's wonderful don't get me wrong, but sometimes I have trouble juggling all of my responsibilities. Right now I'm working a ton of freelance gigs, and have a mass of other commitments in addition to the things I need to take care of in my daily life. If this sounds like you, keep reading. If you also have ADD and need some help maintaining order in the chaos of life, I'm writing this post for both of us: stick around!
Let's say you, like me, have a billion and one commitments and keeping them all together let alone budgeting time for each is causing you an EPIC headache. Let's say also, that most of those commitments require you to set your own schedule and follow through so that you can deliver a finished product by a certain deadline. (Or twenty finished products by twenty different deadlines.)
We'll start with the basics...
STEP ONE: TAKE STOCK OF WHAT'S REQUIRED OF YOU
This is going to require a few different things, most of them are making lists. Start with a rough list that's a brain dump of absolutely EVERYTHING you can think of that will require your attention in one way or another. You don't have to go through and write a dictionary definition of each thing you need to do, just a little nod to remind you what the thing is.
It's also helpful to decide on a timeline for your list. When I make lists, usually I look at things I have to do up to two weeks in advance. Some of those things I continually put off (like cleaning my birds' cage...oops!) and some are nice to have as a reminder to work on certain things as opposed to a barrage of reminders about one thing on a ton of different lists.
After you've completed your brain dump list, start a new list. This one is going to be a cleaned up version of your brain dump. A revised, more type-A style list.
Think about how you want to either color code, symbol code, or both for this list.
For example, when I'm prioritizing, sometimes I'll put red dots by the things that are the most important, most pressing, or closest deadlined, blue by things that are in the middle, and green by things that don't need to be worried about at the moment.
I also draw little squares next to my listed items, so I can see everything I've done in more detail. Also, if I've only partially completed an item then I can fill in only half of the box. If I decide to cross off the list item, it either means the item in question either didn't get completed, or is no longer relevant. Some people are just cross off people. You should do whatever feels best for your process. (And makes you feel most productive once you're finished!)
Another thing that may be handy is to have a little system that divvies up what items are necessary for you, and what are necessary for others. For example, I need to clean my room and do my laundry for me, but the script that's deadlined for this weekend is obviously for someone else.
Depending on the list, I also like to make estimations next to the list item. Whether for time, or for price. I'm planning my Christmas shopping, so it works well for me to do something like: +Mom: Zebra sweater (Max $40). That way I can keep a budget estimation in mind as well as a list of things I need to buy. Two lists for the price of one!
If I'm scheduling out my day (which is rare unless I have an EXTREMELY busy day) then I'll do the same thing with time. If I have to shoot a silkscreen, I know that will take me at least two hours to complete.
After you have a nice, comprehensive list of things that require your attention, it's time to move on to our next step.
STEP TWO: MAKE A PLAYLIST
I'm sure you're looking at me right now like I have rocks in my brain. I swear to you, I don't.
Lately I've been roped into a lot of different writing projects, and it's been a struggle to keep my brain on task. (Thanks a lot, tumblr...) What I've found that really helps me is trip-hop music. Yesterday I listened to a fellow named Funki Porcini for three hours while I worked on my Yuletide fic for AO3. It was perfect for me because when I'm writing, I need music that's repetitive and mildly sleepy. I don't have to pay attention to lyrics, and a melody could go on as long as eight minutes so there's not a lot of mental gear switching required for me. It's pleasant background music that keeps my brain calm while I'm writing. (Which sucks a lot of energy out of a person!)
While I'm cleaning, I absolutely HAVE to listen to Girl Talk. It helps keep me pepped up and motivated, and he also changes samples so often that I rarely find myself getting bored, and can focus on the true task at hand: CLEANING! He gets me in the zone like no one else. One listen of Feed The Animals, and my floor is clean enough to eat off of.
I'm not saying you need to listen to any of these people to get you in the groove of what you need to do. What I'm saying is that a lot of times, different tasks require different background music buddies.
Or, maybe you have to work in complete silence, that's cool too!
Know what's going to keep you the most happy ahead of time, so you don't have to waste precious energy trying to figure it out when you could be doing other things.
Or, if your'e super fickle like I am, try and put as much together beforehand so you don't end up having to break out of your zone to deal with something menial.
STEP THREE: WHERE YOU GONNA DO YOUR BUSINESS?
Obviously cleaning your house requires you to be...at your house.
Right now I'm writing this post and drinking delicious coffee at Heart Roasters on Burnside. I thought about the environment that was going to be most productive for my work today, and I went there.
What's required of you will often times dictate your space. If you need to work on a giant oil painting, hauling all of your sh!t to a coffee shop may not be the best option. However, if you're working on sketches for an illustration assignment, you may want to get out of your house for a few hours and have something delicious to eat, find a good book for inspiration, or soak up some other space besides your space.
Again, consider your task at hand, and consider which environment is going to allow you to be the most productive.
If you need complete silence to work, but don't want to stay home a café may not be your best bet. You can always hit up the library instead!
Maybe you do your best work at night, but a lot of places you'd like to work don't have conducive hours to your schedule. See if you can find any 24 hour coffee shops around you, or if you're feeling it, head to a bar and have a little nightcap while you work.
Think about where you're going to be able to get your best work done, and try and get to that place.
Sometimes that place is just in your own brain. How can you declutter so you'll feel better about doing your creative work?
Meditating sometimes helps me, but I often do that before bed instead of before work.
A lot of times I also end up procrasticleaning. If I have a lot on my plate that I don't want to get to, I'll clean up my space instead of working. Maybe you have a lot of things that have been on your to-do list for awhile. Sometimes getting rid of those nagging things will help you feel better when you're trying to be productive with other things. (Ugh, my poor birds' cage, it's utterly filthy!)
STEP FOUR: OH NO EVERYTHING'S DUE ALL AT ONCE!
This also happens to me a lot. Even when I get super organized, there's always a panic point before I have a huge deadline. This is why the color coded/time coded part of the list from earlier is really helpful. If you just have a bunch of green things on your list, know that you'll be fine. If you have GAD like me, a lot of times knowing you're totally alright, and KNOWING you're totally alright are two different things. Take a moment, take a breath, and look at your list again. You're going to be fine.
Let's say you've got yourself in a massive procrasticlean situation, and everything left on your list is SUPERIMPORTANTOHMYGOSH. Turn on your productivity playlist from step two, and get crackin'.
Because a lot of my work is done via computer, having apps like Self Control, and Concentrate is super helpful. They keep my wandering distractible eyes at bay so I can focus on my work, and only my work. They are even helpful if you work outside of your computer, because you won't be able to be like: "Ohhh let me take a break from cardiothoracic surgery to check my twitter feed~! Oh my gosh, check out Cher, what a lolfest. She's a total Queen!"
We don't want our patients to die, even if our patience is flatlining.
A lot of times, it's hard to ration out basic human things while you're super stressed. Remember to do the following:
- Eat. Don't let your grumbly stomach disrupt your work! If your body is focusing on how much it needs fuel, you're going to be inadvertently diverting much needed energy to places besides your brain.
- Stay hydrated. If you hydrate with water, awesome. If you hydrate with coffee (like me!) awesome. Keep fluid going into your body at all times.
- Don't forget to go to the bathroom either. Peeing is important, y'all!
Making an effort to keep your body as close to stasis as possible allows you to be more in control of where your subconscious focus is. Think of it like the Sims. You may be fine reading all day, but at a certain point, you will inevitably pee yourself, pass out, and die.
STEP FIVE: SELF CARE, SELF CARE, SELF CARE
We're in the middle of this post because we have a lot to do, yes? At the end of the day, after you've taken care of some stuff on your huge list, remember to be good to yourself.
Or maybe you need to be good to yourself at the beginning of the day. I knew my Wednesday was going to be long and grueling, so I took a long shower. I also may or may not have stood with my robe open in front of my heat lamp. (Oh my God it felt AH-MAZING.) I've been feeling a lot better about my day since I got out of the shower. I knew I needed to treat myself a little before I got to work.
At the end of the day, know that even though you're really busy; you still need to be kind to your body.
ESPECIALLY after you complete the bulk of your stressful projects. I know it's extremely difficult to remember to schedule in time to get things like a good night's sleep when you're in the grind of working.
Even if you have a lot of other things to do, after you complete a big project you owe it to yourself to set aside some time to recharge. Take a moment, look back at all the stuff you've completed, or even just the one thing you finally finished and be proud of yourself!
Getting stuff done is really hard sometimes!
Think about little things that make you feel good, and treat yourself to a few of them. Or maybe one big thing you've been thinking about for awhile. If you've just completed a lot of work, maybe it's time to splurge and get that massage you've been dreaming about?
If I'm completely capable of getting things together, you are too. Let's turn our Little Miss Scatterbrains into Little Miss Splendids!