When you run a creative business, keeping track of your projects & to-dos is VITAL to getting anything done! Learn how I use paper planners to help me keep track of my week at TaraSwiger.com/podcast287

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How do you turn your to-do lists into a plan? How do you know what to do every day? How do you fit your work around non-work appointments and responsibilities? This is what we’ll talk about this episode.

This week I’m answering the question that occurs after you make a map – how the heck do I follow through on this every day?

You see, in my book Map Your Business and in my Starship Program, you begin by getting clear on your big vision. And then you set a goal and break it down into steps and actionable to-dos. But after you have that big list of what you need to do and the order you need to do them, then what? You can’t get it all done in a day or two, you have to continue to work on it over weeks.

And that’s where a lot of us get stuck. So for the month of December, we’re going to have a series on planning – the actual figuring out what to do each day and week.

Today we’re going to start by how I use paper planners, and next week we’ll talk about task management software. As we near the end of the year, we’ll talk about how to pick your next big project. And we’ll kick off the year with an episode on January 1, about planning your best year yet.

If you’ve followed me on Instagram or YouTube, you know that I started using a real paper planner in 2019, in part because I’m having more meetings than ever thanks to foster care. I’ll talk about how I use it in a minute, but first let’s talk about what I used to do that worked really well.

Before 2019, I just wrote stuff down in my journal. I kept one journal for everything – work, personal, notes from reading or meetings, to-do lists, etc. Each week I’d look at my goal and make a list of projects for the week – what do I need to do to move that project forward? what do I need to do in my weekly tasks? What else? I’d usually make one big list for the week. When I woke up in the morning I’d look at the list and pick 2-3 things to do that day as a priority. I write down what I will do that day so I have a list in front of me to focus.

I typically spent the first few days of the week doing stuff that needed to be done weekly, and the next few days working on projects. If I didn’t get to something, I’d push it forward to the next week. This worked super well for a long time. When the video about how to bullet journal (the very basic bullet journaling) came out, I thought, “Oh, that’s what I do.” It’s not fancy or pretty but it kept me focused.

And, I should note, during this time I would see photos on the tag #planneraddict and think – who has time for all that embellishment, do those people get anything done?! 

But then my life blew up, aka, I had a toddler. And she had appointments, meetings, visitations, at very specific times. And I never knew if I was going to have the time, energy and focus to do one thing, or twenty things.

So in early January I found myself really frustrated that my list system wasn’t working. I’d forget to open my journal for days. I’d have time to work but not be able to decide what to do because I hadn’t made a list for the week on Monday morning.

I had months of not being productive OR feeling creatively inspired at all. No knitting or quilting or painting. Then I stumbled up The Happy Planner on Instagram, and I thought – hmm, maybe I need to try a different method and feel like I had even a little creative outlet. And the COLOR, I love color. And I’ll be honest, 2 year olds are addicted to stickers and it kinda got me excited about stickers. So I got a Happy Planner on sale and some stickers and it took me a few weeks, but I figured out a way to use the planner that really really works for me. If you want to see the actual pages or process, this is my planning playlist including a number of plan with me vlogs.

The process is very similar to what I did in the journal, but now with stickers. 

First, I make a list of this week’s projects. Then, I look at the appointments I have for the week. I generally add a sticker on each page with an appointment and write the appointment in. Then I make a space for the books I read that week (along the bottom). And I add another sticker or two to make it pretty.

I should tell you that as I record this, the toddlers who have been with me since June just went home, so my week was FULL of appointments. While they’ve been here, some days are pretty much entirely filled with the kids and their appointments. So I can easily fill in Monday-Wednesday’s to do list right away, because those days have specific tasks that I know I need to do first – like write and record the weekly podcast episode, finish up a project I worked on last week, or schedule some social media posts. Then I fill in Thurs and Friday as I go through the week and have to push stuff forward, or I work on bigger projects on those days.

I used to just wake up and choose to do whatever on each day, but with less time to work, I decide ahead of time what I’ll need to do each day, or else things will never get done. 

Once it’s written down, you actually have to do it.

Sometimes this is the hardest part, to make sure your day doesn’t get away from you, that when a pocket of work-time opens up, you LOOK at the list and actually do what it recommends. If this is a struggle for you, the first question is: Do you have time, with boundaries around it, dedicated to getting stuff done? Are you intentional with the time you have? What could you do to create the habit of looking at your list?

Remember – there is no perfect planner or perfect system to make you perfectly productive. Your job is to find what works for you, change when your life or needs change, and keep giving yourself grace while you experiment.

I’d love to know what YOU use and how you plan… and guess what? We have a new free community where you can share your planner and your system with us! Come over to facebook.com/groups/taraswiger  to join makers who are growing in confidence AND in profit, just like you! The group is limited to those who have a creative business, so if that is you, please come join us!

And remember to tune in next week where I’ll be sharing how I use the task management software Asana to keep track of everything for this podcast and my Program.

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