Running your own business can look very differently from field to field. As a concept developer, my workflow tends to look like this:
acquire client lead
schedule 2-3 calls with client during the project duration
design the project (2-4 weeks)
deliver the project
Maybe you'd have such three to four such flows at a time, but they are still mananagable.
That sounds really nice and smooth, doesn't it?
Only if you have a team to outsource everything else, or if you are employed at a company.
Since Bonafide Studio early days, I knew that I want to produce both my own designs, and continue in my trade of helping businesses improve their existing designs and elevating their business operations.
Balancing creating your own products with concept development AND running a business turned out to be much more complex than I anticipated. Suddenly, I became my own client. If that didn't make your heart tremble, let me explain you why it did make mine.
Being the creative soul that I am, I tend to drown in my own ideas. I want to design a wealth of many different objects and solutions, create concepts, start new initiatives, tell stories, all while doing it with sustainable and intentional values. Having a structure for a business is easy, compared to having a structure for all your ideas.
I initially thought that I should just focus on all things business, but soon enough I realized that without idea generation, a business simply cannot grow.
But how do you even pick the ideas to start with? How do you make these decisions?
Everything seems like it needs to get done NOW, everything is important, everything is desirable.
If you are a creative just like me, the following thought process might really help you in your workflow.
How I got my head out of my own a**.
I ended up practicing what I preach - The Six-Month Calendar Method - not only for my household, but also for my business. It proved to be invaluable for me during the first months when the projects flew in, and ideas seemed to wrap me in their own little chaotic universe.
First step : Mental Offload
I wrote. I wrote till I couldn't write no more. I filled precisely eight A4 size pages with the many ideas and the many to-dos I had already on-going for me. I gasped when I saw them all laid down on my floor. If placed in a line, they would form a two meter long to-do list. 2 meter! 200 centimeter! Most people aren't that tall!
How do you make sense of that? Each page had about 20 to-do's. Quick math - that's 20x8 , which is about 160 tasks. And that's with not expanding some of the ideas into smaller, actionable steps!
No wonder I was feeling dizzy! I kept all of that in my mind.
Taxes. Clients. Invoices. Website. Product design. Packaging. Operations. Workshop. Studio. Production. Sourcing. Occasional family to-do. Social media. Oh my gosh, social media! That's a full-time job in its own!
I urgently needed to design a sustainable flow for myself so I could juggle all of this. Therefore, onto the next step we go! Wohooo!
Step two: Sense making
I took two color highlighters and assigned meanings to them. Red - urgent tasks, that I must do within this next month or sooner. Green - tasks that are not necessarily urgent, but that would make long strides for my business.
This normally meant that I highlighted approximately forty tasks.
Rest? I left unmarked. The idea is that the rest of the tasks that are not an emotional burden or urgent, have no resistance in taking them up and are easy to get started on and easy to do. Those, I decided, can be filler tasks for whenever I would be tired from mentally draining tasks. I would also intentionally not schedule them.
Step three: Strategize
Now it's time to decide when this plans need to take place.
I placed post it's onto each task highlighted in red and green, transferring each subject on to the post-it note. I would then give each Red task one day and Green task one day "Eat the Frog" style, by placing the post-its on my calendar. No piling them in one day was allowed. This meant that in one day I distributed the 40 tasks across 2-4 months.
I evaluated the mental load each of these tasks would take from me, and I scheduled them according to how I felt my energy levels would be after having completed them, so some weeks would only get about 3 green and red post-its, if the anticipated emotional drainage was high.
"Okay, but how about the structuring your ideas that you struggled with?"
I realized, that the best guiding light is your gut feeling. Work normally also shows you what you need to do next. After the heavy load was completed, I simply chose the task that I felt like doing. I followed my gut.
If I started feeling anxious about a task, 90% of the time it meant that it no longer was a "nice-to-have" but moved on to being urgent, and got it's own "must-do" day on the calendar.
If I started feeling excited about a task, I knew that it would bring expansion to my business and increase in energy.
If I started feeling "blah" about a task, I often figured it is because it is not at all necessary for me at that moment.
When I followed my energy on planning my time, I found myself being most productive.
Step four: Action!
I committed to reviewing my calendar each and every day, and not doing anything else before I can place the post-it note on the side of my calendar (my sign for completed).
After that, I simply used my daily digital to-do list, as I have always done for years, to go on about my day. I think it's important to mention, that I would make sure to not do too much of the hard, even when I felt like I was going through these things like butter. I had learned over time that following this urge, can unexpectedly drain my energy to a point where I wouldn't be able to keep myself motivated to work for a couple of days in a row.
That's why I made sure to fill any "free time"/ remaining time with tasks that I felt like doing, (the not highlighted filler tasks from the same old eight A4-pieces of paper). After completing them, I would just strike them out and move on to the next.
This way I was able to take small steps towards clearing my urgent list, and do things that are more relaxing as I recoup my energy.
This method helped me boost my confidence in myself, and kept me going consistently. I noticed that through this approach I rarely ever complained for being late on any projects, missing deadlines or not loving what I do. I truly enjoy this flow, and I swear, 2021 has been so far the most relaxing year of my lifetime. I truly didn't anticipate to say that, as running my own business full-time has been on of the most complex things I've ever had to do (throw in also the fact that I have a toddler, and the difference that it makes to your daily arrangements).
Finally, I can reflect and confidently say:
I made the perfect system! This system worked so well, that I now practice this every other week for my business, making sure that I am still generating new ideas, keeping updated, and having a sustainable and steady progress across all of the facets of my operations.
This is how my calendar looks now after six-months of this type of organization.
Today, I have a consistent amount of three A4 pages of to-do lists (you know, because to-do lists really never end), a clear mindspace to focus on the tasks of the day, a long-term vision.
For now, I will be sticking to this system, yet if anything changes, and I find something better, I will let you know!
Until then - enjoy your summer and if this resonated, let me know!
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