Are creative people swamped in constant chaos, unable to keep an ordered life or make a deadline? Do you feel in control of your hours, or at the mercy of every notification and undone job?
Where you end up has a lot to do with where, and how, you begin.
I've found this especially true in the way I spend the 24 hours I'm given, fresh every day.
I used to spend many days frustrated, distracted and unsure of what I accomplished. Then, I came across some great articles online that suggested I may be able to fix things in just 10 minutes. Now, by taking 10 minutes to plan each morning, I know exactly what I need to do and whether I have time to get it done or not. I also know that I have time to relax, without guilt.
Just 10 minutes in Trello, an online planning tool is making all the difference.
Here's how I start every day.
I Respect My Body
I know my body has some serious limitations. When I wake up, I work out first thing.
It seems I can fool my body into thinking it can work out, long enough to get the workout done. Having this completed not only makes me feel accomplished the rest of the day, but it also gives me energy to get through what I need to do. There's not much sense planning for tasks I have no energy to tackle. Exercise especially helps me with my 'siesta-time' lull – a period between 1:30 and 3:30 that used to nearly paralyze me. It is at this time I am most likely to lose focus and start clicking random links to take me anywhere but the task at hand. Early morning exercise helps with this, hours later.
Of course, to get up and exercise at 6:30, I need to have gone to bed by 10:30 the night before. So today starts yesterday.
Prayer. Scripture. Coffee.
Now for some caffeine and centering. To be honest, most mornings this is a brief time - just 10 or 15 minutes. I'd like ot make more time for prayer and contemplation. I need to make that choice, and as you'll read below, I can.
I try to read a Bible passage from the Revised Common Lectionary and think about what it means for my life. I will sometimes pray through the Lord's Prayer, or think about any needs in my world. Oftentimes, my prayer will blur into the next part of my day: planning.
I Plan With Trello Today
'Today' is a special Board I use in Trello, an online project management tool you can use for free.
Think of Trello as a series of bulletin boards, each representing a specific project or sphere of responsibilities. I have Boards set up for breaking large projects down into smaller chunks. I have a Board set up just for books I want to read and have read. And I have a Board set up for Today.
Within each Trello Board you create Lists of Cards. I think of the Cards as little pieces of paper I pin onto the Board–each representing a small piece of the whole project. These Cards can be grouped into Lists within the Board. I love this system for two reasons; it is visual and it is flexible.
Moving the Cards around the screen is a visual, nearly tactile, experience. It's the closest I've come to using a pin-board or sticking Post-Its to the wall (something I do often in creative meetings). Trello's flexibility makes it adaptable to any circumstance. Planning out your day, for example.
Here's how my Today Board is set up. Within the Board, I have the following Lists.
This List holds Cards for tasks I want to achieve today. Writing this article is one of today's Cards. I want to rake up 2 bags of leaves from the front lawn. I need to mail in a cheque for our tree pruning. These are all Cards under my To Do List. The bulk of my time in Trello this morning involved dragging cards into this To Do List, or creating new cards here.
I put fun items on this List, too. Reading a book. Taking a bath. Going for a walk. Visiting a vintage furniture store. Playing a game. Make sure you plan for leisure. When I don't, I either don't get leisure, or spend it guilty, assuming I don't have the time.
I don't always use this List, but it feeds my obsessive need to feel I'm accomplishing something. If I'm in the middle of a longer activity, like installing a new operating system on my computer, I'll drag that Card into this List while things are happening.
Right now, "Write Trello Today piece" is sitting in my Doing List. Soon, I'll move it to Done.
As tasks are done Today, I'll drag them into this List, from my To Do or Doing Lists. It just feels so good.
One of the best parts of this system is that at the end of each day, and the start of the next day, I can see what I achieved. I know exactly where my time went. Each morning I review this List and then archive all the Cards in it. I clear it out. I start fresh.
Future - Important
This List holds Cards for things I want to get done, but don't need to do, or don't have time to do, today. This is how I make sure I don't miss important tasks that are due in the next few weeks.
At the start of each day, I review this List, and try to drag at least one Card from it onto my To Do List. I pick away at these important tasks as I can.
Future - Not Important
Things are things I want to do, but don't have to do. Checking out new features on a website might go here. Drawing a picture. Finishing staining our picnic table. I'd like to do these things, and don't want to forget about them, but if they don't happen soon, my world will remain pretty much intact.
These are Cards that I have decided I'm not going to do. I didn't start with this List, and I'm not sure I need it. It likely only exists because Trello doesn't actually let you delete Cards. This is frustrating to me, so I created a 'trash bin' of my own here. Maybe Trash would be an even better name for it. I just didn't want to put these tasks into 'Done' and pretend, because, well, I have issues. Let's just leave it there, okay?
My Bonus Lists
I have a couple of extra Lists here. One is for albums I have heard about and want to buy at some point. The other is for movies I'd like to watch at some point. These Lists may not belong here, but I didn't want to make a whole new Trello Board for them, so here they are. Trello can flex like that.
I Try to Be Realistic With My Time
I'm still working on this one, but it's important to know how long things are going to take. Do I really have time to get those 14 things done today? I think three major tasks is enough for any one day, with some smaller tasks peppered between.
I use the Pomodoro Technique to track my time, which calls for 25 minute blocks of work broken up by 5 minute breaks. Yes, I use a timer. So when I plan my day I think to myself 'how many Pomodoros is this going to take'? Because I'm a nerd.
Here's what's awesome about planning in chunks of time. You know if something is actually possible. If you are a 'Quantum Time' obsessive, like me, this also stops you from working for four hours with no breaks, or water, or snacks. If you get a link to an awesome YouTube video, you can park it for your 5 minute break, then watch it guilt free. Hey, this is your break! Social media addicts can try reserving Facebook check-ins for these 5 minute breaks, too. No checking for 25 minutes, then run wild for 5. It works really well, and it is freeing.
Your Mileage May Vary: What Matters and What Doesn't
You can sign up for Trello free at http://www.trello.com. I recommend Trello as a way to break large projects down into bite-sized pieces. It even lets you collaborate in teams.
But it may not work for you. A paper Today list may be all you need. You may prefer a system like Wunderlist, that lets you check boxes rather than dragging Cards. But I like dragging Cards.
What matters is this: plan you day . Take stock. Consider how you spend your time. Schedule as a spiritual discipline.
Don't complain about how busy you are–do something about it.
We creatives get a bad rap for disorganization. I do find it easier to chase distractions and new ideas than to focus and commit. I'm thankful to have tools, like Trello, to help me.
You know that dream project you just haven't found time for? Make time. That novel? Plan to write 500 words today.
Last year I struggled to write a blog post once a week and send out a newsletter every once in a while. Now I blog at least three times a week. I post to Facebook and Twitter regularly. I write monthly articles for the Rat Creek Press, I send out weekly emails. I'm working on an EP. I'm about to open an art space. I work part time at another job, cook great meals from scratch and exercise. I get to bed on time, and I don't feel busy.
Most of the time.
I can tell you this. We all get 24 hours. Every single day.
You choose to give those hours to work or family or sport or play. You choose to binge-watch Orange Is The New Black or read Moby Dick. You. Choose.
Choose well and use every tool at your disposal. Take your time back.