I need to admit it - I’m a planning freak. I love making lists and checking off little boxes and typing out the packing list for the weekend trip in my bed the night before we leave.
For the longest time, I used a combination of iCal and Evernote to manage my day-to-day planning - loosely based on “Getting Things Done” principles (you can read more about that here).
When I started my own business, I tried to continue with that system. And I completely failed. Bad thing about that: It took me MONTHS to realize it, a lot of frustration and anger and balls dropped, stressful Sundays where I felt like I had forgotten the most important thing I needed to do next week. Which was probably true.
My system based on lists and deciding what to do right now based on my energy levels, the resources available and what was really urgent didn’t work anymore. Why? Because back then, someone else had set the goals. OR I had set the goals, but in a very structured, formal process, once a quarter.
Now I was on my own and instead of breaking down big revenue or traffic growth goals for my teams, I was the one responsible setting the big goals myself and then breaking them down into tasks for me. Lists didn’t work anymore.
Also - change. Lots of change. Fast change. Deciding to try one thing, then another, then backtracking, then a third. This doesn’t really fly with lists…
I played around with a couple of different techniques over the last months and think I’ve finally found one method that I’m ready to share. Partly because I think it might be useful for you Creative Bosses out there, but also partly because I’d like to share my journey through this new goal setting process because I’m quite sure that it’s going to evolve and change again in the future.
Long story short - this is how I now plan my months and weeks:
1. Set monthly goals at the beginning of the month.
At one of the last days of the old month (or one of the first of the new, let’s be honest here) I sit down and pick a couple of goals for the month. They need to be concrete projects that I can complete within that one month - and never more than 5. I’ve found that even five are usually too many for me, but then again - stretch yourself, right?
I add a couple of tasks that I already know need to be completed when I’m planning out my goals and add them, too.
Next, I plan out my budget for the month. This has SO helped me get a better understanding of how much I’m making vs. how much I’m spending - and it’s also helped me feel more confident about investing in my business (and myself, in form of yarn).
I usually know how much client work I’m going to have at least a month beforehand, so that part is fairly straight forward - I just put the estimated €€€ per client down and compare how much I actually charged them at the end of the month.
I also go into my budgeting app and put in the different budgets allocated to categories. I usually adjust a little here and there - if it’s a month (like a lot of the summer months) where we’re going to a wedding, I put in a bit more money into the transport and misc (for gifts).
Next up: Setting goals for my KPIs.
I’m not measuring a lot of things, but I make a point of tracking Instagram, my newsletter and website, and my online shop sales.
I put down the values of the last day of the previous month for
- Instagram followers
- Newsletter subscribers
- Website users
- Website page views
- # of sales through the online shop
I then look at the growth rate of each of these from the previous month and put either that or a higher growth rate as a goal for this month. Why? Stretch goals, baby!!
Goal setting for the month DONE. Now comes the beef! How to actually achieve these goals?
2. Planning out my week.
THIS is the really new part of my planning journey! For the past couple of weeks I’ve made a conscious effort to sit down Sunday night or Monday morning and fill out a new week page in my planner.
How do I do that?
First, I list the things I want to accomplish this week in four different categories:
In order to do that, I look at my monthly goals, at the client work I’ve contracted for that month, and at my calendar. Everything that I need to or want to get done that week gets a little check box in the appropriate category on top of the page.
Here are a couple of examples for recent weekly goals:
- Hold 3rd workshop & share results
- Write blog post & put up in Google Folder
- Transfer questionnaire results into Brand Voice Guide & share
- Promote Etsy shop
- Write & publish blog post
- Analyse Creative Boss Coaching survey
- Storyboard 1st set of sewing tutorial videos
- 2nd collab meeting The Good Viv x HLH
- Decide on license & forecast production cost for 2nd collection
- Put up Ravelry page for test knits
- Buy train tickets
- Write & send invoices
Usually I end up with 3 to 8 weekly goals per category.
How do I decide how many and which goals to set?
I start this process by looking at my calendar to see how much time I’m going to be spending in meetings vs. on creative work this week. I usually put in the big meetings into my calendar so that I know on which days I have them - because on these days I won’t be able to do as much creative work.
Next, I think about specific deadlines that I might have.
Client workshop next week on Monday? I need to send out the prep email on Thursday so I need to be done with the prep work by Wednesday night.
Going away for the weekend? No time to write a blog post then, so it has to happen some time during the week.
10th of the month this week? Yayyyyy, tax time! Need to submit VAT tax before that day.
These deadline-specific goals get written down first, and then they get broken down in to dos or tasks per day.
Let’s take the blog post example: I know that I need to finish and publish the blog post before Friday noon as we’ll be without internet the entire weekend.
I also know that I usually write a first draft on one day, and then edit, publish and promote on another day. Looking at my calendar, I see that I have two meetings on Monday and another workshop on Thursday, so “Write first draft of blog post” goes into the calendar for Tuesday and “Edit, publish, promote blog post” on Wednesday.
When I’m done with this step, I’ve already filled quite a part of the page with the things that absolutely need to be accomplished this week.
Next, I’m going back to my monthly goals and add weekly goals and related tasks for every day that help me achieve these goals (and that might not already be there).
The entire process of setting weekly goals, breaking them down into daily tasks and double-checking with my calendar for appointments and deadlines usually takes me about 30min. Time well spent because...
3. Be more productive in your day!
… I found that having a planned task list for every day even before I start the week helps me get a lot more shit done. I’m a lot less likely to bum around Monday morning, getting a second coffee and postponing the decision what I’m going to start with when I’ve already decided what the things are I need to get done on Monday.
As I complete the tasks, I check them off - and everything that I don’t get done in the day gets looked at with a critical eye either in the evening or the next morning. Why did I not get this done? Did I really not have the time or did I not want to do it? If I didn’t want to do it, why? That thought process usually helps me decide whether I really need to do it and push it onto another day, or if I can just skip it or substitute with another to do.
4. Give it time, observe yourself and learn.
The main learning for me of going through the process of finding a new planning system that works is that it really, really, really helps to observe yourself and try to understand why certain systems work or don’t work. Sounds abstract? Just start with one system that you try - e.g. to do lists, or my planning method - try it for a week or two, and then start doing tweaks to it that make it easier.
Just a brief overview of the tools I use in my planning process:
- Paper Planner: Craftsposure —> I like this planner because it has a couple of really useful sections, especially around budget and KPI tracking. Some weeks the space is really not enough though, and I’d love to have a section where I can track habits and jot down notes as well, so I might try a bullet journal approach for next year.
- Calendar: iCal —> Syncs across devices and holds all my calendars for my different email addresses.
- Evernote: I have a couple of lists in Evernote where I jot down ideas, next actions, and projects that I consult when I plan out my month and my week (if you want to, I can do a separate post on that!). Basically, I’m using it for everything that I can’t put down in the planner - either because it doesn’t fit the planning approach or there’s no more space. It’s also where I collect all the information on my client work, my own business, and even write my blogs.
- Physical notebook: I hate taking notes in meetings on my laptop because it feels very impersonal. I still always carry a paper notebook and a pen. If need be, I transfer the notes afterwards to Evernote or into to dos in my calendar.
Now over to you!
I’d LOVE to hear about your planning process as mine is so new and feels as if it is still evolving. How do you plan out your month and your week? What are some tips and tricks you can share with us other Creative Bosses in the comments below?