4 Questions that will inform your process decisions
Where should I keep these notes? How can I log them so I can find them later?
I have so many files on my desk—they can’t all be important enough to keep on my desk!
Didn’t I promise myself last year that I’d get organized so I can streamline my invoicing and not reinvent this wheel every single time?
No, sorry, those aren’t the questions I mean you to ask, although you’ve probably muttered them to yourself.
In the five years I have been writing to pay the rent, my constant challenge has been finding the ideal process for handling the “work work”—the not so fun stuff that has to happen so that I can spend time doing the more attractive client work.
As you know, the client work is great—it’s fun, satisfying, lucrative, and so on. But eventually, the work work will get in the way. It takes a lot of hustle to sustain the creative work, and sooner or later, disorganization and inefficiency have to be reckoned with in a thoughtful way. Otherwise business will get stuck at a place of tyranny-of-the-urgent rather than planned-executed-finished (rinse and repeat). And so we confront the bewildering task of developing a manageable, repeatable process for keeping it all flowing well.
There is so much information out there to solve these issues: Software to handle billing and accounting. Marketing courses to design six-figure incomes. Project management databases to keep all the moving pieces corralled. I’ve spent my share of time and money trying out systems, and I’m getting closer to functioning the way I want to in some aspects. However, I’m still scratching my head in some regards, because some ideas from certain experts are great, and some enthusiastic suggestions from the same guru make my eyes roll so hard.
I’ve been around these proverbial bushes more than a few times, and I’ve gotten to know myself as a creative and business owner. Here are some questions I’ve found myself asking in efforts to streamline it all.
Am I trying to do something that doesn’t fit me?
By this I mean my relationship with keyboards and screens vs. paper, calendars and sticky notes. Telephone or email or face to face. Outsourcing as a control freak. Or will I realistically have the time required to undertake this well? No matter what the promised result is, if it’s working against my grain, so to speak, it won’t work in the long run.
Do I maybe just need to tweak one portion of what I’m doing now?
This question is harder to answer when I don’t see the progress I want to see and I am floundering in the same old problems. My impulse is to think that one beautiful solution is “out there—I just know it.”
About nine months into a comprehensive overhaul of my marketing, daily writing and work schedule, I was grinding back into gear after a setback that kept me from working for a painfully long summer. Needing to get things back on track as quickly as possible, I found myself tempted to overhaul it again. In a moment of desperation, I made myself sit down and take a look at all the pieces on my plate. I decided yes, I am on the right track, but I’m trying to do two major marketing elements at once, doing neither one well. My anxiety went down when I changed my calendar to focus on one for a set amount of time, then add the second.
Is this just a distraction?
This has been a painful question at times, because like so many small business owners and creatives I encounter, I confess to chasing distractions with some frequency. Distractions disguise themselves as useful and potentially fantastic. And they might be good. But unless I can—once I am settled on what I do need to be doing—let the shiny objects go, I’ll never see the progress I want from what I have set up. This means good old-fashioned self-discipline. However, upon looking back after a season of sticking with it, I’ll have tangible evidence of what works for me and what doesn’t. I won't be guessing and deciding to do something else because I don’t want to apply myself.
Does this portion have to be perfect right now?
I know, I just said I’m looking for the ideal process, and for my billing and accounting, I need to get to the point where it’s set up, automatic and scalable without effort. But for other things, some fluidity is OK.
For instance, for many years, I have created and printed a week-per-2-pages calendar capturing personal tasks, work tasks, and my idea notes. But I’ve changed my marketing strategy significantly and this calendar has become cramped. I am experimenting with two calendars, one hanging within reach that has all my marketing and regularly recurring tasks, the other my faithful spiral week-at-a-glance with the top three work milestones for each day alongside my personal life. Also, now that I’m doing more personal writing, collecting my thoughts in an accessible way has become important. Currently, they go into bullet journals and a box of index cards a la Ryan Holiday. Both are awkward and not quite perfect, but working for now. I’m willing to give it some time to see how it nets.
Having an efficient and repeatable system in place is critical. It’s about minimizing the work work so you can spend optimal time on your client work, the fun stuff. Rather than trying to adopt someone else’s system wholesale, start with a framework that appeals to you, then tweak it to fit, making changes based on your own hard numbers and your personal style. Don’t be afraid to scavenge what works and walk away from what doesn’t.
You’re unique—your business is unique, so there’s no need to cram yourself into someone else’s mold. Ideal is what is ideal for you.