January 19, 2014

Pancake Session: Keeping it All Organized

A question that we get pretty often, and that we’ve gotten a LOT more often since launching The Black Tie Bride & The Well Groomed Groom which- completely unexpectedly to us!! – have both taken off like crazy, is how do we get it all done. In other words, what do we do to keep ourselves organized? Well, the first thing you have to keep in mind is that this is a question about organization being posed to one of the world’s most naturally dis-organized people. Honestly. In my natural state you would never see me hugging a label maker or holding hands with my spread sheets. Just one look at the closet in my office or pretty much anydrawer in my house (please tell me I’m not the only one out there with junk drawers for my junk drawers??) would be enough to convince you of that.

Every ounce of organization that we have slowly & painstakingly (ahem, painfully) put into our lives, and there has been a LOT of it over the past few years, has been put there by pure necessity and our realization of one universal truth: the world is kinder to organized, forward-planning people. It just is. Late fees, rush shipping, airfare that triples overnight….the world is set up to reward those who have their ‘ish together. Amen? And I don’t know about you guys, but I would like to become one of those people!

There are a LOT of systems that we have put in place in our business and LOT of places where we’ve brought on people to help (like our amazing album design team at Align!!) to try to achieve that. But today, I want to talk to you about just three of them. In my opinion they are the three main ones, and from them we can learn the 3 main lessons that all small-business owners need to know to get it all done!

1. You have to have a way to track it.
I don’t know about you guys, but if I don’t have a handle on what all still needs to be done then I immediately start imagining the worst. I get really overwhelmed, I don’t know where to start, and things get backed up really fast that way. And something that we’ve come to realize, is that if we don’t have a way to track our progress on ongoing projects, then nothing gets done. Over the past couple of years, I’ve tried a few different approaches to tracking our workflow. I spent three hours one afternoon taping up a workflow board with all the rows & columns, only to never use it again because we’re rarely ever home. I’ve tried online software that’s really good at showing you where you are on a project individually, but that just left me worrying about all the other jobs we had out there. So I realized that I needed something that was both online (ie I could take it with me when I travel) and gave me an overall view of where we are in all the jobs we’re working on. For both of these purposes, I really like just a basic (and FREE!) Google Doc. We have several of these set up for each year to track things like our editing workflow, album design & deliver, and client booking & experience. It keeps us on track and there is SUCH a sense of accomplishment at the end of the year when we can see a full board marked off. I don’t think it matters whether you go with a dry erase board, a free Google Doc, or you sign up for a studio management software…just do whatever works best for you & something you’ll actually keep up with. Because keeping it tracked is what’s key!

2. Take it one day at a time.
With all that we small business owners have going on, it can become really overwhelming when you wake up each morning realizing that everything you have to get done could NEVER get done in the space of just one day. Something that I had to come to grips with a while ago, is that the to-do list never truly ends. Right?? When do we ever mark EVERYTHING we could possibly be doing to grow & maintain our businesses completely off our lists and find ourselves with nothing to do? If you’ve ever done that, God bless ya! But my guess is that most of us have never had that problem. So somewhere along the line, I learned that I just had to take it one day at a time, do that day’s work as best as I could, and then let it go until the next day. That, as the amazing Emily Ley says, I had to hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection. To do that, I focus on Winning the Day. I write out a list of 5-10 things I need & want to get done that day. Things that if I can just mark them off I can say, “maybe I didn’t do everything that needs to be done on the to do list….but I did do these things that mattered most. And in that, I’ve won this day.” And bit by bit, small chunks at a time, you’ll be amazed at all you get done! I pair my Win the Day list with a master to do list (The Big List….the genius idea from the amazing Katelyn James & you can read her blog post about it HERE) and between the two, I’m able to keep it all organized & moving forward!

3. But plan ahead
While it’s so important to take all the work one day at a time & not be too hard on yourself, it is equally important to use those days preparing to succeed (As the old adage goes: If you fail to prepare, you’re really preparing to Fail) What I mean by that is not just thinking about the day you’re working in. Take the time to open your calendar and flip forward a couple weeks and then a couple of months. Ask yourself what you have coming up & what you need to work hard getting done now so that you’re prepared for it. Are there flights you need to book before they go up? Are you going to be traveling a couple weeks from now & you need to pre-blog some posts to get ready? Do you have a shoot on Tuesday & another one on Wednesday? If you want to have the first one edited before you go into the second one, then you need to block out some time on Wednesday to get that done. And that will become part of Wednesday’s Win the Day list. The combination of forward planning (flipping ahead in your calendar to see what’s next) and block scheduling (today for 3 hours I will sit down & edit/blog this shoot.) has been one of THE biggest game changers for us in getting it all done & getting it done AHEAD of time!

And boy oh boy, is that a good feeling! You guys, I hope this helped if even just a little! I know there is SO much to get done, but even a few key changes can really help you feel like you’re getting your life back. Right now we have more on our plate than we ever have at any point in the history of our business & yet I feel more on top of things this year than I ever have before! Of course, it is just January….so we’ll see how it goes! :) But it really does feel different!

If you have any questions, be sure to leave them in the box below! Or you can just say hi/add in your favorite organization game-changer from this past year!

Rock it out!
M:)

  1. Angel

    This is almost exactly what I do too and it works! I’ve tried studio management software and it’s just too complicated. I love google docs for various workflows, a smaller list for the day and one eye on the bigger stuff ahead. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Amanda

    YES to all of this! I have found that breaking down my to-so list day by day has helped immensely this year!

  3. Audrey Cutler

    Thanks for the post and helping keep it all in perspective! I started bullet journaling in the beginning of Jan. and it has saved me.

    http://www.fastcodesign.com/3016456/this-note-taking-system-turns-you-into-an-efficiency-expert

  4. Megan

    Emily Ley’s Simplified Planner is rocking my world this year! LOVE LOVE LOVE it!

  5. Katie

    love this! thanks for sharing what’s worked for you! I made a fancypants chart that I framed and i tried to use last year but I never really spend time looking at my wall so it just sits there! I’m ALWAYS on Google Docs though! I’ll have to try it! :)

  6. Amanda Roth

    Excellent!!! I *so* needed this kick in the pants today! (whether you intended it to be or not, haha!)

  7. René Tate

    No idea how you do not have a comment on this yet, but Win the Day lists are totally game changers for me. Things is awesome too. The addition of a giant dry erase board next to my desk is going to be a game changer to… at least I think so. I need a place to write down big ideas/goals when they come to me rather than post it notes that get lost in the shuffle.

  8. Tony S

    Great post. Definitely struggle with organization myself. This is a good book (haven’t finished it yet) on how to get organized. http://www.amazon.com/Getting-Things-Done-Stress-Free-Productivity/dp/0142000280

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