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The Art of Getting Organized

Intro by Skip Cohen

In a world gone mad with all kinds of ways to track staying organized on your calendar through your iPhone and computer, I’ve found nothing works for me if I don’t write it down manually. In fact, right over my desk is a giant whiteboard with notes about everything I’m working on, both long term and just for today.

I admit it’s archaic, but it works for me. Maybe it’s the act of writing it manually. I type 100+ words a minute and crank things out too fast on the keyboard. Writing things down forces me to think through what I’m writing about.

I love this archived post from Mary Marantz with three tips on how she and Justin keep their business organized. It’s right back to basics, but as Mary points out – so much of the process is getting in the right mindset. It’s not so much about identifying what has to be done each day as it is taking the time to think through the process.

A question that we get pretty often, 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 disorganized people.

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. So, there are a LOT of systems we have put in place in our business and LOT of places where we’ve brought on people to help try to achieve that. 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 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 & delivery, 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!

  1. Take it one day at a time. With everything small business owners have going on, it can become really overwhelming when you wake up each morning realizing 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?

So somewhere along the line, I learned 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!

  1. 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)

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.