The Art of Organization
“Reduce the complexity of life by eliminating the needless wants of life, and the labors of life reduce themselves.” -Edwin Way Teale 1899
In my previous post Deadlines. Hit or Miss? I talked about the importance as a freelance artist of consistently meeting deadlines. For me, a huge part of accomplishing this is to have not just my work routine and habits organized, but my life outside of work streamlined as well. The elements of this will be specific to your lifestyle and needs with the main focus of designing a system or routine that will address all your life’s immediate requirements. Once the foundation of your day-in-day-out is accounted for, it will mentally fall to the background and allow you to focus on the things that require more attention, effort, or RAM.
I know that sounds so basic, right? And for the most part it is, but until I was committed to doing it, well I didn’t. After some work of getting my general life a little more in order, not surprisingly, it helped tremendously with my work life as well. I am still seeking out and trying new ways to keep it all together, because lets face it, as soon as I get used to one routine everything changes. Still, I am continually amazed at how having even just a few really simple, yet intentional practices, can keep my life running more smoothly.
Take An Inventory
First, it will help to do an assessment and carefully look at the areas of your life that may need a little aid. Brainstorm if you fly solo, or together with the others you do life with, and write down the things that have to be constantly done or accounted for. Personally, these kind of things usually fall into the domestic territory and consist of repetitive or routine tasks- meals, shopping, school preparation, cleaning, financial matters. Once you are able to identify these arenas, then you can employ the necessary strategy for each.
Sometimes even just laying it all out and seeing the scope of the big picture can be a relief. Or at the very least, you know what you are up against and have started, which is always the hardest part. Don't be afraid to revisit this step when life shifts. You may save time and energy down the line by identifying that pesky new need and finding a solution to it throwing a wrench in your wheels of progress.
Make A Schedule
Next, introduce some planning ahead and preparation into the mix. When I started trying to create a routine for my life I literally wrote down a weekly schedule and assigned tasks to certain days. After sticking to it week after week it more or less became built into my life. Chores like laundry or grocery shopping can become automated simply because it has a designated day. If you are interested in eating and feeding healthy, give weekly or monthly meal planning a try. You can even make a printed calendar for who will make what meals on which days, and benefit from the relief sharing duties can provide.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but a schedule is actually good. Everyone preached to get on a schedule when I had kids but I fought it for years. And of course as usual “they” were right. Once I finally got on a schedule, life got easier! Schedules can be for your daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly routine. In fact having one for all of those is probably best. Use a combination of micro and macro management.
Another part of planning is staying on top of your calendar. This really helps me sort out my personal from work life. I employ several paper and digital calendars and at one point, before we were living in a construction zone, we had a family bulletin board calendar. I try to quarterly plan to give myself a mental snapshot of the next few coming months. Because I really only work part time, my schedule is consistently inconsistent, if that makes any sense. I can work everyday for 3 months straight and then not work at all for a month. Work one week, take one off. And so on. Because I get these chunks of time off, usually when a book breaks between volumes, I like to use those opportunities to take a vacation, visit family, or work on a project for myself. But this definitely takes some planning ahead.
While it doesn’t always work, I at least make a concerted effort to get my deadlines on the calendar as far out as possible. Some editors are amazing at this and will give you an estimate for the next 6-9 issues. Others…not so much. Be consistent in checking in with your editor and or creative team to see where everyone is at, both short and long term. As a letterer sometimes we can get left out of the loop on a lot of the ins and outs. Don’t be afraid to just communicate. People usually appreciate it and even if they don’t, it will keep your life in order.
Also, if you freelance or own your business, don’t forget to add things like meetings, phone calls, and estimated taxes to your weekly and quarterly calendars.
Lists are my saving grace and really just a companion to your calendar. If I don't make a list, I will run it through my mind on a steady rotation so as not to forget each item, and half the time I do forget. Once I write it down though this immediately stops and is so much more chill on my brain. Again, you can micro and macro manage your lists. I keep a pad for things that need to get done that day, like go to the post office, and a separate pad for more long term projects, such as shop for new car insurance. The best thing about lists is crossing off items once completed. It is so so fun and strangely rewarding to see yourself achieving little victories throughout the day.
Ask For Help
Another thing I have had to learn to employ is the help of others. For all you type A control freaks such as myself, say after me…it is ok to ask for help. Sometimes this means asking a loved one or friend or even at times hiring people for tasks you just don’t have time for.
I learned this quickly during my Wonder Woman run when we had biweekly deadlines and there just didn’t seem to be much time for anything except turning in pages. My awesome husband stepped up and took certain nights of the week to make dinner. My angelic mother in law took the kids many a weekend. I even hired cleaning people, which for me was a hard thing to let go of. The ridiculous fear of someone else not doing as good of job as me (ick! ugly perfectionism to the core) quickly dissipated and was replaced with the relief of it all getting done. And finally when the work came to an end, I had my time back and took up these tasks full time again, grateful for the break. It truly was a great lesson in letting go and just asking for help.
Financial Budget and Planning
Money matters can be one of the most stressful and distracting elements of life. I struggled with this for a long time. As happens to many, fresh out of college I was 'awarded' my first credit card. Why any financial institution gives someone with no financial know-how yet the ability to get themselves in trouble is beyond…oh wait, that’s the point! I fell for the bait and lived in a constant cycle in and out of debt for way too long.
I am not even going to pretend like I have the answer for this. I am just going to point you straight to the source that helped me gain Financial Peace- Dave Ramsey. Look him up and just commit to doing it! daveramsey.com My husband and I got the DVD program and made a weekly date night out of it. Dave is amazingly practical, encouraging, and even humorous. Within months we were out of debt and have remained that way since. We learned how to short and long term budget and as he puts it, "tell your money where to go." I really can’t say enough good things about him and that his advice if followed, truly works.
Finally if all else fails simplify, simplify, simplify! I know that is really an unheard of thing to do in a day and age of excess and more, but take a stand and counter the culture. Just because its popular doesn’t mean it’s the best or right thing for you. Maybe it means becoming more minimalistic with your material possessions. Or spending less time wrapped up in extra curricular activities, social media, or even unhealthy relationships. The reward of getting rid of things that aren’t contributing positively to your life is that you gain time, space, and focus for things that will. If it doesn’t truly have meaning, maybe it is time to let it go.
Stay posted for The Art of Workflow where I’ll get more into the nitty gritty of creating a system to help you work more efficiently.