Wonder if you're really accomplishing your goals?

As a full-time artist, I try to keep a consistent schedule for my work. I get up, visit with my pup, have my coffee, shower & dress, then head promptly to the studio around 8:30am. Just because I make it into the studio everyday around that time, doesn’t mean I sit right down and go to work. Sometimes, I feel like I’m not sure where to start. This is usually because I’ve got a mental tally going in my head about all the things I need to do for the day, week or month. So, naturally, the procrastinator in me rears its ugly head and I find it difficult to get started on some weeks. What do I do? Well, I try to start the morning off with a fun task to get myself in the mood to actually do work. Since I’m not really a morning person, my brain doesn’t really turn up the creativity until later in the afternoon. In order to start the engine in the not-so-fun mornings, I spend the first hour or so in the studio coloring. Yes, I said coloring just like I did when I was a kid.

Cover of the journal I use.

I wanted keep a “journal” of my daily activities in order to actually keep up with what I’m working on, so I had to make it something I looked forward to doing first thing in the studio. I bought a soft cover book that is grid paper on the inside and set up journal pages similar to what I’m sure a lot of you have seen in bullet journals. For me, bullet journals are too tedious, so I created my own pages. They’re fairly plain and to the point, but sitting each morning and coloring in my daily pages helps me to get going.

Now, it took me a good three (3) months of doing this to finally make it a habit and now, if I don’t do it, I feel like I forgot to do something. Honestly, it was a struggle to remember to do this at first. As much as I wanted to make this a place for doodles, drawings, random thoughts and fun, it never seemed that way. So I decided this would be the “business” of organizing my schedule and the fun would have to take place elsewhere.

My first layout is simple. I have one 2-page layout for the Monthly Calendar and Goals page. This is something I use to set out my goals for the month. Admittedly, I have a ton of goals and a lot of the time I don’t get to accomplish all of them, but the most important thing is to set aside time to think about longer term monthly goals.

On the calendar I write down the deadlines for calls, appointment times for me and the family and then studio deadlines for upcoming projects. This helps me to determine my individual project schedules so that my longer term goals (4, 6, 12 months away) have adequate time for completion. This is both a short view and a long view of what I would like to have done.

My goals page is always overloaded with things I’d like to do for the month. It’s a character flaw — I always expect way more of myself than I can probably do, but I’m a big believer in setting high standards and goals continuously. Honestly, if I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t have done so many of the things I’m proud of over the years.

Monthly overview page with a sampling of goals I’d like to meet for the month of June.

The next layout is the Weekly Log of the things I know for sure I have to do for the week. On Sunday afternoons, my rest and recharge day, I fill out the log for the following week. Things I haven’t finished from the previous week get added to Monday of the following week. And, I’ll add the known trips, appointments and studio visits. Each day, I check off the things I’ve completed and then add new things if I have time. The next morning, whatever hasn’t been completed is added to the new day’s tasks. Sometimes tasks will carryover for days, but that’s the reality I live it. It’s rare I can finish all of my daily tasks on one day — I usually think I can get more done than I actually do.

Weekly Log layout pages.

The pages after the Weekly Log are set up individually for the days of the week. I work with Angel Cards each morning for meditation and guidance, so the first thing I put on my daily pages is the result of my card pull for the day. I write these down because I like to go back over the week and see if I’ve pulled the same cards on multiple days. This is my way of getting of connecting with positivity and motivation.

Below the card pulls, I make bullets containing the day’s activity. As I go through my day, I put a quick note about what I’ve worked on, where I went or what I may have purchased during that day. On some days I do this at the end of the day before packing up, turning off the lights and heading up to spend time with the family. On other days, I like to write down each thing as I have finished them, then review what I’ve done at the end of the day. This helps me to feel like I’m making progress and actually working toward my weekly task goal.

Whether I do it as I go along or at the end of the day doesn’t really matter. The point of this exercise is for me to stop and think about what I have done for the day. If it was a crazy day, it gives me something tangible to compare my accomplishments against. I may not have finished all of the tasks on my list, but I’ve done so many other things that helped me move closer to a different goal that day so it was productive. It’s a psychological “atta girl” that I need to keep me from feeling like I’ve done nothing.

My daily page layout with my card pulls and bullets of the tasks I have worked on for the day.

And finally, I spend time on Sunday afternoons looking at what I’ve done for the week and writing a short debrief called the Week in Review. This helps me to see what I did from a wider point of view. This page used to be a monthly activity, but found that I never actually wrote a monthly debrief, so I changed it. It works much better now because it doesn’t seem so daunting to look over one (1) week to figure out what I’ve done and whether or not I’ve met some or all of my goals for the month.

This page is generally a one pager at the end of the seven day detail pages before the next monthly overview spread. Sometimes I’m still unproductive and this is a place for me to figure out why I wasn’t as productive as I intended for the week.

Week in review for debrief and preview of the next week.

Productivity is all in the quality of the work we do each day. I have realized that quantity is over-rated because running around doing things quickly isn’t always the best way to meet your goals. In the 20+ years I worked in the corporate environment, quantity was my life. Now that I have control over my work day, I decided that quality of the work I do on a daily basis is far more important. I get to spend time being creative and free for the most part and putting restrictions on that makes me procrastinate. So, I work with the idea of quality in mind regardless of the time it takes for me to finish the project.

I think we all, especially full-time artists, want to feel productive, but when we are the sole employee of our artistic business, sometimes it seems like we run around in circles never getting anything done. This daily activity helps me to actually “see” the things I’ve done all day. Since my days is always a mixture of creating, accounting, marketing, recording and making, I really want to see what it is that I’ve done and I found this to be the best way for me.

I am fortunate. I get to do what I love every day and in order for me to be successful, productive and satisfied with my career, I need some form of acknowledgment in order to feel justified for the rewards I give myself and this is the way I track it. This is most likely to change over the course of my career, but for now this works and when it doesn’t anymore, I can change it.

So, if you feel like you’re not accomplishing your tasks, try it. Keep an ongoing list of all the things you do throughout the day and spend a good 15 minutes each night reviewing your completed tasks. It will not only feel good to see it on paper, but psychologically, it will be a great boost and encouragement for you to do the same or more tomorrow. Go ahead, try it!