Consultant to Creatives
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The Clarity Journal

Tactics, Tools, and Truth for Creative Entrepreneurs

How to Plan Your Year in One Day

A major source of stress and overwhelm for creative business owners is 1) not having a good system for keeping track of their to-dos and 2) if they do have a system, not actually using or maintaining it. 

The good news is that you can create a simple but effective task management system in a couple of hours. Even better news is that by following the steps below you can create a skeleton to-do list that covers (most) everything you will need to do for an entire year.

I know I’m talking to creative types here, so let me acknowledge that planning out your entire year in advance may sound like the most boring, uninspired, overly Type-A thing you’ve ever heard. 

But, having good systems actually helps you be more spontaneous and creative, and to reach what David Allen calls “mind like water.”  When you get your to-dos out of your head and into a system you can trust, you can spend that extra mental energy on your creative work instead of on trying to remember that you need to send out your 1099s or that you should really get a blog post out this week.

The steps below walk you through a simple and customizable process to plan your year in a single day. Click below to download the PDF to follow along.


 
Plan Your Year in a Day.png
 

Step 1: Identify Your “Stuff”

To start the process, make a brain-dump list of all of the different things you know for sure that you will have to do this year. Don’t worry about things you don’t know about yet. Instead, focus on the things you know for sure, particularly things that you do over and over again. 

I find it helpful to categorize these into “buckets.” Your buckets are completely up to you, but some examples include:

  • Client work

  • Content

  • Campaigns

  • Sales/Networking

  • Finance

  • Leadership (if you have a team)

  • HR

  • Admin

  • Special Projects 

For example, here is the list I came up with for my own business.

 
Here is my brainstorm list of “stuff” that I do in my business regularly. It’s not absolutely everything, but it captures 70-80% of what I do.

Here is my brainstorm list of “stuff” that I do in my business regularly. It’s not absolutely everything, but it captures 70-80% of what I do.

 

Step 2: Categorize Your Stuff

The next step is to categorize your “stuff” according to how often it needs to be done. The template includes the following categories, but as always, you can customize these to fit your needs.

  • Quarterly

  • Monthly

  • Weekly

  • Daily

  • One-Time

  • As-Needed

Here is how I broke down my “stuff” into these categories using the template.

 
Here is how I sorted the previous list into different categories based on frequency. Don’t feel the need to put EVERYTHING into your task manager up front — that would be overkill. I put a check mark next to all of the things I loaded into my task manager. For the rest, I didn’t think it was necessary.

Here is how I sorted the previous list into different categories based on frequency. Don’t feel the need to put EVERYTHING into your task manager up front — that would be overkill. I put a check mark next to all of the things I loaded into my task manager. For the rest, I didn’t think it was necessary.

 

Step 3: Create Checklists

Next, you should create a basic checklist for the “stuff” on your list that will require multiple steps. Here are some tips for creating checklists:

  • Focus on tasks or projects that you repeat often and tend to do the same way each time.

  • Don’t feel pressure to create new processes right now. Instead, put down on paper the steps you are already doing.

  • Keep the checklist action-oriented by starting each task with a verb.

  • Search online for examples. For instance, my blog post checklist (shown below) is something that I found online.

  • Keep it simple, and don’t stress about making it perfect the first time. You can always tweak your checklists later if you forget something or want to make a change.

For example, here is my blog post checklist that includes my process for writing and posting new content. The checklist lives in my task manager, Nozbe. When I create my content schedule, I copy and paste this checklist for each blog post that I plan to write.

Here is my blog post checklist that I created in my task manager. Each time I write a post, I copy and paste this checklist and input the appropriate deadlines.

Here is my blog post checklist that I created in my task manager. Each time I write a post, I copy and paste this checklist and input the appropriate deadlines.

Step 4: Drop it into a Task Manager

The last and certainly most important step is to drop everything you just created into the task manager of your choice. It does not matter whether you use a digital task manager or a paper planner. However, when you are planning things far in advance, digital task managers tend to shine because of they can automate repeating tasks and make it easy to copy and paste checklists. I’ve been using Nozbe in 2019, which is what is shown in the below examples.

Add one-off tasks/projects

There may be things on your “stuff” list that don’t have a complicated process or fancy checklist. Those things can be added directly. For example, maybe you need to send off your information to your CPA by March 15 to give them time to file your taxes. Or, maybe you need to book travel for a conference you plan to attend by a certain date.

Add repeating tasks/projects

Next, add you’re repeating tasks/projects. For example, this is the task for tracking my weekly business stats.

 
I have a weekly spreadsheet with different stats that I track in my business. This is the task in Nozbe that reminds me to update that spreadsheet every Monday.

I have a weekly spreadsheet with different stats that I track in my business. This is the task in Nozbe that reminds me to update that spreadsheet every Monday.

 

As a more complicated example, this is how I have set up my monthly content planning that I do on the last Tuesday of every month. 

Here is my monthly content planning checklist in Nozbe. Each of these tasks is set to repeat on the last Tuesday of each month.

Here is my monthly content planning checklist in Nozbe. Each of these tasks is set to repeat on the last Tuesday of each month.

Create checklist templates for as-needed tasks

There are certain things that you know you will need to do, but you aren’t sure when. For example, I know that I will need to on-board new Thrive Program clients at some point. So, I set up a Thrive Program On-Boarding template in Nozbe. The next time I have to on-board a new client, I can easily copy and paste the template and have peace of mind that I haven’t forgotten to do anything.

Here is my new Thrive Program client on-boarding checklist. I copy and paste this into my to-do list each time I book a new client.

Here is my new Thrive Program client on-boarding checklist. I copy and paste this into my to-do list each time I book a new client.

Step 5: Maintain the System

Here are some tips to actually use your task management system and keep it up-to-date.

  • Review your system weekly. Take a look at the beginning of each week at all of the tasks you have planned and make sure they are up-to-date. Add things that you will need to take care of for the week.

  • Use your system daily. Using your system is what will help you trust your it, and trust in your system is what will reduce stress and free mental energy for your most important work. Use your task manager to capture everything you need to do in your work day.

  • Commit to one system. Don’t hop back and forth between your digital manager, a bullet journal, and random sticky notes on your desk. Commit to one system and invest the time you need to make it work for your business.

  • Stay flexible. There’s no such thing as a perfect plan or system. Stay flexible when unexpected things come up or when you need to adjust your from what you initially thought.