01/02/2015 um 13:02

(Self-) Organization for creative people – The Basics

Abgelegt unter: Distracted by the Shiny
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After my last post about dealing with my perfectionism I was asked to write about how I make my plans. So this is it. And lots more. Because organizing yourself is a highly individual thing, and where non-creative people maybe would just use a run-off the mill planner you can buy in the store, creative brains rarely work with prefabricated grids and patterns. Still, life can be overwhelming and having some sort of support-system helping with that, can take a lot of anxiety out of pretending to be a grown-up, responsible adult. This post is by no means exhaustive, so if you have further questions, please ask!

What I plan to talk about:

  • Choosing the right system
  • Where to begin
  • The Benefits of Colour Coding
  • Sticky Notes
  • How I do it

What I’m not going to talk about:
Apps and other computer-based means of self-organization, there are just to freakin’ many. And they don’t work with me at. all.

Choosing the right system

So. The creative brain. I often visualize mine as a mirror labyrinth filled with balloons, confetti and sparkle, unicorns, streamers and a billion of interesting knick-knacks. There’s a whole other universe hiding in there. Naturally, this makes it very hard to focus on this universe, and its demands and tasks. If I don’t (and I’ve slipped often enough to know this by heart now) put my ideas and tasks to paper, they vanish in this labyrinth to be never seen again. The tricky thing is to find a system that works for your brain and your days. I spent the most part of my day in an office, I don’t have a lot of other appointments I need to keep track of, and I have a complex long-term project running in the background. You might be a freelancer with deadlines and clients, you might need a place to doodle ideas for illustrations, etc, etc… Are you a highly visual person? Do you thrive with tick-off boxes? Do you need to monitor progress? There’s a lot of stuff to be taken into consideration.

There are lots and lots and lots of ready-made personal planners to chose from, if your brain needs prefabricated grids and slots and your days demand a calendar for dates and appointments. They run the gamut from the customizable and very expensive Filofax-System, the Midori Traveler’s Notebook, the Hobonichi Techo and the Passion Planner to all the less sophisticated, but cheap solutions your local stationary shop offers you.

If your brain needs a more flexible thing, there’s an equally staggering amount of solutions to chose from. DIY planners like the Hipster PDA or the Bullet Journal, or sophisticated project management workflows like Kanban boards or Scrum (nicked from software development). Or you come up with a system yourself.

If stuff on paper is not your thing, I gently direct you to the app store of your preferred flavour to choose from one the many, many, many To-do-List apps that can be found there. They come with all the bells and whistles, and build in reminders, which can be useful.


What works for me: I never seem to be able to find a planner that suits all my needs, although I love the neatness of the stuff you can buy. I’m a perfectionist after all. So I took a sturdy notebook, and build one myself, which I’m going to introduce further down. My very few appointments and other time-sensible stuff lives in iCal and pings me if needed, and I also have all my contacts on my iPhone and Mac, because that’s where I need them.

Somehow this blogpost got out of hand and really long, so I put the rest of it under the cut.

Where to begin

Now that you’ve chosen a system or planner that seems to be made for you, where do you even begin? How should you ever attempt to tame the colourful rainbow that reigns supreme in your brain? Fret not, dear friend, there is a way. Take a piece of paper. Write everything down, everythiiiiing! Yes. Even that you need to buy milk. All your ideas, your plans and where you want to be in a year. EVERYTHING. Now that you have your master list, you can sort the contents into the respective slots of your system. This may take some time, and you might end up with a lot of stuff. That’s okay. It becomes easier after that.

What works for me: I have a lot of different lists. The Master List of Book Todos. Home Improvement. Life Goals. Writing Goals. I friggin’ love lists. From those lists I sort stuff into my weekly planner section, to work on them. So don’t be intimidated if you come up with a complex thing yourself. Life IS complex. Humans ARE complex. This may need a lot of slots.

The Benefits of Colour Coding

So, let’s say you have a lot of different topics you need to keep track of. Stuff you need to study for. Work appointments. Chores. Exams. Deadlines. If this feels all jumbled and unstructred, maybe adding a little colour might help. My brain loves colour, and giving things that belong together their own colour, helps me immensely. Gee, I grew up in the rainbow loving 80s, it’s not a surprise. At work, all my different responsibilities have their own colour, so I know at a glance what I’m dealing with.

Sticky Notes

If you’re anything like me, your life seems to resemble a shapeshifting chameleon, and new things that must not be forgotten appear all the time. Not everything fits into the grid you work with. Enter sticky notes, the marvellous thing that can be pasted everywhere! Get them. In lots of sizes and colours! I use them to make my beloved Kanban board at work, because they are movable.

How I do it

Prepare for a lot of photos.

At the dayjob
The nature of my dayjob entails that I work a lot with other people. So I needed a system that not only shows my to-dos, but also things that are currently on other people’s desks, because of they’re reviewing things, or because I need their input. I also have a lot of different projects I need to do smaller things for. I adapted the Kanban board method for my needs, and must say it’s a great relief. Nothing ends up forgotten, it is totally flexible if priorities change and it suits my need to see everything at a glance. I still write down all my to-dos for the particular week on a notepad, where also all the little things that pop-up during the day get scribbled down. I use a rainbow of textmarkers to colour code everything.

At home
My private life resides in a sturdy notebook. I figured I have three major blocks that I need to keep present at all times: Book, Life and House. Book is self-explanatory, I guess. Life means everything I need to do to be happy and healthy. House is for chores to keep this place clean and tidy. These blocks appear in the “Monthly Goals” section and in the “Weekly Goals” section of the planner. Each of them has their own colour.



I initially thought I don’t need a daily section, but I slowly come to the conclusion that this was wrong. I might look into keeping a extra bullet journal for that, because I need a place for jotting down ideas too, which is also not taken care of in the way I want it to. Flexibility ftw!


The little bullets you can see after all the tasks are there to monitor progress. Usually there are five, sometimes there are more.
Another part of the notebook is occupied by the aforementioned lists for everything under the moon. I show you the Master List of Book To-dos.


As you can see, I use colour coding here too. It really helps me. I also want to cry every time I take a look at this list, because it’s so overwhelmingly long. *sigh*

The Book
The Book is a complex project, and there’s a lot of things I need to put somewhere, that are not actual to-dos. Right now I use a shambled system of (I think) three notebooks, but I plan to straighten that up soon. There’s an A4 ringbook, the story bible and the almost full notebook for scribbles and ideas that I schlepp around everywhere.


I might show you contents of these next weekend. Right now I feel this post is long enough already.

I hope you enjoyed this peek behind how I try to keep myself organized and structured. I’m by no means always successful in that attempt, especially when things get really hectic, I tend to forget that I have a planner. Which is kinda stupid, because these are the moments I actually need it most to not become overwhelmed. Oh well.

Are you a creative person? How do keep track of all your projects and to-dos? Please tell me in the comments.

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