Workflow, Time Management and Productivity for Creatives

Lesson 4 of 9

5 Tips for Managing Your Workflow


Workflow, Time Management and Productivity for Creatives

Lesson 4 of 9

5 Tips for Managing Your Workflow


Lesson Info

5 Tips for Managing Your Workflow

Managing your workflow, five tips. So as I mentioned, you wanna check yours each day as you begin your workday. I think at first every day is kind of important, but ultimately, I check mine every other day. Definitely once a week or whenever I get a new opportunity because what do you wanna do when you get an opportunity that you say yes to? You wanna add it, you wanna put it in there. But you also, before you take on more work, you wanna just visually, and as creatives, we're visual people, we need to see. You can't hold all that in your head. Take a look, see what you have on your plate. How many large scale projects do I have, how many medium, how many small. And think of it, again, as a everchanging, living document. Once you've completed something in your workflow, add it to a new tab called completed projects. So in my actual workflow, which I can't show you, 'cause it has confidential client information on it, but I have another tab, so when I'm done with something, it's kind of...

like crossing something off your to-do list, which we're gonna talk about later. I cut it and I paste it into that completed and it's like the best feeling. So that stuff doesn't stay in there forever, you actually remove it. Make a new workflow document each calendar year. Out with the old, in with the new. You could actually do it more frequently than that, if you'd like. Aren't sure if you're going to remember to do a small task, add it to your workflow document. Again, no task too small for workflow. I also use my to-do journal. And this is, if you're familiar with bullet journaling, this is kind of a principle of bullet journaling that there's a spot either in your workflow or if it's easier for you to write things down by hand, you have a spot to write down stuff that you need to remember and can't forget. Because that's mostly how things get lost or we forget to do things. Question on your workflow. Yeah. When you're breaking down the deadlines, and I know when you've completed the whole workflow you move it over. Yeah. Is there a way that you track where you are within the subtasks? Yes, that's a great question. So I didn't do it on here on this example, but in Google docs, you can use the strikethrough. So often what I'll do, when I've finished something, a phase of something, or even in my description, if I've done something that I've described. Using the strikethrough, crossing it out, will often help you to distinguish between what you've already done and what you still need to do. I've also color coded things in the past, you'll notice that the only color coding I have on the example that I showed you is between the three, sort of levels, of bigness of projects. But you can also use color coding in other ways, like there was a period of time a few years ago when I was inordinately busy, and I used red, yellow, and green highlighter on a lot of things in my workflow. So red meant urgent, like this is due in the next two days. Don't go to bed without finishing this. And yellow was like this is important, and green was like you're cool for now. I don't do that anymore, because visually it's too overwhelming for me, but it was actually super helpful at the time. So I think taking advantage of digital tools are great, because you can take advantage of different ways to sort of code things inside, but I definitely think it's important to cross things out. You don't necessarily want to delete things, because you wanna sort of still bear in mind the scope of everything you've done and still need to do, but yeah, definitely do that and thanks for bringing that up. Yeah. We do have online, from Caroline, who says one thing she would wonder about is maybe having a column for ongoing questions, like kind of had some questions from the start of the project, but yeah. Keeping track of all these question mark things. Yes that's great. I don't have it now, but in the past, I have had a sixth column that's like unanswered questions, or things I still need to figure out. And I think that's an excellent suggestion. I'm trying to keep this process as simple for you as possible, but any time you think of an idea for how you could use this better yourself like adding a different column, or calling it something different, I think that's great, because that means you're already getting into the mindset of adapting the system for your own needs, great suggestion. Yeah. I'm wondering if you would ever suggest to print off this workflow and have it on, maybe a wall or incorporate a monthly calendar. I could see myself kind of getting lost in the words and needing to see it in that kind of format. Just wondering how you deal with that. That's a great suggestion. A few minutes ago I referred to this period that I went through a few years ago, where I had to like color code everything. I was working on two different books at the time and one of them was extremely fast paced and labor intensive, and so there was all these moving parts and I often, I've sort of gotten used to looking at something on a computer screen, but there are times when I've benefited from printing something out. So if printing out the workflow each week is helpful, just remember if you make changes to it to go do that, to make changes to the actual, living, breathing document. I also, during that busy period, got one of those giant calendars with boxes. And I still had my workflow, but I had post it notes of different colors and sort of moved them around according to where I was in the project, and that was also a really great time visual for me, because I knew the deadline was here. I was here, I had to do certain things between then and now. There are definitely things you can sort of add on and if you're a person who likes physical, tangible things in front of your face, those are great techniques. Or even just creating your own chart. I also have had whiteboards in my studio before, during really busy times, so at one point, I've been trying really hard to work less. (laughs) in the last year. And the reason I know I'm successful is I don't have to use these things anymore, but if you ever get super overwhelmed, you can get three whiteboards and one is like this month, this week, today, and it's almost like not that you wouldn't also keep a master to-do list. But whiteboards are great, 'cause you can erase and move things around and change and cross things out it's the same idea that we're gonna talk about with to-do lists, that you have to, at the beginning of each week or at the end of each day, you just have to make sure that you're preparing yourself, that you're setting yourself up for the next day. I mean, there's all kinds of little tools like that that you can use to keep yourself visually, in front of your face, organized. Yeah. Pass the mic. How does your workflow document work with your financial management? Are invoices small tasks or more like a PS deadline after the deliverables deadline? That's a really good question, at one time, I'm so glad you asked this. And I realize now it's sort of an oversight on my part when I was making the example, 'cause I was making the example off of how I use my workflow today. There was a time, when I managed my invoices myself and so I had a column that was like who the contact person was for invoicing, and whether the client had been invoiced or not, once it was due. I handed that over to somebody who works for me. And that is handled completely separately so it doesn't sit on my workflow anymore. But if it makes sense for you to also have information about invoicing or whether or not a job has been invoiced and kind of keeping track of when something has been paid. We have a separate spreadsheet for that now. But if it makes sense for you to keep it on your workflow, I say by all means, put it on there. You can add as many columns as you want to capture the information about the job. Yeah, that's a good question. Yeah. Alright, we have more coming through from the folks online so Rashmi Pentacar asks, do you make a new workflow each year, each new year or is it just one rolling, continuing workflow. It's one for the year, and that makes sense for me. So at the end of December, I will archive, I never sort of delete them, but I'll copy, excuse me, I'll copy the existing workflow, because it's very rare that every job ends at the end of December, right? So you're gonna be working on things in November and December that you're still gonna be working on in January and February, so I'll copy the existing workflow, I'll clean off the sort of the second tab, which is the completed projects tab. So that that is clean, and then I take off anything that I have completed by the end of the year and I start a new one and I'll label it like, workflow 2018. December, I'll probably make one that says workflow and I'll start a fresh one. And that just sort of keeps these sort of separate documents for each year, but I do keep one for the entire year. And again, part of the reason that's important, is it's sort of a way to track what you've worked on over the course of the year. I can go back a few years and look at, in my case, how much more I was working or how many more projects I had than I do now, and my goal has been to actually work less, but for some of you, that might be an indication of how much more work you're doing and getting, which is actually a good thing, if you're just starting out. It's a great way to track what basically, what your workflow's been over the last few years and what projects you've worked on, all in one central place, year by year. We had a question online that was also about the printing out to use. Yes, yes. So thank you for that question. So you also have a class on Creative Vibe about working successfully with clients and so a question came in from Jacklyn that sort of related to both classes, because of course they are integrated. And so Jacklyn's question is, if the contract states that you'll get paid in increments, and you aren't paid on time and the first set of sketches for illustration is that you identify it say for within your timeline. Say for example, for a kids' book. Do you keep working to keep your personal deadlines or do you put that on pause and push out other stuff. Like wait to get paid? Yeah. Oh, I'd keep working. (laughs) I mean, the thing is, most of the time clients, like 95% of the time, especially if you're working with a major publisher on a book, you're gonna get paid. And clients will pay you, they have accounting departments, you may not get the check right away, like you have to invoice often, sometimes the payment's automatic but on your workflow if you've got a phase that ends on June 5th and that's the point at which if the work's been approved, you get paid the first chunk of money, but sometimes payments get split up in big projects so you don't have to wait to the end to get paid the whole thing. You definitely wanna invoice and then hopefully the check will come within a few weeks, sometimes it takes some time, but you definitely wanna keep going on your workflow, and trust and assume that the client is going to pay you, for sure. I mean if you are having consistent problems with a client paying you or any other problem, that's a whole other conversation, but yeah. Very cool, so the next question is actually kind of leading into what we might be talking about as we move into the next segment of the class and Marjoline is asking about how do you then break down the tasks within, so we have our bigger chunks of what we're going to provide by when and so what is your way of working then and breaking down the tasks? Well we're gonna talk a lot about that in the rolling to-do list section, but one way to think about it, have any of you thought about the term backwards planning? So backwards planning is something I learned when I worked in the nonprofit world, and it was something that we both taught. I worked in education, so the nonprofit I worked for would teach this to schools and teachers about how to sort of break down big projects for themselves and what backwards planning essentially means is that you're taking the end result and then you're saying what do I need to get there. I wrote this book a few years ago, Art Inc, the Essential Guide to Building Your Career As An Artist. And part of chapter two is about that kind of backwards planning. So in some ways, in this book, it's more focused on your goals like if your goal is to open an Etsy shop, which by the way is a project that should go on your workflow, right? Because it's something you're gonna hold yourself responsible for completing. Personal projects need to go on your workflow, especially if it's about building your business. So opening a shop or launching a website, whatever the project is, whatever the goal is, or creating a collection of surface design patterns or whatever your goal is, taking that big thing which feels like a big thing often in the beginning, right? And then figuring out backwards planning, what is it I need to do to get there? What are the intermediate steps, what's if I know, if I have to open a shop, all of the associated tasks that go along with that. I have to have a collection of work that's going to go in the shop. I have to have products. I have to go into the online platform and I have to set up an account. So sometimes it's just brainstorming all the little things that I need to do. And then it's taking those little things and organizing those into also smaller tasks. And then you eventually assign yourself time to do them in your to-do list. And again, that's something you can do on that column five of your workflow, is basically breaking down this bigger thing into smaller steps. And sometimes it's just brainstorming and then taking that brainstorm and putting it in order. Or putting it in an order that makes sense for you. Assigning deadlines to it by the end of next week, I'm going to have set up an account with this online platform. I will have set up a payment system and I will create three new product listings or whatever. There's probably way more things that you would need to do, but you're breaking the bigger thing down into smaller parts, assigning yourself a deadline, putting it in your workflow and then that, as we'll discuss next, gets put on your daily to-do list.

Class Description

You have everything you need to create and implement effective, lasting organizational systems, whether you know it or not. As creatives we’re taught to believe this isn’t true.

Do any of these common myths about creatives sound familiar to you?

  • Creatives are inherently disorganized
  • They’ll never get a handle on their workload.
  • They lack the ability to create solid systems for getting things done.

These false ideas keep so many creatives from even trying to seek better workflows and organization systems, and ultimately bars the creative from doing better work. Not only that, believing these negative perceptions leave so many feeling stressed, scattered and unable to fully capitalize on their artistic strengths. It’s time to shatter these myths and learn to create the systems you need to to your best work as a creative.

Fine artist, illustrator and author Lisa Congdon has worked with over 75 clients around the world including MoMA, REI Co-op, Harvard University, Martha Stewart Living, Chronicle Books, and Random House Publishing, among many others. In this class she will teach you how to establish effective, workflows and time management strategies that will to streamline your processes and maximize creative work time. Lisa has spent years developing these systems. The monumental success of her career is proof these systems work. Join us.

In this class you will learn:

  • How to organize and implement a workflow system.
  • How to manage to-do lists effectively.
  • How to utilize time-blocking.
  • How to identify and manage the distractions that keep you from being productive.
  • And so much more…


a Creativelive Student

Thanks Lisa! Wow. I found this class very inspiring and exciting. Besides the logging and planning parts that really amuse me in general, I found the idea of setting boundaries and working while keeping distractions in check quite revolutionary. I can see how working focused on x thing for a period of time over several days can work wonders in completing projects. Super recommended.


I just love love love this system(s) AND the fact that Lisa explains them so clearly -and leaves the space to each of her students to "be creative" and adapt the system to your own way of working too. I found this course right on time in my life where i needed to clean out things, become more efficient and calmer too. I think Lisa's systems are indeed a perfect way to calm down any anxieties caused by too much / too few work, overwhelm and such... THANK YOU Lisa, merci beaucoup !


Awesome class. Lisa is very generous in sharing a very useful system that has helped her turn her creative gifts into things that we can all enjoy. I am already starting to use it and to see the benefits. It helps me "trap" all the disparate initiatives that I am working on in one place and make progress on them. Thank you Lisa!