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Workflow, Time Management and Productivity for Creatives

Lesson 6 of 9

Setting Up Your Rolling To-Do List

Lisa Congdon

Workflow, Time Management and Productivity for Creatives

Lisa Congdon

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Lesson Info

6. Setting Up Your Rolling To-Do List

Lesson Info

Setting Up Your Rolling To-Do List

So this is how you set up and use your rolling to do list. So first of all, this is my actual to do list. It's not technically a bullet journal because I don't use a lot of the principles of bullet journaling but I do use this actual book to make my weekly to do list, I keep all of my lists and all of my notes from meetings in this central place. And I'll show you more examples from here in a minute but this is actually something I use. This is actually a scan of a blank spread from this very book and this is made, this actual book is made by Leuchtturm but which I think is a German company but you can use like Moleskine or any kind of notebooks, if you prefer spiral those also work, okay. So the first thing you're gonna do before you make your weekly to do list is you're going to jot down all the priorities for your week on a page that precedes the spread and you will determine your priority list by looking at your workflow and seeing what's due, okay. So, I actually use my fictitious...

workflow document that you guys can download or that we were looking at earlier to set this list of priorities for the week of June first. So, I am picking a number of things that I'm pretty sure I can finish in a week and every week's gonna look different 'cause some weeks you have other obligations, a dentist appointment, a doctor's appointment, your kid's got a soccer game, whatever, whatever, so some weeks are gonna look different than others in terms of what you think you can accomplish. But you wanna make a list of overall priorities. This, I've given an example of using an entire page. You could also literally make a little box on the corner of a full spread and list your priorities in really small type and they're all even on the same pages, the spread where you're gonna have your, you'll see in a second, where you're going to have your to do list. So, priorities for week of June first, complete five rough sketches for the children's book. Remember I'm doing an alphabet book and the letters that I'm gonna work on this week, see how specific I'm getting here? I'm gonna work on letters H through L. I've already maybe completed A through whatever letter comes before L, (giggling) I don't remember. You're also going to do final touch ups on the Civil Rights book illustration, you're gonna review client feedback on the peanut butter packaging and begin final artwork. So again, this is all based on where you are in your workflow at any given time. You're gonna begin the interview for A.R.T.S.Y. magazine. Maybe, hopefully even finish it. You're gonna contact the plumber about the dripping faucet so notice I've added a few things from my life outside of work and I'm doing that, not to complicate things, but just to show you it's totally fine to do that especially if they're things that you need to block off time for and get done. And I'm also gonna send thank you notes for the birthday gifts that I got. Okay, so sometimes that I think are gonna take me a bit of time or that I wanna make sure that I don't forget, they go in my priority list and then they end up going in my, in the next spread. So I'm happy to answer questions about priorities but before I do that, let's just talk about how to lay out your to do list. So I recommend using a full spread. I divide my to do list into sixths for an entire week starting with Monday. If your work week looks different, like you like to think of it as Wednesday through Sunday or you like to work on the weekend, you can divide it up however you want but if you work inside the traditional week, this is how I recommend doing it. On the left hand side, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Thursday, Friday on the right hand side and then a space for the weekend or if you only work, if you. And again, if you don't wanna have any obligations or be holden to anything on the weekend, don't put it in there. This is just a place to write down things you wanna remember to do over the weekend and you'll note if you were to flip through this actual Lisa Congdon to do list, you'll notice things like laundry, weed the garden, whatever on the weekend list and sometimes work as well. So every Friday or over the weekend, you're gonna begin making your list for the week. Okay, allot time to do that on Friday or over the weekend. You might say what about Monday morning. And I say, don't wait until Monday morning unless that's your last resort. And that's because if you wait till Monday morning, it just becomes another chore you have to do and it eats into your work time. It's better to wake up on Monday morning, remember when the class started I was like, what if you woke up every morning and you knew exactly what you needed to do to start the day. That can only happen, you can only wake up that way if the day before or a couple days before you've set, you've made a plan for yourself, okay. So don't wait till Monday morning, it's gonna feel better to wake up and just be like, I have a plan and now I'm gonna go do it. Think of planning your following week as something you do to prepare to jump in first thing on Monday. Okay, so I've now taken the list of priorities and I've started to lay out my to do list and notice I've only gotten through Tuesday and there's a reason for that. But first, let's talk about what I've got. So, on Monday, remember on my priority list, I said I was going to sketch the letters H through L for this alphabet book that I'm doing or the illustrations for those letters. So on Monday, I've assigned myself H, 'cause that's the first letter in that series. I've assigned myself to do final touch ups on the Civil Rights book. I've assigned myself to start the A.R.T.S.Y. magazine interview and I'm also going to try to rough sketch for letter I, the next in the series and I've assigned myself some time for admin. So let's talk about admin for a second. So oftentimes, we do admin in sort of fits and starts or one thing at a time. Like for example, you might be in the habit of just sort of randomly checking your email all day but in a moment we're going to talk about time blocking. I highly, so these are all gonna get blocks of time assigned to them, we're not going there yet 'cause I wanna take this one step at a time but if you have a time set out for admin then you're not spending wasted. You would be surprised how much time you actually waste checking email constantly or getting sidetracked from the stuff you needed to be done because the stuff comes into your inbox. So I highly recommend having a time block for email or email plus other admin stuff you need to get done, responding to email, whatever, other administrative stuff. I've also kind of, I've started planning out Tuesday. This, you know if you just wanna plan one day at a time, that's also fine but if you're pretty, as you start using a to do list like this, you're gonna get a really clear idea of how much you can accomplish in one day and it's gonna be easier and easier for you to start planning a little bit further in advance. I recommend not going beyond two days at a time, however. So rough sketch for letter J, time for admin, I'm gonna finish the A.R.T.S.Y. magazine interview or at least I'm gonna try to, I'm gonna send the Civil Rights illustration to the client and I'm gonna write some thank you notes. I know that on Wednesday I need to call the plumber so that's the only thing I've put on Wednesday, okay. So again your workflow to your priority list to like today and tomorrow, that's all you need to really worry about. You have your priorities written down, you don't need to plan out how you're gonna meet all of them at once. So the idea with a rolling to do list is that you roll the tasks you didn't finish down to the next day or day after. That way, things that you didn't complete or start don't get lost 'cause how many times have we had a to do list, right, and it's already laid out and we don't do everything and then something just, it's Friday and it's like oh crap, I never did that thing on Monday, right. And now I think, I'm in trouble 'cause I didn't get it done or now I have to work over the weekend. So, it's a way of accounting for stuff so that you don't forget and things don't get lost. It's often also the little things that get lost, not the work on the big projects, those are at the forefront of your mind, right, because it's stuff you're working on for a client or stuff that's due and things you're getting paid for, it's the little stuff that often gets lost. So every day at the end of the day, you need to spend time rolling the stuff you didn't complete to the next day or the day after and adding new tasks from your list of priorities so that list of priorities that came from your workflow document, that guides what goes on your to do list every single day. Did you complete everything in a day? And some days you will, you're golden, right, then you just get to go back to your list of priorities and start adding some stuff. Alright, you'll mark things off your list that you've completed and you'll fill in your tasks for the next day based on your priorities so let's look at what that looks like now. There's two ways, I am a crosser outer, like I love drawing a line through things that I have done. It's like an obsession of mine since I was in college. I wrote little check boxes next to it because bullet journaling espouses there's actually, if you're into bullet journaling, if you have no idea what I'm talking about just Google it, it's fascinating. But there's like different markers that you give things for depending on whether you've done them or halfway done them or whatever. I'm like you either did it or you didn't do it. If you did it, you can mark a check mark next to it or draw a line through it or both, whatever. So you can set yours up however you want. So it turns out on Monday, I finished the rough sketch for the letter H, I did final touch ups on the Civil Rights book illustration, I finished the rough sketch for the letter I and I did my admin time. I didn't complete or even start the A.R.T.S.Y. magazine interview so I need to make sure that that gets rolled down to another day, it doesn't necessarily have to be the next day if it's not due the next day but you gotta make sure you're accounting for it. Any questions so far? Okay, so let's say Monday and Tuesday have happened, I'm crossing off all the things so notice on Tuesday I didn't actually finish the rough sketch for letter J so where do you see it now again? It's on Wednesday now and the A.R.T.S.Y. magazine interview looks like I did that on Tuesday, I just did the whole thing on Tuesday. It was already on my list to finish on Tuesday. Sometimes, you'll give yourself two days to complete something and you'll finish it the first day and it's great 'cause then you can cross something off twice. Then I've also started to fill in Wednesday and Thursday and Friday and you don't necessarily have to go all the way till Friday but usually by Wednesday, you have a good sense of what you've completed and what you still have to do and you can sort of arrange things based on priority over the course of the rest of the days. So I've gotta redo the letter sketch, the rough sketch for the letter J and I'm gonna spend some time on Wednesday also writing thank you notes, looks like Wednesday's a pretty easy day. So Thursday, I'm gonna get to the letter K, I'm going back to my priority list and I know that I still haven't reviewed the feedback for the sketches for the peanut butter packaging, so I better do that. I'm gonna finish those thank you notes, I'm gonna do a chunk of admin time and I'm gonna proofread and send the interview to A.R.T.S.Y. magazine because I did it, I finished it but I think I should probably look it over. Then Friday, I'm gonna get to the letter L which is great. I had made it my goal to do H through L, I'm going to begin the artwork for the peanut butter packaging and I'm going to meet the plumber at 10:30 a.m. So if you have appointments, you can also stick them in here. Any questions? Yeah. I just wanted to know if you were cross, putting these into a Google calendar as well and setting reminders or is just the notebook, that's all you go off of. So if something has a specific, like if I have an appointment with a client or the plumber or whatever, I'll like you'll, if you open my notebook you'll, I'm not gonna show you but I'm just gonna try to, so a couple weeks ago on a Monday I had a client call with the creative director at Parent magazine who I did an illustration for at 2:00 p.m. so right here, you can see like I wrote 2:00 p.m. Agnethe and I drew a circle around it, that also went into my Google calendar. Any time there's an appointment or anything that I need like a phone reminder for, goes into my calendar. If you're the kind of person who wants to also chunk time or chunk out what you're gonna do in your calendar which I know some people find really helpful, I say go for it, like if writing it down and using this to sort of track but chunking out time in your calendar for when you're gonna do certain things is helpful to you, go make that part of your system. Whatever's gonna keep you organized and keep you on track, if it means putting things in your calendar, then I say do it. I definitely do it when I'm accountable for actually speaking to somebody on the phone or whatever but if I'm, I don't use it personally in that way because I chunk time and write things out in my book. But if that's helpful to you then I would say do it. Okay, does that help? Yeah. Go ahead. I don't know if this is a question so much as reiterating what you're showing here but one of the things I struggle with is having several different projects that have different feelings so I, you know something might be an embroidery, something else might be an illustration and then I tend to want to finish one entire project versus wear all these different hats in each and every day. I guess what you're showing here, it's like you have several different projects and you're wearing different hats on each one, do you think that that is maybe a better way to go about planning a day versus each, checking off project by project based on feelings? Okay, so I think that is such a great question and I am going to address it and I think it's a matter of personal preference. If it makes you feel more in control to spend Monday entirely on the alphabet book, Monday and Tuesday and get that out of your, out of the, like if focusing on one thing. I think there's one example of when that doesn't work but if that makes you feel better and that's how, that's what's gonna make you wake up in the morning and feel a sense of control over your work or whatever then that's the way you should approach it. Personally, I like finishing my week knowing that I've, or finishing my day knowing that I've touched a lot of different things, it's not, and that makes me feel less overwhelmed like and I do spend days working entirely on one thing, don't get me wrong especially if I have a big project that's due. But I also, it helps my brain to shift gears and work on different things. It keeps my brain fresh, if I work on the same thing for too many hours at a time, I will get really overwhelmed and a lot of like static so for me, planning to do, work in chunks of time that are shorter on lots of different things and then take time the next day to make progress on each of them in short chunks of time and again, when we get into time blocking I'm gonna talk more about this, I like that but I also have heard other people say that they like just finishing one thing and then moving on to the next thing so if that's the way you like to do it, then you just chunk out your to do list in that way. I do think it's important to take breaks and to chunk your time, we'll get to that in a moment but how you, what you assign yourself is up to your own personal preferences for how you work. Again, remember this is a flexible system that you're creating in the way you like to work best and what I would recommend too is experimenting. So you might think that works best for you but if you tried to like work on embroidery for an hour each day and then work on a surface design for an hour each day and these are arbitrary examples but experiment with that a little bit and see if your energy for it and your sense of accomplishment at the end of the day is different or the same or how that works. I would recommend experimenting a little bit and part of the reason that I came up with this is when I was first getting overwhelmed as a relatively new illustrator years ago with lots of different projects and things coming my way and I was having to manage my time, one of the things that sort of chunking my time doing a little bit of each thing everyday did for me was at the end of the day it left me feeling like oh I worked on all the things today. I didn't necessarily finish all of them but that's not always the goal but sometimes if I would only work on one thing but I had like five other projects that I hadn't touched, I would still feel anxiety because I hadn't touched those things and they were still hanging over my head as having not made progress on them, does that make sense? And so when you break things up and work on them a little bit each day, I personally think it gives us a greater sense of control and that's actually where time blocking is super helpful so I'll get more into it, I think that's such a great question. Yeah. I have one from Sarah Mathis who says "First of all, thank you for this amazing class." She said, "I have a question about where you put long term "future tasks into this rolling to do list." She says "Like something you know you will have to do in two "weeks or two months on a Wednesday, like an appointment "but it's not something that you would "necessarily have in your main workflow." Okay, great question. Your calendar, so I'm not talking a whole lot about Google calendar or calendaring here but it is an important element. So, calendars are excellent ways of reminding yourself that you have to do something at a certain time on a certain day, especially when that thing isn't happening that way, if it's happening that week you just open your notebook and not that a calendar appointment isn't also super helpful as we discussed earlier but you can, every week I've got like something in here that is you know, Heather is my producer for this class and like every literally every three days for the last two weeks we've gotten on the phone and talked about what was happening and being prepared so I have all my meetings with Heather already pre-scheduled written in my notebook so that when I open it up in the morning, I say oh, it's Monday May 21st, I've got Heather at o'clock and I know that and I've even blocked time for it. But calendars are awesome because if something isn't happening that week, it will remind you. Yeah, did somebody else have their hand up here? Oh, just adjusting her glasses. One more online and this is from Purex and talking again, thinking about separating this need to like, instead of jumbling things together, separating out freelance gigs versus your full time, say you do have a full time job but then you have these other side projects. Have you found that it works to put 'em all together? Well, if, okay that's where time blocking is helpful 'cause if you have a job that you go to and you wanna use this system at your job, then I would, then you're gonna assign chunks of time based on when you're at your job. If you're at your job from say nine to one everyday, let's, this is arbitrary but let's say and then so from nine to one you're gonna block chunks of time to do the stuff at your paid job. Then by two o'clock you're home, maybe you eat lunch and then you come home and then from one to five, you're working on freelance stuff so that stuff gets chunked out during the afternoon. That's why assigning times to your work is really important because if you're working on two sort of disparate things, I mean if you work at a coffee shop, you're not gonna be using a to do list, you go to the, you serve people coffee, right. But if you have a job and then you only use this for the time that you're not a barista, right, but if you have a job where you have to, you know you're doing design work or any kind of work where you wanna have a plan and a to do list and you wanna use a system at your job just time block, which we'll get into shortly, for your job during this time of the day that you're at your job and then time block the other stuff when you're not at your job. And I know that for a lot of people that's the evening and that's the reality, used to be my life. I made art at night because I had a day job before I made the transition to being a full time artist. So again, just make it work for you and your situation. Okay, pro tip. Make a spot in your notebook to write down stuff you have to add to your workflow or to do list before the end of the day. How often have we gotten a quick text or email from someone that is something that needs to be translated to our either workflow or to do list but we're like oh I'm gonna do that later, you know or I can remember that. Sometimes you have to 'cause you're like driving or whatever but what I like to do is have a little, I'm trying to look for an example in here. I like to have a little, you'll notice here there's like Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Weekend and then you'll see here I have like blocked off this little space and if you're, watch videos on bullet journaling there's a lot of this like just taking space inside of your list to like I don't make mine super fancy but you know to just create a new list inside of the space and you're making the most use of the space too. Just maybe highlighting it like don't forget or when you have time add these things to your workflow and then just write them down really quickly even if it's a word that's gonna trigger something for you to remember. Okay because the whole idea here is that you're just capturing everything you're responsible for so that you're not walking around later in the evening having an enjoyable dinner out and then all of a sudden you have a panic attack because you remember that there's that text or email you got earlier with that thing that you're supposed to do tomorrow that you forgot to write down and now you're really nervous you're gonna forget. So just writing things down when they happen is always super helpful.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.

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…

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Tessa Crowther

Overall, I'm super happy I took the course! As an entrepreneur, artist, and tiny business owner, it's nice to hear perspective from people who have gone through and are going through similar things. Be prepared for some slides to be read word for word (not my favorite thing), and for some thoughts to be a bit scattered and unorganized. However, I got some good information and will implement some of her ideas in my own time management. I paid for the class as a single class, so I'm not sure I'd recommend paying that full single price, but I would definitely recommend the class if you have a class pass! Overall, I would recommend, thanks Lisa!

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 !