For many creative professionals, organization is a skill they lack. I used to get really frustrated working on group projects in college because there were certain designers and writers who couldn't seem to get anything done on time. I don't mean to call out anyone for being disorganized, but I DO want to discourage people from using "creativity" as a excuse for laziness. Creativity and organization are skills that must be developed equally for maximum success. Since I've talked a lot about creativity recently, I thought I would share my no-nonsense advice for getting (and staying!) organized with creative work.
1. Set Firm Deadlines
I think many creative people don't realize how long something is going to take them. This is something I have struggled with in the past, so I designed a simple system for getting big projects done. I like to get a calendar (weekly or monthly, depending on the task), and schedule everything backwards. For example, my schedule might look like this:
February 20: Turn in final brochure
February 18: Pick up printed brochures from Alphagraphics
February 12: Submit brochure design to Alphagraphics
February 10: Submit brochure to editor for proofreading, etc.
February 9: Make final changes to brochure design and match colors
February 4: Add photos and copy to brochure
February 1: Make brochure design outline/rough draft
You get the idea. This system helps me work faster, avoid procrastinating, and keeps me on track because I have more time to adjust the plan if something takes longer than I originally anticipated.
2. Keep track of your time
When I do contract or freelance work, I keep track of my time very carefully. I like to do this with all my projects so I can manage my time more effectively. Keeping track of my time helps me A. work faster (because I don't want to have to tell a client I spent an hour making a rough draft), and B. understand how long something actually takes. I used to underestimate my time for clients because I didn't really have a good idea of what goes into certain tasks. Keeping track of my time allows me to say with confidence, "I can have that done in __ hours" instead of making a wild guess and then going crazy to make sure it happens.
2. Be Accountable
If you're the creative person on a project, make a small goal for yourself and then tell someone on your team so they can force you to act on it. Just say, "I'm going to make an outline for the poster in B&W in the next 30 minutes and bring it to you for proofreading." You'll be surprised how fast you can work when you have someone really counting on you!
3. Make Outlines
Oftentimes, we get excited about projects and want to dive right in without really getting organized. Take the time to make a rough draft, outline your goals, and draw your ideas out on paper before you go crazy in Photoshop and make a 100MB file with 50 layer masks that can't be compressed (yes, this has actually happened to me). Make sure you really know what you're doing before you start, and you won't waste as much time trying to figure it out.
4. Just Do It!
My sister, Abby is a professional writer/editor and she says the secret to writing is, "Just keep your butt in the chair." I love that idea! Sometimes you have to force creativity (Read Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit if you're interested in learning more about this) by sitting down and working it out. I find that if I can set a timer for 30 minutes and work without stopping, I often accomplish more than if I sat down for several hours without any focus. Remember that it's better to submit something ugly to your partner than nothing at all.
I know that creative projects can't always be systemized, but I have found that if you can get organized and stay focused, you'll work a lot faster and you won't suffer from so much burnout. Even though there are professional positions to manage creative people (account managers, marketing coordinators, etc.) I think we should all be a little more responsible and do what we said we would do, when we said we would do it. You can be creative and organized, and everyone (especially your group partners) will thank you for it.
Thanks for reading!