How to plan so you actually follow through – even on those days when you don’t feel like working.

I’m writing a lot about creative planning to help me get ready for a special Creative Dream Coaching Circle I am offering on Creative Planning and Project Management.

Last week I wrote about why planning is so hard sometimes. Today’s post is about making detailed plans – but this isn’t applicable to all kinds of creative projects.  My next post will be about a super-simple “anti-planning” plan that works really well too.

plan and follow through

Do any of these sound familiar?

I want to write a book, but I’m not sure where to start. Get an agent? Get a book deal? Write the thing? I don’t know, and it makes me uncomfortable so I don’t do anything.

(Books get written when writers write.)

I have a business plan for my creative business but, I don’t know, I haven’t done anything yet. I guess I’m not sure I know where to start, so I don’t start.

(No one will find your creative work if you don’t put it out there. Starting anywhere is better than not starting at all.)

I have this idea for a series of paintings I am CRAZY inspired about, but I can’t seem to, like, get to work. I don’t know, I just don’t have time. How do you fit a really big creative project into your schedule anyway?

(You do the work by doing the work. There really is no way around that.  If all you have is ten minutes a day – then do ten minutes a day. That will certainly get you there faster than waiting for your “ideal conditions fantasy” which is never going to come true)

What’s going on?

First: there is this creative tension between planning for what you want to create in the future and being present in your creative energy in the moment.

You want to direct where you are going by having clear intentions.

But you don’t want to become a slave to your to-do list.   I mean you’re an artist! You want to be free and creative.

This creative tension is why so many creative types resist planning, but on some level I think we all know that when you resist structure, you sabotage your dream (follow the link for a video I did on that).

Second: your creative project is likely connected to a creative dream of yours.  So all the normal “OMG I HAVE A DREAM” stuff tends to come up, like: inner critics, limiting belief systems, comfort zones that are impossible to get out of, etc.

(For the sake of simplicity, consider a creative dream the big picture of how you want to live your life and your creative project is a specific project that supports your dream. For example, my biggest dream is to move towards my creative and spiritual potential (AKA be who I actually am) and one of my creative projects is the Year of Dreams 2017.  A dream can have a lot of different projects.)

Whatever your personal issue with planning is – it’s likely more about those two things than it is about planning itself.

Planning is simple.

It seems complicated when something else is tangled up.

Usually facing that something else is so uncomfortable that we just say “Oh planning doesn’t work for me, I’m too creative” and in doing that we shut the whole thing down.

So then you don’t have to face the uncomfortable thing.  But you also don’t get to move forward with your project.

If you’re willing to get uncomfortable in order to bring your creative projects to life, read on.

Here is how I handle it:

First, the completed project is my guiding light, the plan is NOT my guiding light.

My plan is a map I draw of what I think the path to my completed project looks like. But I keep in mind that I could be wrong.

Each time I take a step – my perspective changes and I know more about this project and what it needs.  So the steps that I map out before I even begin the work are just guesses.

I need to make these guesses to give myself some kind of idea of where I’m going and how to get there but I have to be willing and able to change the plan as I move along that path.  So I stay VERY flexible.

To keep my completed project as my guiding light, I connect with the essence of my project every day and find out what it needs.

This is similar to what I teach in my free class Give Your Dream Wings about learning how to connect with the essence of your dream.

That process, done for 5-10 minutes a day, keeps the flow of inspiration, motivation and magic moving strong.  It’s not a substitute for doing the work of course, but it helps make the work more possible on days when it feels impossible.

That process is also how I get the intuitive ideas and information about what next steps to take to move my project forward. – and then I adjust my plan accordingly.

Staying flexible and able to adjust the plan is easier to do when you are super organised.

To organise my tasks, I group my work by different types.  For example, this is what is involved in most of my current projects:

brainstorming
planning
writing: rough
writing: editing/final copies
admin prep: website, shopping cart, back-end stuff
drawing/creating

(You will have different categories depending on the kind of creative work you do and how you like to group tasks together)

So when I talk about planning out the project, it means I have written out what needs to happen for each stage.

First I list everything I need to do.

This includes writing out questions like “figure out how to do ____” and “research what is the best tool for  _____”.

Don’t let “not knowing” stop you! There is no reason to already know everything before you start – you learn as you go.

And then I give each task a deadline.

Some tasks have to follow other tasks. Some tasks have natural deadlines. Some tasks I have to pick deadlines for (if I put a task without a deadline into my planning system that means I’ll never do it).

If it’s complicated I draw out a flowchart first to help me see how it will all fit together, then I put everything into Asana (I like Asana but use whatever you like!) with sub-tasks and due dates.

I know this is boring and annoying.

I do it anyway because when all of the details are scheduled I can relax.  And when I can relax, I make space for my creative genius to come out to play.

Some people can be totally relaxed without being organsised.  That’s great – except that those people tend to get stressed out at the next step – when they start dropping balls because they’re not organised enough to move the project forward.

So – get organised.

It’s MUCH more annoying and time consuming the first few times you do this.  Once you get used to organising your projects in this way it gets much faster to dump all of the details into some kind of project management software.

And be practical about how much work you can actually do.

I give myself lots of white space in my schedule.

I set deadlines that don’t feel tight. I say no to a lot of opportunities in order to have lots of space for my own creative projects.  I put some of my projects on hold to give my attention to other projects.  I do what I need to do to protect that white space.

I’ve also been working at this business full time for the past 6 years so I have a good sense now of how long things will take me to do. When I started out I did NOT have that sense, and I consistently planned to finish work much faster than I was actually able to and then trying to keep up with my plans was a bit of a nightmare.

So I recommend being generous with your timing.

If your deadlines are too tight and something comes along and derails you (as life has a tendency to do) it’s a lot harder to get back on track.

Shit’s going to happen, be committed to keep working the best you can anyway. It’s the only way to get your project done.

One really cool thing about being super organised: you get to be super picky.

When I am uber-organised like this, that means I can pick and choose what I do on any given day.

See, the deadlines are there to let me know when a task really needs to be done by, but, with lots of white space in my schedule, I tend to complete my tasks at least a few weeks before that.

This means I am free to choose each day what kind of task I want to do – so I get to work with where my creative energy actually is on my given day!

This is how you get more work done with less effort.

This is also how you get to feel free and creative while staying organised and on track.

  • Some days I’m just in more of a brainstorming kind of space, I just want to drink lattes and explore in my journal.
  • Some days I feel like I am swimming in ideas and I want to organize them into groups.
  • Some days I want to take all the brainstorming and rough writing and put it together and edit it into something useful.
  • Some days I just want to drink tea and draw.

It really depends on where I’m at. Forcing myself to be somewhere I am not has never worked for me.

When my daily routine gives me lots of space to focus on the kind of work I want to do on a particular day – I don’t rebel against the tasks that I don’t like so much, like the admin stuff.

I do it cheerfully because I see how it’s supporting the rest of my work.  And because I’m spending most of the day doing what I feel like doing, so it’s no big deal to spend an hour doing something kind of tedious.

And because I am still connected with the essence of my project every day, and deeply committed to getting the project done – I tend to gravitate towards wanting to do the things that most need doing.

(This is one of the magical side-effects of connecting with the essence of your project)

Again – the key is being VERY organised while also staying VERY connected to the essence of your project.

I know – it’s more complicated than this!

For one thing – your inner critics and (mostly unconscious) limiting patterns are going to influence both how you plan and how you implement your plans.  So doing the inner work is also necessary to keep your project moving forward.

And some projects have so many “unknowns” that there just isn’t a way to make a plan.  (I’m going to write about that in my next post – how to make a simple “anti-plan” that gets you moving forward anyway).

I mean – creative planning is SUCH a big topic.

If you want to explore this with me in more depth – get my Creative Planning + Project Management call.

I spent two hours diving in deeper into the planning process and explaining where planning mishaps come from and what to do about them.

Get instant access right her

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