HOW TO: Stay Organized (for Creative People!)
Updated: Oct 26, 2021
For those of us who work independently - from a home office, using a shared space, or on the go - keeping organized and on top of important tasks can be a daily challenge. Especially for creatives, who can at times being messy and disorganized by nature (like me!).
Here are some tips that may help you get more organized, and hopefully stay more organized.
Header Photo by Arnel Hasanovic.
1. KEEP A SCHEDULE IN WRITING (WITH A DAILY TO-DO)
The most important habit I established for myself when I first started freelancing was keeping a written schedule. I tried for years to get into digital scheduling, but it seems like an entirely separate task just to open up an app and type things out. There's something really satisfying about a nice pen and paper and writing things down - and even more so when I can scratch out or highlight a completed task.
If pens and paper are weighing you down and you'd like to keep it simplified, check out this post on Zapier which breaks down the best digital calendar apps you can try (including those that are totally free, purchasable in the app store, or have a monthly subscription).
If you want a monthly calendar you can just print out yourself, I also have some print ready designs on Etsy that you can use from your home office! (Or use to create your own commercial or gift calendar).
*HINT* If you're on a budget and are looking for cheap office supplies like file folders and highlighters, I make a monthly trip to Target to peak in their dollar bins!
Photo by STIL.
2. KEEP A LIST OF PROJECT IDEAS
I know I'm not alone in keeping a collection of cute empty notebooks in the bottom drawer of my work desk. At the beginning of last year, I made it a habit of breaking out those shiny new pads and actually writing things down in them. I have one notebook specifically for my schedule (that gets scribbled and tossed at the end of the month), one for phone numbers and addresses, one for passwords and account information, etc. - but also a separate set specifically for ideas. I even keep a little notebook in my purse for when I'm out and about and something inspires me. I know if I don't make a note when the idea hits me, it will be gone forever the first moment I get distracted.
Looking for something cool and unique to keep on hand for those inspiring moments? Society6 has some of the best designs, and shopping with them helps support independent artists.
But if you really want to keep everything synced and digital, there's always Evernote.
3. ROCK OUT WITH A GREAT TRAVEL BAG
Are you one of those people who travels with a big (or little) bag that feels like its just a black hole for your belongings? If you're out working or out playing, keeping a sturdy and easily organized bag can save you so much time and energy.
My personal favorites are the handcrafted bags by Moose + Pine (formally Stash). I currently have a iPhone/iPod case and a medium size camera bag (that includes lots of great little pockets and dividers for keeping my gear safe). Best part if both are WATERPROOF. Between a very clumsy kiddo and myself, this has proved to be useful.
If you like leather, check out Lifetime Leather Co.
4. TIDY UP YOUR WORKSPACE
Over the summer I underwent the laborious task of repainting and redesigning both my bedroom and my son's bedroom. This involved rethinking how I was organizing both spaces. After a lot of patience (and a little elbow grease) I was able to create a new space for both of us that allowed more room for creativity and peace.
Now I write a cleaning day into my schedule! I make sure I take as little as 5-10 minutes every week to simply pick up and file papers, notes, art supplies, etc. It makes a world of difference in how I keep myself on track.
Photo by Scott Webb.
5. USE BINDERS & FOLDERS FOR HARD COPIES
Yes, I too once threw all of my important paperwork into a bottom cabinet drawer or shoebox, thinking I'll deal with this later. You don't have to be as meticulous as I am with filing now - keeping separate binders for different areas of my business, my accounting, my personal checking and savings, inspiration scrap booking, etc. - but keeping a few binders on hand for important projects is a time saver when you need to quickly reference something later on.
Amazon Basics now carries 3-ring binders in a variety of sizes (as well as other brands if you want more options). They have those neat plastic covers too so you can decorate and personalize them.
If you don't feel like laminating, invest in some poly sheet protectors for that important paperwork or anything else you need to reference.
6. USE A PORTFOLIO FOR PAPER SAMPLES
This can work for both designers and artists who keep company samples of print project paper like business cards, postcards, flyers, etc., or photo paper for photography or fine arts. Keeping samples on hand is a great way to reference paper types to compare before starting new projects. Any time a customer asks me my opinion on papers from a specific company, I want to be able to pull out samples to compare first hand (so I actually know what I'm talking about).
I currently use a binder with folders and poly sheets and page dividers like I do with my other paperwork, splitting the samples by company. But what may be an easier way to do it is using a more formal art portfolio like the ones made by Itoya. Acid and PVC free, with crystal clear pocket pages. If you're worried about the loose stuff flying free, use butterfly clips to seal the top of the pockets. These portfolios are cheap and sold online or in art store's like Michael's. Plus, if you're meeting in person, it's an impressive way to sell promotional product ideas to your customers!
7. ORGANIZE YOUR ART SUPPLIES ON AN OPEN SHELF
This might seem like an odd idea, but one of the biggest problems I used to have with staying on top of art project ideas was not being able to keep track of what art supplies I have on hand. Now I store everything on a set of open shelves inside clear containers. I use bell canning jars for pretty much everything - colored pencils, graphite pencils, charcoals, paint brushes (watercolor vs. acrylic), markers, etc. I also use tins and old broken mugs and recycled antique bottles. Anything that serves as an easy identifier when looking for supplies! I also find it inspiring to be thinking about how to tackle a problem and grab a tool I haven't used in a long time because I can SEE it right there in front of me.
Photo by Amador Loureiro.
8. CLEAN UP YOUR DIGITAL LIBRARY (INCLUDING FONTS!)
Organizing your digital library is by far one of the most important practices to have as a designer. You MUST organize your files for each customer, and this includes organizing by project type. This will save you from a lot of stress later on! Using programs like Dropbox to deliver completed project files or for project storage is convenient and a time saver, though I wouldn't recommend relying on cloud based services completely (especially since its another business expense if investing in the professional package).
I organize everything I have on my laptop, folder by folder, separating digital resources (Photoshop and Illustrator brushes, textures, stock photos, templates, mock-ups, etc.) from client projects from my own personal business files from my digital goods I've created. I also make sure to name files appropriately so I can make good use of the search function at the top right of the folder when I need to.
Fonts can be another big hassle. There is a post on Creative Market called Tips for Managing Your Fonts that offers some great ideas for how to better organize your font library, including organizing by style and choosing some favorite fonts you use most often. In my library, I also try to keep track of fonts by saving the font's cover image being used by the original designer so I can look through the images for inspiration.
If you're looking for an app to make things easier, check out Suitcase Fusion or FontAgent (for Mac). Design Bundles also posted How to Keep Your Fonts Organised with some additional links here and tutorials on the most popular font organizers.
9. BE ON TOP OF YOUR ACCOUNTING
I currently use Wave, a free accounting software that I can sync with my PayPal and Etsy accounts. You can track your expenses, send invoices, get paid and balance your books with Wave. I also keep a hand written month by month account of my expenses and make notes throughout the year on anything that may have gotten missed when transferring transactions through the app. You want to make sure you don't miss any of those important deductions! At the end of the year I simply input anything that was missed and it totals up for each month through the app.
If you're an Etsy seller you can also easily integrate to Quickbooks or Outright. (I used to use Outright before the service started charging monthly - if you have the budget to pay for a bookkeeping service I would recommend them based purely on the ease of sorting month to month finances and expense and income types).
10. SET YOUR ALARMS
Such a simple idea that is so useful is setting alarms! I use my phone to set daily alarms to make sure I do the little day-to-day tasks that aren't work related - like waking up on time to get my son to the bus, taking my medication at lunch, and clocking out for the day. You could even set a really annoying alarm to make sure you go to bed on time.
Want something that can double as a a to-do list AND an alarm? Try Remember the Milk, a cute and easy digital task manager! Includes search, subtasks, colored tags, and drag-and-drop reordering.
Freebie time! Need a simple free weekly planner page to start mapping out your schedule? I've listed a FREE print ready 8.5" x 11" weekly to-do list, use as is or customize as needed! If you'd like to share, make sure you link back to this page.