Before I launched Never a Plain Jane Designs I had a series of corporate jobs: Bookkeeper, Business Assistant, Legal Assistant… I also spent some time with the title “College Student.” All of these have something in common: a job description.
Ahhhh, life with a job description was so easy. Perhaps not challenging or fun, but easy.
All my tasks were laid out before me and ready to be tackled on a daily basis. All my deadlines were crystal clear. Work was as easy to do as it was to avoid.
And then I decided to work for myself. When I fill out forms I can proudly put my job title as “Owner” or “Designer” or “Self Employed.” Is it fun? Yes. Is it challenging? Yes, yes! Easy? A resounding no. I don’t have a clue what I am supposed to do. My deadlines are fuzzy, steps for completing projects are made up as I go, and there is no manual. I think we all know what happens when we aren’t sure what to do: bury ourselves in Pinterest, of course.
But that, obviously, is bad for business. So to make it a little easier to do my job I have turned to lists. When it comes to “to-do,” there’s an app for that. TeuxDuex (get it? “to do”), BaseCamp, AtTask, Evernote, and about a million others (give or take a thousand).
I’ll get to a few of those eventually, but first I chose to to try an old school method of task-tracking: the whiteboard. Actually, I’ve been using a combination of whiteboard and Google Calendar because I just don’t have time to make and fill in a giant calendar on a regular basis. (I’m looking at you Gwyn Michael!) Although, I would not cry if someone got me one of these:
So, here’s the how-to of my to-do. My Google Calendar holds due dates, holidays, appointments, etc. Then I assign each major task a large chunk of my work day. The task list holds ever more ideas for garters.
On Sunday evening I take a look at Monday and write a to-do list on the whiteboard. It looks like this:
In theory all of those items get crossed off the same day they are put on. At the end of the day I look at Tuesday and make a new to-do list starting with any unfinished (boooo!) Monday tasks. Rinse and repeat each work day.
I’ve given it a week and, so far, it has worked out really well for me!
This sucker is big! I have six square feet to write upon so there is room for the day’s tasks, some notable trends in fashion, a shopping list, and any details or notes I want to add. No more keeping track of separate scraps of paper or losing sticky notes that have fallen behind my desk because they lost their sticky. Also, big = visible. As in, with that list staring at me all day it is a little hard to ignore. In other words, it is just as easy to do work as it is to avoid it – maybe easier.
Speaking of being visible, the whiteboard is accessible. I don’t have to wake up my sleeping computer or log into a website to see what I need to do. If I suddenly stumble across extra time I can simply pop my head into my workroom and see if any tasks can be fit into the time available.
I can make my list as pretty and colorful as I like. Let’s face it, if the list is fun to make and fun to look at, I am more likely to do it and then pay attention to it.
You know that feeling you get when you slam down the phone receiver after an unpleasant phone call? You just can’t get that by pushing the “end” button on a cell phone. It is the same way for to-do lists. Clicking the little tiny “completed” box on the computer screen is no where near as satisfying as drawing a big black line through completed tasks. it feels so good to turn one’s head at the end of the day to see six square feet of done-ness. Conversely, seeing a still-full list is nauseating and I’ve quickly learned to avoid that by, well, getting stuff done.
Like any system, the whiteboard to-do list is not perfect.
It takes some measure of discipline. Not only do you have to make the list, you also have to know when to stop making the list. A long list is overwhelming and usually means several items will be left for the next day. It makes a girl feel unproductive and leads to list avoidance, which pretty much takes us back to square one. Even if you have achieved the perfect list length, it is easy to lose an hour color-coding and decorating your really big whiteboard. I don’t mind starting my morning exercising my ability to draw flourishes and swirls with dry-erase markers. Unfortunately, that isn’t the best way to finish blog posts or sew sequins onto silk.
Whiteboards also suck at being alarm clocks. I can stare at that sucker all day and not once with a little box pop up to tell me have a teleconference in 20 minutes or a wedding show in three weeks.
I have a sneaking suspicion that this is the best method for me, but before I hang my whiteboard on the wall and purchase a huge calendar decal, I’m going to give two of the free online services a chance to make my life easier. I’ll take a week to try TeuxDuex and a week for Evernote, then I’ll let you know how they compare to each other and to my current six square feet of to-do.
In the meantime, what are you using to keep your self on task? Use the response boxes below to tell me about your post-it note escapades and internet task lists. For those of you looking for reviews on phone apps, well, I don’t have internet on my phone so please discuss your experiences in the response boxes as well.