The stereotypical picture of a well-performing creative person is one of a cluttered workspace. Paperwork and inspiration scattered everywhere, sketches crumpled on the desk and filling a bin seems to mean genius is at work. Surely famous inventors and mathematicians have their iterations strewn about in a whirlwind of intellectual spinnings that will eventually weave into a finely knit web.
While this may work for some, I am not one of them. Research points to the stress that clutter in your environment puts on your cognitive load and ability to focus. Spending a little extra time to stay organized is worth it. I'm able to strategize and keep my eyes on a bigger picture while constantly learning, reprioritizing, and executing. Ideas aren't worth anything unless they are carried out.
It's not about trends of minimalism, or even just your workspace. It's about flexible planning.
As a designer, it's my job to create order out of sometimes abstract or otherwise misunderstood concepts or tasks. For me, order creates order.
I stay organized by accepting that my life has multiple focuses.
It's ok to have more than one focus, as long as I can concentrate on one at a time. Keeping track of everything in a way that I don't have to juggle it in my head is key to this concentration.
Ways I Stay Organized to Produce More
Aside from the obvious attempt at keeping my physical workspace organized and focused on the current task, I am constantly planning and re-prioritizing. This allows me to not spend any energy focusing on remembering ideas or stressing about keeping commitments because I know when things will be worked on, even if I can't start right away.
I have accepted that my work and home life are still the same life and I don't stress to keep them separate anymore as far as organizing ideas. The least amount of thinking involved when saving an idea, the better.
I plan time just for inspiration (ideas), time just for consumption (ideas and pro dev), and time just for creating (execution).
I try to make the creating/execution piece take up the most of those 3 categories so that I'm not overwhelmed with ideas that aren't being executed and I get things done. I am flexible enough to switch gears of something needs to be done in another category right away (usually related to reducing stress).
I keep design, writing and lettering ideas in Evernote.
No matter how fresh or completed the idea is, it's categorized (very high level so I don’t have to think hard) and later planned on the calendar during scheduled planning time. If I think something is particularly timely I will schedule it right away or bump down something else, but I know nothing will be lost.
I keep all projects organized in Trello.
Personal (fitness, creative projects or learning), Freelance, Editorial, Lettering, Car hobby, Family stuff, and Work projects all have their own boards. This way I have a visual idea of what's next and how far along it is. I link to related assets in Evernote or otherwise. Kind of a project hub. The reason I chose Trello is because I can collaborate with someone else if I need to and it's visual. This helps me keep my feet on the ground while my head is in the clouds.
Pinterest helps me keep family, craft and house ideas saved that aren't necessarily on the calendar yet.
When an idea gets closer to execution I may revisit these resources for details. But I know they aren’t lost, and since I spend time prioritizing constantly execution actually happens.
I constantly re-prioritize.
I also frequently (minimum daily, before bed) go through ideas I have saved in Evernote and haven't categorized or filed yet.
Getting dates on the calendar
This is my key to planning projects and ideas without over-committing. I am transparent with dates to anyone else involved in an idea or plan so expectations are clear. This helps me to avoid stress.
I plan time just for planning.
Many neglect this, but I think it's a waste of time not to.
I use hand written lists.
Each day I plan out what I'm going to accomplish with a hand written list. If it changes, I accept the flexibility as much as I need to and re-write it. I also write a new one at the end of the day to plan for when I wake up. An alternative, digital way to do this would be using a trello list where you drag all cards for the day onto it. Be realistic about what you can get done that day.
Sometimes an important part of keeping on track is simply communicating. If I need an answer to keep moving and I am waiting on it, I move on to something else in the mean time. Being patient is important, but it's equally important to feel where to the draw the line of waiting too long to keep moving. Don't be afraid to ask again or find a better communication method to get what you need faster.
Even if you are a creative who thrives on chaos, I encourage you to attempt some of these techniques and see how it may allow you to focus on execution. You may find that you accomplish a lot more than you do now. If you are an organized creative who sees the stereotypical image of chaos to mean a more legitimate existence in this world, be yourself. Try to beef up your structure even more.