Creative work is an exercise in practical chaos, but it doesn’t have to be chaotic. It needn’t feel so out of control all the time. I’m a writer, and a brand marketing consultant, with several projects going on all the time. Let me share the tools and tricks that I use to stay sane and keep my clients happy.
Getting organized is one thing, and it truly beats the alternative, but getting better, faster, more efficient, more effective — that’s a superpower. One tool, used right, is doing it for me. I’ve discovered a kanban tool that seamlessly lets me capture my creative inspirations, prioritize my ideas, and turn them into reality. What’s more, it helps me to get better and better at it by showing me the results of tweaking my approach so I can learn and improve as I go.
If you do creative work, and especially if you freelance, and you haven’t come across Kanban yet I’ll give you the thirty-second version. Kanban is about seeing what you’re working on (like a to-do list) and how it’s getting done (the steps turn ideas into reality) and using that insight to get better at doing what you do. For the longer version, I recommend Jim Benson’s lovely little book – Personal Kanban.
Here’s how I did it. Before worrying about what I have to do and making a big list, I thought about how my stuff gets done. Where does it come from? Mostly from my imagination, but sometimes from a client. How does it get done? If it’s copywriting the steps look like: ideas, writing, editing (this might be more than one step, for different types of editing), review, sent to client, accepted. I create a kanban board (I use Kanbanery.com, but any kanban board will do) with one column for each state. That way, instead of looking at a to-do list and seeing what’s not done, I can see exactly how things are getting done. Not just what I have to do, but what I’m doing and how far along each task is. That’s especially important with my writing because I like to let an idea simmer a bit, so at any moment I might have a writing task that I’m considering, another I’m researching, another I’m writing, and another waiting for an edit. On a to-do list, all of them would look as unfinished as everything else. But on a Kanban board, it’s clear what needs to be done to move each task along.
As a freelancer, I often find myself working in different environments: with a client, in a co-working space, at home, in cafes. So as much as I love the tactile feeling of a good Palomino or Blackwing pencil on cold-pressed heavy-bond cotton paper, I don’t always want to haul my notebooks with me everywhere. And the thought of losing my whole task management system terrifies me. So capturing my ideas and process in the cloud really sets my mind at ease. When I get an idea, I add it as a task in Kanbanery. The first column on my board is called “Inspirations” and captures all of my ideas, wherever I have them. If I don’t have my laptop, or if I’m standing on a bus, I can still add a task to my Kanbanery board by sending it as an email from my phone. That way, I know that all my inspirations are waiting for me, whenever and wherever I happen to be when I’m ready to work on them.
When I’m in working mode, my Kanban board helps me to focus. I can see exactly what every task needs and pick the one that calls to me. Am I in the mood to write? I can pull the next task from my “ready to write” column. Do I need to deliver something finished today? I pull a task from the ready to edit column. Is my rough drafts column starting to look a little full? Maybe I’m starting too much and not finishing enough, so that’s what I’ll do today. Seeing the state of all of my work, visually and in one place, saves me a lot of time when I sit down to work and helps me focus on what’s most important, right now.
Do you need help getting started with managing creative work using Kanban? I’m happy to help. Just ask your questions in the comments.