Saturday, January 10, 2015


Working as a freelance artist, I have to switch between projects every day - sometimes several times a day. I work in a studio, at home, in caf├ęs and sometimes in-house somewhere. It's taken me years to work out how to stay more or less on top of it all, switching from writer to illustrator to teacher and remembering to have lunch and not panic too often.

Here's how I organise my day.

First of all I have lists which I keep online, using todoist.

I keep three groups of projects: LIFE, WORK and TELL THEM NOW. (It's a version of a system suggested in the classic "Time Management for Unmanageable People" which also encourages people to buy loads of random stationery if they want to).

The one you might find odd is TELL THEM NOW. It contains every task that can be completed with a quick communication. Typical entries would be:
  • Ben, did I leave my wallet at the office?
  • Omniat, let's have coffee
  • Give me a tax rebate form please somebody
It's surprisingly useful. Every time I feel like I am not getting anything done I see if there's something I can just tell someone. It's very satisfying. - Things like meetings and or discussions don't belong in here, only stuff I am sure can be dealt with in a few minutes. - You'd think I could just do these things when I think of them, but then I find I mostly think of them in the middle of doing other tasks, and it's better to just note them down and not get distracted.

WORK and LIFE have sub-categories: projects, a shopping list, that sort of thing.

There's also an inbox to throw in small stuff that I can't be bothered to categorise. The categories are mainly markers to check that my days are balanced, more or less.

There are repeating tasks that roll over automatically - breakfast, lunch, dinner, exercise, feed the orchids, feed the cats. It's easy to forget simple tasks, I find, and satisfying to tick them off.

I also linked my google calendar up via IFTTT, so that when I make a calendar entry it automatically creates a task for that day.

Every evening I check tomorrow's tasks - todoist automatically compiles them - and put them in some sort of loose order.
I go through all the lists and pick things to do the next day.
I reschedule what I didn't finish, and maybe delete some ambitious daily task that I never actually do.

Every morning I print the list of the day. That way I get the satisfaction of physically ticking them off on paper, I get to doodle around them, I can stick them in my sketchbook, and I can put my smartphone and laptop away when I don't want to be distracted.
It also creates a nice physical record.

I use a receipt printer, because it's awesome.
This is a Dymo LabelWriter 450. Dymo warns that it will only print on Dymo-brand labels, but I've found that it will happily eat rolls of cheap plain thermal paper from my local stationer's. It doesn't work from every program, but images and plain text in Chrome work perfectly fine. (It's happiest printing from Google Tasks, but todoist works ok.)
I work in half-hour sessions, using a kitchen timer. Twenty-five minutes of uninterrupted work - pretty much anything can wait for twenty-five minutes, including snacks, phone calls, anything except for the cat, generally. When it rings I take a five minute break, have a cup of tea, make that phone call, walk around, and settle back down for another twenty-five minutes. Sometimes I take longer breaks. It's pretty much the pomodoro technique.

For some tasks I prefer to use a record as a timer. One side of an LP record is a good time to spend tidying my room, for example. I have a portable record player to take to the park if I feel the need to just lie on my back and stare at the sky while calming down about something or other, or sketch, or think.

The physical act of turning the timer or the record really helps to give me a sense of time passing, and they run their course and then fall silent and require resetting in a way that digital timers and playlists don't, quite.

I use such small physical rituals that help me feel connected to the day, but also digital tools that help me keeping organised. It's my team of small robots. Without them, I get overwhelmed very quickly.

I don't always work in the studio and I do a lot of research, so I often need to carry projects around. I use A5 paper notebooks and sketchbooks which I keep all together in one leather cover, fixed with elastic. I can quickly switch them around so I always carry the ones I am working on, plus a general notebook and some loose sheets.

That's pretty much it! Works for me, if any of it helps you out - neat.