You’re a busy entrepreneur, juggling the needs of your clients, your business and your family. It can be hard to keep track of everything; sometimes things fall through the net, and you feel like you’re always running to keep up with yourself. Because you are so behind hand, your work priorities are determined by looming deadlines. Everything is done at the last minute, in a hurry and/or well into the evening or weekend. It’s exhausting, inefficient and demoralising – you know you are not giving anything the time and attention it deserves, and you have no time left for yourself.
What you need is a system to help you get on top of your workload and stay there! A good system can help put you back in the driving seat of your business rather than being driven by deadlines and client demands.
But what is a system? Oxford Dictionaries.com defines a system as:
“A set of principles or procedures according to which something is done; an organized scheme or method.”
So all we are talking about here is a way to organise how something (in this case your workload) is done. And the good news is the most effective systems are simple and easy to use – it’s not rocket science. However, it can take a bit of work to design a truly simple system that works for you. In this article, I’m going to take you through five simple steps that will help you set up a very easy system for yourself, and I will share the system I use to manage my own client work.
Step 1: Identify the Project You Want to Systematise
By project, I mean any job that will take more than one step to complete. The project I’ll use as an illustration is:
Supporting a client (let’s call her Lynn, I’m sure she won’t mind) to produce 12 high-quality blog articles, with Tweets, in 12 weeks
You can see that, clearly, this will require much more than one step to complete – in fact, it will take at least 12 (one for each blog article).
Step 2: Break Your Project into Individual Tasks
Every week, I must help Lynn prepare and post a blog entry and Tweets. But is there anything else? Well, I need to keep track of how well the blogging campaign is working, so I should probably monitor the traffic to her blog from time to time – that had better be added to the task list as well.
So my task list now looks like this:
1) Blog 1
2) Blog 2
3) Blog 3
4) Blog 4
5) Blog 5
6) Blog 6 (and so on, through to Blog 12)
13) Check blog traffic monthly
So far, I expect this is fairly familiar to you. But to me, it’s still rather vague and ephemeral. You can’t yet really track what’s been done and what hasn’t. The next step is where we really dig into the detail.
Step 3: Break Each Task Down into Actions
An action is the opposite of a project in that it’s something that can be done in one single step, so you can tick it off your list as soon as you’ve taken that step. To test whether something is a task or an action, ask yourself, “Is it complete?” If your answer is “Almost” or “It will be, but I’ve just got to do this one other thing first”, then it’s a task. If you can answer categorically “yes” or “no”, then it’s an action.
Back to my example: If my weekly task is to prepare Lynn’s blog, how will I know with 100% certainty that it’s done and I haven’t forgotten to do anything? For that, I need to break the task into its constituent parts – or actions. So what do I need to do so I can say I’ve completed Lynn’s first blog?
1) Have I received the article from Lynn? Yes or No?
2) Have I proofread the article? Yes or No?
3) Has Lynn amended the article and told me it’s ready for posting? Yes or No?
4) Have I drafted the Tweets? Yes or No?
5) Has Lynn approved the Tweets? Yes or No?
6) Have I uploaded the Tweets? Yes or No?
7) Have I told Lynn that everything is done for this week? Yes or No?
Are you getting the idea? I know I’m labouring the point here, but it is very important to understand the difference between tasks and actions, for reasons that will become clear in Step 4.
We have now defined the specific actions that I need to do in order to complete the entire project of supporting Lynn with her blogging over 12 weeks. The trouble is, at the moment, it’s just on paper. There’s no way that I can keep track of it other than writing a very complex (and lengthy) to-do list, which I will undoubtedly lose. Which brings us to the next step.
Step 4: Create a System
It’s your system that will help you stay on top of everything, and for this I like to use the online tool Trello. There are other, fancier, prettier online organising systems, but I like Trello for its simplicity and basicness. You really don’t want something all-singing, all-dancing for this; that will only encourage complexity, and complexity is your enemy when it comes to setting up a system.
Let me take you through my Trello client-management system to show you both how Trello works and I how I use it to keep myself organised.
The first thing you need to do is create a project board. Boards look like this:
In my system, it’s the overview of all my blogging projects (clients), so I’ve called it ‘Blogging Clients’.
The next layer is Lists. These are your projects. When you open a new board, it already has three lists:
As you can see in Image 1, you can delete or rename these to suit your own purposes. In Image 2, I have created my own list just for this project (or client). This list has all the information I need about my client (Lynn): her name and the particular support package she is on (we have three packages). This means, when I am working with more than one client, I can see at a glance which list relates to whom and what level of support they should be receiving.
The white space underneath Lynn’s name and package is a Card, which is where we get into the nitty-gritty. In Image 3, I have added a card for each blog, plus another card reminding me to check her blog traffic stats for July.
Each card has Lynn’s name, the number of the blog (e.g., 1 of 12) we are working on that week and the dates I will work on it (there are two dates: one for proofreading and the other for posting). Again, I have all the information I need to know exactly where each client is in the process and when I have to do something for them. These are my tasks. If we dig deeper still and open the card for Blog 1, you will see a checklist of all the actions I need to do in order to call Blog 1 complete:
Of course, for 100% success, there is a final step…
Step 5: USE YOUR SYSTEM!
No system will work unless you use it diligently. Every morning, the first thing I do is open Trello and go straight to my Blogging Clients board. I then move all the tasks that are due that day to a separate list called Today’s Tasks, and then, once all the actions are complete and I’ve ticked everything off the checklist, the card moves across to the ‘Done’ list. So today, I can see that I have to finish off blog number 8 for Nancy and proofread blog number 1 for Lynn. At the end of the day, if I’ve been diligent, I can move the card for ‘Nancy – Blog 8’ across to the Done list, leaving ‘Lynn – Blog 1’ on Today’s Tasks to finish tomorrow, confident that I have done everything I need to do to fulfil my obligations to both clients.
And that’s it. That’s my system. Simple, right?
I know that, for those of you who are global, big-picture people, your brains probably really wanted to shut down and drift off into a world where you can do what you want, when you want, without anything controlling you or pinning you down, somewhere around the time I started talking about breaking tasks into their individual actions – so well done for sticking with me! I promise I’m not trying to clip your wings but rather to create a space where you can have the freedom you need to create, as and when the mood takes you, confident in the knowledge that all the everyday detail that – let’s face it – has to be done if your business is to thrive will be taken care of, because you’ve taken the time to design a great system that will help you keep track of all the mundane but essential details of building and running a successful business.
Please share your thoughts, your experiences and your own favourite systems in the comments box. If you want to take this further and get really organised, I highly recommend a book called Getting Things Done: How to achieve stress-free productivity,by David Allen. It’s my bible for all things organisational.
Thanks for reading, and happy organising.
15 July 2014
P.S. For more ideas on systems, see Lynn Serafinn’s article
10 Business Systems to Help Your One-Person Enterprise GROW.
NOTE FROM LYNN SERAFINN: As Nancy mentioned, we work with clients all the time to help them systematise their businesses and marketing through our Platform Building Packages, which you can read about on our ‘Work With Us’ page. We have also created two ethical marketing courses, Foundations of Ethical Marketing and Applications of Ethical Marketing, which will be launching later in 2014. In our Applications course, our participants must create systems that work within their own businesses. To be sure you hear about our courses when they come out, be sure to subscribe to this blog (there’s a form at the top right of this page) and/or join our Facebook community at http://facebook.com/groups/7GracesGlobalGarden.
Nancy V Goodyear is a Business Mentor and Coach who loves to help social entrepreneurs and small business owners cultivate their relationship with self, their business and their audience. With a BA (Hons) in Learning Disability Nursing, she has extensive professional experience working in health & social care within the non-profit sector. She is fluent in French having lived in France for some time. She is a graduate of the Coaches Training Institute and the Co-Active Leadership programme. She is also a director of The 7 Graces Project CIC. http://nancyvgoodyear.com
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Find out more about how changing the paradigm can help make the world a better place:
The 7 Graces of Marketing: how to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell, by Lynn Serafinn, where you can learn how the 7 Deadly Sins and the 7 Graces impact the world through media and marketing. Brit Writers Awards Finalist eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian & Ecological Social Issues
Tweep-e-licious: 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market Their Business Ethically by Lynn Serafinn, which can help you learn how to create meaningful collaborations through Twitter and other social media. eLit Book Awards Bronze Medal in Business and Sales.
Get instant access to a free 90-minute Twitter marketing class at http://tweepelicious.com
The Social Entrepreneur’s Guide to Successful Blogging: An Effective, Creative & Ethical Way of Marketing for Visionaries & New Paradigm Business Leaders. To receive an update when that book is available, just click here. As a thank-you gift for showing your interest, you’ll get instant access to an exclusive, free 5-page PDF revealing the exact same blogging template we use with our clients and we teach to participants on the ethical marketing training courses at the 7 Graces Project.
LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales. Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors.
Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.
(not just for Londoners, as we meet also on Skype)