MY PLANNER JOURNEY
I've always been a planner. While I haven't always used pretty books and thought-out systems, the compulsion to write down every single thing has been a steady companion since my school days. Extensive mind-maps, pages and pages of to do lists, stream of consciousness ideas, timelines and trackers, spread over journals, clip-boards and stray notepaper.
But my planning wasn't able to keep up with my rapid-fire life changes over the last couple of years. Graduating university, moving from Switzerland to South Korea, getting the hang of a new culture while working (again) as a comic artist for a company half a planet away, then getting married, going freelance as an illustrator, working in a cafe at the same time, self-studying a language - it left me with a hap-hazard system of mostly digital schedules and a sense of complete overwhelm.
My biggest planner problem...
... was the endless back-and-forth of my own projects (comics, a fledgling Etsy shop, small commissions in an art style I love) and freelance work for larger companies, where I'd hop from doing storyboards to concept art to botanical studies. I didn't have the financial freedom to ignore offered work and was forever crossing out well-planned tasks for the sake of new, more pressing ones - until the schedule in question had dissolved into just another daily to do list.
My Planner Setup as a Freelance Illustrator
Over the last few months, I did finally find a sense of rhythm in my work life. Regular freelance work for the same companies over and over again made my monthly schedule more predictable - I knew what to expect, which weeks would leave room to take on private commissions or maybe create new illustrations for art prints.
Now, a month into 2017 and a new planner, I thought I'd share my workflow and planner setup.
The sketch shows all my regular notebooks/journals/sketchbooks. Quite a lot - it comes with the job!
One has been around for more than six years: A simple A5 moleskine hardcover journal. I'll tell you its important role in keeping my schedule free of chaos after a quick introduction of the planners themselves.
A Monthly Bulletjournal for Deadlines...
This is just a cheap softcover, blank journal I found in a Korean stationery store. But the paper is thick enough for pen lines not to bleed through, and it feels just sturdy enough that I can hope it survives the year!
Here I keep track of major goals, project milestones and deadlines in monthly spreads.
Here are my tips for anyone struggling with frequently over-thrown plans and flexible work schedules:
1. Really keep it to deadlines. What needs to be finished when. Not when you'll do the actual work.
2. Don't write in dates very liable to change. I've stopped writing down deadlines that depend on client feedback, for example. More often than not, there's delays and a chain-reaction of other dates that need to be pushed around. Tip: Write down a projects first step's deadline, and fill in follow-up deadlines only once they're set in stone, with all feedback & resources provided.
3. No guesswork. This is connected to 2. Keep ideas and plans for possible work away from your actual monthly schedule. I love to jot down possible illustration ideas for the month on the page next to the monthly calendar, so if I have a bunch of unforeseen free time, I can go and check those. That's them right next to the 'be happy and smile' sticker:
This month, I also left some free space to keep track of commission work without definite deadlines (just a progress-tracker), blog posts, Etsy and Youtube, since I really want to get back into those. To suit the theme of 'growth', I track them as growing flowers.
I also have a separate page at the front of my journal where I keep track of ideas for blog posts, and what I'd need for them. Since I blog both about art and beauty, I need to list what's needed for a blog post to go up: Sketches, illustrations, finished projects, review pics... Once a new month starts, I can pick and choose from this list and give the ones I want to work on a deadline.
Planner Tip: Don't Give Yourself Too Much Space
As soon as I give myself space, I start adding more and more minor tasks until my monthly spread is more of a daily task list. Keeping the space for each day to a minimum helps me focus.
So, now we have deadlines for personal projects, blog updates and deadlines, but where to put the actual planning?
... a Weekly Planner for Task Breakdowns
This Paperblanks planner was a gift from a dear friend. I just love Paperblanks books - I've been using them on and off over the last ten years, for story notes, diary entries and planning. I'm not too big on decorating (it just takes so much time!) so having a luxurious planner like this feels wonderful.
Paperblanks has a different layout from planners like the Erin Condren Life Planner, or Happy Planner, but you know what? The days are 1.5" inches high, so I just use normal planner stickers flipped by 90 degrees.
Since the paper is quite thin, I like using simple stickers to make the pages heavier and easier to write on with pens that would otherwise bleed.
How does my weekly plan differ from my bullet journal monthly spread?
DEADLINES VS TASKS
A day in my monthly spread might read 'coloring card blog'. So when that day is approaching, I know I need to put down different tasks in my weekly schedule.
1. Sketching the card, collecting ideas
2. Drawing the card - maybe filming the process
3. Scanning, Photoshop edits
4. If filmed, edit the video, too.
5. Upload the printable file & blog post (&video) - that's the one part of this process noted in the monthly plan.
The same goes for commission work: When will I sketch what? When will I mail the scanned sketches? If a reply comes soon, when could I do edits, or start working on the final piece? And so on..
Then, if I just follow the tasks written down on each day, by the end of the week, I'll magically (?) have finished all the large tasks these were connected too. Yay! Less anxiety and overwhelm.
Artist Life: Stay Flexible in Your Planning
Where my bullet journal monthly spread is more or less written in stone, I stay flexible in my weekly planner. Migrating tasks, waiting for feedback, delays, simple things like the weather being too gray for proper picture taking, or spontaneous visitors all need their place.
Artist Life: Commissioned Art Goes First
For 2017, my overall goal is to move away from freelance work that doesn't fit into my 'brand' or 'illustration style'. I learn a lot from company commissions - how to draw realistic storyboards, new techniques for my science illustrations and so on - but now I crave the freedom to work on commissions that develop my style, not my technique. Commissioned art for bloggers, social media, smaller brands or just private use are therefore front and center!
TIP: Set a clear priority or motto for the month (mine for February is 'Growth') and focus on that before anything else!
What about all those other journals, notebooks and sketchbooks I use?
The one I adoringly call the 'Black Hole', my moleskine notebook, is a mess of info dumps, idea dumps and just plain old notes. Going chronologically, it contains everything from notes on how to use 3D software (oh, art school...), my bachelor thesis, revisions for my comic books back then, dialogue snippets, quick diary logs, information relevant to my Korean visa and marriage process, taxes & self-employment in Korea (...miep), inspirational quotes, image resolution requirements - Literally just ALL THE THINGS.
But it's okay to be messy! Don't we all need a place where we can just word-vomit all our ideas?
Whenever I get the urge to go off onto idea tangents in my bulletjournal or planner, I pick up the Black Hole of Ideas and write them down there, instead. It keeps my actual schedule free of clutter.
I also keep some pretty, but low-quality paper journals as sketchbooks. For quick doodles, like a fake hobonichi.
Other sketchbooks change depending on projects and mood - simple large drafting boards, small travel sketchbooks, watercolor sketchbooks... I do fill each before getting a new one in the same 'category', though!
In the end...
...that leaves me with some repeating tasks, like the same hours at the cafe every week, the same company commission once a month, that I rarely write down anymore. I hope to add a habit tracker and maybe some trackers for social media in the future, but I really want to keep my planning simple:
Fun and pretty enough to motivate me ...
... but quick and simple enough it doesn't actually take time away from drawing.
I hope this post can inspire you to try new or different planning methods, or start using planners or journals if you aren't doing so. I've kept to digital calendars for a large portion of 2015&2016, but it's so much more relaxing and inspiring to go analogue. Mix it up and find what works for you, since everyone's work life is different. Happy planning!