It’s no secret around here that I am a planner. One of my favorite aisles to peruse in Target is the stationary aisle. You know the one. It has all the pretty office stuff and has tons of lovely calendars and fresh planners that look so full of potential. Opening a blank planner fills me with the same excitement that a blank sketchbook or canvas does. There’s something so intriguing about thinking through all the possibilities that lay ahead of you.
I also enjoy a good to do list, and I get so excited about being intentional with the goals that I have for my little business. As much as I love that aisle in Target, I’ve opted for the more eco friendly approach of using Goodnotes on my iPad, but holy moly, you should see the planning I can do in an afternoon.
Now maybe you are nothing like me and you absolutely hate planning. Maybe it doesn’t come naturally to you, maybe it seems unnecessary in how you’ve structured your business, or maybe you like the initial planning but you just have trouble sticking to your plan. If that sounds like you, I encourage you to stick with me during this podcast, even if this doesn’t sound like your thing, because maybe, just maybe, I can make planning seem a little less daunting and a little more purposeful.
I’m a firm believer that planning for business doesn’t have to feel tedious, or mind numbing especially when it comes to goal setting for the calendar year. Every new year feels like a fresh start in it’s own way, and especially 2021 feels like a necessary reset from the crazy year we all had last year. It also feels like the perfect time to set some new goals for ourselves.
Going into this new year, I have a lot of things that I wanna accomplish in my business. This little design business of mine grew by leaps and bounds last year and I have so many ideas and ways that I want to work with you all in the future. A lot of the ideas that I’ve had innately come with lots of scheduling and planning on my part, like adding interviews to this podcast. That’s not something that I can just wake up one day and spring on someone else. That takes coordinating schedules, planning out questionnaires, and lots of back-and-forth with emails. Sometimes planning is just something that we can’t escape from.
But planning isn’t something you should want to escape from. It should be something you harness and leverage to scale your business and check off your goals. This is exciting stuff, in my opinion! You get to dream big for your business and then put it into action and essentially watch your goals become a reality.
In today’s episode, I’m gonna walk you through my entire method of planning out my upcoming months, weeks, and days, and even share with you the planner that I use every single day.
Brain dumping all of your ideas
This is how I start EVERY planning session and it is honestly one of my best planning techniques that I do for pretty much everything in my business. I’m a list maker through and through but I love putting things down on paper mainly because my brain tends to run in 1 million different directions at once. I always feel like I have too many things I want to accomplish and sometimes it can feel a bit overwhelming to try and plan for all of my goals, projects, and ideas. You know the meme where it says “My mind is like my web browser. 19 tabs are open, 3 are frozen and I have no idea where the music is coming from.”. Yeah that’s me most days.
So I always start with just a blank page, and I write down every single idea, concepts, blog post idea, personal project, client project, or goal that I have set for myself in the coming months. I literally just let everything pour out of my head and onto the page with no real organization, structure, or guidelines.
It can feel a bit haphazard at first when you’ve never done this before but there’s something really calming about getting ideas out of your head and down on a piece of paper in front of you. It’s actually a well-known coping strategy when you’re feeling overwhelmed to just write everything down that you’re thinking about so that your brain can process it in a different way and this visual processing takes a lot of the overwhelm and fatigue out of the planning process right off the bat.
Once I do this brain dump of all my ideas, and usually after I filled up an entire page of ideas, only then do I even start to separate them out and structure them into like-minded projects or similar areas of focus. This is when it comes in handy to use a virtual planner in Goodnotes vs an actual paper planner, because I can copy and move things around without my page getting messy from erasing and rewriting.
It’s so important to leave this editing and regrouping stage till the end of your brain dumping exercise because if you’re constantly trying to edit, change phrasing, and worry about the details in the beginning, you’re not allowing space for true creative and random ideas to pop up. We love random ideas. They give us great, unexpected content. It’s more of a stream of consciousness type of planning where you just get the ideas out of your head, as quickly as they come to you, and then at the end you can worry about whether or not sentences make sense, or coming up with catchy blog titles, or even detailing out your goals into achievable action steps.
Set goals & intentions
Now because I’m such an ideas person sometimes the things that I come up with don’t always align with my larger goals for my business. So after I do this major brain dump of all the ideas or concepts that I want to try in the coming months, and I’ve organized them into areas of my business that they make sense within, I next go through and do a quick audit of the goals and projects that I have set for myself, I look for any outliers that don’t really fit anywhere, or ideas that seem a little off in left field, and I determine if they’re really lining up with where I want to see my business go in the future.
If I see that I am planning a ton of blog posts, like 2 to 3 a week, but I’m also being honest with myself and I know that I’m not always the best at staying on top of writing blog post each week, then maybe planning 2 to 3 blog post a week is just not something that I can achieve while still running my day-to-day business. In that instance, I need to pick my best blog post ideas and schedule them out by only having one a week. This means that not every blog post idea makes the cut and that’s OK. If anything that means that I have ideas that I can pull from and pursue in the future, but it also allows me to pick the ideas that I think are the best and that are really going to suit my clientele and my business.
I do this for goals as well. If I have a goal to work with a certain number of clients or to hit a certain income level for this coming year, but I realize that I’m not giving myself any time off or any time to work on the other goals in my business, then things have to shift around in order for me to have a normal work life balance, since being present with my family is a major value of mine and one of the main reasons I chose to work for myself in the first place.
If you also find yourself like me, with a page full of ideas that might be all over the place, or you always catch yourself saying things like “oh I wish I could try this” or “I wonder what this avenue would be like for my business” maybe this auditing step would be a really good chance for you to find what really resonates with you and your business so that you can determine really where your goals should be centered.
Break up goals by quarter, month, week, and day
Now I spoke a bit earlier about achievable action steps, I do this with every single goal that I set for myself whether that’s for the blog, or for my freebies, or for my client work, or even just things that I want to do for myself within my business.
I’m a big believer in setting goals that can sometimes feel outrageous or way out of our reach. Those are the goals that are really going to push you out of your comfort zone and get you to a place in your business that you may not have even thought was possible before. These goals can feel scary and a lot of times they can feel unattainable.
So to make sure that I actually hit my goals, I break down every single one of them into smaller actionable steps, and then I break those into even smaller steps. Usually I start with yearly goals, break those down into quarterly steps, then break those down into monthly goals, then break down those into weekly to-do lists, that finally translate those into my daily to-do lists. That way I’m working towards my goals every day instead of just trying to tackle this major goal all at once.
For instance, let’s say a goal of yours is to grow your social media account to, say, 10,000 followers. Well, if you’re starting at 0, that seems like a huge leap to make between 0 to 10,000. But if you structure your goal into something a bit more tangible (usually a timeframe helps with this), say you want to grow your Instagram to 10,000 followers in the next calendar year, then you can kind of start to structure out how that year and your growth within that year should look.
If we start with 0 on January 1 and we want to be at 10,000 by the next January, then to be on track you should be around 5000 followers by the end of June. That also means that you should be growing at about 833 followers a month, or about 192 per week.
With this in mind you then can set up your way of achieving this, whether that’s through planning your feed in advance, engaging with so many other accounts per day, hiring a social media manager, etc. but using this method you now can track your progress each week and make sure that you’re on track to hit your 10,000.
Or maybe your goal is to release a new service or product this year. For instance, we have been working on new WordPress themes that we’re super excited to release as an addition to our custom design services.
First, you want to break that idea down into the main chunks of work that it would take to create that new service or product. So I sat down and looked at each theme and how I wanted to build it, and I broke that work up into its largest components, like, establishing creative direction, designing the page concepts, and coding and developing these themes, testing the themes, etc.
Then you want to break these chunks of work into even smaller areas of focus. So when I was looking at how I wanted to design the page concepts, I wrote down every page that I wanted to have a specific design for, like the home page, about page, services page, blog posts, etc.
Now this big goal of creating a website theme is now broken up into 30-40 smaller tasks.
With these tasks, I can be really intentional about making sure I stay on task to create these themes by blocking out how much time it will take me to do each of the smaller tasks. I can give myself however many days I feel like it will take me to design the homepage concept and block out that time on my calendar. Once I’ve done that for every single step of the process I can know definitively if my project or goal is on track, if I’m ahead of schedule, or if I’m falling behind. This way I will also know when this goal should be complete, in this case I can know when I plan to launch these themes.
All in all, this step can be a little time intensive and a lot of work up front. But it truly helps you stay on track and achieve the goals that feel too large or daunting to tackle all at once. Adding these smaller tasks to your weekly or daily to-do lists can allow you to slowly chip away at your goals and in a couple of months, you’ll be able to look back and see all you’ve been able to accomplish.
Block off vacation time
This is going to be a biggie when it comes to my overall plan for 2021. In 2020, I only took one week off and that was to celebrate my anniversary with my husband by booking a little cabin in the woods of North Carolina and literally checking out for the week. During that week my brain basically shut off. We did nothing but sit and watch TV, read, and play video games. I hadn’t realized how badly I needed it until I got that week to do whatever I wanted to do.
I recognize that going into the new year that I absolutely have to have time off each quarter in order to keep up my creativity and keep from feeling burnt out. And if no one has told you this yet, let me be the one to tell you, you are allowed to take time off. Your business will still be there when you come back. You owe it to yourself as a business owner to relax and not think about your business sometimes.
In fact taking time off is one of the best things that you can do to jumpstart ideas, to feel refreshed, and to feel ready to take on client work again.
So in my planning this year, one of the first things I did was block off at least a week each quarter that I knew I wanted to take off just to have some time for myself. And I’m not even talking about time to work on my own business. I already block off a day each week to do that. I’m talking about a week where I don’t think about work at all. A week where there is an away message on my email, my clients have stuff to work on so that our projects stay on track, and I don’t even open up Instagram.
It should definitely be a part of your planning process as well, so I encourage you to go ahead and pinpoint the weeks from this past year that you felt like you needed a break and to go ahead and give yourself that break in this next year. Give yourself the permission to take that time off, and that way you can budget your time and your client work so that you can take that time and not feel guilty. It’s so necessary. Trust me.
Block off projects you already have scheduled
Next I go through and I block off any projects that I already have scheduled for the year. I only block out the projects that I absolutely already have booked, with contract signed and deposit paid. At the point of recording this I only have projects scheduled out through April of this year. That obviously looks different for every business owner. Some people schedule out projects way in advance and others don’t.
I personally have a pretty strict schedule when it comes to sending concepts to my client and expecting feedback, so I know typically how long the client timeline will take for any of my services. That way any time a new client signs with me, I go ahead and block out how many weeks I know that project timeline will take.
I’m also acutely aware of how many clients I can physically take on it once, because at the end of the day it’s just me designing for all of my clients. So when I hit that max number of clients that I know I can take on at once, I then can start booking clients in advance and know how my project timelines are going to line up or overlap and I don’t end up overbooking myself.
If you were a fellow designer one of my favorite tactics for booking clients in advance is to stagger start dates. So if I have two clients that book around the same time that are doing both branding and web design, so I know that they are on similar timelines, I always start one a couple of weeks ahead of the other one so that they are in different stages of the process at different times. That way I’m always alternating who and what part of the process I’m creating for.
For instance the first client should already be in the logo design stage when the other client is just starting their client homework. That way the first client will also be done with website designing and already in the website coding & development stage while I am designing the website for the second one.
This makes it so much easier on me and way less creatively draining. Occasionally projects will get pushed back in their timeline or even speed up in their timeline and things can still end up happening at once, but usually this way I can stagger designing, development, and launch dates.
And just having the knowledge of when you actually have things due will save you a ton of headaches and stress throughout the entire client process.
Get a digital planner
Now it’s time to put all of this into a planner where you can actually see it and know what you’re going to be working on each month and each week. Like I said, I used to be a big believer in paper planners mainly just because I absolutely love the tactile feeling of getting a new fresh planner. But for the last couple of years I’ve been using digital planners that I’ve created myself and I love them so much more because I can customize them to be exactly what I know I need to plan for within my business.
For instance, I need a page in my planner devoted to planning out my stats, budget, and keeping track of my meeting notes, and unfortunately most paper planners don’t have that.
You can buy the digital planner that I use myself within my shop and I’ve included everything that I use every single day to keep myself on track in my business. I bring these planner files into a digital software, I personally use Goodnotes on my iPad, so that I can write out my goals for the year, write out my projects for the year, copy and paste them into quarterly breakdowns, copy and paste those into smaller tasks for each month, do a weekly brain dump of anything that I have going on or need to accomplish that week, and then finally fill out my daily to-do list hour by hour so that I know that I’m on track for my daily client work while taking steps to accomplish those big yearly goals.
It’s actually a ton of fun once you start kind of putting everything together and you can see how your goals are broken down into your day-to-day. it’s probably just a psychological thing but I also feel so much more accomplished when I can look back at my day and week and see everything that I have accomplished. That’s honestly the best way to feel like a badass who’s handling her business. Period.
If you want your own planner designed by me just follow this link and get your copy. I also have several free daily to-do lists in my resource library that you can either print or use in a digital format. Just sign up to get your free to-do lists and other goodies.
Only plan as far ahead as you feel comfortable
One of my biggest tips when it comes to planning is to only plan as far ahead as you feel comfortable. Honestly for a lot of people it stresses them out to plan months in advance, and I totally get that, especially if you’re one of those people that likes being able to decide what they’re doing each day and not be tied down to any larger plan. I will say that planning out your goals is a great way to make sure that you’re actually achieving them, but if you don’t like to plan out your work week for every week for the next several months, I 100% understand. Or if you’re the type of person that wants to go ahead and plan everything that you want to accomplish this year and have that set in your planner as a reminder, by all means do you and kick some butt with those goals.
Everyone’s business is different, and different things work for each person. You’re not doing anything wrong by planning in advance or not planning in advance. Do what feels right for you and don’t get too stressed out about it.
Leave room for the unexpected
2020 taught me a lot of things, and one of the biggest things was to leave room for the unexpected. You can plan until you have nothing left to plan and things will still change, things won’t go like you expected, or things will fall through. You’ve got to be OK with adapting your plan and changing it to fit whatever is happening in that moment. It’s not always easy, especially for the type of person that likes to plan months in advance, but take it from someone that likes to plan but has had to change their plans due to things outside of their control: you just have to go with the flow.
Clients may back out last minute, you might get sick and have to take some sick leave, client timelines may shift around and overlap in weird ways, even ridiculous things like your computer giving out on you and keeping you from work for a couple of days until you can buy a new one, all might happen and mess with your plan a bit. It’s not the end of the world, and you can always reschedule your goals for a later date. While we all love the fresh start that seems to come with the new year, in reality, there’s nothing innately magical about a new year, even if we’d like to believe that. You can accomplish your goals whenever and wherever. There is no timeline on success.
We’re all hoping for the best with 2021, lord knows we need it. But also, don’t put too much pressure on this year to make up for everything that may not have panned out in 2020. Dream big for your business, plan for your business, but find what works for you and be open to the changes that might come with the new year.
All in all I wish you an incredibly successful and productive new year, and happy planning my friends.