Last week I posted a picture on Instagram of my computer as I was planning out aaalllll my 2017 tasks in just a few days. Yes, that’s right, an entire year’s worth of projects in about one week. And people freaked out. Rightfully so! I know how crazy it sounds, 12 months of work scheduled out on a calendar is a little control-freak-ish right?! It’s okay, you can say it. But this method helps me brain dump all my ideas + plans for the coming year in an organized way so I can actually accomplish the things I set out to do on January 1. Granted, things will change. Trust me, I’m used to change 😉 So the key to making this work is to be flexible and realistic.
This post is a doozy, so prepare yourself. Pour a nice stiff drink, and settle in. First, a disclaimer.
This method of planning focuses all around the calendar, and an app will make this process even more organized. I use Asana (it’s free!), but you could also use Google Calendar or iCal or maybe even Trello (I’m not very familiar with Trello, so not sure if it has a calendar view or not). Any app that lets you assign tasks to dates will do. You can also just use a good old fashioned physical calendar or planner – same concept. For the rest of this post, I’ll be referencing Asana + it’s features a lot, so just go ahead and try it out for free why don’tcha?!
First. We brain dump.
Brain dump a list of all the parts of your business that you manage throughout the year and are somewhat recurring. Think of these as the “categories” of your business.
Examples: email marketing, blog, podcast, online course, physical products, digital products, Etsy shop, trade shows, recurring events, social media, sales/promotions, recurring webinars or workshops, client work, Facebook group, etc.
Brain dump a list of one-off projects or goals you know you would like to complete this year.
Examples: website design or re-design, branding or rebranding, hiring a virtual assistant, taking a specific course or class, specific one-time webinars or workshops, conferences you know you’ll be attending, writing a book, speaking at a conference, etc.
TIP — Try to keep your categories pretty general so you don’t have a thousand of them. (Also I use Evernote for all things brain dumping!)
From this point on, I plan out my year in two ways:
A general annual overview of projects / categories by month – I use pen + paper for this part.
A detailed task list for each project / category with specific due dates – I use Asana for this part.
First this part, I use the page in the Online Business Planning Kit titled “Big Picture.” (Scroll down to the bottom real quick to download this page, and then jump back here!) You could also write out each month on it’s own piece of paper and spread it all out on the floor, if you’re one of those types. Or just write all the months on one page + leave room under each one to jot down some brief lists.
First, schedule in down time. This helps you start building your business around your life, and not your life around your business 😃 If you know that you want to have more down time during the holiday season, write that down in December. If you know you have a few trips or vacations in the works, write those down in the appropriate months. If you have kids in school and they’ll be home with you all summer, make a note of that in June, July, and August so you can remember that when we get to the next part. If you know you’ll be moving or doing a renovation on your house in a specific month, write that down. This is all stuff that could affect your workflow.
Next, schedule in time-sensitive events. Looking at your lists of categories + projects, take note of ones that already have dates attached to them. Write those down in their appropriate months before you plan out anything else. For example, if you know you’ll have a trade show in June, write that down so you can plan around it. If you always do a big Black Friday sale, write that down in November so you can plan for it. If you know you’re going to a conference in March, write that down.
For the rest of your projects, they probably fall into one of two categories – ongoing or one-time. Ongoing things would be blogging, email marketing, social media, etc. Things you do on a regular basis, week after week. One-time things would be product launches, webinars, promotions, etc. Things that happen one time, are limited, or are time-sensitive.
I leave off the ongoing projects from my annual overview – you already know you’re going to be blogging throughout the year, so you don’t need to write that down in every single month.
The one-time projects are the last things I add to my annual overview, because these are date-based and they are variable, meaning they can be adjusted and moved around based on my other projects. For this part, I have two big tips:
Be realistic. Can you really do ALL of those things in one month? Cut yourself some slack and give yourself some margin, move stuff to the next or previous month to even it out.
Be balanced. Think about this in terms of revenue, time, and even difficulty. For projects that bring in revenue, spread those out throughout the year. For projects that take a lot of your time + energy, spread those out too so you don’t get burnt out. Launching a brand new course from scratch (lots of difficulty) and planning a total website redesign (also LOTS of difficulty), don’t put those two things back to back.
Here's what my annual overview planner looks like:
Detailed Task Lists
This is part two of my process, and I’ll admit this part takes some time + thinking. I use Asana for this part, and you’ll quickly see why! This is where I put each piece of the puzzle together and see how it all works together in real time.
In Asana, create separate projects for each of your categories and assign a highlight color to each of them. Some of mine include Email Marketing, Blog, InDesign Course, Etsy Course, Etsy Shop. This will look different for everyone based on your type of business, BUT there are 3 projects / categories that I think every business should have:
Out of Office
For the Out of Office category, put holidays, vacations, trips, personal dates, etc. on the calendar that you know for sure are coming or that you can estimate.
For Recurring Tasks, I put in tasks like quarterly tax payments, balancing my budget, reconciling my Quickbooks account, backing up my computer, etc. Small tasks that sometimes fall through the cracks if they’re not written down. For each task, I set the due date to be repeated automatically (a cool feature of Asana) as soon as its completed, so it never falls through the cracks again.
For Batch Days, I schedule in a few blog writing batch days so I can stay on top of my blog posts and not fall behind – like I did last year! We’ll also use this category for larger projects later on, so we’ll circle back to this. (If you're like, what the heck is Batch Day?! Read this.)
After you’ve set up categories for the rest of your business’ projects (and for the three I mentioned above), then I start writing out detailed task lists for each one. A few tips...
The big kicker here is assigning due dates to EVERYTHING. Most due dates will end up being moved around which is fine, but in Asana, nothing shows up on your calendar unless it has a due date. So give EVERYTHING a date 😃
Prioritize which categories you’ll start scheduling out first. My course launches are pretty important to my business, so I’m going to get those on the calendar first. My new products for my Etsy shop can kind of be sprinkled in wherever, so I usually save those for the end to stick in empty pockets where I have some downtime.
Here’s an example of how I do this with my category titled “Etsy Shop” and a list of tasks to create one new printable kit for my Etsy shop.
List out all the tasks that need to be completed to create a new product and list it in my shop. (Asana tip: you can organize your task lists within a project even more by using headers. Do this by typing out a task like normal, but put a colon at the end of the line (:) to turn it into a header within your list.) The screenshot to the left shows what I include in my list for this.
Assign all the tasks to yourself. This sounds weird, but it’s how Asana works and kind of makes sense once you're in there.
Assign all the tasks to one due date for now (we’ll move them around in the next step).
Switch over to calendar view, and drag + drop your tasks over a few weeks / days. Again, be realistic and be balanced. I know it takes me about a day or two to design an entire kit, so I’ll leave space in between that task + the next. I know listing it in my shop only takes a few minutes to set up, so I can schedule that task to go along with some other small ones and it won’t feel overwhelming. If you have a lot of stuff piling up on one day or in one week, try to move things around to even it out. Check out the next screenshot below to see what a few weeks look like for me in July. (Of course new, smaller tasks will be added to my calendar as it gets closer, but at least I know what I'll be generally working on during that time of year.)
Now for other kits I plan to create this year, I can just copy + paste this task list in Asana, and reassign due dates. It’s just like the song goes: “The first list is the deepest…” You know the one.
For larger projects, use Batch Days.
For larger things, like my course launches, that have a mile-long task list, I just assign myself a Batch Day about 6-8 weeks before each one. This lets me plan more specific tasks as my project gets closer, while still putting important dates on the calendar – like the date of the actual launch – as well as planning other content in my business around that launch. Which leads me to...
For ongoing projects, outline some rough content.
For ongoing projects, like my blog and email marketing, I put all of these dates on my calendar as well, but I also add in some rough ideas of content to go with them. This allows me to coordinate blog / email content with whatever else I have going on at the time. For example, if I have a launch coming up for my Etsy course, I can plan to write some blog posts related to that topic leading up to that launch. Here’s a breakdown of how I schedule each of these (and screenshots below to show what it looks like in Asana)...
Blog — I publish a new blog post every other week (or at least that’s the goal, ha!), so I go ahead and make a task for each of those weeks that just reminds me that I have a blog post that week. That’s every other Wednesday for the year – so about 26 tasks total. I assign those specific dates to each post, as shown below. For each of these tasks, I also write out a rough idea of a topic for that post so I can make sure what I’m writing about is well balanced with other blog posts coming before + after it, as well as the rest of my business’ promotions at the time. I also have a separate task that is set to recur every other week that reminds me to write + prep the post on the Monday before the post is scheduled. (I also have those built-in Batch Days for blog writing, about once per quarter, so hopefully I can get ahead on this.)
Email Marketing — Everyone’s plan for email marketing is different, but for me, my main emails that go out are monthly overviews of what I have going on in my business at the time. So I created a task for each of these 12 emails (one per month), and I assign them each a due date. Again, I can move that date around as I get closer if I need to – like if things get busy, or if I want to coordinate it with a launch or something. I also make a rough list of content that will go into each email so when I sit down to write it, it’s not completely from scratch.
Once again — be realistic!
Think about how long it takes to do certain tasks, and give yourself plenty of time to complete them. Scheduling stuff out like this can seem overwhelming, but it will help you be less overwhelmed throughout the year knowing that everything is already on your calendar. Don’t put big things back to back, build in down time for yourself, and have buffers between projects to avoid burnout. Again, this method is all about making your business work around your life, and not the other way around.
And try to be flexible! I’ll be the first to tell you that your business can look way different in December than you planned for it to look in January. Don’t be afraid to push stuff back or ahead or just cancel them all together if you decide it's not something that would be worthwhile for you. That’s the beauty of running your own business – you’re the boss 😃
I know, I know. This is a little crazy, and it all seems overwhelming. When I sat down to write it all out, it FELT very overwhelming! But the main goal is to just categorize your business into parts, break down each part into tasks, and then dump everything on your calendar so it’s out of your head – all while knowing dates can be moved around as they get closer. Just the act of getting it out of your brain and into an organized place that will remind you to actually do the thing when the time comes is oh so freeing. It’s a lot of work to plan out 12 months in just a few days, so adjust it if you need to. Only plan out 3 months or 6 months. Don’t assign any tasks and just assign Batch Days to everything to plan at a later date. Figure out how YOU work best, and adjust the process to fit that.
Free annual overview planner
Ok, here's the annual overview planner that I talked about earlier. This a page pulled from the Online Business Planner (which is a GREAT resource, BTW, if you need help organizing all aspects of your business, like all those categories we talked about earlier.) This page may look simple at first glance, but seeing your year broken out in this way can be super empowering. I literally have it sitting next to me right now on my desk, so I can always see the big picture. Drop in your email + I'll send it to you.
How do you plan out your year? Have you encountered any other control-freak-ish methods like this one? Is this overwhelming or empowering or a little of both? 😃