The Creative's To Do List - Here's a strategy that has helped me move from that frustrating place of having too much to do (or way too many ideas) to actually moving forward and DOING them. It's so simple, but it really works! @

The Creative’s To Do List – A Strategy that Works

Creative overload. It’s a real thing, folks. I’m not sure if you can be diagnosed by a medical doctor if you’re suffering from it, but it’s actually a real problem if you’re a creative person. It comes disguised in a to do list that never ends, that morphs and stretches and begs you to add extra ideas to it. It feels like a creative explosion going off in your head and though that can be exciting and fun (Look at all these ideas!), it can quickly turn into overwhelm.

I’m in several Facebook groups for creative and bloggers and one of the things I read most often is, “I have too many ideas” or some sort of manifestation of that statement. It’s the old lying-in-bed-awake-because-you-can’t-stop-thinking-about-work problem. Except the “work” here is your creativity. Something that should be giving you life and joy, not stressing you out.

So, what’s a creative to do? Ditch the to do list? Get a babysitter for the kids and work on your projects until you feel better? Go on a personal retreat? (That would be a good idea, but let’s stick to the point for now.)

Those ideas might help you in the moment but I thought I’d share a strategy that has helped me incredibly in my creative life (especially in the last two years as a new mom.) You ready?

Okay, here goes. My strategy is wrapped up in four little words. And they are . . .

Do The Next Thing

Wait, before you roll your eyes and go back to that other post you were reading, hear me out. I know it sounds simple (it is), but it will really help you. I’m going to share what doing the next thing looks like by giving you a practical workflow on how to push forward in your creative projects with joy. (As opposed to tons of overwhelm and stress.)

The Strategy Behind Doing the Next Thing

By the way, before we start, this strategy can really be used in any and every area of your life. Expressing yourself creatively or working in a creative practice is just one facet of who you are—you’ll find that employing this tactic when the overwhelm builds will get you from stuck to unstuck in a second. Trust me.

So you have a lot of ideas for creative projects. Maybe they are posts for your blog, ideas of things to make for your kids, or an activity that you’ve always wanted to try. These are real ideas and many of them are super meaningful to you. The old way is to write an endless to do list and hope to get through it . . . someday. The old way is letting those ideas stew and simmer in your mind for so long you eventually forget about them. Let’s try something that will help us move forward, shall we?

The Creative’s To Do List

Step One

Get out a piece of paper and jot down every single idea you want to work on. Write it out, even if the idea isn’t completely fleshed out. Just get it down. Your ideas do not have to be in the same “genre”—you can write, “get in shape, learn hand-lettering, make homemade meals more often” all on the same page. These are things that matter to You. These are the things that are whirling around in your brain all the time.

(By the way, this exercise could also be done with your computer, an app, or whatever you regularly use to organize your thoughts. I’m going to be referring to writing because I prefer to write lists with paper + pencil.) This process should only take 5 minutes. The minute you start thinking, “What else do I want to do?” stop writing and move on to the next step. You can always rework this list later, okay?

Step Two

Now it’s time to divide your list into categories. “Creative Projects”, “Blog”, “House Stuff”, you get the idea. You don’t have to rewrite your list. I recommend making a quick key on the bottom of your list and starring one category, putting a check mark by another, etc.

Step Three

Re-read your list. What are things that you could do in 20 minutes or less? These are easy tasks that you never seem to get to but they are not time-consuming. Circle those items.

Now go through the list and underline all the items that are very meaningful to you. It actually makes you a little sad when you think you’re not getting to these things on your list as often as you would like.

Make sure you’re addressing each of your categories as you do this exercise. You do not have to underline or circle every single idea. Some of them are too new to work on right now and that’s fine. Keep them on your master list, and you’ll circle back someday to work on them.

Step Four

Take two Post-it notes (or the worksheets at the end of this post) and write out 3-5 of the easy items on one note and 3-5 of the meaningful things on the other. These are going to be your “Next Thing.”

By the way, I’m recommending that you only write 3-5 items because if you write 25 things to do, you’re back at square one with the overwhelm. Take it from someone who used to write out 50+ New Year’s resolutions every year. (No, I didn’t get the memo that you’re only supposed to pick one. How in the world do you pick one?) Anyway, writing too many things on the to do list will not work. So choose a few things that you really want to work on and start there.

Step Five

Post these notes in a prominent location that you’ll see often during the day. The bathroom mirror, a cupboard in the kitchen, heck, even your living room wall works (if that doesn’t drive you too crazy aesthetically.) During the day, we all experience the in-between moments where we’ve just finished one task and haven’t started the next. Let’s be honest that many of us use those lulls to check email, “quickly” hop on Periscope to see if our favorites are chatting, or . . . well, you get the idea. You have your thing.

During those moments in your day, I want you to take a minute and read your easy items list. Do you have 20 minutes to do one of those things right now? Now glance at your meaningful items list. Could you start one of those projects now? What’s a step you could take to start down the path towards completing it?

There will be days when you are so busy you didn’t even have time to glance up and consider these items. But I bet you there will be plenty of opportunities each month (that will add up, I promise) to do those little things that will essentially become your beautiful creative life. As you work through these lists, you’ll find that sometimes those things that seemed so important weren’t so huge after all. That’s fine. Cross them off, and move on. When you’re finished with the first list, go back to your master list and add a couple of new items. I also recommend regularly adding to the master list when ideas pop into your head.

I’m really excited for you, I am. I know that by incorporating this strategy in my life, I’ve been able to reel myself in and do the things I actually want to do but forget about when I have time to do them. (I know I’m not the only one here!) When I have free moments through the day, I refer to my lists and do the next thing. So simple, but it really works.

Have a lovely {and creative} day!

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5 responses to “The Creative’s To Do List – A Strategy that Works”

  1. Maggie Avatar

    I love to write down lists of things too, and then I love to cross them off after doing them! So satisfying.

    1. Jennie Avatar

      Lists are the best! 🙂 I really like this method because it’s a bit more focused than my mondo to do list. 😉 Hope you have a great day!

  2. Debra Avatar

    I always used to call this sort of list a “brain dump”, but never knew how to proceed after writing it. Thanks for guiding me to the next step!

    1. Jennie Avatar

      You’re so welcome, Debra! I have to admit I did the brain dump thing for a long time too and then would completely forget about it. (Or maybe that’s just me!) Hope this new step helps you. Have a wonderful weekend! 🙂

  3. Jerry Stumpf Avatar
    Jerry Stumpf

    It is frustrating to have som many ideas, files and extended thoughts and not harnass them.

    Great little tool you have here!


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