Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Effectively Focused: 8 - Review

Previous Post - 7: Flex - acknowledge changes and adjust

Principle #8: Review

At the end of your self-defined window of time, you take some time to reflect (ideally with your support team), figure out what’s working, what isn’t, think of ways to make it work for you.

At the end of every time box, reflecting on your progress continuously and how you can continue to improve, estimate more accurately, figure out what works for you, what doesn’t. Rework your art. Rework your progress board. How often have you had to change priorities.

Tweak the System

Another area that is ripe for change and adaptation is this process itself! You don’t like sticky notes? Try note cards. Maybe you like technology better than sticky notes? There are a whole host of tools like Trello, Rally, VersionOne, LeanKit, that mimic the paper version. (You can look up Scrum or Agile tools and find a whole host of tools with free subscriptions for individuals.) Maybe this process doesn't quite work for you or sort of does, but you still need a little better task management with a virtual team, so a tool like Asana for virtual team and sticky notes for personal work might be best. Or create your own art and sticky notes. You don’t like coordinating the sticky notes? Mix ‘em up? The whole process is up for grabs for you to tweak and adjust until you are happy with it.

Beyond this system

It might even worth the time to set up a regular (quarterly?) review of your overall business and make sure everything is still working for you. 

  • Does this still work?
  • Is my pricing strategy still working?
  • Is my shipping process efficient?
  • Etc.

Grow the System

If your business grows, you start planning for a large order, a show, or you have some kind of large influx of business, you may need to make modifications to grow this system. If you get to a point where you feel angst and stress, maybe you're finding you have outgrown the system. If you get to this point, let me know! This is great "problem" to have. We can figure out ways to grow the system to meet your new news. This process works with teams of 10 to organizations of 100's.

Changing the System

Nothing in here is required. These are merely a set of guidelines we use (with adaptation) in corporate project management. This process has been adapted to work for the individual and personal time management. I am personally always adapting to see what works best for me and for the teams I work with. The same goes with this system for you. Do what works best for you!

Wherever you are at right now, just take time to sit and think about your feelings towards the process. Do you still feel comfortable? If so, great! Maybe the changes only need to be minor, if at all. 

If you are feeling angst or stress, try to pinpoint what makes you uncomfortable and try some things to change it. It is possible you need make changes: this process is geared to a small scale and maybe you need to figure out how to grow this to handle bigger projects. We run into this same issue technically. You never know until you move forward. Sometimes we know more when we get into the process and if we DID go down a wrong path, we'll take some time to "refactor" (or redo). You know the best for you.

You did it! Are you going in the right direction?

Are you still aligned with your company Mission and Vision? Do you have a Mission and Vision for the product itself? Is the product and your company still aligned? Are you Life Priorities being impacted by your work? If so, are there some adjustments you can make in your work habits to maintain your Life Priorities? Or is hyper-focus and extra time acceptable to your family while you are launching your Product?

Take a few minutes to celebrate your forward movement! You did it! Reward yourself with one of your fun ideas. Take a breather to rejuvenate, get yourself ready and move forward.


At 2 months, we start grooving along, at 5-6 months, we plateau. Either it's getting stale, boring, rote or we're running into real technical problems that the process can't solve. This is when angst, discord, frustration starts manifesting itself on the team. In the case of art, it would be with creative or process issues. Or growing pains! Try to get into a pattern of constantly renewing, revamping, and trying new things at the end of each time box.

Sometimes I let the discordant feelings sit with my teams. Sometimes I look for ways to shake things up. It depends. But one thing important to note: there is never a "destination" in this process. It's always a journey of constantly trying and tweaking.

Thank you for following along in the basic process of using Sticky Note PM (aka Personal Kanban) for your processes. I will continue to talk about Agile and different aspects of it in the creative environment in future posts.

Table of Contents for the Sticky Note PM Program

Monday, October 12, 2015

Effectively Organized: Organizing my work to produce a collection

I'm winding up to release Texture and Patina collection.  They are out there in bits and pieces in my shops, but I'm getting more organized for a bi-weekly release of 8 different colors of 12 different patterns. I'm biting my nails and getting all of the administrative pieces in place before I start the launch.

But before the launch, I thought I would share a bit of my process and how I organized the creation of this particular collection. I actually made so much art and didn't use a lot of it, that I'll have a great foundation when I start a new collection. Now I just have to make sure the sketches fit a future collection. Or maybe I'll have a spin-off collection. Hm....

But in the meantime, here is a picture of the pile of papers I sketched and doodled and marked. This is a nice 2-3 inch thick set of folders and papers.

I organically created a system (I love systems) as I progressed through creating this particular collection. I created color palettes and hung papers on walls to get ideas. I think I marinated in the ideas for a good 3 days before I started putting pen to paper. 

Pen and paper vs. digital design

Regarding pen and paper, I find I prefer pen and paper to pure digital design. One of the ways I would describe my core style (at least at the moment) is primitive, organic and colorful. I am particularly enamored with Southwest design because I love the element of organic creation where you see the handwork of the person who made it. That's something I've wanted to preserve in my personal approach to design - my hand in the work. So I maintain my interest in starting the work in pen and paper, then I scan it and manipulate it digitally in Photoshop and Illustrator.

System for editing and choosing final designs

As I started sketching, I experimented with a wide array of ideas. I marked, I sketched, I incorporated Zentangle type doodling into my designs. I marked papers randomly and with different methods.

As I worked, I ended up with quite a pile of papers. I started losing track of what I liked and what I needed to put on hold. I decided I wanted to keep everything I created since it sometimes sparked ideas, but it just didn't necessarily make the final cut.

Also, I found I needed to to "put my drawings away" for a bit either in the folder or put a day or two of time between when I created and when I viewed it again. This allowed me some time to assess whether I really liked it or not. Below is the rough workflow I used for developing this collection and editing it out to the final designs.


And finally, here is a set of outtakes I really like, but didn't make it into this particular version of the collection. Actually, they were going to get included, but I pivoted on the collection and ended up recoloring some of the patterns to a beach theme. I expect to use these in the future. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Effectively Focused: 7 - Flex

Previous Post - 6: Focus - hyper focus on one thing at a time, limit your work in progress and blockers

Ah, the realities of a solo artist/creative - big opportunities arise (a large wholesale order!), family crisis arise, a day job might still be a reality, balancing family needs, keeping yourself healthy - all of these will vie for your time. Another scenario that calls for flexibility is when you start developing on Idea that morphs into a better more effective Idea. Being flexible is a key, even if you have to change your ideas mid-stream. How do you adjust without losing the momentum caused by a change? 

Principle #7: Flex

Okay, now you've made your plans, and have started working them. But, as any experienced project manager knows, no plan survives first contact with implementation

One of of the surprising things about this type of project/task management is your ability to flex and change as needed. Most creatives resist organizing and planning because it feels so rigid and inflexible. Not Agile! In fact, one of the core tenets of the Agile Manifesto is "Responding to change over following a plan." Agile is designed to flex with reality, not box you into a corner.

While the overall goal is to complete work and not circle between multiple tasks (see last week's post on Focus,) Agile embraces your natural creative instincts to adjust with changes. The key to success is balancing the tension between your intuition and desire to do something new and intention complete work and put it out into the world. You get better with the tension the more you practice.

I use sticky notes even with writing this post and use them as bullet points for the keys I want to discuss. Being able to move these around and get a clearer sense of how to structure this post is very helpful.

Being able to change your Categories, Focus, Priorities is one of the beautiful things about this process. It's also why I prefer sticky notes over any other tool. Lists are too rigid. With the number of tasks I need to do, a list is outdated as soon as it's written. Digital is as flexible as sticky notes, but it doesn't have the power of being an always-visible reminder of what you need to do. 

Try and Modify 

Once you start something, don't feel too boxed in by what you've started. For example, when I broke my Energy Drain list (below) down into categories, I had four categories. As I started working my "plan" I realized I needed to break one of the categories down into two smaller categories. I plan my week out and my priorities change as the week progresses due to things that come up. Don't worry or overthink it. Just go with the flow.

Don't Overdo the Organization

One of the keys I want to emphasize in this context is don't overdo the organization. Yes, a Type A project manager just said that out loud. Because everything changes. It's really more important (and sometimes harder) to keep everything as simple as possible and no more complex than it needs to be. Complexity kills progress. Keep it as simple as possible but don't feel hemmed in either. Again, balance the tension between the paradoxical states. 

Maintain Momentum

Flexibility as a creative is an advantage and a flaw. It can be a flaw when you are subject to the Shiny New Object Syndrome. Playing with the next ideas leads to loss of focus on becoming really good at one or two things. Context switching and pursuing each new shiny idea really makes for multi-focus. If you multi-focus, pretty soon you end up with a lot of projects started and none finished. 

One of the key points is making sure you have everything written down. If you have to check out from your work for a bit to focus on a family emergency, a health crisis, or an element of your business that takes you away from new business development, having a point of reference is critical. If you maintain your project book or project queue with your Hyper Focus as tightly focused as possible (only one or two sticky notes), when you come back to it you have focus.

When you shift priorities and change up the Hyper Focus, it's good to do a review of your entire queue to make sure you are still focused on the right priority and you haven't forgotten anything. Reviewing and rearranging your sticky notes keeps everything percolating in your brain, without having to worry about forgetting it. This little bit of preparation saves you a lot of time in the long run and keeps you from spinning your wheels on all the ideas you have. Also, because it's written, you don't have to spend precious time remembering your ideas or worse, forget the fabulous idea and start working on the wrong priority.

Next Post - 8: Review - survey the time box of activities, what can you do differently next time?