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Task-Juggling for Busy Dancers

Task-Juggling for Busy Dancers

 
I don’t usually blog about non-dance things, but I mentioned this in passing on Facebook, and a lot of people asked me for more details. So here goes.

When your hobby becomes your business, things get weird.

 
 

On the one hand, you’re living the dream.

On the other hand, something that used to be all “want-tos” suddenly has a lot of “musts” and “shoulds”.
 

And there are a lot more tasks to juggle.

Running a business includes a lot more than dancing. All those extra marketing and administrative tasks can add up FAST.

As a full-time dancer with a full-time day job, I have a LOT of things going on at the same time.
(I’ll bet those of you with troupes, kids, etc. can relate!)

To avoid dropping the ball, I need to have a process to keep me on top of things.
 

But I am NOT a planner.

I get very very cranky when someone tells me what to do – even if that someone is me!

So to-do lists and rigid schedules don’t work for me.
 

Instead, I make menus.

For a year and a half now, I’ve been following a process of monthly, weekly, and daily reviews.
These aren’t to-do lists; they’re curated “menus” of things I need and might want to do.

I occasionally let that slip when I get really busy, and that just shows me how useful it is.
When I haven’t done my reviews, I get way less done, and yet I feel much busier.
 

Here’s what I do:

The Super Short Version (an overview)
The Short Version (the essential details)
The Long Version (the full process – with checklists!)
Tips (how to get the most out of the process)
 

The Super Short Version:

 

Every day, I list:
  • One thing that will move me towards my goals (but isn’t due today)
  • Everything that is due today
  • 3-5 things I want to get done

This gives me a short list of the most relevant things I might want to do today.
 

Every week, I list:
  • The major themes for the week
  • Everything that is due that week
  • Other things I’d like to get done that week

This makes sure that I take upcoming deadlines into account when I do my daily review.
(For example, if something is due later in the week, I may want to put it on my “want” list for today.)
 

Every month, I list:
  • The major themes for that month
  • Everything that is due that month
  • Other things I’d like to get done that month

This makes sure that I keep the bigger picture in mind as I make my plans.
 

That sounds pretty easy, but there’s more to it.

So here’s a slightly more detailed version:
 

The Short Version:

What makes this process work is being picky about what goes onto the lists.
 

Daily Review

Every morning, I process all the email in my inbox, and then list:
 

One most-important task

This is something that is not due today, but will move my business forward.

For me, this has to be something that directly leads to making money or building my list membership.

If you’re not running a business, you may want to have this task support your top goal, like preparing for an important show.

 

Anything that is due today

Only REAL deadlines are allowed. This means things that must be done today, or they are Officially Late. The hard part here is not including things I really want to get done today, but that aren’t actually due.

Tip: some repeating tasks will be due every day. (For me, that includes processing my email, my daily practice, daily check-ins with my coaching clients, etc..) I put those into a separate “Daily Deadlines” list, but that’s optional.
 

A “Want” list

I list 3-5 things that I want to do, but that are not due today.
 

Then I get to work

Those lists add up to a small, manageable menu of things I’m likely to want to do today.
(Either because I’m excited to get them done, or because I’ve got a deadline.)

So when I’m ready to work, I can just glance at the list and pick something. I can tell at a glance which items are the most urgent. And I know that they’re all relevant.

And because it’s a menu, not a to-do list, I get to pick and choose. So it doesn’t trigger my inner contrary 2-year old.
 

Time-needed: 5-10 minutes

That only includes the list-making part. Processing my email adds another 20-90 minutes.
 

The Weekly Review

The weekly review helps me make sure that I stay on top of what’s happening this week.
So when I do my daily review, I’ll know that I’m keeping the week’s deadlines and other goings-on in mind.

This includes a more careful review of what I accomplished last week, what’s due this month, what’s on my calendar, and a general brain dump. For the full details, see “The Long Version” below.

Each week, I list:
 

Themes for the week

These are the major events and activities that are coming up. Most of the individual tasks for the week will fall into those themes.

For example, my themes for this week are:

  • Promoting this month’s Belly Dance Geek Clubhouse call
  • My student recital
  • Getting set up for Be Amazing in the Moment
  • My personal dance training

 

Due this week

Like the morning review, this is limited to things that are actually due this week, not things that feel pressing. I have to be really ruthless to only include true deadlines!

I like to sort these by theme. For example, one of my themes for this week is my student recital. So I’ll list all the deadlines related to the recital together. Any task that doesn’t fit a theme gets sorted under “other”.
 

Wishlist for the week

This is a list of tasks that I’d like to get done this week, but that are not due. I sort these by theme as well.

I try to keep this list reasonable. If I make it too long, it will feel overwhelming, instead of inviting. So I often have to prune the list down after I make it.
 

Time needed: 45 minutes to an hour

 

The Monthly Review

The monthly review helps me make sure that I stay on top of what’s happening this month.
This helps me stay aware of bigger projects and deadlines, so they don’t get forgotten until the last minute.
(I also include some less exciting tasks like monthly bookkeeping.)

The process is a lot like the weekly review.
 

Each month, I list:

Themes for the month

The major events and activities happening this month.
 

Deadlines this month

Anything that is truly due this month.
 

Wishlist for the month

Things that are not due, but that I’d like to get done this month.
 

Time needed: 45 minutes to an hour

(Not counting the bookkeeping tasks I usually do afterward, which add another hour.)
 
 

The Long Version (or: fun with checklists)

To make sure that I capture everything that’s due, and remember everything I might want, I use a checklist for each of the reviews.

If this seems long, don’t panic!

You don’t have to do all of this. This is what works for me. You may be able to get by with half of it.
 

Daily review

❒ Clean out yesterday’s lists.  (I always start with a fresh text file. Anything lingering from yesterday can be re-added, but it has to be removed first.)

❒ List the day’s most important task  (Does it actually make money or build my list?)

❒ List today’s deadlines   (Are they REAL deadlines? Really?)

❒ Make today’s wishlist (Limit 3-5 items)

❒ Fully process email inbox    (Either act on or create a to-do for each message)

❒ Post the result to my accountability thread. (I have some friends cheering me on in a private forum.)
 

Weekly review

❒ Skim my monthly review lists

❒ Review last week’s daily review items

❒ Review my calendar:
     ❒ Last week
     ❒ This week
     ❒ Next week

❒ Check with my husband to see if I’m committed to anything this week (social plans, etc.)

❒ Have I been procrastinating anything or letting it slip? If so, why?

❒ Review any unfinished items from last week’s review

❒ Do a brain dump (what comes to mind?)

❒ Collate tasks into lists:
     ❒ Happening this week (themes)
     ❒ Anything with a deadline this week
     ❒ Wishlist for the week (goals, b-list tasks, etc.)

❒ Save the file!

❒ Record any tasks that didn’t make it into this week’s list in my long-term “might want to do list”.
 

Monthly Review

❒ Re-read my Big Hairy Audacious Goal
(This is a statement of what I want to accomplish in my career overall.)

❒ Re-read my 25 priorities exercise (and update as needed)

❒ Review last month’s and next month’s calendar.

❒ Check with my husband to see if I’m committed to anything this month that isn’t already on the calendar (social plans, etc.)

❒ Review my long-term “might want to do” list

❒ Note any scheduled weeks off from class. Schedule a reminder email to students.

❒ Do a brain dump

❒ List the themes for the month

❒ Make a list of anything that [i]must[/i] get done that month

❒ Make a wishlist for the month (goals, b-list tasks, etc.)

❒ Check last month’s list. Move unfinished items to this month OR long term “might want to do” list.

❒ Monthly financial tasks:
     ❒ Monthly bookkeeping
     ❒ Who owes me money?
     ❒ What expenses are coming up this month?

❒ Make editorial calendar for this month’s newsletters
 

Tips

Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your reviews.

1) Slice it fine.

Narrow your taks down to the smallest useful piece you can.
(Naomi Dunford calls this “Salamitizing”. I really, really wish I had come up with that name!)

The smaller the task, the more likely it is to get done. You can always do more if you choose to.

This is especially important for your most important task of the day. (Trust me on this.)
 

2) Choose a regular time

I do my morning review as soon as I sit down at my desk in the morning. The only thing I’m allowed to do before that is practice. (Okay, and shower, dress, eat, brush my teeth, etc. But this is how I start my work day.)

I do my weekly review on Sundays between my morning and afternoon classes. I have two hours to kill, so I have plenty of time to change, eat, review, and relax.

I don’t have a set time for my monthly review, largely because the first of the month falls on different days of the week. And it shows. I do my daily review like clockwork, my weekly review pretty reliably, but my monthly review is often late.
 

3) Remember that they’re menus, not orders

(Added on 5/19 after a great question from Atiseh.)

If, like me, being told what to do makes you want to do the opposite (think pouty toddler), it’s especially important to remember that your lists are menus, not orders.

They are tools that help you decide what to do in the moment. They tell you what your most relevant options are for today (or this week or month). But they don’t commit you to actually doing them. You keep the freedom to choose.

That’s true even for the “due today” list. It’s in your interests to do them today, but you are still 100% free to choose not to. (As long as you’re willing to live with the consequences, of course.)
 

Adapting this for your own use

Nothing works for everybody. So tweak this to suit yourself. Leave out anything that doesn’t work for you. Add whatever you want.

Just keep it manageable; if it feels burdensome, you won’t do it.

You may also want to change the scope. I only include my dance- and business-related to-dos. You may want to include your job, home life, and other commitments.

 

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

This process owes a lot to David Allen’s Getting Things Done*.

And I created it as an assignment in The Pilot Light from Cash & Joy*. The process is entirely mine, but I wouldn’t have made it without Catherine’s very helpful prodding.

The image of jugglers is from the 15th tomb of the Karyssa I area. It is in the public domain. I found it on WikiCommons.
 

Next Step

The next step that I recommend is NOT to start doing this.
Start by thinking about whether you need a review at all.

The culture I live in worships organization. It can start to feel like having a good to-do list is a sign of moral purity. And I think that’s a problem. (See also: A Perfect Mess* by Eric Abrahamson).

I only practice the Exotic Art of Organization because that’s what it takes to keep my (complex) life going. And I don’t do any more than is absolutely necessary to do that.

So don’t start this process because you think you “should”. Only do it if you actually need it.

And if you decide you do, think about whether this feels like a good fit. If something rubs you the wrong way, make some changes before you start.
 

Your Turn

Do you already have a review process? How does yours work?

What parts of this process sound good to you?

What parts give you the willies?

Does being told what to do (even by yourself) make you cranky too, or do you enjoy that much structure?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

 

* Links marked with an asterisk are affiliate links, meaning I get a small commission if you use them to make a purchase. If you’d rather I didn’t, just search for the product name. That’s 100% okay by me.

  1. I use a similar process, which I adapted from Todd Henry’s “The Accidental Creative”. I believe he also sourced some “Getting Things Done” techniques. His involves an Annual Review (which I find so very valuable – I share it every January on the “Daily Bellydance Quickies”!) and Quarterly Checkpoints as well. It’s all about keeping the big picture in focus when choosing how spend our time and effort.

    • Nice; I’ll check that out. (I probably still have the copy you sent in January.)

      I do an annual review too, but it’s very different from the operational-level stuff I posted here.

  2. I don’t really have a review process, and I really should, because right now I don’t feel in control of my life or my business (partially a side effect of my partner being in the final stages of writing up his doctoral thesis, which means our life is generally kind of exhausting and chaotic). I’m just lurching from one stressful thing to another 🙁 I do try to keep a rough ‘to do’ list with due dates against each item, but I’ve tended not to be very good about keeping it up to date or checking it.

    So yes, I will definitely try some of these techniques!

    By the way, I’ve noticed that your commentluv plugin seems not to be working – I just get this message “It appears that you are offline or another error occured contacting the API url, have you set it to use www or missed the www off the api url?? check the technical settings and add or remove www from the api url.” – I did a little googling and it seems like this is probably an issue with the commentluv plugin settings, rather than with my own blog settings.

    • Ah, thesing…
      Let me know how it goes.

      As for commentluv, thanks for letting me know. It looks like there’s a version update available, so that may be it. I’ll take a look

  3. I LOVE this! Do you do this on a program like Word or Excel Spreadsheet or do you write by hand?

    • I keep my daily, weekly, and monthly lists in a simple text file.
      (Which I keep in Dropbox so I can access it from anywhere.)

      I also keep a longer term “might want to do” list in a FileMaker database. I do that in part because it’s a longer, more complicated list. But mostly because I built it when I was doing my FileMaker developer training. 🙂

    • Perfect! Thank you so much!!! 😀

  4. Sorry, and just so I can visualize it, it’s literally just a list of things, not broken up into columns or anything? Could I do this in one of those big planner/calendars that I carry around with me?

    • Yep. Mine is literally just a list of things. It has headings (like “due today”), but no columns. You could easily do it on a page in a planner.

      • Here’s my daily list from yesterday:

        Today’s Most Important Task:

        – Check in with V. about BAM

        Deadline today:

        – Request RtR Feedback

        – Send confirmations to folks who paid by 2CO:
        – E.: drills
        – S.: drills & L2
        – S.B.: Monday L1

        – Extend field trip invitation
        – Update new students list
        – Invite newly enrolled students

        – Check class promo checklist for unfinished items

        Daily deadline:

        – >=5 minutes of dance practice
        – Process 5 flagged songs
        – RtR FB check-in

        Learning priority:

        None.

        Want:

        – Attach red belly cover

        – Make to-do list for Vegas trip
        – Show
        – Workshop
        – Promo plan (freebie?)

        – Mend red harem pants

        – Check for SBB payment

        – Look into detachable poster for Vegas workshop

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