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This week I commented on using progress reports on Twitter and Kirsty Hall made a few remarks that sparked my curiosity. She had a lot of great things to say on the topic of feeling a sense of accomplishment as a self employed creative person and I thought I would share our conversion with you for today’s Crafty Business Post. She gives a lot of great references and resources for running a creative online business and I think you will enjoy it.Make sure to check out her website which is completely packed with great articles on being a dynamo online.

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Kirsty Hall is an artist & purveyor of mad obsessive projects, Drawings & Delights. She is passionate about the internet and has created Internet Hand-Holding, a consulting service for creative people who are overwhelmed by the internet or need a fresh pair of eyes on their site. She is pleased to have finally found a use for her lifelong habit of helpful but slightly tactless remarks.

Hi Kirsty! Thanks for letting me pick your brain about how you chart progress for your business after our Twitter exchange the other day. It’s so hard to feel “finished” or “job well done” when there is so much that could be done, or could be done better.

The first half of the year started out pretty rough for me. I was overwhelmed and was scrambling. After saying “no” to pretty much every request that came in for the last 9 months, I’m starting to settle in to a less hectic lifestyle. I actually took a full weekend off work for the first time in almost a year this past weekend–go me!

I’ve just taken a proper holiday for a week. It had been far too long since I did that. Because I enjoy what I do, I find it especially hard to put it down.

I’ve also been following a deliberate policy of not ‘pushing’ this year. In practice this means that I’m working on my own stuff instead of chasing other people’s opportunities. I wrote about it here:Facing Art Fears.

Making the mental shift to allow opportunities to come to me has been tough – it can feel as though I’ve ‘given up’ or that I’m ‘being lazy’ – but I do feel more balanced and powerful because of it.

Now that I have free time, I feel like I’m not working hard enough. Before it was easy. I just worked as much as I physically could. When I was so tired I couldn’t focus anymore, I would go to bed, then wash and repeat the next day. Not a good way to live.

Definitely not, it’s so easy to burn out that way. Even though I’m chronically ill with ME/CFS, I struggle with pacing. I would burn my candle at both ends and in the middle if I could get away with it.

One way I’m dealing with it is by trying to get better at recognizing simple things about myself like ‘if it’s late at night and I get grumpy, I’m probably tired even if I don’t feel sleepy’. Havi Brooks from The Fluent Self has helped immensely with this, I’m following her suggestion of writing ‘A Book Of You’. She explains it better than me but it’s basically a self-written operating manual.

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How do you have a sense of when is enough work is really enough?

Ah, this is something that I also struggle with. I think most creative people do. When you have so many ideas tugging at your attention, it’s very difficult to feel that you do enough. I had a moment of clarity recently when I realized that I was NEVER going to be finished. I will almost certainly die with art ideas in my head and an unfinished to-do list. A few years ago, that would have caused me great anxiety but I must be getting a little bit wiser as I age because my brain went, “OK, I’m never going to be done and that’s OK. Hey, I should probably allow myself to enjoy and value the bits that I do manage to complete.”

In my art, I try to do projects that have defined borders. So for example, the sequin apron that I’m currently working on will be finished when I’ve covered the body of the apron (but not the ties or the neck) with sequins. Simple!

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Administrative work can be harder. I don’t think my website will ever be finished: there will always be things to tweak, new plugins to try and things to move around. But I’ve learnt that I need to say, ‘that will do for now’.

Like anything else, it takes practice, you have to stretch your ‘good enough’ muscles. Over time I’ve learnt to recognize what I can and can’t live with. Basically if something is bugging me, I’ll change it even if it means re-doing hours of work because I know it will always annoy me otherwise but if I can get to the ‘meh, that’ll do’ stage, then I leave it alone. There’s usually a moment where my perfectionism starts to annoy the crap out of me and that’s when I know I’m done!

And how do you know that you’re putting your efforts in the right place?

Honestly, I don’t. I almost certainly need to be more proactive in my business. I do make a lot of lists and I’ve been trying to improve my ability to prioritize. I have the Toodledo app on my computer and iPhone and that helps because I can look at my lists and analyze what’s important right now.

One mantra I live by is ‘Is it useful? Is it fun?’ If it’s neither useful or fun (ideally both), then I try to say no.

I’ve got a whole section in my Toodledo called ‘Things I don’t care about’ where I put the things I don’t want to forget but don’t want to do. Some of it is stuff that probably ought to happen at some point but it was interesting to realize how much of it was self-inflicted. There was a ton of stuff that I should never have accepted responsibility for in the first place. As I’ve got better at prioritizing, I’ve started to realize that I need to let some things go or I won’t have the time and energy for the stuff that I genuinely need to do.

How do you set goals for you business that are more than just superficial or maintenance?

I’ve just started a paper journal that’s specifically for my business. I call it my Evil Plans book. I mindmap & write in it. There will probably be some pictures soon too. I’m a very visual person & I generally do better if my thinking is done with colored felt tips.

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And how can you look back and celebrate what you have accomplished?

I make a yearly list and at the end of each year I look back and see what I’ve accomplished before I try to set goals for the next year. Sometimes I share it on my blog, sometimes I keep it private but I always do it.

I’ve been trying to keep a running to do list of everything I think “I need to do this some day” or “I should post about this”. Then each morning I write up a task list for everything that I “have” to do and then I add a few of those “someday” to do items to the list too. At least this way I feel like I’ve “finished” my work for the day if that all gets marked off.

I put a lot of those ‘someday’ and ‘maybe’ things in Toodledo, just so they’re recorded somewhere but I don’t date them, that way they don’t clutter up my priority list.

I was reading a Charlie Gilkey post this morning that talks about how you shouldn’t put more than 3-5 things on your daily to-do list and it was a slap in the face for me because it’s true that I rarely accomplish more than 5 things and if I do, it’s usually because the extra things are very small indeed. So why does my daily to-do list always have at least a dozen things on it? My to-do lists are a triumph of hope over experience.

You mentioned on twitter that you have a “I did this” document on your computer. Could you talk a bit more about that?

Sure. I keep a monthly One Thing list on my computer. It’s called my One Thing list because I try to do one thing on my business every single day (including weekends because hello, artists are addicts!). In practice I usually manage more than one thing but because of my illness, one seemed like a reasonable target. Believe me, if my illness is flaring, I often can’t manage even that one thing.

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What do you keep track of?

I track what I’ve done for my art and business that day. So for example, it might say something like:

Edited and emailed guest post
Did an email interview for Kristin of Craftleftovers
Answered blog comments
Downloaded new note software for iPhone
Sewed sequins and listened to a podcast

If it’s art or admin related, it goes in there. I also note when I’m ill, so that I can cut myself some slack when I look back and there are days when nothing much got done.


Do you start a new document for each month?

Yes, and I keep all the old ones. It’s going to make writing my yearly accomplishment list a lot easier, I can tell you!

The other great advantage is that it helps me to identify things that need following up. Anything that stops things falling through the cracks is great because I have a truly appalling memory. One of the symptoms of ME/CFS is mind fog and my memory wasn’t brilliant to start with. Goldfish look at me pityingly!

If it’s not written down, I will forget it so as you can imagine, I rely heavily on lists, calendars and small bits of paper. I’m currently investigating ways to make my systems work together a bit more seamlessly.

Last month I started a chart (download the pdf here) that helps me have a clear view of my goals for the month, my major and reoccurring deadlines, and at the end of the month, I have a little section just for stats.

Things like RSS feed subscribers, facebook fans, twitter followers, sales, expenses, unique visitors to the blog. I have last month’s numbers, this month’s goals, then the actual outcome. I’ve smashed all my goals for this month already–so exciting to see that. I would have had no idea unless I was charting it out. Definitely makes me feel like I’m on the right track.

That’s a great idea, I don’t track my stats to that extent but I probably should. I do keep an eye on things in Google Analytics as long as it’s not drastically falling, I don’t worry too much about it. I do play a cool game on Google Analytics where I’m trying to fill in the map of the world. I’ve had visitors from 155 countries in the last three years of blogging. I’m desperate to get Greenland, so if anyone knows anyone there, please send them to my blog, you’d make me ridiculously happy.

I also write monthly goal lists on my computer with different sections for personal, art, business and family stuff and any important appointments. But setting time specific goals is one of the areas where I’m definitely hampered by my illness. It’s very difficult for me to sustain upward trends because I’ll often get a good head of steam going and then my illness will flare up and I’ll be useless for a couple of weeks or even months. I describe it as like driving a car with the handbrake stuck on.

How do you track your progress over time? Do you have a business plan that you stick to or something vaguely resembling one?

Haha, that would be a no! I wrote about my business plan here and although I’ve improved somewhat since then, I still suck at this side of things. It’s possible that my Evil Plans book might develop into something approaching a business plan.

Really, I just try to make the best art and blog posts that I can and be genuinely helpful to my online community. I am very active in social media and I’ve increasingly been writing guest posts, so I’m getting the word out that way. It’s wildly naïve but hey, I’m an eternal optimist. Just call me Pollyanna!

In truth, I’m still working my way out of the Starving Artist mindset. I’ve been busy deprogramming myself from some of the beliefs about commerce and money that I picked up in the contemporary art world, especially art college. Even opening an online shop for my art was a big stretch for me because I spent years thinking that I didn’t make ‘saleable art’ and while it’s true that much of my art is deeply, gloriously uneconomic, things like my drawings are conceivably marketable.

What’s your favorite blogs for creative online business topics/resources/articles? I’ve been digging CopyBlogger, Crafting a MBA, and your website lately. :)

Thanks, it’s great to hear that you like my website, I’ve been trying to pick up the pace on it lately.

I’m a big fan of Catherine Caine from Be Awesome Online, I think she’s a great place to start, especially if you’re new to the internet – her 5 Minute Missions are quick and practical ways that you can make a difference to your business. The Makery and Crafting a MBA write consistently good crafty business articles and I recently discovered ArtistsWhoThrive and Tara Gentile from Big Thinking For Small Businesses. Oh, and if you like audio, John T. Unger is doing amazing work over at Art Heroes Radiohis podcast on pricing shouldn’t be missed by anyone who has a creative business.

Thanks again Kirsty for chatting with me and sharing your experience with feeling a sense of accomplishment when it comes to your business and life!

Happy making!

Kristin Roach