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Contributing Editor: Rasha Harvey
Entrepreneurs need to cultivate two superpowers to grow their businesses and bring their ideas to life: creativity and organization. It’s not enough to have one without the other.
But creatives frequently neglect process and structure when they start monetizing their work, and this is a big mistake, according to Dallas-based entrepreneur Shawnee Leonard.
“It’s all fun and games claiming to be an organized mess with your creative process, until you start losing money,” says Shawnee. “Organization is an underrated skill and people don’t appreciate it until it’s too late. I tell people to get organized from the very beginning.”
Shawnee runs a social media and marketing consultancy and founded The Ten Ninety-Nine, a freelancer collective in Dallas. She also runs Moxie Brides magazine, organizes events and PR, and much more. Shawnee is what’s known as a multi-hyphenate: a creative businessperson who wears many hats across different projects.
If your work is an exciting juggling act like Shawnee’s, and you start getting disorganized, you put your revenue at risk. You also jeopardize your own creative energy by being vulnerable to burnout. The Anatomy of Work Index, a survey of over 13,000 global knowledge workers, reports that burnout is on the rise and 76% of workers struggle to disconnect from work. Creatives need to manage and protect themselves from unnecessary tasks, other people’s competing priorities, and sometimes their own unfocused ambition.
The research also brings hope, however, with the finding that individuals can save over six hours per week by improving the processes they use to work. Creatives in our Asana community agree: process and organization make the difference between burnout and growth, between chaos and clarity.
You may not think of yourself as the “organized type,” or worry that structure will hold back your imagination. But the opposite turned out to be true for Destiny Taylor, a Los Angeles-based content producer and social media strategist.
Destiny began her YouTube vlog as a college student and successfully monetized it while holding a full-time job. It now has over 84,000 subscribers. Her biggest challenge when she started was to manage and prioritize all the moving pieces amid her other responsibilities. “I tried spreadsheets,” Destiny says, “but they were boring and I always fell off. I even tried notebooks and they always magically went missing. I thought, ‘I’m not good at this admin stuff. I’m only good at the creative stuff.’”
She accepted this as a fact until she found a tool that actually worked for her. “It only took me a week to realize the problem was my spreadsheet, my notebook, and everything else I’d tried and failed miserably with. But I never got bored with Asana. It allowed my projects to come to life.”
Here are three ways that better organization and the right work management platform can help you run a business and make your goals a reality—all while protecting and boosting your creative talent.
Catch inspiration—and never lose it
Good ideas don’t always respect office hours. Rather than scribbling them on a paper napkin, use Asana and its mobile app to jot down inspiration and to-do list items as they come, making sure they’re easy to find when it’s time to dig deeper. If you wake up in the middle of the night with a great blog post topic, it’ll be waiting for you when you’re ready. (You can try Asana for free here.)
Ariel Harris, the Oakland-based CEO of health and fitness startup Gym Hooky, keeps all her business ideas in Asana. (She’s also a certified health coach and personal trainer with a client base that includes Facebook and Stanford University.) Ariel clears her head at the end of each day by writing down everything on her mind into the platform. Ariel says, “Bless my brain, but I’m always thinking about the next thing. I had trouble sleeping because of it. Now, I do a ‘brain dump’ every night as a task in Asana.” The next day, she can follow up on her ideas, and because it’s a collaborative platform, Ariel’s assistant can also see the list and get started.
Destiny Taylor takes it a step further and cultivates her inspiration by making what she calls a “brain sprinkle” board in Asana. She visually arranges her ideas and adds photos to inspire how content could look. “Any idea in my mind, I pull it out onto this board,” she says. “I love that I can just lay everything out beautifully and keep things organized.”
Destiny can stay in her creative flow and her ideas will be waiting for her in the right place when she needs them.
Keep your team aligned and focused on their craft
When a team seems to work together effortlessly on the surface, they probably have a great system behind the scenes that keeps everyone moving in the same direction. A work management platform helps teams stay aligned and minimize “work about work,” such as chasing for status updates, looking for information, and trying to figure out what to work on next. This creates more time for high-impact creative projects.
Ariel Harris started as a “solopreneur,” but as Gym Hooky grew, she needed to reevaluate her project management structure. “Gym Hooky is no longer just me,” she says. “I have an assistant, brand manager, bookkeeper, all these things. How can I make sure I’m set up in a way that makes sense for everyone?” Ariel reorganized Asana and made it the central platform holding her team together across her business.
When everyone’s workflows and task status are visible to teammates in this way, there is more accountability and no micromanaging. “It establishes trust in my team,” Ariel says, “and there’s no worry about things getting done. I prefer to be hands-off, and having a process really helps.”
Ariel says this accountability has even improved her relationship with her husband Quinnton, co-founder of creative studio Retrospect. The Harrises use Asana to plan big projects in their personal life, such as their destination wedding in the Bahamas or furnishing their home. When Ariel says organization is her love language, Quinnton jokes that he wasn’t exactly fluent when they met. But in 2015, he was introduced to Asana while working as Creative Lead at Walker & Company brands. Despite his initial resistance, he saw Asana’s value and brought the platform into his passion projects and his partnership.
If work management platforms keep things running well for a couple, they are just as helpful for large teams. Destiny Taylor previously used Asana at ViacomCBS, where 50 cross-functional teammates were often creating content for just one reality TV show. “You can really build out a conversation with multiple hands on deck,” Destiny says. “It’s just fluid, versus trying to keep up with a super-long email chain.”
A central hub for the team is also helpful for holding workflows, which are the standard operating procedures or “recipes” that make a business tick. When Shawnee Leonard hires subcontractors to collaborate on a client project, she can hand them a workflow template to follow. She also advises freelancers to create processes and recurring tasks for repetitive back-office work, like invoicing and expense management.
With process, it’s easier to keep on top of tasks, and it frees up more energy to focus on the good stuff: creative work.
Let creatives work how they work best
An ideal work management platform is flexible enough to adapt to individual personalities and work styles. You can look at the same project plans in different ways to fit team members’ preferences, suit various project types, and even follow your own changing energy levels throughout the day. Four views can illustrate this: boards, lists, timelines, and calendars.
Board view is highly visual—think of Destiny’s inspirational “brain sprinkle” board. They can also be used as a digital Kanban board, where a card moves into columns from left to right as each work unit is completed—taking a midnight-inspired blog post idea, for example, from “to do,” to “doing,” to “done.”
Meanwhile, List view shows tasks in checklist form. It’s easy to drill down into details and plug through tasks by checking them off when they’re complete.
Ariel Harris’s background in project management means that lists suit her systematic way of thinking, while her husband Quinnton can look at the same project differently. “I’m a visual person, so I use boards. They show progress over time and help with projects that are holistic experiences, like websites, that are harder to dissect into fine steps. We have a space for the backlog, anything that’s in progress, anything that needs to be reviewed, and anything in the ‘done’ category.”
Timeline view shows when deadlines depend on one another and what tasks overlap. It’s like a modern adaptation of a Gantt chart that shows how a project’s pieces fit together over time—perfect for planning an event, for example.
Calendar view is what you might think: a monthly calendar showing what’s due each day and any holes in the schedule. For example, after her day job, Destiny Taylor can go to her calendar to see the most urgent tasks she needs to do for her blog that night. It maps out all her posts, color-coded by social channel.
“Calendar view is where I live if I just want to be told what to do and see things at the top level,” Destiny says. “List view is my ideal interface when I want to see pertinent details, and if I feel like there’s too much going on, I can collapse sections that I’m not focusing on. Then there is Board view, which is my favorite. This is where I can see my work mapped out interactively. There are texture, color, and visuals, which keep my passion up even after a long day at work.”
Your diverse team and diverse projects will do best with a platform that can accommodate different styles of thinking. Your tools should work for you, not the other way around.
Bring your visions into the world
With the right tools, you might find it easier to get organized than you originally thought, and it also helps to connect new coordination skills to your original purpose and drive. For Quinnton Harris, the motivation to learn better management habits grew when he got honest with himself. “When I think about my creative journey,” he says, “and I’m not yet seeing the vision in my head out in the world, I have to ask myself really tough questions about why that’s the case. How am I building habits to translate what’s ‘up here’ in my mind into this physical realm?”
His drive to bring his ideas to life helped him level up and embrace new structures and ways of working. “It’s that feeling of needing a change, and of committing to myself to build new habits, think about new processes, or get some assistance,” he notes, “so the things I want to do will come to fruition.”
To see how these creative entrepreneurs use Asana, check out Level up: Project and Passion Organization with Asana. Organize your big ideas and coordinate work across multiple projects with Asana, so you can free up your mind to be your most creative. Sign up for free today.