One of the many actions my leadership team does throughout the year is have quarterly check ins with each person on their team.. With a wry smile and joking undertone my boss, Rob, will start the meeting and say, “Alright Nic, let’s hear the lists.” The lists themselves aren’t really funny... but the fact that I always have several (without being asked to create them) is a little humorous.
For each quarterly check-in, I have lists for personal growth, shortcomings I want to improve on, what I’m loving, what I would like changed, fun projects, blog ideas I would like to write, design resources, and many more stacked neatly on the side of my desk.
Historically, creative professionals have had a battle between creativity and order. Organized, structured workspaces have been seen as creative killers rather than nurseries for innovative problem solving.
But this thinking needs to change. I’m organized so I can have the room to create. One of the most influential people of my career, my former Professor Ron Mazellan, taught me the importance of lists. He had us make 1-year, 5-year, and 10-year goals, detailed out with action steps to achieve each one. I realized then that making lists of my goals and challenges is not restricting my creativity, but challenging me to grow more.
Once written down, my lists free up head space while not losing the important information I need to hold myself accountable, focused, and productive. Here are a few lists every creative professional should have:
In college you had this list — it was your degree audit. You knew what the small goals were (your classes), and you knew those would help develop your skills until you reached your big goal (your degree). Now it's time to make your own. Establish the big goals you would like to achieve in your career as well as ways to get to them. Maybe that means continuing your education with an online class, finding a mentor, or attending a conference. Setting these goals will help you visualize your future as well as give insight for your team to help support your aspirations.
Lowkey brag, I work on a pretty killer team. Part of that success comes from knowing what we’re good at. And, believe it or not, we actually like working. I keep a list of tasks I have been given or meetings that I felt encouraged by so that I can share with the team. It feels great to get a shoutout for doing something well.
One client wanted a website that was modern and clean but still had dimension. The design team was able to work seamlessly together because we knew each person's strengths and also list of things they enjoy working on the most. I collaborated with Rob to design the responsive website then handed it off to my fellow designer, Austin, who figured out ways to incorporate animations. I love web design, Austin loves animations and with that knowledge Rob was able to allocate pieces of the project efficiently.
Hate is a strong word but keeping track of a list of tasks or parts of your day you are unhappy with can be helpful for a number of reasons. With transparency like this, you may find that some of the tasks you don’t like can be better outsourced to someone else. It can also help your managers understand how to divide work among your immediate team.
At Ample, the project managers listened to the design team’s feedback that edits from multiple client sources were hard to pull together. They then began consolidating these edits into one place so that the design team could spend less time combing through feedback and get straight to work. Some things can’t change… (looking at you, timesheets) but there are a lot of little creative ways to make the tasks less of an annoyance.
The MIN list is the Most Improvement Needed list. You know your areas of weakness and while it's not awesome seeing them all written down on a list, it is awesome being able to see improvement in these areas. Not only does it push you to grow, but it’s also rewarding to see yourself transform. Need an example? My number 1: Accurately record 40 hours a week in timesheets.
When I make these lists, the goals aren’t always small, nor the lists magical — but freeing up your headspace to create, and seeing clear goals in front of you, can help keep you focused and productive. It can also give you more confidence to take a big risk (such as making your office mobile and travel for a year like I did) because it was on the 5-year goal list.
After I took the time to think through my goals by using lists with Professor Mazellan, it made the crazy huge goals seem reachable. And the result? I accomplished my 1-year list 6 months after graduation, 5-year list only two years out and 10-year list in 5. Life has a lot of unexpected twists and turns, but having some long term goals outlined helps you recenter and anchor to what you have deemed most important.