My playlist is an eclectic collection of tools that help me approach my work as play. My hope is that they’ll do the same for you.

sort-ideas-into-categories_now-queue-and-later

Object: Sorting ideas and options into now, queue and later categories.

What Didn’t Work: Keeping a loose mental list of all the books I wanted to read and ending up feeling forever behind, taking the next action on all the projects on my mind, and all the ones that anyone talked about on the most recent podcast that I realized I “really should do,” hoping that I’d recall a blog post or lesson plan when the opportunity to repurpose material arose.

My Aha! Moment: When I learned my primary creative style is Inventor, I dug deeper into what this style meant about my thinking. First, I learned I’m a visual thinker. No wonder databases and spreadsheets made my head hurt. I examined how the Inventor style expresses itself in my personal creative process, and realized that my strengths are in ideation and implementation. So, I have an idea and then I act. This loop repeats at speed. Projects layer on top of projects until I’m buried. My own deadlines are forced to defer to the “hard” deadlines provided by others, and I end up frustrated. The projects I care about most move along at a snail’s pace because I’m doing forty of them simultaneously.

I imagined how I’d like my process to work. I pictured a colorful machine with various chutes and conveyer belts all sending material to an “action zone,” where projects could be completed, wrapped in shiny paper, and sent on their way. What I needed was a tool that could queue up my ideas, allowing me to easily sort and resort them. Rather than immediately acting on new ideas, I needed to put them into the “machine” where I could see them lined up against all the queued ideas.

Enter Airtable. It’s a database, yes, but the data can be viewed visually. Many relationships can be built to categorize ideas and sort them based on the criteria of the moment. Re-ordering is as simple as drag and drop. My imagined idea machine might not exist, but with Airtable, I could build a close enough replica to manage and streamline my work-flow.

How I Play:

  • I created bases for books, for ideas, and for my blog posts to start.
  •  I set up fields for images (such as cover images or blog post images) so when I viewed my bases as cards, they’d be visually appealing.
  • I created categories so that I could sort the entries in the various ways I would want to see them. For example, in the book base I used “creativity,” “mystery,” and “literary fiction,” as a few of my categories.
  • I also created a field called status. Here, I can sort ideas or books into “now,” “queue,” “consider,” and “finished.”

Player’s Notes:

  • Airtable allows the user to create links between records. So, for instance, in the book base, I have a table for books and another for authors. Books and their authors can be linked, to make for additional sorting options.
  • The sample bases in Airtable are entertaining and offer a fantastic introduction for new users. Try them out, have some fun, and let yourself play. Especially if databases aren’t your thing, approaching the process from a playful vantage point will help you blast past the difficult parts of getting your ideal system set up.

Take it to the Next Level:

  • Zapier and IFTTT are two automation tools that work in collaboration with Airtable. This means, for instance, you can set up an email link so that whenever an idea pops into your mind or someone recommends a book, you can send the info to your base on the spot.

Sometimes tools that offer many options and functionalities can cause overwhelm. Rather than allow myself to lose focus by considering every possible function for Airtable, I started with a few that felt most immediate and important. If you try out the tool for yourself, I encourage you to start wherever you are. Let your system evolve. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the perfect.

We hire professional organizers to help us conquer our closets because sometimes we simply need outside perspective. We often need similar help with our creative process. If you could use a strategy mentorship to help you tackle a thinking or work-flow mess, I’d love to help! Check out the opportunity here.

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