The Journey Continues – Putting Your Plan into Action

Alright, now I’ve talked a lot about how vitally important it is to have a business plan, or some version of a plan for the actualization of your business, before you can build a truly Productive, fulfilling, and successful business around your art. And that’s true. The first step is to build the Plan, and figure out your answers to those signature Seven Questions that make up the essential components of a complete and functional business model.

But once you do that – and have your very own creative and comprehensive business plan – what do you do with it?

Well now it’s time to put that Plan into Action! Because after you plan, you have to act, or else nothing is achieved.

I could spend all of this blog talking about your plan, and how to write it, and what should go in it, blah blah blah. But even the most brilliant ideas are nothing, and will never become anything, without action – no matter how well planned out they are. You can write and rewrite, and plan and re-plan, all you want. But you have to be careful not to let yourself fall into analysis paralysis – or its equally evil twin and my personal favorite enemy – perfection paralysis. At some point, you have to stop and decide when the plan is good enough to implement.

So once you’ve gone through all the steps, and answered each of my signature Seven Questions, and put your whole business plan pages together – it’s time to define your Action Plan for how you are going to accomplish that plan. In fact, that’s precisely why the last and final Quest #7 of my signature business planning method is entitled, “How Will You Achieve It?”

The first thing you’ll want to do is select which program(s) or tool(s) you will want to use to help you set your tasks and track your progress. For my own personal and professional purposes, I mostly use a combination of Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Drive (Docs & Spreadsheets). I guess you could say I’m a bit of a Google baby. But then I’ve also seen other folks find great success with Asana, Evernote and Trello, among others. So I encourage you to find the tools that work the best for you and with you, especially any you’re already using or can easily integrate into your current work routine.

Make sure whatever system you do choose has the ability to describe the Action Item and assign the category, or department, or higher goals of your business that it pertains to. Use the SMART method to make sure every task you set is Specific, Measurable, Active, Realistic and Timed. Then be sure each Action Item has room to indicate its deadline, and any notes or status updates on your progress towards achieving it. You’ll want the tools you use to be really accessible and convenient to use, so you remember to check in with it regularly and keep your tasks top-of-mind. Try using something you can keep open on your desktop or browser throughout the workday, or lying on your physical desk in front of you – wherever will be the most obvious and eye-catching for all-day motivation. The key here is to lay out all of your business goals into an actionable and measurable roadmap of realistic milestones that will help you stay on track.

Then lastly, you’ll want to incorporate into your routine any other means of motivation and accountability you can, so you don’t let yourself falter in a moment of weakness or laziness and give up on your dream! This could be written reminders around your home or office, or alarms set on your phone, or a mantra you say to yourself before you go to bed each night (or wake up each morning). But don’t forget to reach beyond what you can create for yourself, and enlist the help of a strong support network. Join groups or communities in your field, attend local meet ups, and align with colleagues to help keep each other on track. Find your closest, most trusted friends and tell them your goals or share your To Do list. Make yourself socially accountable as well, and I promise it will only help you stay even more committed to your plan.

So how about it? Are you ready to put your Plan into Action?

If you’ve already been through my book, The Productive Artist’s Business Plan, and have your complete business plan – then comment below and tell me how you are going to implement your plan and turn it into reality! Or if you’ve already made it happen, then tell me what you did to achieve that and how you kept yourself motivated to take Action.

And if you haven’t yet built your own Productive Artist plan – then get yourself over to Amazon now and get your copy of my new book, The Productive Artist’s Business Plan, and I will help you get to building! And remember to subscribe to my email list and YouTube Channel to join me on the journey to a more productively artistic you.

Find Your Gateway Action

Are you having trouble getting out of analysis paralysis and into taking action?

If you’re having trouble motivating, The Productive Artist says “don’t force it!”

It may not make sense or be that effective to simply try to force yourself to do something. You’ve got to want to do it or you’ll never get it done well. And what’s the point in doing something if you won’t do it well?

So it’s a two-step process.

The first step is about remembering why you want to do it, not just forcing yourself to want to do it. If you can remember why you want to get this particular task done, you’ll be much more likely to want to do it. I realize the task in front of you may itself be something you aren’t that excited to do – maybe it’s balancing your account, or sending out an email blast, or updating your blog (smiley face). But even if so, I’m willing to bet that task on your To Do list because it helps you further your business and art in some measurable way – it could help you see how much your business is making, or how it’s tracking financially, or it could help move your marketing forward and get your art in front of more potential customers – whatever the greater benefit may be, the important thing is to recognize what that is.

So take a look at those dreaded tasks of yours for a minute. They are on your list for a reason. So what is that reason? Why do you want to do them? How will they benefit you or help move you towards your larger goals by getting them done?

The second step is to give yourself the energy to do it. Once you know why you want to complete this task, and how it serves your bigger goals or enables you to keep doing what you love – then you just need to get your engine fired up and your gears shifted into action mode.

To do this, I recommend using something I like to call your Gateway Action.

This just means doing something else, something easier that you actually like doing or will do, to get you moving and energized. Then you can take advantage of that energy to launch into the task you need to do.

It could be a quick exercise. I myself like to drop down and do a quick 10 pushups when I need that fresh boost of energy. Others I know will run in place, do jumping jacks, or turn on some fun music and dance around the room for a bit. Whatever you want that can get your heart-rate up and give you the momentum and motivation to keep going into your less-liked tasks.

Another great idea for a Gateway Action is to go back to your To Do list, pick the easiest thing on the list, and do that first. It’s a quick win that can give you an immediate good feeling of being productive that you can then channel into the other harder tasks. So maybe you start by sending that quick email, or unloading the dishwasher, or taking out the trash. It can really be as simple as that. And once you’ve done it, see if you feel energized to start tackling the bigger fish. If not, pick the next easiest item on your list and do that one – and so on and so forth.

Eventually, I promise you will start to feel more energized and that warm, fuzzy productive feeling will help you keep moving on to the tougher tasks. Taking action will help you gain momentum. It really can be as simple as that. And remember, the best creative ideas are useless without action.

So get up, get your body moving, knock out some easier tasks, and then use that Gateway Action as a launching pad to get those pesky paralyzing tasks done once and for all!

You can do it!

Then comment below and tell me what Gateway Action you’ve discovered that works for you! And remember to subscribe to my email list.

Freedom from Chaos

“Freedom is just Chaos, with better lighting.” –Alan Dean Foster

Happy Independence Day! (And if you’re not American, then just Happy 4th of July!)

Today is about finding independence from what threatens to restrict and constrict you. For Americans in 1776, that meant freedom from the rule of Great Britain. But for most of us today, that could mean a great many other things that threaten to inhibit our expression and livelihood.

In my opinion, one of the greatest and most common of obstacles – particularly for creative minds who value freedom of expression very highly – is the chaos that often comes with life’s creative process. When creative chaos hits, it’s easy to lose focus on your end goal. It’s easy to feel intimidated by the expectations and successes of others around you, combined with your own internal critic. And it’s easy to lose momentum and hope of completing your creative endeavors, whatever they may be.

But on this Day of Independence, I want you all to remember where you come from – or at least where your good friends in America come from – and take this as a call to action!

Today, fight back against the chaos that threatens to reign over you. You are in control, you set the rules, and you do have the power to set yourself free!

Just as the Declaration of Independence dictated the new framework for Americans in 1776, so you can write out your plan for taking back control of your own situation today. Get a game plan downset realistic goals and milestones for what you most want to achieve, and how you define success – and then never let anyone or anything hold you back from achieving those!

I want to help you get there, but I can only give you pointers and offer possible directions. It’s up to you to choose the path that’s right for you, and then actually walk that path. I’m on the same journey for myself. So let’s do it together, and share with each other what we learn along the way.

Remember, your chaos (whatever that may be, Great Britain or otherwise) doesn’t have to hold you back, and it doesn’t have to be an enemy. If you can rule it, instead of letting it rule you, you can channel all its power and energy into something truly creative, productive… and uniquely you!

  

So now tell me, how do you intend to take your Independence into your own hands today?

The Write Time

“Chaos is the score upon which reality is written.” -Henry Miller

It’s easy to get weighed down with all the hustle and bustle of work and daily to do lists. But it’s also important to remember to take out time for yourself and your self expression.

This year, I want to put extra focus on developing my voice as a writer and creator. So I decided to make good use of my Google Calendar as a time management tool (which it’s been extremely useful for) and schedule myself some specific time to spend on all this.

I’ve begun blocking off a few hours each week as a recurring event in my Google Calendar for what I call “Write Time”. I then use that time to blog here on The Productive Artist, as well as flex my writing muscles for my personal writing, developing new story ideas, writing poetry, or just scribbling in my journal. And even if the placement of that time shifts around within its week, I never let myself skip or delete my regular “Write Time”.

So if you’re like me and need an extra reminder to take time for yourself, or want to set aside some special time for something specific, I highly encourage you to use your own calendar (be it through Google or any other system) to set aside time to do the things you want to do, not just the things you have to do.

Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Comment below and tell me what kind of recurring time you want to set aside for yourself, and how you plan to use your Calendar to do it!

And don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter!

How To Identify Your Goals

I recently walked you through my 11 Productivity Tactics for reaching your business and personal goals. But what I didn’t tell you is how to actually identify what those goals are. This is by far the most important FIRST step you will need to take if you want to see any project or goal to fruition.

Your goals should be very personal to you, so I’m not going to try and tell you what they should be. But I can tell you how I went about deciding on my own goals for the year.

The key is to keep it simple and specific.

Start with one category or area of your life at a time, such as a project at work, or an important relationship, or your health. If you’re only setting goals around your work at the moment, then try to focus on the areas or projects that demand your focus and need productive action the most. You can’t make a goal for every single one  – you’d never get them all done!

So simplify and specify.

What aspects of your work and life need the most attention? It’s important to understand the process of sacrificing your “good” ideas for the truly great or worthwhile ones. And the same goes with your goal setting. For me, I decided to focus this year’s goals on (a) launching this Productive Artist business, specifically my consulting services and first eBook, as well as (b) expanding my filmmaking business with our slate of productions for the year. This is my simplified list of the specific categories and work projects that most need my focus this year, and will help me achieve significant professional and personal growth.

Once you have identified the categories within which to focus, then take a few minutes with each one and describe what you want to see happen in a year for that aspect of your life. What would a successful outcome be that you could reasonable reach in a year’s time? You can describe it however you like – in prose or poetry, as a list, or a drawing – however will resonate with you the strongest.

Personally, I am an avid list-maker. So I made a list. I took each project, and listed out the successful outcome I’d like to reach in each this year. Limit yourself to only 1-2 goals for each category or project, to prevent your overall list from becoming overwhelmingly long. And again, remember to be specific and actionable.

Describe the “what” and the “how”.

Once you write down what your 1-2 ideal outcomes for each focus category are, make sure you specify how you can go about achieving those. Or rather, what is your ONE ideal outcome in that category, and what are 1-2 ways or steps you could take to make that a reality? If you describe what you’d like to see happen in that category in a year’s time, then your actionable goal will then simply be how you plan to get yourself there.

For example, one of my categories is to take my consultancy services to the next level, by securing more clients that I can help and make more income in return. To that end, I’ve decided I can achieve those results by (1) better marketing my services and skills (with the help of testimonials from past clients) and (2) designing one-to-many solutions (such as workshops) for my material to help more Artists at a time. Thus these have become some of my goals for the year, and I’ve made them actionable which has enabled me to begin making solid movement towards them.

Now you do the same! After you’ve done the above, you should end up your own actionable list (or note or drawing) of specific outcomes you can achieve this year in your work and life. If you end up with too many of them, or they are still too vague and broad, go back and go through them again.

Remember to simplify! Keep them as specific and actionable as possible, and you will be better setting yourself up for success. If you prefer an acronym, keep them SMART: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic & Timely. However you remember, the bottom line is that the more specifically you nail down the “what” you want, the more easily the “how” will come with it.

Beyond that, the next step is to assign priorities and deadlines to your goals and start taking action… but that’s getting more into the weeds on the “how” to start achieving those goals. That’s your next assignment. But at least for now, if you’ve done the above, you can proudly say you’ve identified “what” your goals are – and that’s a very significant and rewarding thing itself!

So happy Goal Setting, and feel free to ask me any questions or leave any comments you like below. I’m always here and always happy to help you simplify and specify.

And don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter!

Productivity Tactic #6: Outsource

Alright (creative) people. So now you’ve got that list of your resolutions, broken down into bite-size steps, and organized in a nice spreadsheet (or other system) based on priority and the deadlines you’ve set for yourself, right? And now you’ve also realized how you can take full advantage of the time you have by not justifying busy work and procrastination.

But the problem remains that even if you maintain maximum productivity at all times (and let’s be honest, none of us can do that), you’ll probably still have more to do than time to do it.

So I’ve got another super top secret tip for you: Outsource!

Look at your list of steps towards each resolution, and ask yourself if any of those can be automated or done by someone else?

It’s important to remember that you don’t have to do everything yourself to make sure it gets done, or done well. The key to being a good manager (of your time or anything else) is the ability to delegate.

Even when it comes to your personal list of goals and to do’s, there is nothing wrong with seeking additional resources to help you achieve them. In fact, handing over that task to someone (or something) else may even get it done faster and better than you could have on your own.

So don’t be afraid to ask for help. Remember, the key to having more time is doing less.

Personally, I recommend doing this in either (or both) of two ways:

1. Empower others to make decisions for you and for your goals, which eliminates you as a bottleneck and helps the task get done faster. You may even find this allows problems and tasks to resolve themselves (or disappear altogether).

Here’s an example: One of my resolutions is to consolidate my finances and investments under one easily-managed roof – emphasis on easily-managed. So part of this is finding an investment advisor that I can trust and empower to help decide what my portfolio should look like. After several meetings with Chase Investment Services, and making the initial decisions with their help to get setup, I feel confident I can sit back and trust them with a lot of the ongoing monitoring and managing of my account.

2. Maintain control of your decision-making, but hire a virtual assistant or other service to help you execute (human or machine).

If you hire a human helper, there are a great many companies that specialize in offering virtual assistance for your every personal and business-related need. I recommend checking out Your Man In India, Elance, or Brickwork India for efficient and affordable help from the other side of the world. Sure you can hire an assistant right here in your own time zone, but the benefit of an assistant from India is that they work while you’re sleeping! So you can give them a task, then go to bed, and in the morning they’ll have it waiting for you in your inbox. You can’t beat that!

Of course you don’t have to turn to human assistance to get the job done. Depending on the task you need help with, there are a great many tools and software designed especially for taking the burden off your shoulders and doing the work for you. Some of my favorites for, say, managing your finances are QuickBooks Online (which I now use for my business finances) and the super-simple Mint.com (which evolved from Quicken Online, and I use for my personal finances). Both of these will automatically update and aggregate your financial and bank information, saving you the manual trouble.

Now I can understand the hesitation to ask for help, and I know it’s hard to let someone else do something for you. But remember you can still maintain as much of the control and final decision making as you want. And if you delegate well, it can save you mountains of time and stress.

So get out there and start outsourcing!

You’ll thank me later.

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Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Comment below and tell us about one thing you can outsource to improve your own workflow and sanity.

Productivity Tactic #5: Don’t Justify

OK, so now you’re on the right path. You’ve got your simplified list of resolutions that you’ve broken down into bite-size steps. And you’ve begun tackling that list based on the priorities and deadlines you’ve set for yourself. Bravo!

Now comes the hard part – sticking to your plan.

Because no matter how motivated you were at the beginning, that initial excitement will fade and you may start to feel overwhelmed or uncertain that anything you’re doing is making any difference. So it’s important to continue checking back in on your progress and your path as you go along.

And as you do, I urge you to be mindful of one very tempting trap: Don’t Justify Your Time!

I know it’s easy to start feeling overwhelmed and stressed out as the day-to-day minutiae builds up and takes over. So the best way I’ve found to keep myself in check is to stop, take a beat, and ask myself:

  • Am I being productive or just active?
  • Am I adding more work for myself just to feel busy?
  • Am I inventing things to do just to avoid the important?

Sometimes the things we least want to do are the things that most need to get done. But they can feel a bit daunting to take on. So it’s perfectly normal to find yourself filling your time with other menial tasks so that you can argue (to yourself of course) that you don’t have time to take on those bigger, more important ones.

But just because it’s normal, doesn’t make it healthy or productive.

So it’s important to stay self-aware and catch yourself when you get into that place. Because as good as it feels to keep putting off the big scary stuff, I promise it will feel even better to actually get those big scary things done and off your list.

So if you do find yourself facing this challenge, maybe this mantra will help:

“The sooner I do it, the sooner I don’t have to do it!”

So go out there and take procrastination head on.

And remember: Don’t justify.

Identify the hesitancy, falsify your justifications, and then vivify – just go for it!

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Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Comment below and tell us one big scary To Do you are going to stop avoiding and tackle today!

Productivity Tactic #4: Set Deadlines

“The ultimate inspiration is the deadline” -Nolan Bushnell

The next key step I advise to productively tackle any goal or resolution is to set proper deadlines for yourself – emphasis on the “for yourself” part there. The most important thing is that you are the manager of your own time and the maker of your own expectations.

So give yourself a time frame to accomplish the steps towards each of your goals, which you’ve begun laying out with Tactic #3: Thing Big, Act Small. Each step will need its own deadline, as well as a higher level time frame for the bigger resolution. Both are important, and juggling them can be challenging. That’s why I’ve developed My 2012 Resolutions Google Doc, where I list out each step I’ve tasked myself with, which resolution it helps achieve, and when I will aim to get it done by.

Remember, I’ve also made this system into a Google Docs Template, so you can try it out as well and see if it will help you on your journey.

Now the key with deadline setting is to be realistic, but not afraid to push yourself. While it’s good to recognize that a particular step will be impossible to achieve in say, just 1 day, I also urge you to remember a certain rule of thumb I’ve come to appreciate, which I discovered with the help of Tim Ferriss. It’s called Parkinson’s Law. It essentially says that any task will take as much time as you allot it to get done. So whether you give yourself two weeks or two days to complete a task, it will probably take you that long.

To illustrate this point, think back to a survey you’ve sent out to your friends in the past, perhaps one meant to help schedule a fun outing. You might have noticed how everyone seemed to fill out the survey either instantly after you sent it out or right before its expiration. The lesson is it’s always easier to do something the fresher the reminder, whether that’s right when you start to do something or right when you’re supposed to have finished it.

So do yourself a favor and set deadlines as ambitious as you can reasonably manage, and then hold yourself to those! No one ever accomplished anything extraordinary by taking the easy road.

Plus, you should already have a manageable list of goals with actionable steps to take towards each that you’ve prioritized nicely.

Now just add those deadlines, and you just might surprise yourself with how much you can achieve and how quickly you can achieve it!

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Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Comment below and tell us one of your Artist goals this year & what deadline you are setting for yourself to get it done!

Productivity Tactic #3: Think Big, Act Small

OK so now you’ve got your nice and concise list of prioritized goals for 2012. Now what?

Any one of your goals can seem like a huge undertaking, let alone the whole list of them, and it can feel a bit daunting to figure out how to start tackling them.

That’s why it’s so important to be able to Think Big, but Act Small. Keeping the end goal in mind is always a good practice, but don’t let that distract you from the smaller steps you’ll need to take to get there.

Take each goal and break it up into smaller bite-size steps. Try to quantify each step with a minimum amount of progress you want to reach, such as “run 3 miles this week” or “put away 10 stray items” – instead of with a time limit. This will save you a great deal of stress and better motivate you to get them done sooner with a greater sense of reward once you do.

As you identify these steps, map them out in the order you’ll need to do them, as well as their priority, in whatever form is easiest for you (i.e. list, a spreadsheet, a timeline, a flow-chart, even picture art), as long as it’s something you can keep around and easily refer back to throughout the process.

As I mentioned in my last post on prioritizing, I am personally a big fan of Google spreadsheets. So I keep my smaller steps laid out on one of those, with columns to indicate their priority, action item, progress and due date. This system worked for me last year, so I’ve created a Google Docs Template of my spreadsheet for you to try it out too. Just keep in mind that it may not be the best method for you, depending on what kind of system you are looking for and feel comfortable with.

The important thing is to try different things out until you do figure out what system works best with how you already naturally get tasks done. Do you like having a handwritten to-do list in a notebook you carry with you, or would you rather organize your to-do’s in your email inbox? Or perhaps you’d find it most useful to schedule blocks of time on your calendar for when you plan to work on each task?

Whatever the case, find what works for you and make it your own – so it won’t be hard to keep up the habit as you continue to tackle your Chaos!

The other important thing to remember is to take them one at a time. As I said in my last post, multitasking is a myth. Don’t get distracted trying to juggle multiple tasks at one time. You can have several in progress at once, but don’t try to focus your attention on more than one at any given moment, or you’ll end up taking even longer to get each done.

On the same note, you also don’t have to start tackling all 10 (or however many you have) goals all at once. You have the whole year to reach your goals, so don’t rush it. Start with your top 3 goals (based on the priority you set in Resolution Tactic #2) and then add a fourth after 3 weeks if you can handle it.

Here’s a tip: Assign yourself NO MORE than 2 critical to-do’s each day that move towards your goals, and make sure you do them! If you need help choosing, ask yourself:

If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be satisfied with my day?

So good luck to you and get to stepping!

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Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Add a comment below to tell me one of your Artist goals this year, and how you can break it down into bite-size, actionable steps!

Productivity Tactic #2: Prioritize

Ok now for the second step I recommend for achieving greater productivity with your goals, be them New Years resolutions or any other kind:

Prioritize!

Unless you assign your goals a relative order of importance, you will end up trying to tackle all of your creative chaos at once, which will only overwhelm you and slow you down. Having a handle on your priorities is essential, especially to help you get back on track when you do find yourself getting a bit overwhelmed.

There are different methods for prioritization, but these are 2 of my favorites which I personally employ. Give them a try and see if they work for you too.

1. The P-System

The first and most obvious step to prioritizing your goals is to list them all out in the order of your chosen importance, 1 through 10 (or however many you have).

But what about beyond that? You’ll need to balance all the smaller steps you take towards reaching each goal. But how do you manage the priorities of all those?

I do it with something I call the P-system. It consists of 3 very simple values:

  • P0 – means it needs to be done in the next few hours 0r by end of day
  • P1 – means it needs to be done within a week or two
  • P2 – means it can get done whenever, low-priority

You’ll notice that all these values are based on deadlines, and how fast each needs to be accomplished. That’s the key to making sure you continue making progress – staying action-oriented in your priorities.

Then as you develop the game plan for each goal or resolution, and decide on each step you’ll need to take, assign it one of these priority values. I maintain all of my ongoing tasks in a spreadsheet with the P-value as one of the columns, so I can easily sort the list and keep my priorities in mind.

Remember – multitasking is a myth and can actually be quite disorienting and distracting. But if you prioritize properly, there is no need to multitask.

2. The Lists of Fives

Besides keeping all your tasks in a nicely laid out list, it can help to make other kinds of lists – especially if you are still a little fuzzy on what your priorities actually are and what’s most important to you.

Not everyone loves making lists, while others are way too obsessed with it. But if you do find yourself prone to this habit, this can definitely work in your favor.

Try this exercise – open a blank word or Google doc, and write the following headings:

  • 5 Moments in My Life When I Felt Most Live
  • 5 Things Those Moments Say About Me
  • 5 Things I Love To Do
  • 5 Things I Don’t Enjoy
  • 5 Things I’m Really Good At
  • 5 Things I’m Honestly Not Good At
  • 5 Things I Enjoy About My Work
  • 5 Things I Want to Add to My Work
  • 5 Things I Could Do Without at Work
  • 5 Things I Appreciate About My Life
  • 5 Things I Want to Add to My Life
  • 5 Things I Can Do Without in My Life
  • 5 Things I Must Have in My Life (ideals or values I want my life to stand for)

Then number 1-5 below each and try to fill them out for each heading. It can be tough, but try tackling the easier ones first and they’ll help you get your head into the space where you can answer the harder ones. It may take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours to answer all these – you can even take a few days if you need to feel satisfied with your answers. And in the end, you’ll have the final answer vital to keep your priorities on track: 5 “Must Haves” for your life.

Because besides setting priorities based on how quickly things need to get done, it’s also important to base them on how important they are to you and the kind of a life and business you want to build for yourself.

So get to it and Happy Prioritizing!

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Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Add a comment below and tell me about your Artist goals this year, and how you plan to prioritize them!