Like most creatives, I love new and shiny ideas.
I love the writing, the making, the conversations with my clients. I get energy from collaborations, from delivering workshops, launching and testing new ideas. And I enjoy nothing better than going down the rabbit hole on research, and learning something new.
Here’s the stuff I don’t love, the stuff that drains me. Updating my accounts. Chasing invoices. Paying bills. Answering emails. Filling in insurance forms. Reading contracts. Organising the back end of my website. The final detail work of writing, like copy-editing and proof-reading.
These are the jobs we often avoid or resent. The dull, everyday maintenance tasks we expect everyone else to do in an efficient and timely way (especially if they provide us with any kind of service), but which we secretly feel we should be exempt from.
Because, you know, we’re creative. We perform, we entertain, we make stuff for a living. We don’t do sales and admin.
This is also why so many creative businesses fail.
And like it or not, if you’re self-employed or you’re working on self-directed projects alongside your day job, you are running a business.
It might be a quirky business that you run with heart, soul and integrity. And I hope you build it around the art you make and the lifestyle you want, rather than struggling to fit a life into the gaps around work.
But seeing it as a business is crucial if you want to earn a living from what you do. And when you’re doing the difficult work of creating and making, you deserve that.
The whole starving artist stereotype is way over-rated. I’d rather see an artist with so much abundance that she has the time and resources to make whatever work she wants to make, to say no when her instincts tell her to, and to be generous in her support for other creatives, or for causes she believes in. And that kind of success requires.. maintenance.
So what is maintenance?
It’s your marketing, your social media. Your invoicing, your tax returns and all the other tedious financial stuff so many of us prefer to avoid.
It’s answering email, filing paperwork, capturing notes and ideas so you can find them when you need or are ready to use them. Updating your software, backing up your computer and making sure your tools are in good shape.
And it’s very rarely exciting. Which of course is why we avoid it.
Is there a cure for that?
Absolutely. Painless maintenance begins with good habits and routines.
Start by getting realistic about what you need, for you to be happy and for your business to thrive and grow. List the things you need to do every day, every week, every month, every quarter, and finally every year.
Then estimate how much time how long each task will take, and block out time on your calendar.
When I first did this, I understood why I never seemed to get on top of my to-do list, and always seemed to be running behind. I had far more daily and weekly maintenance tasks than I had waking hours.
So I worked on changing that.
I got help wherever possible. I now have a tech person on retainer to deal with the back end of my website, and a Virtual Assistant helping with other tech tasks I struggle with. Both have enabled me to earn more, and to do more things I enjoy rather than endlessly procrastinating and fiddling with tech taks I’m not good at.
I automated everything I could, and found software that could handle my bookings and appointments, set up Zoom meetings, take payments and send out reminders to clients.
Then I created systems to help.
I made checklists for regular tasks, tweaking and improving them every time I used them until I could get the job done quickly and efficiently and pretty much on autopilot. And I batched tedious tasks together where possible, so I could get them all done in one go.
Instead of posting on social media channels every day, I now create and schedule content once a month. Then I take just 15 minutes a day to reply to comments and add or react to anything new. And I use a timer to make sure I’m not still there, scrolling pointlessly, an hour later.
All of my financial stuff gets dealt with in an hour-long burst, every two weeks. I update my accounts, create and chase invoices, pay bills, renew insurances, and have it all so streamlined now that I never have to think about money stuff in between these sessions.
Everything is easier with a system.
If you’ve never had systems for anything, start with the gnarliest task first. The one you avoid most. The one that takes up the most bandwidth, or causes you most problems. Or that would just make everything else feel easier, or run more smoothly.
Set aside some uninterrupted time to get on top of it. If it can’t be done in one go, schedule in regular time until it’s sorted. Then create systems to handle it more efficiently in future.
Some questions to ask:
- Do you need to do this at all? Sometimes you’re doing something because you’ve always done it or because everyone else seems to be doing it. But if it’s not giving you the results you want, drop it completely, or find another way.
- Can you delegate it to anyone else? Whether it’s an assistant, a bookkeeper, a tech VA, there might be someone who can bring ease and expertise to jobs you hate.
- Is there information it would be helpful to gather in one place, as it comes in? (Paperwork, information you need every time, ideas, passwords…)
- Do you need better tools or software?
- Can any aspects of the task be automated?
- How can you be more organised?
- Can similar tasks be batched together and despatched in one go, instead of scattered through your day?
- Can you create templates for emails, contracts, newsletters, social posts? Or a FAQ or quick video answering questions you get asked over and over?
- How else can you simplify it or streamline it?
- How can it be more fun? If you can’t think of anything at all, schedule a treat when the job is done. I always have coffee or lunch with a friend after updating my accounts, for instance. It means I look forward to to my bi-weekly financial sessions, rather than dreading them.
Take it slowly, step by step
If you’ve been chaotic on this for a long while, you’re not going to become streamlined and efficient overnight.
I have a long, long list of small improvements I could do, but which aren’t urgent. Once a month or so, I’ll clear an 2-3 hours to implement a few of these almost imperceptible tweaks and changes.
The rest of the time, I can focus on the work I’m actually good at. Like coaching. Writing. Thinking of new ideas. That’s the real joy of regular maintenance. It keeps everything running smoothly, and frees you up to do more of the work you love.