Structure your day, free your mind

Image: Time Gate by Arne Quinze and Formavision

As a business coach for creative professionals, I specialize in working with people who are in a place of transition. Some are making the leap from corporate to independent business owners, while others are ready to do whatever it takes to grow their existing business and position themselves more effectively to higher-quality, better-paying clients.  

I’ve come to believe that a successful creative business is a blend of (a) great product or service (b) good strategy (c) hard work, and (d) a willingness to be out of our comfort zone more often than not. Hey, if it were easy, everyone would do it, right?

But the creative business is a unique and sensitive animal. If it’s all about strategy and objectives, we lose the creative magic and if it’s all about creativity, nothing gets done.  So, how can we find and maintain balance?

After working with creative professionals for 15 years, being a business owner for eight, and benefiting from the wisdom of mentors and coaches, I’ve come to the conclusion that it comes down to one thing:

Creating a solid structure, within which there is a lot of freedom

If you’re in that place of transition and don’t know how to balance structure and freedom, I’d like to share some strategies that have worked for me:

1) Know what you want from your business

If we don’t know where we want to go, we can’t create a plan to get there.  Set aside some uninterrupted time to really think about what you want from your business. When we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is sometimes very different from what we think we want (you can read more about my own business revelation here)

For example:

  • Are you starting a business and want to build a roster of ideal clients?
  • Are you happy with your business and clients, but would like a few more?
  • Do you want to build a business that is flexible enough to work around your family’s schedule?
  • Do you want to be known as a thought leader in your industry?

Now you know what you want, you can figure out what steps you need to take to get there.

2) Write down everything you will need to do to achieve your goal

Doing a brain dump is a great way to get all of your ideas out of your head and into one place. I love the mind map method. It’s simple, effective, and perfect for visual types. Here’s how you do it:

Take a piece of paper and put your main topic, e.g. your business name, at the center.  As thoughts come to mind, draw branches from the main topic and write down that thought or objective (use as few words as possible).  You can create sub-branches for additional thoughts or action steps.

I use Coggle to create my mind map and it looks something like this


3) Prioritize and calendarize (I know it’s not a word, but it should be!)

Take your mind map and number your goals by priority. Start with number one, let’s use Networking as the example, and list action steps you need to take. They might be:

(a)    Research BNI and visit one chapter this month

(b)    Become a member of Freelancer’s Union and attend one event this month

(c)    Research local AIGA chapter

Now enter those action steps into your calendar. Once it’s in the calendar it moves from a guilt-inducing “should” to practically a done deal.  Without it hanging over your head, you’re free to do something else.

4) Bundle your to-do’s

Have you ever ended your day feeling exhausted and frustrated because you ran around like a headless chicken, without much to show for it? I have, and it sucks.

Now I bundle similar tasks together and take care of them in one sitting. I take care of bookkeeping and general admin on Friday.  Monday is dedicated to content development and marketing.  I cluster my coaching sessions on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday so that I can stay in the zone and be as present as I can. Clustering your efforts also helps you balance “doing” and “creating”.

5) Work with your natural rhythms

It’s no coincidence that my writing/content work is slated for Monday when I’m fresh and my boring admin is on Friday when I’m spent. I go for an early morning run on one of my coaching days, knowing that I will benefit the most from the boost in energy and clear-headedness.

My morning run in Central Park:

6) Make time to play and create

Do you deny yourself downtime because you feel guilty if you’re not being “productive?” I know I do. And while we may think of it as a noble trait, it’s really not.  The fact is, we need time to dream, play and create. It’s what gives us the magic, inspiration, and energy we need to do all of the above steps.  Downtime should be as much of a priority as everything else. So put THAT in your calendar and stick to it!


I’ll be teaching my How to Get More Dream Clients workshop at three fabulous WeWork locations. Why not join me, check out the gorgeous spaces, and meet some fabulous fellow entrepreneurs?

Do you want more clients, but hate selling yourself? Check out the Freelancer’s Union blog for my tried and tested techniques. They work and I promise you’ll still love yourself in the morning!


One thought on “Structure your day, free your mind

  1. Another great post, Justine, jam-packed with actionable ideas! I stumble along, doing a bit of this intuitively, but really admire the way you achieve such clarity. Thank you, as always, for the inspiration! xo

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