Part 1 of this article can be found here.
So, how do you support all the various business & production procedures you use to keep your small businesses, including your publishing business, alive? Seems doable at the moment, maybe, but what happens if you're out of commission for a while — sick, perhaps, or dealing with an emergency, or otherwise diverted from your normal processes. Let's pretend you can't think as clearly as usual, or can't give your business all your attention… maybe for months or longer.
Think your backups are current? Think you can restore your computer environment from scratch without a few notes? Maybe you have a service taking care of some of that, but do they cover everything?
Think you're going to remember the whole series of intricate procedures you learned as you became an indie, the ones you take to start a newsletter campaign, publish a new book, track all the bookkeeping details? All those miserable little steps, all those integrated bits of automation, just waiting to go out of synch?
There are things you can do to help you insure against complete misery relearning how everything works, when you're not really up to recreating complicated things.
But you need to actually take some organized and methodical steps to get there.
I write in the SFF genre, so naturally I'm familiar with the issues of “worldbuilding”. It's a commonplace to have to keep track of all the ways that your fictional world differs from quotidian reality. Flora/fauna/star systems — all are potentially different, with potentially important specializations. The social systems, the land masses, even the protagonists may be like nothing on Earth.
If you invent fictional worlds you have to keep track of them, both for rational planning and for emergency detail lookups when you stumble across something where you can't remember how you set it up your created world.
Now, go and do the same for your real world. Think about the environment and systems of your businesses and projects as their own worlds. If you don't record how they work, and leave time for contemplating them rationally, things begin to fall apart. If there's a major disruption (illness, new child, dead computers, emergencies), you can all too easily find yourself in a panic trying to plug the holes in the dike. We don't typically have staff to lean on to keep the continuity going.
Clearing your head for creative work
It's not just your business projects that need long-term support, reference, triggers, etc. All your projects do, from bookkeeping to vacation planning to home improvements to errands. If you're the sort of person who writes reminders for himself and tries to get work done under a snow of miscellaneous slips of paper, you know how this interrupts your ability to concentrate on any one thing.
You wake up in the morning with the thought that you have to do X today, and then forget what X was before the first caffeine hits your system.
You're in the middle of some creative work, when the uneasy glance at the scraps of paper alongside your computer reminds you that there are these very urgent things you need to be doing and…poof… the creative flow is lost.
It's bad enough suffering general-purpose stress in the form of fragile information flow and project management. But when it keeps you from working creatively, it's a problem even if your health is perfect.
The business world refers to this type of problem under several names: project management, time management, and (famously) “Getting Things Done (GTD)” which is a methodology created and taught by David Allen.
I won't describe GTD in any detail — there are tons of references and guides online.
GTD is a process which has to be paired with a tool. That tool is usually something like Evernote or OneNote, something that allows for “pages” containing text, images, etc., and a tagging system that can use the stages of the GTD process.
I've played with various project/time management systems before in my decades in the business world, and given up on them more than once. There are two basic points of friction that cause abandonment:
- Getting all (and I mean ALL) the various formal projects and informal reminders for active work, reference/how-to tips, household tasks, and “maybe someday” activities out of your folders, email, paper lists, and especially out of your head into the tool.
- Working the process to keep it alive. This means checking the “inbox” of raw reminders and sorting them into projects and actions more or less daily, and eyeballing all the “next action” tags (only one per project — when you complete an action you designate the next one from your list for that project) and “waiting for” tags as part of your daily reminders of current work, just as you check your email and ordinary calendar every day.
If you can do those two things, if you become serious about the process, then this methodology will keep everything in one place, making sure you don't lose things, and freeing you up for creative flow with much less stress. It can't buy you time, but it can save you stress and unnecessary confusion.
My own instantiation is via Microsoft OneNote (which comes automatically with MS Office). There is a learning curve for both the tool and the GTD process — this is a significant commitment. In fact, only now, with the anxieties I've experienced in the first part of this article do I think I am truly ready to commit to this (and I say that as a process and data nerd who is predisposed to such a system — your mileage may well vary.)
Here are a couple of pictures just to give you a flavor of an instantiation of a GTD methodology in OneNote. I've only just started the consolidation of all my various projects. When I'm done, I expect I will have about 20 Active Projects, about 40 Reference Projects (How-to/Tips), and about 30 Someday/Maybe Projects. I'll still keep fundamental working files (e.g., book manuscripts, bookkeeping spreadsheets) in various online directories, but all the procedural information will be here.
As an extra bonus, you can output OneNote pages as PDF files, so that I can do a periodic PDF backup to (regular and) thumbdrive devices — an invaluable assistance when I next try to rebuild my digital life and gear from naked backups and new computers.