Written by April Vomfell (Owner, Flathead Farmworks)
Several years ago when I was leaving a professional job and training a replacement, I realized how much I depend on templates and processes. My first thought was, I’m either really lazy or kind of brilliant. I just can’t stand doing the same tedious things over and over. So everywhere I go, I create systems.
Now I run my own business, Flathead Farmworks, which has evolved from a small urban farm to include more and more wedding design. And I’m still lazy – that is, I can’t stand doing the same tedious things over and over. So I rely on templates, forms, checklists and scheduling.
This may sound rigid and stifling, but a system doesn’t have to put you in a box. It can actually give you more time and space for creativity. The primary reason for creating a process is to free your brain from that little piece of work. Then you can use that stored mental energy to solve a design problem, create something entirely new or have a deep conversation.
Creating a system doesn’t have to be painful and it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It won’t fix everything, but it might make your days a little easier.
Before you begin, take some time to know yourself. What are the things that are hardest to get done or that take the most mental effort? Is it difficult to respond to emails promptly? Are you having trouble getting clients to answer all your questions so you can create a proposal? Do you miss small steps that you’d like to accomplish each time?
Here are my top four tips for creating a system that works for you:
If you find yourself creating something similar more than two or three times, consider a template. It can be as simple as saving the text of an email in an easily accessible spot, and using that as a starting point the next time you write a similar email.
I have templates for emails I send often, like my initial response to a wedding inquiry. To store my templates, I use cloud-based tools that I can access on my computer and my phone. Google Keep and Trello are two of my favorites. A simple text document also works well. Make sure you can search by keyword or organize your templates by topic.
Rather than looking online for templates, I suggest using your own words so it feels natural. That will make the template easier to use. With text stored in the cloud, you can revise it as your business or needs evolve.
Oh how I love forms. I’m a nerd, I know. But online forms where you can require answers, create checkboxes, and allow for uploads and links – I love all that. It saves so much time.
Forms go hand in hand with templates. If you find yourself asking the same questions, consider creating a form. Having everything in the same order and the same format every time will make it that much easier to create your proposals and contracts.
Most websites include a form tool. I use Squarespace and can easily build custom forms. I have a simple wedding and event contact form and then a longer follow-up questionnaire that lives on an unlinked page (meaning that I have to send out the link). That way I can screen inquiries and make sure I’m available before the client fills out the questionnaire.
I use checklists so I don’t miss any steps. I don’t use them all the time, but a checklist is indispensable for complex tasks or those that occur over a long time period. Checklists are a place to store all those little details so you can lose the mental clutter and focus on bigger things.
Breaking your checklist down into small pieces will make the list easier to use. Each item should take 30 minutes or less.
Trello is a great tool for checklists because you can use a list as a template and create copies, you can set due dates, and you can even share with others and assign tasks. I use checklists for weddings so I remember to review the details, finalize the budget, order supplies, check in with the client along the way, and schedule the delivery or pickup time.
- Schedule Your Time
If you try the first three tips and are still not satisfied, I highly recommend scheduling time to work on small tasks. I discovered years ago that the only way I could make progress – or feel like I was making progress – was to actually schedule my to-do items on my calendar.
If I have a wedding proposal to create, I make sure I have the completed questionnaire and then I block out a half hour or an hour on my calendar and I work on that one task. If I have emails piling up, I schedule an hour just to read and respond to emails. That way I’m not overwhelmed with a mountain of tasks and no idea where to begin.
Even when I’m working on a new process or updating a process, I schedule time for that. Blocking it out on the calendar helps me see the task as important and I find it easier to focus.
I also try to stay within the time allotted, unless I’m completely engrossed. So if I don’t finish, I’ll reschedule rather than spend half the day spinning my wheels.
My final words of advice: Don’t try this all at once! Do a little at a time, test it out to see if it works for you, and then build on that. Success with one small piece will motivate you to add more. And before you know it you’ll have a system that works for you – plus more mental space for creativity.
April Vomfell is a farmer florist in northwest Montana near Glacier National Park. In 2015 she and her husband founded Flathead Farmworks to provide fresh vegetables and herbs to local restaurants. Flowers have gradually become the focus of the business. A fourth generation cool climate gardener, April grows annuals, perennials and specialty cut flowers for wholesale, weddings and a summer flower CSA. April uses her professional background in publishing, libraries and marketing to guide and build her business. Since she first got glasses and a camera at the age of 9, she has been taking pictures of flowers and watching things grow.