This fall, as I mapped out the coming months in terms of exhibitions, grant applications, work projects, writing projects, and social media campaigns (or general PR), I found that working just on my computer was hopeless. I needed to SEE what had to get done. One of my favorite tools is the huge post-it notes you can get at any office supply store.

Maryann McGeorge, a former VP at Ralph Lauren and now consultant whose expertise is in business systems, taught me how to do a brain dump, where you list everything that you need to do to get a project completed, divide that into doable units, ascribe each of those units to who needs to get it done . (Yes, that is usually me, but can also be my carpenter, photographer, graphic designer, IT person, framer, or dealer.) And then put a deadline on each item.  As a fairly severely right brained person, being handed these steps was a godsend. Years ago, when I visited Maryann in her old office in the tower of the Woolworth Building in New York, there was not a piece of paper on her desk. She is someone who can open all the outlet stores for Ralph Lauren in Japan without using a piece of paper. As much as I aspire to that level of organization and understanding of where I have hid my files in my computer, that is not possible for me.

I need to get physical.

I started with the list of everything that I needed to get done this fall. Divided that into categories, grants, projects, etc. Then, I removed the list and started over again. The picture above is what the wall looked like once I redid my lists for grants. I gathered together all my grant materials, marked their deadlines and requirements and then set about organizing each of the parts. Any of you who have done this, know how involved it can get. Artist statements, proposals, resumes of different lengths, bios, work samples – each grant requiring a different size jpg and different way of labeling them, recommendations. All of these materials needed to be updated. The process took about a month.

Even with the work samples, I found it helpful to print them out and pin them to the board.  That way, it was easier to see if some piece didn’t fit the purpose of the grant. It also made it easier to show others, who could give me feed back on the selection.

All of the work I am listing here are things that artists dread doing. Making it physical, marking things with colored markers, moving pieces around, better imitated what I do when I work. It gave me a feeling of command over the material. It was more like making art and less like prepping for an evaluation. It helped me find and hone the message of the grant and make all the supporting materials support it.

Artists experience the world differently than others. The more we can approach those aspects of our career that strike terror in us, in ways consistent with our unique way of working, the better.