5 Lists You Need for Your Art Career

I live by lists. They’re so beautiful on the page: one item after another after another.

Whether we process each item in the order in which it appears on the list or, more likely, get around to them someday in no particular sequence, lists help us create order in our hectic lives.

The most valuable thing about making lists is that it gets tasks, projects, and ideas out of our heads and into a place where we can find them again. At least that’s the idea.

With that in mind, here’s a list of 5 lists (yep, a list of lists) that are useful to artist-entrepreneurs.

©Marian Dioguardi, Time to Come Home. Oil on cradled panel, 30 x 20 inches. Used with permission.
©Marian Dioguardi, Time to Come Home. Oil on cradled panel, 30 x 20 inches. Used with permission.

1. Your To-Do List

This is the list that you’re probably most familiar with.

Your to-do list consists of urgent or near-future items that you must accomplish. It might look like this:

  • Pay bills.
  • Order framing supplies.
  • Write draft of newsletter.

If you’re disorganized, your lists are probably all over the place – likely on sticky notes covering your desktop or computer monitor. Not the best way to be productive.

If you’re organized, you have a single to-do list in a single place. You know where to find it and how to prioritize the items on it.

Next, you need a place to store the not-so-urgent things. This is …

2. Your Good Ideas List

The items on your good ideas list are not high priority, but … Dang! … They’d be really cool to work on.

This list might look like the following:

  • Write a book.
  • Teach a class overseas.
  • Get a residency.

These good ideas might become goals or remain good ideas forever. Heck, you may even find out that they’re not such good ideas after all.

Here’s how to know if your good idea should be turned into a goal: If …

  • You’re incredibly enthusiastic about it and can’t stop thinking about it.
  • You’ve done the math and it could be very lucrative.
  • The thought of someone else developing a similar idea makes you lose sleep.

Time doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not a good idea should become a goal because you will never have more time. If any or all of the above apply, you will find the time to make it happen.

3. Your Bucket List

You know this one, too. The bucket list is for things you want to experience before you pass from this earth.

  • Eat a decadent French dessert from a perfect view of the Eiffel Tower.
  • Witness the Northern Lights.
  • Camp out in New Mexico to experience Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field. (Now you know what’s on my list.)

Got this? Now here’s one you may not have considered …

©Christine Sauer, Marvels and Mysteries IX. Acrylic on canvas, 12 x 12 inches. Used with permission.
©Christine Sauer, Marvels and Mysteries IX. Acrylic on canvas, 12 x 12 inches. Used with permission.

4. Your Never-Do-This List

This list is about creating boundaries with others and with yourself. It consists of things you’ve probably experienced before and don’t ever want to experience again.

For instance:

  • Never work with people who are always bargaining with you.
  • Never submit to an outdoor art festival. (They’re not for everyone!)
  • Never allow the bookkeeping to pile up for six months.
  • Never let your mailing list grow cold.

Here are some of mine:

  • I never work with whiny people who make excuses. I can’t help them.
  • I never use the word “hate.” (I still struggle with this one. “Can’t stand” or “strongly dislike” don’t seem to have the same impact.)
  • I never say to anyone, anywhere: “I’m so busy.” It’s boring.
  • I never eat mushrooms because it’s unlikely I’ve suddenly developed a taste for them after all these decades. (Don’t judge me.)

Have fun with this list!

Finally, the fifth list shouldn’t be ignored.

5. Your Done List

See if this sounds familiar …

It’s the end of the day and you’re winding down. You start to outline your appointments and tasks for the next day, and it becomes clear that you didn’t accomplish all that you wanted to today.


©Cheryl Wilson, Red High Heel. Acrylic and spray on canvas, 14 x 11 inches. Used with permission.
©Cheryl Wilson, Red High Heel. Acrylic and spray on canvas, 14 x 11 inches. Used with permission.

Your to-do list is multiplying like rabbits! You see no end in sight.

Of course, there’s no end in sight to your to-do list unless your life is pretty uneventful. And I’m sure that’s not the case.

We need to get used to the fact that the to-do list continues to grow. One way to be okay with this is to acknowledge what you have accomplished. This is your done list.

The items on this list might be projects you crossed off of the to-do list or other responsibilities that popped up during the day.

Take time to enjoy the accomplishments of each day, no matter how small they seem.

Your Turn

Please share your thoughts and experiences with list-making in a comment below.

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59 thoughts on “5 Lists You Need for Your Art Career”

  1. Once I changed a To Do List with things like your “never do” #4. I called it the To Don’t List, so I’d get the obligation out of the way and never do it again.

  2. I love your three bullet points for how to judge whether an idea should be turned into a goal, Alyson! I’ll add them to MY favourite list – which is a list of workflows and checklists. I have checklists for blogging, newsletters, creating ebooks, project reviews…Anything I do regularly and can benefit by having the steps outlined so I don’t forget anything. I’m now want to expand this concept into looking before I leap into a new project (my achilles heel) so that’s where your questions will slot right in!

  3. Great ideas! I especially love the idea of a DONE list, it really makes you look at what you DID do. (It’s easy to focus instead on what you meant to do and didn’t)
    And I also lke turning “good ideas” ointo a list, I tend to just write them on scraps of paper which are easily lost, and don’t have them in a central place.

  4. I’m not sure if this would go under “Good Ideas” or “Bucket List” but I keep a list of “People I want to meet.” Also I try to think of my “To Do List” as an inbox for my calendar so that I can schedule a time and place to go with the task.

  5. I LOVE lists, but they are everywhere. I have picked a place for each of the kinds of lists. Your suggustion in the webinar about having a journal just for listing each days activities – with times and making 3 to 4 must dos- then assigning a time for them- is brilliant! I did it last night. I really thought about what needed to get done, gave it a time and figured out that the 45 minutes I had between getting kids to school and my appointment was enough to get step one of my art project done. I was right! I feel so good. Job 2 and 3 are coming later today between a meeting and picking up kids. Seems so simple, yet so effective. Now I am off to look on the web to find a web design I like while I am getting my hair colored. Don’t judge. THANK YOU ALYSON! You empower me. I am so excited about growing my business and I KNOW it is going to happen.

  6. These are great lists! I just started using a Done list and it’s been super motivating. Another list that I’m going to start is a list of people that I want to meet/work with/collaborate with.

  7. I’m a list-maker from way back. Couldn’t get anything done without ’em! I have tried several (Ok, tons) of methods for keeping lists and my recent favorite for my daily list is jotting in lovely soft-cover, slim, lined notebooks (the size of a letter folded in half). You see them often in museum shops; I stock up when I find them. They’re lightweight, small enough to toss in my bag and while they’re appealing and beautiful to use, they’re inexpensive enough to not be precious. They also usually have a flap on the inside of the covers that serves as a place-keeper. Oh, and “never eat olives” is at the top of my personal Do Not Do list.

  8. Great, thanks Alyson. I love the idea of a done list. I have a paintings I’ve sold and a prints I’ve sold list, although now I tend to do it as a collage/contact sheet so I have a visual reminder of my sales. It sits on the notice board where I can see it often. I can see a Done list developing.

  9. I go on list binges, then phase it out for awhile. When I make a list of things to do, my day seems more organized and its easier to focus. Thanks for sharing this insight on list possibilities. I will add to my list of things to do: get a notebook to use for lists only, so I can keep track of my lists in a central location. Years ago I always kept a “day-timer” with me but that got old, so I’ll look for an artsy note-pad – more my style now.

  10. Yes to lists! Great idea about the Never Do This List. Last year I started using the bullet journal system developed by Ryder Carroll — nothing fancy just the basic system. It has made a big difference in the way I accomplish things.

  11. I have a superlist system on my iPad (an app called Notebooks) which picks out the list of Due Tasks. I have been using it successfully for a while, but then I found a weekly todo list notebook by Mnemosyne which suits me well as I like scribbling on paper (artists!) and I like sorting my urgent todos by the week rather than the day.
    I should write down my Never-Do list. I have one but it is too easy to forget a mental list, when someone is expecting a favour.

  12. I started a ‘done list’ because of all the random tasks throughout the day that are time consuming. Writing my ‘done list’ helped me to see that no, I am actually doing stuff everyday :). Even if I couldn’t remember. Because it sometimes feels like you are doing nothing. Like you said.

  13. Great ideas! I put sticky label dividers on a nice ring notebook with To Do’s divided into categories of 1.) Errands 2.) Computer 3.) Buy 4.) Household Tasks 5.) Art. Then when I sat down to the computer I know exactly what to do (and to stay on track) when I’m out and about I know where to shop for what, etc., But I’ll incorporate your list to keep them all in one place. Super ideas

  14. Elizabeth Alvarez

    I’ve recently started using “Wunderlist” online, (they have an app, but it costs $5 per month, so since I usually have my computer, I just use their website application which is free). They already have 4 individual lists, Work, Family, Grocery, and Inbox(for items/ideas that don’t belong in those other lists). You can also customize and make your own list. My favorite thing about Wunderlist is when a task is completed, and you press the check button, it makes a cute little “bing” sound. It’s like a little reward for finishing. Anyhow, I don’t work for them or have any type of connection- I just really like Wunderlist.

  15. I constantly make lists so thanks for this post about lists Alyson! The “Done” list is great because as others here have said, you often wonder what you did all day, particularly on the computer. I am looking over at my recent messy pile of utilitarian lists and want some kind of order. Many wonderful ideas also presented by everyone commenting including the gratitude and want to meet/collaborate lists. I really like the bullet journal concept mentioned by Karen and may modify and incorporate that into my constant list making. I think I have done some of it intuitively but I like how its an organized system. And thank you so much for featuring my painting “Marvels and Mysteries IX”. I am so honored!!

  16. Thanks for another informative and helpful post, Alyson. Judging from people’s comments, I’d say the Done list is an absolute winner. I’m also going to adopt the Never Do list, as I tend to talk myself into doing things/taking things on that I told myself I wouldn’t do again. (However, I will say that I tried avocado just a few years ago after never having liked it and discovered that now I love it! Go figure.)

  17. This is a great list of lists! …To date, I’ve never been much of a list-maker, and it is a goal of mine to start utilizing the organizational tool of lists. I did have a bucket-list of truly attainable items…taking a cruise, riding in a hot air balloon, seeing the Grand Canyon, seeing the Statue of Liberty and Niagara Falls, seeing part of Alaska, and vacationing in the Caribbean–and my family has made that happen for me! As I checked the last item off on my bucket list, my husband said, “Don’t die on my now, just because your bucket list is complete!” I replied, “No, I’ll just add some more items, like painting on location in Monument Valley–my daughter made that happen for me this past December!” I have the best family in the world!
    I sincerely thank you all for the great ideas–I do have some art goals that I should write down–one of which is, I keep saying that I want to be in “this” show or “that” show…yet, I’ve never applied for these shows, lol. Thank you for the kick in the pants, Alyson!

  18. LOVED this!!! I am a “To Do” list person with several “To Do” lists and feel frozen without them. I also sadly say that I also have those growing lists that never seem to end so I have to have a “to do” on my list to clean up my “to do” list. Funny. What I keep forgetting is the “have done” list and appreciate this reminder as it is refreshing to go back and look at what you HAVE done and then find myself saying – “Hmmm – didn’t do so bad after all!” I don’t currently have a “Never do” list – but after reading this I think that is a great idea!!!! Thank you for this – it was refreshing to see that I am not the only one with lists upon lists.

  19. Hi Alyson,

    I think I first talked to you in 2009. At that time you told me to take “To Do” list with me all
    day. That was invaluable advice. I also taught a course with a component on time management. Ironic perhaps because that was something I was struggling with. But that course taught the Six Things rule. That was write down a list of Six Things you have to do every day in a notebook. The list always goes to 8 or 10, but most of the time 6 key things get done. During the day you cross off what you’ve done, and at night you clearly see what’s left. An article I read on this last year said put things on the list that you’ve already done before you make the list, and cross them off. This apparently gives your confidence a boost. I like the Dream list, or Bucket list, and the Never Do list. Great ideas. Thank you as always for the inspiration.

  20. I avoid making lists. My emotionally abusive mother used them to tell me what to do. She even wrote a what to pack list for karate camp when I was 17. One of the few times I ignored one of her lists.

    My partner had to convince me to start making shopping lists.

    I also object to bucket lists on principle. I’m chronically ill. There’s already things I never be able to do again. I miss swing dancing. There’s a number of things I wish I could experience but physically can’t.

  21. Here is one that needs expanding: art inventory list. That will go on the to-do list.
    Goes along with the item: mulch old life drawings. Destroy old art. Sell unused frames. Clean the studio one wall at a time. Reduce, reuse, recycle.

  22. Great article and interesting comments! One list I have never kept till now that has been particularly helpful this year is a timeline. I am planning a joint exhibition at a major museum, complete with call to entries, juror, convention, workshops, meetings, awards and gala celebration. The timeline has been my lifeline- making sure nothing slips through the cracks and helping me make sure everyone on the large volunteer committee is on the same page.

  23. I love lists, so much so that every now and then I have to go thru all my lists and make sure it’s not a list just for the sake of having a list – am I actually benefiting from this list? Amazing how many lists I then cull. Another problem I have is where is my list – I think I have all my lists in one easy place to access but when I go to look for a list I can’t find it? Do I keep my lists on my iPad so I’ve always got them on hand – or do I have a book dedicated to lists – I know only I can answer this! I also like check lists and am in the throws of making a list of everything that needs to be done every time I finish a piece. This list seems to be a work in progress. I’m also trying to put together a regular daily,weekly monthly to do list for the business and marketing side of things as this happens very hap hazardly. Which is why I’m a true believer in lists – they help make you organised and you don’t need to waste time trying to think of what needs to be done today – you just grab your list and do it.

  24. As an old “day timer” fan I recently abandoned my computer Calendar for the bullet journal format. Just an adaption of a spiral bound Calendar with plenty of blank pages in the back to tab for my lists. (No intense decorations). I have all of your suggested lists (not #4…yet) as well as: books read, books to read, movie recs, etc etc. All in one slim notebook that is easy to shove in my purse or backpack. Writing on paper helps me remember things that the keyboard never does. I even paste little stars in when I exercise! And at year’s end I have a real journal to review for everything. Works for me!

  25. Larkin Jean Van Horn

    One list I find exceptionally helpful is probably part of the To Do List, but I keep it separate: show entry deadlines. The list is in chronological order, and includes 1) show sponsor and contact info, 2) size requirements for the artwork, and 3) entry fee amount. All the details can be looked up if I need to. This list is just to keep me focused. I get a number emails a month with lists of shows to enter, but only the ones that are in any way compatible with my work get added to my list. I don’t make all the deadlines, but having the list in plain view reminds me to get my work out there when I can.

  26. Thanks so much! Your blog is one of my favorite places to stop by! I am a list maker as well. I have a desk calendar that I keep my ideas on, and can see what I have planned for the week at a glance. Sometimes, if my lists become overwhelming, because, I have just started a second column, I scrub that list, and make a list of the tasks I have accomplished that day. It is really gratifying to see how much I get done in a day!

    Thanks again!

  27. I was struggling with lists on stickies everywhere until I saw a video about an idea called Bullet Journal. I have always found the commercial yearly planners are not very useful for me. I was missing some really important things (like niece’s and nephew’s bdays) and that was adding stress a whole lot of stress. So after I saw the video I went directly over to bulletjournal.com and then on to youtube to get page spread ideas. It has transformed my life. Now I am way more productive. The other thing I did was batch my business time to being Tuesdays and Thursday morning. I am now sorting out if 13 hours a week for business is going to be enough time. I am pretty sure that I am doing business work at other times and not recording it (and staying up way too late like tonight). So I will start to add that info into my bullet journal.

  28. I keep a small journal in my night stand. Every evening, before I go to bed, I make a list of what art related things I accomplished that day. Sometimes it feels like I haven’t done much, but then I realize that the day may have been a collection of minor tasks that are a necessary part of my art business. Rarely a day goes by that I haven’t done SOMETHING to further my art.

  29. It’s like you were in my office/studio and knew me! I have a dozen or so lists all over the place. (I guess I think I will really get it done if it is written more than once, lol) The Good Idea list is me all over it. I have actually woke up in a cold sweat thinking someone else has written MY book!
    I am adopting your list program. I am a mind traveler. When I am in my bedroom, I am thinking about what I need to be doing in my studio. When I am in my studio, I am mind traveling into my home to what needs to be done (laundry, dinner, appointments). By making a list I empty my mind onto paper and get more accomplished.

    Thank you so much for this article! On my never again list is Taking on other peoples problems. That is an energy drainer!

  30. Hi Alyson! Well, I have to tell you–the “Done” list really spoke to me! I have several types of lists, usually accomplish 90% on them, but yet, even crossing them off has lost it’s luster. As we all know, being of our own devices, we feel we have to do more, more more… at least that’s the case for me. The menial, but crucial details (getting that perfect photo of a piece to submit to an event application, took hours), are not interesting to anyone but us, and we can feel like we’re on an island. We have to be our own champion, our own cheerleading team, our own “atta girl/boy!” I believe a “Done” list will keep us motivated. I can’t wait to try it!- Will try putting it on a calendar (instead of journal or list) to be able to see at a glance. Excellent idea– Thank you!

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Your Artist Mailing List: Rethinking + Assessing

Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

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Your Artist Mailing List: Rethinking + Assessing

Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

Where can we send it? 

To ensure delivery, please triple check your email address.

You’ll also receive my regular news for your art business.

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