How To Plan Your Year

What’s on your calendar for the New Year?

I’m not talking about your appointment calendar. I’m talking big picture. What are you doing that makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning and get to work?

If there’s not much there, it’s time to get busy. You can’t earn more money or increase recognition without exhibitions and events on your schedule.

Janice Tanton Painting
©2014 Janice Tanton, Family Portrait. Oil on linen, 8 x 6 inches. Used with permission.

You can use a desk or desktop calendar for appointments, but for this job you want to get a clear overview of your year’s rhythm.

You’re looking for periods that you know will be particularly busy and others when you might be able to sneak away for a well-deserved vacation.

You also want to watch out for too much overlap on your calendar. There might be events you’d like to schedule, but might bump up against others that are already in place.

It’s confusing to schedule events that occur too close to one another.

Overbooking is confusing to your fans and followers because everything looks to have the same level of importance. They don’t know which message to pay more attention to.

It’s also confusing to you because you’re promoting more than one thing at a time. You don’t know how and where to spend your energy.

There are numerous ways to plan your year so that you can envision its rhythm. Here are the two most important ones that I use: the wall calendar and the timeline.

1. The Wall Calendar

The framework for all of my planning is a wall calendar so that I can see the entire year at once.

I’ve shared previously that I love the Seize The Year calendar by Neuyear. Its biggest asset is that it can be displayed either vertically or horizontally.

Paris Watercolor by Lis Zadravec
©Lis Zadravec, Circus Paris. Watercolor, 12 x 9 inches. Used with permission.

Using dry-erase markers, I color code the calendar with these categories:

I encourage you to include both personal and business events on a single calendar because you have to make everything fit within the 365 days. Two calendars would mean that you’re constantly checking between the two in order to avoid double booking.

Get yourself a wall calendar if you don’t already have one.

2. The Timeline

The wall calendar isn’t enough for me. I also like to see everything on a horizontal timeline.

Remember that I’m an art historian by training. Making a lot of hand-drawn timelines is how I memorized dates and how I planned our exhibition schedule at the art museum.

I still love to see my year this way. I’ve been known to plot my year in a similar visual timeline using a spreadsheet.

Business Timeline
2016 calendar for Art Biz Coach using Apple Numbers.

Looks pretty good, huh?

Big BUT and this is important: I can’t stand spreadsheets. I spent too much time making them look pretty.

If you don’t like a tool, search for a way to do the same task that is more palatable for you. You’ll use it more frequently and effectively if you are happy on the journey.

**Note of caution: Don’t spend too much time looking for the perfect tool. Looking for the perfect tool often ends up being an excuse for not doing the work.

I now prefer using my iPad Pro and fancy Apple Pencil with the Notability app. I needed the timeline to be electronic so that I could share it with people and this seemed like an easy way to get it out fast.

It worked!

Business Timeline iPad and Notability
A working timeline for the Art Biz Coach 2017 calendar. Dates not confirmed.

Tweak Your Calendar

After you have everything plotted out on your calendar and/or timeline, here are some questions to answer for tweaking the dates:

Do you have enough time in between commitments to promote and to refill your well of inspiration?

Which items on your calendar are more important than others?

Which items on your calendar need more promotional or lead-time?

Where do you need down time or longer breaks?

How could you massage your schedule to make your year easier and (this is important) more fun?

Your Turn

Please share how you plan your year in a comment below.

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58 thoughts on “How To Plan Your Year”

  1. This is an excellent article. Thanks for sharing your process.
    I print out the year on one page and then I use a highlighter pen to mark off holidays (secular, school vacation and religious ) I also mark off mercury in retrograde
    I wont promote anything during those times. Then I plug in all the promotions I want to do making sure there is lots of white space in my calendar for unexpected and time to CREATE art !!

    Although I stick to this overview, I wait to plug into asana until the month for the tasks for my assistant and myself. (Thanks for teaching me about asana ????Favorite tool and this year I am experimenting with their boards )

  2. My “wallplanner” is 12 A4 printed sheets. 1 month per sheet. I download them from I fix them to the wall in a 4 x 3 grid with blu tack and it works for me. I use marker pens, post it notes and Washi tape (only recently started using the washi tape, it’s brilliant as it is removable, great for when you have date changes). I love being able to take a month down to update it then stick it back in place. I usually print off the month sheets for the year and keep them in a folder.

    To keep me focused I have 3 pieces of red card. One marks where I am in the year and the other 2 have 2016 and 2017 on. As I progress through the year I remove the months as they end and replace them with next year’s and move the markers for this year to the next month. That way I always have 12 months in one space and can add events for next year when I arrange them, as long as they’re no further ahead.

    Sounds complicated but it’s actually a really simple system.
    I also have a mini calendar copy in my bullet journal – something I’ve recently discovered and I love it.

    1. What an AWESOME idea! I have a calendar I created and print out myself, but have always lamented not being able to plan too far ahead because of the static “end of the year” issue.
      Thank you for sharing!

    2. Yes, I have an old photo but I might take a new one later on today as I’ve started using Washi tape recently and the 2017 sheets are in colour! It looks much prettier now.

    3. I am a little confused about your three year plan that you change and carry with you. Could you send me a link to your fb page so I can see what you mentioned. Thanks Cathy, it seems like a helpful way to manage activities.

    4. Natasha Papousek

      That’s a brilliant idea!!! I’m going to try that this year! And I love the idea of it being modular so I can add in the first quarter of the year as I am in my final quarter.

  3. You people are geniuses! I really love the “wallplanner” and “timeline” ideas. I’m going to use the timeline idea to see how things look this year and going to adopt the wall planner for my team’s projects. Thank you!

    From me: Last year I used a wall calendar from Leonie Dawson’s Shining Year Workbook package/bundle and didn’t use it for scheduling (which I do in my head and on Outlook’s Calendar) but I used it to give myself gold stars for accomplishing the little mini-goals and habits that you have to employ to achieve your bigger goals. Some days (like when I’d have a hefty writing deadline to meet for university), I’d give myself THREE gold stars for getting it done well and working hard. This year I have an assortment of stickers for my minihabits across three areas of life. I’m a good project planner so I meet my hardstop deadlines but I really love getting a little ‘Good job!” sticker even from myself for working so hard to do so 🙂

    Love this blog, you ROCK!

  4. I have been using a big wall calendar for a few years. It helps me see how busy I am with classes and shows, so if an opportunity arises I can see if I can fit it in.
    When I make a plan for marketing I scratch it out on a long time line, put the major events/ classes down that I want to promote and work backwards for the when i need to start promoting each item.
    Then I have to remember to look at my time line and not just my wall calendar.

    1. Patricia, good for you in taking time for yourself!! I am still in the thick of Year 13 of caregiving. Take one step at a time. Imagine the possibilities!!

  5. This year I’m aiming to design my calendar based on my values. Here’s what it looks like:

    Top Level: This year my word of the year is: “Discipline”

    Then I have 5 categories of focus. (Each of my daily activities ought to fit into one of these categories.)

    1.) My Daily Ritual
    2.) Art Production
    3.) Art Promotion
    4.) Spending time with friends and family
    5.) Health and exercise

    Beyond that I have a physical calendar with 1 month per page for appointments, holidays, launches, etc.

    Then I have a daily TO DO list. My daily goal is to focus on 3 Main Things.

    (I blogged about my plan here if you’d like to read more. )

    1. Love this Brennen! Sounds like this could work for me. I’ve always wondered why goal setting doesn’t seem to work for me like it does other people. Focusing on systems can’t help but move things forward.

    2. I love what you have done with your website/blog. I need to do similar to mine. It is uncanny how much I share the vision for my painting with what you said it is yours, and also with other artists, we have similar view at the world and how we want to capture it. Thanks.

  6. For a year now I’ve been trying to find a good planner option. I finally figured out that I don’t want or need a daily or weekly planner. I need a Yearly/Monthly planner and a way to keep track of information, not schedule. I think in big pictures. I have the large wall thing for scheduling family. For myself, I got an A5 Avery mini binder and used only the year and months sections. I gave the weekly/daily away. I got the little post-its and color coordinated important things: Inner Circle calls/etc.; personal stuff; applications/show deadlines; meetings/classes/show I want to go to; teaching/demo obligations; etc. I put a color key on the inside of the binder so I won’t forget what’s what. I added a large NOTES section with tabs separating my focuses for the year and how they [loosely] coordinate with the See Plan. The best thing I included was a DONE section, so I could write down a list of the stuff I’ve finished. This will help me not feel overwhelmed at the mountain of stuff I still want to do.

  7. Take 2- sorry I misspelled Alyson before…

    Hi Alyson- Great stuff here, I love the Paris artwork. I’ve been using the Weekly Dominator planner made by Neu Year, the same people that make the wall calendar above. It has a full two year layout in the front of it with enough space to put notes on any individual day. So I can note when my art exhibits start, end, delivery dates, etc. Plus doctors appointments and so on. I can carry it with me everywhere and add items on the go. The rest is undated, so I can use it as needed. In between each two page weekly spread, they have two pages for notes and sketching. As an artist this get used a lot. Here’s the planner They’ve sold out for this year though….
    Alyson- next year does not look so busy for me, unlike this past year when I did six shows and a studio grand opening, numerous plein air painting trips, plus volunteering at Plein Air South where I saw you! What do you recommend as a system for creating goals, and tracking them? I probably just need to search your blog a little 🙂 I remember the video you made where you plan marketing and production goals for the year, I will look for it.
    Matthew Lee

    1. Hi Theresa,
      I just now saw your reply. I took a course on “getting focused” instead of starting a marketing group last year. I will let you know though if I start one up. I’m up in Memphis though, it appears you are in FL?

  8. Love reading the articles and comments especially. I’ve used a Day Timer since the early ’80s, when the Franklin planner came out. I worked for 6 judges plus was the court coordinator so having a reliable calendar device was essential. Since I retired in ’11, I’m still using my Day Timer (some call it a Day Runner), even more so since late ’14 when I started up painting and launched my business April 2015. Haven’t stopped running since, even when I was in a car accident, broken leg and ankle in 2 places.

    I find it most helpful when talking (messaging) with customers (even potential customers) to make a note to talk again in 3 weeks to touch base. This has resulted in several new customers and lots of repeats. One customer I “courted” for 6 months – she was caring for her elderly parent, welcomed the little “hey there!” – purchased several items, plus placed orders for 3 more items. Just be friendly!

    The Fall/Winter Craft/Art shows are the busiest for me. I’m not an art gallery type of artist. Don’t judge! All year I post items I have designed and painted for sale on many Facebook sites, sold many items and made contacts. Like most of y’all, I don’t work solely on canvas – my “canvas” is glassware, ceramic tile, card stock, gift bags, wood, burlap, concrete step stones, and brick. This year I promoted heavily, stuck (mostly) to the studio hours schedule and saw a vast improvement from 2015. Here goes for 2017!

    1. Monthly Goals – work IF I make them realistic for me. Working on one item per month is boring, so I changed it to say Ornament Week, or Wineglass Week.
    2. Sharing my “new” items weekly on social media has increased sales.
    3. Writing a “Your Thought for the Day” has increased interest and many followers, many comments. These often lead to inquiries, “do you paint pet portraits?”
    4. Following up after shipments are delivered (waiting 10 days or so), messaging to see how the items were received – happy? broken? surprised? has resulted in other orders.
    5. Taking the time to write a personal note on my stationary which I design – customers love it. Better than just including a business card.
    6. Not over booking art shows – having five in 6 weeks was hard and exhausting.
    7. Being selective as to where my art is displayed/sold.
    8. Looking into consignment places for my items.

    I appreciate any input on how to get myself “out there” besides shows. My income is limited and I don’t want my art to become a “J.O.B.” THanks for reading!

    Diana Dupre’

  9. I print out the yearly calendar from my computer but have never put the pages together for the entire year. I will this year. I have a monthly calendar that I put all apts on and plan shows and mailings. I love the idea of seeing the year in rhythm. Thank you for the article. Very timely and appreciated.

  10. I think seasonally for my big projects and then I use a monthly calendar. I have to see it in print and it has to be pretty.
    I found this blog last week. I’m determined to take my business to the next level. Somewhere I think it was Alyson, who said to start leaving comments on blogs. This seems a good start.
    Somebody mentioned words for the year, mine are
    And this concept of “celebration.” I’ve just skipped over this. I’m intrigued not to. I’m liking the idea of stickers, they have to be really cool though… A long time ago, I used stickers when I was doing Julia Cameron’s exercises. Still thinking, want something different than stickers.

  11. Er, I’m afraid I would have difficulty planning a four-year old’s birthday party to tell you the truth. I very good at coming up with ideas and executing them (I’ve conceived, made, sold, delivered and installed 2 larger than life sized bronzes plus numerous smaller pieces). But that was pure chance. I have no problem with ideas and production. I enter shows when given lead time and set up a good show, and I can chat up almost anybody, but to come up with some kind of ‘system’ seems very daunting to me. The only thing I have going for me right now, is the prospect of offering a life size version of a smaller sculpture to an organization I’m associated with as a fund raiser tool.
    I write numerous notifications-stories-projects-life-observations-etc. on Facebook postings (I don’t think a single soul ever saw my blog). I’m a producing artist whose stumbling over completed or almost completed pieces….Bemusedly Yours. John Prout

    1. I’d like to visit your FB page if possible to get involved in our postings 🙂
      Maybe it would help if you design your own calendar. This what I started doing. I just take a piece of drawing paper and draw out large current month calendar. I never have enough space in the commercial calendars for notes, to write on etc. I just do two months one on each side and put x on the day after it’s over and I see time go by this way. I like the idea of yearly time line calendar Alison is suggesting. I thought of it the other day and seing it here has reconfirmed my vision.

  12. What a great suggestion. I have also read few replies and other suggestions and will have to revisit this page. Thank you Alyson, thank you all.
    What I did last year is to get this planner datebook published by publishing for Austin TX and find it fits my style of planning. It is missing few things but I have sketch books, for journal-ling, and notebooks for jotting ideas and goals (date books never have enough room for that) I found myself really using this date book more often than anything else, because I also use it for budgeting my expenses in it as well.
    This year I also started using xcell (but I do that every year and find myself bogged down by just complicated entries I have to make in it. There is no good program for what I want to achieve with it. I need to take a class again.

    I also use drawing sheet to make a monthly calendar with two months, one on each side, and post it on refrigerator, there i jot things I’ve done, and sometimes what needs to be done, but the most important use is that I put an x through the day that went by, and always can see at a glance where I’m at. I used to use big dry erase, and take a photo at the end of the month to archive it.

    This year I’m using card system I got decades ago for some reason, and they are still current, so each day there are 7 cards, and there are a set of them for each day to help with goal setting, self esteem, self image, motivation, control, etc. I just started it a week ago and find that it has helped to get me out of the fog. This stuff works. It has also giving me focus and direction. I have given this to myself by believing I can.

    I need to work on my website, my blog, my bio, my artist statement. I also would like to do some exhibits, I would like to exhibit in galleries, yet I also like to experiment with new media and do mixed media, there is so much I want to do, yet I also need to make some money and do some sales of my work, yet I am encountering lot of resistance when it comes to selling. My main objection is that I am not ready, that I need to have a body of work, and work that is good enough, has certain amount of consistency and direction. This is the main area I need to figure out. This may take another year. In a mean time I would love to work on newsletter and need some emails, need to figure out how to put them in mail service and … so you have some idea of my frustration. My website is I don’t know if it is set up (I’ve been doing it myself) to get emails. I would like to set it up to accept paypal and to put some of work for sale.

    I have FB come and say hi it’s just Milica Virag, and etsy and all the other soc media places but am mostly active on FB. Thanks.

  13. As posted last year (above) I had just started using a big wall calendar. Given that year was a bereavement year, my use of the calendar was elementary. But at least I used it. I am going to renumber the days (or I might get sticky tabs) and reuse the calendar for this year’s planning. I also have a Trello board I’ve named “calendar” but that I actually use as my 7-day to do list. Trello has proved exceptionally useful to me in this as well as other project planning! I do also have an appointment calendar on my phone which I keep in “month view” mode.

    This year I expect to be able to begin longer view planning than I managed last year. I know there will be bad days but the number of good days has increased so that I am now able to look ahead without bawling.

    I’m afraid that anything more than these will lead to me frittering away my time playing with them to make them pretty (a bit like Alyson and her spreadsheets).

    I love reviewing this again, Alyson. I hope this becomes a tradition. 🙂

  14. I have been sporadic, at best, in keeping a calendar up to date, but after reading this blog a few days ago – I decided I wanted to try a wall calendar for a full yet. The one Alyson suggested is “out”, but I found a very similar one, and ironically, it arrived as I was reading all of the comments. There are some great ideas here!!!!! I am big on “to do” lists – on a whiteboard in my studio. But I’m excited to get everything on one page so I can look at all my commitments at one time to keep me from double booking. And I feel by doing this – I can control my energy by keeping all happenings evenly spaced – and that includes everything from meeting for coffee (tea for me), drs appointments, art classes, you know what I mean. I am coming out of a couple of years as a caregiver, so I realize now I got out of the habit of scheduling things FOR ME!!!!

  15. I use an excel spread sheet for shows. it keeps track of where my artwork is and tells me what I am doing each month so my events don’t overlap. I think I may add to it withe other events. But so far it is working.
    P.S. thanks for showing my artwork!

  16. I love the art planner as a wall visual. I made the mistake last year of booking too many things at one time. Yes- way too overwhelming for me to promote, and I see now from your newsletter, that the similar dates could be very confusing for my collectors & students. Per your suggestion about not taking time to find the “perfect tool,” I plan to cut apart a calendar, (we all get about a dozen free ones this time of year), and reassemble as a “timeline.” This will keep me from overbooking this year. Thanks for the tip! Looking forward to a more relaxed, productive year. In January, I leave for Guanajuato, Mexico to paint for 2 months. My goal is to find a wider audience for my work in bigger venues than where I regularly show. I have been juried into national shows; now I need to schedule shows in major cities.

  17. I’ve been using a planner since I started my business in 2001 and it works well enough. Also got my calendar on my iphone and cpu coordinated. The hardest task now is not knowing what I have to anticipate. Being the main caregiver for my father for the past 6 years means it’s a constantly changing situation. Trying to regulate my work time around that and take care of myself has been a challenge.

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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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