Do you do everything yourself and never switch off?

This can cause all sorts of problems, not least of which is that its hard to grow the business and earnings become limited to the hours available for paid work.

Karen Arnott We asked Karen Arnott to answer questions on “How to Get Organised, Reduce Stress and Increase Creativity.”

Karen has been running her graphic design business Arnott Design Ltd for over 15 years and has often been at full capacity, juggling client work with all the pressures of keeping a busy business running.

She has been able to increase her output and earnings by getting super organised, having processes and procedures for repetitive tasks and taking the pressure off herself, knowing that all the important things will run in the background, even when she’s on holiday.

This is a transcript of the Ask the Expert Q&A in the Drive Facebook Group 

Organising time

Helen Lindop Hi Karen, what’s the one process or system that’s made the biggest difference to your business? If there’s one system/process we should get in place, what should it be?

Karen Arnott It may sound simple but allocating time in a calendar. It’s the only way to know what you’ve got time for, and what you haven’t. And knowing how long tasks will take so you can allocate the right amount of time in the calendar.

Time is the one resource none of us has more of than anyone else, so we must allocate it wisely. Once your calendar is looking too full – outsource tasks or cut back on non-essential/unprofitable tasks.

Helen Lindop Thanks, so simple but so easy to avoid doing it.

Helen Lindop Which tools/software do you use to keep all the plates spinning?

Karen Arnott: 

  • GMail – canned responses are really useful
  • Google calendar (I view personal and work alongside each other)
  • Calendly – call booking system for clients and prospects
  • Hubspot – tracking deals and contacts
  • Trello – allocating project numbers
  • Toggl (tracking time on projects / tasks)
  • Asana – project management (client and internal)
  • GDrive and DropBox – file storage
  • HelloSign – contracts
  • Xero – accounting
  • Zapier – gets many of the above talking to each other

e.g., a prospect books a call on my website with Calendly which talks to my calendar. After the call, I decide if it needs a proposal and allocate a Project Number in Trello. Trello talks to Gmail and Hubspot. If the client goes ahead, I move the Project Number to a list in Trello which talks to Toggl, Asana and GDrive to set up a new project folder in those.

I think the main thing that could be a sticking point is if one piece of software falls over. I’m sure some software developers could clean up if there was a project management tool that could do all the above.

Kathy Salaman That was my thought when I saw the different tools you use. I’d never cope with all that … one thing goes wrong, I forget where I was, and the whole thing flies out the window.

Karen Arnott In reality, it’s not likely to happen. And you can start small… Louise and I started with one or two steps, and grew from there. They are more like a series of processes rather than one big one that would fail if one small element doesn’t do its part. In fact, having various software doing different things is more reassuring to me – if you had one program doing all of this and that broke then it really would all come crashing down.

The main thing is having a master process written up somewhere that is the ‘source of all truth’. This can then be tweaked according to finding the right software to do the job(s).

Ann Hawkins When you started allocating time and noting how long things really took, what was the biggest surprise?

Karen Arnott That most activities take 2x as long as you think they do! I was massively under estimating how long things take. Not client work, that was pretty accurate, it was all the extra admin involved in keeping a project ticking over.


Ann Hawkins I can see that being organised helps reduce stress. How does it aid creativity?

Karen Arnott Getting the above in place means I have the time and headspace to be creative. If your head is full of ‘what do I need to do next?’ then you can’t have space for creative thought (in my experience).

Helen Lindop I find it hard to switch between logical/systems/admin stuff and creative activities – is it just a question of allocating blocks of time to each or have you found an effective way to switch between the two?

Karen Arnott Definitely hear you! Key for me is automating as many of the ‘logical’ things so they become almost subconscious parts of the process. For those activities that can’t be automated, yes definitely allocating blocks of time is essential otherwise it’s just too distracting.

Helen Lindop Great tips. One thing I’m going to try is having a ritual of some kind to get me into ‘the zone’ ready to do whatever needs to be done next. I seem to think I can switch tasks in a second as if I’m a machine and I’m definitely not!

Taking time out

Helen Lindop And I’d love to know how you keep it all running when you go on holiday!

Karen Arnott Outsourcing what can be outsourced and being transparent with clients. Having all the above processes documented makes it easy to hand over to someone else temporarily.

Using cloud-based software is essential – all files are saved where clients and freelancers can get access to them, as required. And if absolutely necessary, technology means I can be contacted and point people to the right place!

Consistency is key for me. On my computer I have my folder structure mapped out similarly to departments in a company:

– Business development

– Finance

– Legal

– Marketing

– Projects (client work)

– Sales

This is mirrored in GDrive and DropBox. The main folder within these that has a strict structure is Projects (the biggest creativity killer would be having unorganised client work!)

Which is organised like this:


– Client name

— Project number (PN-001-Name of project)

— 00-Proposal

— 01-Brief

— 02-Assets from client

—- 01-Documentation

—- 02-Competitor information

—- 03-Marketing materials

—- 04-Images

—- 05-Copy

— 03-Design

—- Inspiration

—- Round 1

—- Round 2

—- Round 3

— 04-Deliverables

Within ’03-Design’ folders, I have a consistent file naming structure:


e.g. Arnottdesign-Product-Brochure-A4-v2.psd etc

Only the approved files get appended with the words ‘final’ and ‘to-print’ and gets saved in 04-Deliverables:

e.g. Arnottdesign-Product-Brochure-A4-Final.psd (original artwork)

e.g. Arnottdesign-Product-Brochure-A4-To-Print.pdf (sent to printers)

What about spontaneity?

Ann Hawkins Does being so organised mean you miss out on being spontaneous Karen? Are there any downsides?

Karen Arnott Not for me, as long as there is time that’s not ‘allocated’ in my calendar to allow spontaneity. And things can always be moved!

I must also mention that much of my process creation and software decisions have had huge input from Louise Lee. Louise took what I needed to do, had me map out what my processes were and then helped me structure that with software. We continue to refine this together. She’s a legend!


If you’d like to know more about Arnott Design, find Karen at and on Twitter @ArnottDesign