How-To: Organize Yourself to Get More Craft Projects Finished

Craft & Design

By Pam Harris
Crafty inspiration pops up constantly. It can arrive at all hours of the day or night and from a huge array of sources – the internet, a museum tour, craft shows, or during a lovely hot soak in the tub! But getting from inspiration to making – that takes organization and planning. By using a few simple tools and building a little planning time into your schedule, you can maximize your chances of seeing many of those brilliant inspirations turn into satisfying and beautiful creative expressions… you know – finished projects!

Note: Everyone processes information differently. For the purpose of clarity, I’m presenting my “capture-to-planning” process as a series of steps. You can always take these steps and use them to create a unique system that works perfectly for you. My ideas and techniques are designed as guidelines. What is important is that you develop a system. And use it!


Capture notebooks (spiral or handcrafted from recycled paper)
Mechanical pencils
Bins or folders
for holding clippings and printed items. Wall storage folders work great.
Three ring binders
Section dividers with label tabs
8 1/2″ x 11″ spiral notebook (or handcrafted notebook) to use as your “crafty planner”
12-month calendar (optional)
Internet browser or computer desktop files designed for your particular interests


Step 1: Getting ready
First, you’ll want to gather some tools to help you in your quest for organized crafting.
Gather several notebooks. Definitely, you will need one for your bag. Beyond that, you’ll need a notebook at each of the places you most often are likely to be – bedside table, computer desk, kitchen, desk at work, end table in the TV room, even the bathroom!  (Some of my best ideas have actually come while taking a shower!) If you are a hiker or runner, select a very small one for your back pocket or fanny pack. 
Make sure that each notebook is accompanied by a mechanical pencil. Mechanical pencils never need sharpening, usually come with an eraser, and most importantly, have a metal clip that allows them to be attached to notebooks. 
The point is, think about your life and where you spend most of your time. Then make sure there is always a notebook and pencil readily available.
Next, create bins or folders to hold clippings you collect from magazines, newspapers, and catalogues, as well as items you have downloaded and printed from the web. Place these folders in fairly convenient locations. I use wall storage folders constantly because they help keep the clutter contained until I am ready to organize and file it. Wire, plastic, or cardboard baskets work too. 
Eventually you are going to want to organize and store all that accumulated paper. Three-ring binders work great. Purchase several in different spine widths, depending on your crafty nature. I am a dabbler, so I use two 3″ binders to store everything I have collected: pictures of tin projects, knitting patterns I have purchased and printed, an adorable free printable embroidery pattern. If, like me, you have more than two or three interests, tabbed dividers are helpful in keeping the sections separated. Being a dabbler, I have quite a few sections!
Create, download or purchase a 12 month calendar – you’ll need one that has one page per month with plenty of space for writing on each day. This calendar will be used specifically for art and craft. I have used both paper calendars and online calendars and either one works great! 
If you haven’t already done so, take advantage of the bookmark filing system available in your internet browser and create storage files for the tutorials, videos, and inspiration you’ve bookmarked. Being a dabbler and a writer of a blog that celebrates many holidays and seasons, I admit to a rather extensive set of bookmark files – tin, knitting, weaving, embroidery, St. Lucy Day, St. Nicholas Eve, Easter, fall crafts… you get the idea. If you’re not into bookmarks, you might prefer organizing the stuff you find online with a website like Pinterest or Delicious.
Step 2: Capturing
The foundation of organized crafting is grabbing all your good ideas as they happen.
Capture every fleeting thought or idea in your notebooks the minute they occur! Don’t worry about whether they’re “good” ideas – just write them down. And take the time and care needed to make sure you will understand your notes later!
If you spend a lot of time online, then you’re likely to use the notebook next to your computer more than the others around your house. This notebook can be helpful in capturing ideas you get while surfing the web, and it’s also a great place to keep a running list of those projects or ideas you bookmark, but really, really want to find time to make.
Any time you find a post, website, or video that’s helpful, in addition to bookmarking it you might find it useful to make a note in your notebook that includes the project name, why you like or need it, and the bookmark file where you saved it. For example, here’s a notation I made about a tutorial I found for making Swedish Tomte Ornaments: “Adorable Tomte made by the Pickled Herring – must make and share for St. Lucy Day – BKMK St. Lucy.”
(You may or may not want to keep paper lists of your web bookmarks. I find it helpful, but you should evolve a system that works best for you.)
Think about where you collect paper information, like clippings or printed downloads, and place or hang a collection bin in this location. Most of my paper-collecting happens at my computer, so I have hung a wall folder right next to the printer. However, if you like to read craft magazines and tear out project instructions or inspirational images while you are sitting cuddled up in bed, place a bin or wall folder there!
Again, the point is to think about how you are inspired and where, and then create “capture tools” that will be useful and readily available.
Step 3: Organizing
Capturing is all well and good, but in order to keep your inspirations organized, you need to go through them periodically.
Set aside about two to three hours of uninterrupted time. For most of us, it should work well to do this every couple of months. This is when the fun begins and all that good work of capturing pays off!
Find a favorite spot, preferably one where you won’t be interrupted and one where you feel physically relaxed and mentally energized.  Brew up your favorite beverage. Set out a plate of yummy cookies. Gather together all of your capture notebooks, the clippings you’ve saved in your bins and folders, your storage binders and the separate notebook you’re using as your “crafty planner.”
I like to tackle my capture notebooks first. Go through every one page by page. There may be a few ideas in there that don’t seem as brilliant as they did when you wrote them down. Cross them out. Record all the ideas you actually want to turn into finished craft projects in your “crafty planner.” You might find it simplest to have a series of running lists to add these projects to.
My “crafty planner” includes these lists among others: 

  • Projects for blog posts
  • Christmas gifts to make
  • Personal winter holiday projects
  • Crafty goodness
  • Top 20 crafty goals for 2011 (We will talk more about this one in the next section.)

This may seem like a bit of work, but leaving all those ideas in piles and piles of unorganized notebook chaos is not the path to getting those projects finally completed. And besides, shuffling through and reviewing all those projects that have already inspired and excited you gets the crafty juices flowing and also helps you focus on those crafts that are most important to you.
When you’ve gone through your notebooks, attack the clippings and other printed material. Sort this material into piles according to topic, and then punch each sheet for a three-ring binder. (If you have small clippings, you can store them in a plastic sleeve or tape them onto a larger piece of scrap paper).
As you file your clippings into binders, you might want to make a note on the appropriate list in the “crafty planner” about certain clippings and where they are stored. For example, I made this notation in my planner for a cute house socks pattern I plan to make as Christmas gifts: “House sock pattern – Xmas Barbara – Knitting file/binder.”
Trust me, the time you take to sort and neatly store this material is time well spent. Much better than spending hours and hours looking for the instructions for that cute little felted bag you were dying to make. I know this is true from the personal experience of only writing down “make beautiful felted bag.” Six months after writing that notation, when I was ready to begin knitting, I couldn’t find the pattern anywhere!
Phase 4: Planning
This is my favorite part of the process because now I get to think about all those inspiring ideas and projects, think about what I most want to make and then plan when to begin making them! If the organizing process has tired you out a bit, then I recommend taking a break and coming back to this later.
We talked earlier about how collecting without organizing can lead to piles and piles of messy notes. Well, planning without prioritizing can lead to piles and piles of too many projects and not enough finishing. So, I recommend looking at all the lists in your “crafty planner” and coming up with a list of your top 20 crafty goals for the coming year. (Or, if you’d rather work shorter-term, pick five goals for the next month.) Limiting yourself to a number helps you to narrow down all the projects you’ve collected to those you really, really want to do.
The next part of planning is scheduling your projects for a specific time. That can be a specific week, a specific day, or even a specific hour of the day, depending on how you like to work. This scheduling process is one of the most important steps toward getting from ideas to finished projects. If I didn’t schedule my personal projects, then the projects I make for my blog and holiday gifts would completely take over my creative life and I would never get to those crafty projects I want to make just for me!
When I first began using this system, I used a 12-month calendar and chose a date to begin each project. However, over time I found that for me, it works much better if I only think about two months at a time. So now, I select three or four projects from my short list and schedule start dates during the next two-month period. Try out some different scheduling approaches and see what works best for you. 
Crafty people often make gifts for birthdays, Christmas, new babies or “just because,” and these can be easily scheduled, too. If you intend to make holiday gifts, or know a baby is going to be due in 5 months, or you want to knit a hat for your best friend’s birthday, schedule these projects in your calendar as well. But remain flexible! If a stroke of brilliance hits, as is often the case, break out your eraser (or delete button) and feel free to rearrange the crafty priorities on your calendar! 
Fact: There will always be way more projects in your capture notebooks, on your lists, and in your bookmarks than you will be able to accomplish in ten lifetimes! That is just a function of being creative and excited by creativity. 
The goal here is simply to create a system to capture and save all those tempting and delicious crafty ideas and projects, and then to identify and make space in your life to actually enjoy the ones you decide are most important to you.

About the Author:
Pam Harris shares her crafty dabbler nature, her love of the seasons and the celebrations they bring, and her passion for all things Christmas on her blog Gingerbread Snowflakes.

8 thoughts on “How-To: Organize Yourself to Get More Craft Projects Finished

  1. Robin (RsIslandCrafts) says:

    Wonderful article Pam! Lots of good information. Last year I started carrying around a small notebook in my purse so I could sketch out some quilt ideas when they popped into my head. Great for sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.

  2. alts63 says:

    Love your ideas. I have many partially filled notebooks, scrapbooks, binders and file folders. I love to flip through them on rainy “blah” days. However, I do most of my inspirational clipping digitally now. I carry my camera phone everywhere, snapping whenever something causes a light bulb to flash. I also do voice recordings (especially if photos would violate creator’s rights). I love OneNote (Microsoft) to capture and organize my digital notes. I can scan (all those notebooks) handwriting and photos and make the text searchable. Web pages can be clipped – and here’s the great part – the site info and date/time are automatically recorded. I can also go back to the site as links are preserved, and I can credit the author properly. OneNote is free to try and cheap to own. A picture says more than a thousand words, and a search bar will help you find it.
    Love the article!

  3. Uglies Swimwear says:

    Hey is this serious?

  4. Betty says:

    Great article, very helpful, lots of great organizational ideas. Thanks for sharing!

Comments are closed.

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