As artists, we often struggle with time.
Perhaps it’s because we intuitively discovered the theory of relativity centuries before Einstein was able to formally describe it. We discovered that the creative process tends to operate independently of time. This is evident in the way that we tend to lose track of time when we’re deeply involved in creating our art.
Or, perhaps it’s because we live in fear the old bugaboo “Mister Deadline” who is ever-present, especially for artists who do commercial work. He lurks and sneaks up on us when we’re not expecting him, and then rips our beautiful work out of our hands when it’s not quite ready to share yet.
Maybe the time constraint we struggle with the most is having enough time during our busy day to get to the creative activities we want to do. This is especially a problem for moonlight artists, who have a full time job and family obligations that take up the bulk of their day.
So how can we bring time on our side?
It’s not easy. But there are a number of ways we can deal with the ever-marching clock that threatens to undermine our ability to create our art and get it out into the world. Here are a few of them.
1. Harness The Power of Pruning
Pruning plants involves cutting away the lifeless, dead branches so that the plant can devote its energy to the thriving ones. The same is true of our busy lives. We may find when we sit down and look at the activities we engage in every day, there may be ones that can be trimmed back or done away with completely.
There is a nice, sharp little pruning tool that exists. It’s always in our pocket, though we may not like taking it out and using it for various reasons. That tool is the word NO.
No doesn’t have to be rude, if we use it correctly. And just like a good pair of pruning shears, it can lop off those dead, extraneous activities that leech our time away called “obligations”. Not obligations that we know we have to do, but the ones we automatically said “yes” to for no good reason.
2. Practice The 80/20 Rule
This is also known as the “Pareto Principle”, and if you don’t know what it is, it means that 80 percent of our results generally come from 20 percent of our efforts. This involves looking objectively at the work we do and evaluating the results that we gained from it. This is a great way to evaluate activities that really didn’t do much for us and minimize those, as well as maximizing the activities that gave us the best results.
3. Be Wary Of The Expanding Task Rule
Also Called “Parkinson’s Law”, it is the saying that a task will tend to expand to fill the time allotted for it. For example, if you give someone a week to do something that should only take a day, then the job will tend to expand to take up the entire week.
I don’t know if there’s a law having anything to do with infinite expansion, but there should be one. Because we artists can really put the expanding task rule to the test! If an artist works on something that doesn’t have a specific deadline, then the task can expand out infinitely… in other words, never get done.
Do you have a bunch of half-finished projects sitting around your studio or workspace? If so, then you may be a victim of this rule. Fortunately, the remedy can be as simple as setting a specific deadline for yourself to have a piece finished.
4. Take the Time To Plan
Many times we tend to avoid planning, because we feel like it’s a waste of time. In fact, planning saves time.
Here’s an example: I usually shop for our family’s groceries. I finally learned to sit down and take the time to organize my grocery list, after being aware that a haphazard list resulted in me swinging the shopping cart around crazily going across the entire store several times for things that I neglected to get. Not only was this stressful and frustrating, it took a lot more time!
When we take a few minutes to sit down and plan our day, or our week, we will find that it saves us many more times that amount.
And when it comes to creating art, when we plan out a piece (such as what we want a piece to achieve, and how we want it to look) we will see a much more efficient use of our time that if we just started meandering around.
5. Face Down Fears That Halt Progress
There are a number of fears that affect our ability to use our time wisely. One fear we have is the fear of success. Sometimes we’re afraid to be successful because we’ll stand out, or people will think we’re not ‘keeping it real’, or some other thing that keeps us down. Then we tend to deliberately sabotage ourselves by procrastinating or avoiding our work.
Another fear may be that we’re afraid of criticism, of being seen and judged. It was nice and comfy when all we had to do was dream about our creative goals and not actually do anything about them… now that we have success within reach, we may be scared of what people will think.
If you would like to see more ways that fear holds us back, as well as some strategies for dealing with them, check out this post: http://artistmyth.com/12-ways-fear-stops-artists-dead-tracks
6. Have A Default Activity During The Down Times
When we were going on a trip when I was a little kid, we didn’t have iPhones or electronic devices. (This was the 70’s!). On a long car trip, my mom knew it was just a matter of time until my sister and I would start to get unruly. That’s when she would pull out something she had prepared for just the occasion: “The Kit.”
The Kit was a collection of little toys and games that was specially curated to keep my sister and I occupied. The neat thing about The Kit, and what made it so effective (resulting in my parents’ sanity, a very important thing to have intact), was that it was so carefully and thoughtfully planned out. My mom used her experience to know the times when she would need to pull out the kit, and planned the kit beforehand. If the car trip was more than thirty minutes long, then it was time to start planning.
We are the same way. We will find ourselves with little pockets of time during our day. Even during busy days, there are little sections of time that open up. We often call these moments “down time”, when there’s nothing to do. At these times we might twiddle our thumbs, look at our cell phone and check our email, or other unimportant things.
But what if we actually planned for those times beforehand, and pulled out a task we knew was going to be productive?
The question is not if we will have spare time, but when. Even if it’s five minutes, that’s just enough to come up with an idea to a problem or a concept for a project. We can pull out a pocket sketchbook, or type a story idea in our note app. We can harness those little pockets of time that we’re given and use them to our advantage. But it takes preparation… if we look for something to do when the time comes, then it will be gone before we know it, and the opportunity will be lost.
7. Do A Time Audit of your Week
Take a little pad and pen, take each and every day of a week, and account for where it goes by the hour. If possible, even take 10 or 15 minute chunks and write it down.
This may seem daunting, and a pain to take the time to do….but there’s no greater way to see the light than when it’s right there in front of your face.
It will be revealing, shocking, and a little scary at first.
But on the other side will be a revelation. You will find that:
- You spend a great deal of time “in between things”
- You spend a lot of moments fixing problems
- You do a lot of traveling
- You deal with a lot of seeming ‘emergencies’, things that seem urgent but are not critical.
8. Set Goals For The Week and Keep Them
This is the best way to get what you want out of your time: setting goals and keeping those goals.
The best goals have an acronym… they are S.M.A.R.T.:
Block time out, sit down on a Sunday, and map out what you want to accomplish that week.
Then break that down in to actionable items, put it in your schedule for the week.
If you can, set reminders in your phone. There’s a saying that goes, “If it’s not in your calendar, then it’s not important.”
9. Figure Out What Your Time Is Worth
Map it out… break down your hourly worth when you’re working. When you think about doing stuff that doesn’t matter, invoke that knowledge that your time is worth a certain amount.
BUT…don’t use this to shortchange your relaxation time, or your family / personal time. It’s worth spending that time, it pays emotional and personal dividends that money can’t touch.
You will use this as a guide for managing your time… it will be very useful.
By the way, as you continue in your creative career, this number will steadily increase if you do your job right. As you get more recognized and sell more work and services and gradually raise your prices, then your hourly rate will go up. You will be able to do more with less time, and as you get better of course the time it takes to do it will decrease. Furthermore, you will be happy because you’re doing work that you love to do.
10. Rely On Others To Do What You Can’t Or Don’t Like To Do
We tend to be fiercely independent. But sometimes we have to admit that there are other people who are better at certain things than we are. If we want to get more time, we have to let them do their jobs.
For example, let’s say you mow your lawn and work in your yard. But it takes you 3 hours. Your time is worth $25/hour, so it ‘cost’ you $75 to do your own yard work. But let’s say you can hire somebody to do all that for $50. You spend the 3 hours you would have spent doing that making art that you can sell instead. In fact, it’s not unrealistic to say that several of those three hour sessions can easily result in a painting that you can sell for $500, $1000, or more.
So you do what you’re best at, and the yard people do what they’re really great at doing, and they get paid for doing it. (And as a bonus, you don’t have grass in your clothes and insect bites.)
A lot of people have a hard time letting it go and allowing other people to help them. They are often afraid of being seen as not productive. In our culture, unfortunately, we often wear exhaustion as a badge of honor. We take pride in the fact that we haven’t taken our vacation for the year yet because we worked during that time. (There is an average of four days of vacation that Americans don’t take every year. What a waste!)
11. Take A Rest
This may seem counter-intuitive, but taking a break will result in more efficient use of your time after the break. When we try to work hours on end without stopping, we have a diminishing effect over time. The result is, we become more tired and the work gets less good.
Stop and take periodic breaks. Meditate. Rest. Go for a walk. Get enough sleep. Not only will you be healthier and happier, you will also make the most of the time that you do spend working.
Remember…If You Can Take Time… Then You Can Make Time
All it takes to get more time out of your day is a modest investment up front. This time can be used to plan, to develop better mindsets, or to rest.
Here are some questions to reflect on:
- Do you feel like you have enough time for the creative work you want to do
- Do you feel frustrated that you don’t get more art done?
- Do you look back on the previous week and feel disappointed with your efforts?
- Do you beat yourself up when you don’t make a personal deadline, or leave work unfinished?
- Would you be willing to spend a little time planning or thinking about some better time habits?
- What would it feel like to have accomplished the goals you set for yourself?
- How can you go about managing your time to make those goals happen?
Thanks for reading! Did you learn anything about yourself? Do you have more input on this topic of time? If so, please share your thoughts with others in the comments below.