This is about time management for artists. Wait – don’t run away! Because it’s also about deciding what matters to you. And how you’re going to get it done and feel good about it. Managing energy, managing expectations, managing distraction – they’re all part of managing your time.
For many artists, even the words “time management” sound restrictive. They sound so corporate, so un-creative, so lacking in any understanding of what you as an artist really do. BusinessDictionary.com says that time management is systematic, priority-based structuring of time allocation and distribution among competing demands. Maybe it’s the idea of systematic that puts you off. What about the artist’s life is systematic? And time allocation and distribution – artists by nature are imaginative. How imaginative is that?
Or maybe it’s those famous books on time management. They have titles like:
- The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen R Covey)
- Eat That Frog (Brian Tracy)
- Getting Things Done (David Allen)
- The 4-hour Workweek (Tim Ferris)
- The 5 A.M. Miracle: Dominate Your Day Before Breakfast (Jeff Sanders).
(above are all affiliate links)
The ideas in them might be useful for a busy executive, but you don’t see how they could have much to say about the life of a working artist.
And yet, sometimes you feel overwhelmed. There’s so much to do. You ask yourself if you’re really creating as much as you could. If your art career might get more traction if you had more time to work on it. If there’s a way to feel less at the end of the day like you didn’t do what you wanted. And more like the productive and fulfilled artist you set out to be.
If you ask yourself questions like these, you definitely aren’t alone. Managing multiple expectations, structuring your daily life so it supports regular art time, and feeling satisfied with your choices are ongoing struggles for many artists.
The good news? You can use your creative brain to figure all this out. You can ask different questions, questions that will help you be your best artist self without so much struggle.
But remember, there are no wrong answers to any of these questions. There are only you and your special circumstance. Which are right by definition. You aren’t a problem to be solved. You are your greatest resource.
Getting started with Time Management
So you’d like to feel more directed and productive. Like you know what you’re going to do next. More like an artist and less like a juggler. If so, these are the questions that come before anything else.
What do you want?
What’s important enough so you can commit to it?
If you don’t know what’s important, how do you know whether to do it or not?
You can also ask yourself: Do I have goals? If so, what are they? If not, should I develop some? If I don’t want to quantify what I want, how will I know when I’ve achieved it? What do I want to change?
Remember, there are no wrong answers. What’s right for you is right. But you’re more likely to know what’s right for you if you ask the questions.
For example, this is what I want: Almost daily time for the work that matters most to me. Enough money so I don’t have to think about it. Recognition. Connection. Possibility.
Tara Swiger, artist and marketing coach for crafters, wants this: “Having fun. Having space and time for creativity. Writing. Watering my enthusiasm. Following the moment.” (You’ll hear more about Tara later.)
Artist, performer, Happiness Catalyst, and Creativity Instigator Melissa Dinwiddie, already familiar to many of you, wants “Control over how I spend my time, feeling content and happy with my life, and making a positive impact on the world.”
Your list of wants might not look like any of these. Just remember that when you know what you want, you have a much better chance of knowing whether you’ve got it or not.
Questions About Time Management
We each have all the time there is. We get 24 hours in every day. In 24 hours, we sleep, eat, and spend time with our spouse, friends, children, dog. We commute to our day job or are involved with our community. Sometimes we go to the bank or the dentist or on vacation or get groceries. Somewhere in there we also make our art and try to get people to pay attention to it.
How much time do you have for the artist part of your life? No, really, how much time do you have? Do you have half a day every day, one day a week, Saturday afternoon, between 5:00 and 6:00 after work, between 5:30 and 6:30 in the morning, 15 minutes a day? Are you using that time as well as you can?
Out of what is important to you, what will you do in the time you have?
What really matters?
Of course, you don’t have enough time! Who does? You have your art-making, your family commitments, the rest of your life.
But then again, do you really not have enough time? Or is it that you have lots of time and you aren’t using it for what’s important to you? Is your time taken with things that used to be matter but don’t so much now? Are you busy doing things you don’t really want to do? Are you clear on what’s important? How can you do less of what you don’t want and more of what you do?
Sometimes we need to do less in order to do more. So you can have more time with what you do want, do you need to say no to what you don’t want? Or do you need to say no to some things you do want, so you can do more of what you want most?
What can you say no to? What can you delegate? What can someone else do? What can you just stop doing?
Many artists are hard-wired for communication, connection and contributing. It’s hard to say no. Remember that every project you commit to means there’s something else that won’t happen. Time isn’t elastic. Your interests change. Other people can do more than you think they can. How will you make more time for what matters?
Now that you know what you want, how much time you have, how to make choices and how to say no, all that’s left is to fit it together.
What structure works for you? Are you most creative in the morning? Does that mean you’ll need to get up earlier to fit in some art before your job? Do you work best in small steps with a timer and lots of breaks? Do you need to get the paperwork and marketing out of the way first so it doesn’t distract you from your real purpose? Or is any time you spend on social media before 4:00 p.m. just a distraction and an excuse to procrastinate?
Using me as an example again, I have sleep issues and therefore problems waking up in the morning. This is lifelong and probably not going to change. But my work day goes best if I can be in the studio by 10:00 a.m. So I need to manage bedtime and morning in ways that serve me and my art, not hinder us.
My work day also goes best if I don’t need to change directions mentally to meet people until I’m ready to stop painting for the day. So I don’t do morning appointments or lunch dates unless they’re scheduled on designated non-studio days. Like many artists, I have other kinds of work besides painting, both for income and for connection. Where possible, these get into the calendar after 2:30 in the afternoon, so my current painting gets a good few hours’ attention before anything else does.
And sometimes, despite my best intentions, the entire plan falls apart. That’s what tomorrow is made for – beginning again.
As you work out your best schedule, you may need to try different approaches. But really try them. Don’t think that one or two failures means it won’t work. Failure is really only a chance to learn.
How much is enough?
Because wanting to manage your time better is usually about wanting to get the best out of that time, how will you know when you’ve done enough? How will you feel satisfied at the end of your artist day?
Personal growth pioneer Jennifer Louden has written about this more usefully than practically anyone. I think her Conditions of Enoughness should be required reading for everyone who hears what Louden calls the Hounds of More, More, More. Conditions of Enoughness uses four steps to create a boundary or container around anything. The four steps are:
- Name what is enough in simple facts
- Include a time element. For how long…How often…By when….
- Ensure these conditions are dependent on ONLY YOU on an AVERAGE day. Not a superhuman day.
- Declare you are satisfied when your conditions are met—even if you don’t feel
Why? As Louden says, research shows that this is what allows us to build and sustain our momentum. You will get in the habit of trusting yourself and your own judgment, and you will then be more likely to trust your management of time.
The last important question: How will you celebrate? Because celebrating your accomplishments will also get you in the habit of trusting your own judgment. Stop for a minute. Recognize what you’ve done.
Then tomorrow, you’ll have another 24 hours. Just think of everything you will achieve.
Every subject has experts. Here are some of the best on time management for artists.
Melissa Dinwiddie, artist, performer, Happiness Catalyst, and Creativity Instigator has written and recorded multiple articles and podcasts on the subject. One of her best is Time Management Is a Lie – Here’s the Truth (and You’re Not Going to Like It… But It Could Change Your Life). “If you don’t say no to some things, whether temporarily or permanently, you will absolutely, positively never get a handle on your time-crunch chaos.”
Cairene MacDonald, artist, writer and teacher, whose Atelier of Time offers generous and helpful learning opportunities through her School of the Fourth Dimension. “Time is not a force to be managed, but a dimension to be shaped.”
Mark McGuinness, creativity and motivation coach and author of Time Management for Creative People, a free e-book. “You’re an expert at getting things done…The trouble is, you’re not getting much done that has an impact.”
Springboard for the Arts, producer of Time Management for Artists. “When I read Stephen Covey’s book, it was just like every inch of every day is scheduled. It’s like not going to happen, not gonna work.”
Tara Swiger, marketing expert and podcast host. “You do not need to get better at ‘managing your time.’ You need to take action.”
About the author:
Laureen Marchand is an award-winning artist who paints, mentors other artists, and writes from her studio, exploring art-making, ideas, and the walks she takes through the open space near her home to sort it all out. Living just north of the Montana border in one of Canada’s most remote and beautiful regions, she makes realistic-looking oil paintings that consider how we perceive beauty and what we think beauty is. Laureen has exhibited regionally, nationally and internationally in more than two dozen solo and two-person exhibitions as well as over 40 group shows. Her paintings are held in many public and private collections and have been represented in exhibition catalogues and reviewed in newspapers and magazines. She has been artist in residence at the Leighton Colony/Banff Centre for the Arts, the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland, and the Ragdale Foundation in Illinois, among others.