I shared in my last blog how I stay productive by not working for hours on end but rather working in structured chunks of focused time.
Before I quit my day job, I thought it was going to be magical having all these hours in a day to do what I love to do. In a way, it is true. I do have more time and flexibility to work on my art business. But it’s also true that time is still limited, and this somewhat false idea of “having all these hours in a day” sets a tricky expectation for me as I settle into my new routine.
Let’s face it. You’re not just doing “what you love” all the time, either. For me, what I love the most is actually making something. But I also manage my social media, write blog posts and newsletter (which I’ve come to love more), take and edit product photos, update my online shops, work on commission, answering emails, doing my finances, ordering supplies etc. etc. etc. And they actually take up a lot of time!! In fact, some days I spend most of the day doing those things and spend very little time making art. Sigh. That reminds me, I was telling someone when they asked me what I did at my day job that I spent majority of my time responding to emails. Because that’s what I ended up doing all. the. time. Double sigh.
When I had a day job, I worked for 10 hours per day, 3 days a week. I also spent about 1.5 hours per day commuting. All in all, it was not terrible. I typically had two weekdays, weekends, and weeknight after work to do my art. Time seemed much more precious then, and I treated it as such. It also provided structure and routine in my week, which helped me to function at a higher level. Oh by the way I read somewhere that moms are the most efficient people. I totally believe it!!
Since I quit my day job I’ve been shifting my mindset around time a little bit. Even though I don’t have a day job to go to, which on average took up about 34 hours per week plus all kinds of mental space, I still only have 24 hours a day.
I’m also trying to put some safeguards in place so I won’t burn out. That means I don’t work late into the night any more, and I’m taking at least one day off a week unless I really have to work. AND I’m planning on taking every 7th week off to step back from my day-to-day business stuff and recharge. My first small scale sabbatical will be the week of October 5th! I’m super excited about it and will share more later!
Anyway, going back to the issue of time management, I developed a daily creative practice when I started my 365 Day Happiness Project in April 2014. I knew that in order to become a successful artist, I needed to put myself out there every day. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece every day. Just doing the work consistently is what’s most important. Creative muscles need to be exercised every day. And just like physical workout, you need to be pushed just enough so you know you are capable of accomplishing something you didn’t think were possible.
The daily art practice added about 1-1.5 hours per day to my already pretty busy life with a day job, managing my art business (all the un-fun things I mentioned above), and other miscellaneous responsibilities (e.g. family time, taking care of pets, maintaining our vegetable gardens, volunteering, chores etc.) The daily art project also involved taking a photo, editing them in Photoshop, and scheduling a post on Facebook, twitter, and blog.
On my typical work day, my schedule looked like this:
6-7:15pm: Get up, eat breakfast, pet care, grab stuff and go.
7:15-8am: Drive to the pool I used to exercise at. It was very close to the office.
9-9:30am: Shower, get dressed, go to work.
9:30am – 7:30pm: Work!
7:30-8pm: Commute home. Fortunately, by this time of the day the traffic is not as bad.
8-9:30pm: Eat dinner (my husband usually cooks dinner, which is super helpful!), watch a show on Netflix, catch up, do the dishes.
9:30-11pm: Art time
11-11:30pm: Get ready for the next day and go to bed!
Here is the thing: In order to commit to having a daily creative practice, you do need to say “NO” to things.
Yes, it sucks. But unless you have some sort of magical superpower, that is the only way you can create more time to work on your art. Wishing there was more time won’t help you, but actually stop doing other things will.
Here is a list of things I said “NO” to in order to create time to pursue art:
- Paycheck and benefits from having a full-time job since I cut back on my hours at my old day job
- Time with my husband
- Earlier bedtime
- Binge watching shows on Netflix
- Following other creative pursuits (e.g. crocheting, sewing, needle-felting etc.)
- Seeing friends
- I also stopped volunteering for a group I was with for many years at the end of 2014. It was a very difficult choice but needed to happen. I’ve said this before, but it’s not just time we’re concerned about. You need to have enough mind space to do the creative work, too.
Not having a day job allows me more flexibility, but I still say no to a lot of things because I don’t want to go down a slippery slope. I remind myself that I didn’t quit my day job to relax and have fun (=I’m not retired yet :)) Because I no longer have the external pressure, I need to be even more disciplined about how I spend my time now.
If you’re reading this and thinking, “Well, I still have a day job (and/or kids, or any other major responsibilities) and can’t imagine fitting in a daily creative practice!!” don’t worry, I have some suggestions!
1) Identify your big goal and write down how having a daily creative practice is going to help you achieve the goal.
For many people, it’s difficult to make a commitment or sacrifice something if you’re not connected to the goal or a cause on a personal level.
Start out by exploring why this is important to you. Find your internal motivation. Why do you want to do this? It needs to be your choice. Not because I’m telling you to do it or everyone else is doing it.
How would your life be different if you made art every day? How could your daily practice get you closer to your dream? Write them down and read it whenever you feel discouraged!
2) Review your daily routine and identify “time wasters.”
How much time do you spend scrolling through your social media feeds? Or watching endless funny cat videos on YouTube? I know they want you to spend as long as you can on there. Or binge watching shows on Netflix every night because some of the shows are SO addictive? (Hello, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.!) I’m not immune to it myself, nor am I saying you can’t have any of it.
I’m just saying be mindful of how much time you’re spending on things that do not get you closer to achieving your goal. You might need to be your own parents sometimes and say things like, “No Facebook until your daily practice is done!”
The way I manage it is: I check my email and all of my social media after breakfast and respond to everything I can then. Then throughout the day, I post things or respond to things as I take my mini breaks between my focused work time. I take about 15-30 minutes each time to do so depending on what I need to do and how long I’ve been working. Once my break is over, I close all the unnecessary tabs on browser, put my phone on airplane mode, and get back to work. Before Dinner, I check everything again for the last time that day.
We watch one episode of a show we like on Netflix during dinner, and one episode is about 40 minutes. If I have more work to do after dinner, then I’ll do that after one episode and may resume watching more after my work is done if it’s not too late (remember I try to go to bed by 10 nowadays…) If I had a super productive day before dinner or it’s my day off, then we splurge and binge watch something or watch a movie.
3) Think before saying “YES”
Do you like to help people? Do you have skills other people value? Or are you just so awesome that people want to do things with you all the time? These are not bad things!
But saying “YES” to everything you’re invited to will definitely not help you have more time for a daily creative practice. When someone asks you to ______ (e.g. volunteer, attend a charity event, go see a movie, babysit etc.), know it’s OK to think before giving them an answer.
“NO” is always an option. That’s why people ask, not command. (Note: If your friend is demanding you to do something for them, well, then it’s time to evaluate your relationship… ) People are resourceful. They will find another solution if you can’t help them.
If you feel selfish prioritizing your needs before others’, imagine one of your closest friends saying no to one of your events because they’re working hard to make their dream come true. Yes you might feel disappointed, but you also want to understand and support them. You can always appreciate their invitation and let them know that it’s not a “NO” forever.
4) Schedule time and stick to it.
If you’ve been reading my blog, you know this is my mantra. If there is a regular time that works for you, even better.
What about getting up a little bit earlier before your family wakes up? Or later in the evening after they go to bed? Lunch time at the office? Or doodle during your meetings? If you can’t take a chunk of time, even 15 minutes would work to do a quick sketch of whatever you have. If it takes too much time to decide what to draw every day, draw the same thing every day but from a different angle or use a different medium. Try a different color pallet. Draw it in different styles or proportions. Enjoy the process!
5) Focus your goal around consistency and not how perfect it is.
I know I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. Your success should be measured by the act of creating something every day and not by how perfect it is. Oftentimes people get discouraged and quit because they have a vision of what their creation should look like, and what they make isn’t perfect. Make it your goal to show up every day even if your work isn’t a masterpiece. Keep showing up and practice, and you will produce higher quality work more consistently!
6) Know what works for you and your situation.
Be creative in your problem solving. You know your situation and what works for you the best. I’m a big fan of structure, daily routine, and public accountability, but I know it doesn’t work for everyone. Some people prefer having more flexible tools or having a one-on-one accountability, like having a coach, to stay motivated.
I mostly share tools that work for me not because they’re better than other methods – I want to demonstrate to you that when you stick to things that work for you, you can achieve higher results.
I hope these tips were helpful! What can you do today to get closer to your dream goal? I’ll be back with more tools for motivation next week 🙂
Talk to you soon!