Control Your Time and Become a More Successful Artist

Several months ago, I was on the edge of overload. I had a number of great projects in progress, gallery sales were humming along, and the little things that a business owner has to deal with were beginning to compound. Add to that dealing with dozens of emails each day, random phone calls, traveling and meetings, (not to mention writing for this blog) and, quite simply, there weren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done.

Though I am fortunate to have a high stress tolerance, I was beginning to feel the weight of carrying a workload that was simply too high. Many days I would start work before 8:00 a.m., work all day, come home and, after dinner, work again until 10 or 11 at night. Even so, each day I felt I was falling just a little further behind in accomplishing everything I wanted to get done.

On a regular basis, I have the opportunity to talk to artists and have found that many are experiencing exactly the same predicament.

 You might not think of it this way, but as an artist you are the owner of a small business

You might not think of it this way, but as an artist you are the owner of a small business, just as I am.  As the owner of your fine art business, you have to manage your accounting, your inventory, and your marketing. You have to find time to build and maintain relationships with galleries. If you sell your own work, you have to manage your sales, both by making sure that you are developing new leads and following up and closing sales. You are responsible for managing your website and following through with your social media. These tasks alone could keep you busy most days, and we haven’t even mentioned your most important work: creating art.

I am sure that many of you can understand the desperation that was beginning to creep into my days.

Luckily for me, I was directed to some tools that have changed my day-to-day life and helped me get control of my time.

I don’t want to cast myself as a time-management expert, nor is my intention to write an all-encompassing post on how to get control of your life. I just want to share a few things that have had a huge impact for me, and could help you become more productive and feel like you are in control of your day, and more importantly, your over-all direction.

 

The Ideal Week

Many of you know Barney Davey through podcasting and workshops we have done together. Barney is a fountain of great information and he is particularly good at finding great tools and resources online. I consider him to be my digital guru. Several months ago, Barney pointed me to Michael Hyatt’s blog.

Hyatt is the former president and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers and blogs about leadership at michaelhyatt.com. While his blog posts cover a wide range of leadership topics, Barney directed me to an article on planning, where Hyatt describes how he designs an “ideal week.” I recommend you read Hyatt’s post by clicking here.

I won’t attempt to repeat everything Hyatt writes. but the basic concept is that by creating a template of your week – scheduling out your time in blocks – you become more efficient and complete your most important work. Obviously Hyatt isn’t the first to discover the concept, this is a bedrock time-management principle, but the timing was just right for me. I read his article at exactly the moment when I needed to have more control over my activities. Hyatt includes a downloadable spreadsheet that you can adapt to your schedule, and I did just that.

the act of creating the ideal week was revealing – it forced me to prioritize so that I could allot my time to those tasks that are most important to me.

Again, this isn’t rocket science and after creating my own ideal week, it seemed so obvious I couldn’t believe I hadn’t done it before. Just the act of creating the ideal week was revealing. It forced me to prioritize so that I could allot my time to those tasks that are most important to me. Reading Hyatt’s post, you’ll see that he suggests starting your day with your long-term priorities, rather than your day-to-day tasks.

Prior to this exercise, I would sit down at the beginning of each day, look at my task-list (more on that in a moment) and try to plan things out as best I could. The problem with this is that prioritizing on a daily basis often caused me to work on projects that were urgent rather than important.

I encourage you to try and plan your own ideal week and see what it looks like. I suspect that the biggest blocks of time on your schedule will be for your creative process and production time.

Once I had my ideal week on paper, I was surprised by how easy it was to begin following my plan. I created my spreadsheet in Google Docs and I have it set as a permanent tab in my browser so it is always easy for me to access. I look at it every day to make sure I know what I need to be working on that particular day.

 

The To-Do List

I have long been a fan of the to-do list. I always have dozens of little tasks pending, and prior to using a to-do list I would often drop the ball on some of these minor tasks. Several years ago, I converted to managing my email in Outlook and started using the integrated task list in the program to make sure I was getting everything done. This was another revolution in my life. Any of you who have used Outlook before know how easy it is to create a task or convert an email into a task, set a due date, and then manage the list.

In May of this year, I moved the gallery’s email to Google for hosting through their gmail system. I kept hearing how wonderful gmail was at cutting through the clutter of the inbox and making it easier to manage. I’ll have to write another post on how amazing I have found gmail to be, but the one downside was losing Outlook’s great tasking system. Gmail offers a to-do list, but after trying it I found that it simply wasn’t robust enough to deal with my tasking.

Barney Davey saved me again by pointing me to todoist.com. Todoist is an online task and project management web app that not only gave me back a lot of the flexibility to move tasks around and prioritize them (as Outlook had) but gave me a cleaner interface and a workflow that felt more natural to me.

Quite simply, whenever a project or task comes up, I put it into todoist.

Prior to using a to-do list, I would be tempted to simply go to work on every thought or idea that popped into my head. Consequently, I would bounce around from project to project because invariably, as I was working on one project I would have an idea for another.

Now if I have an idea or realize I need to do something, I pop into todoist (also a permanent tab in my browser), create a task (by simply hitting ctrl+q), assign it a date, and go back to my original project. Because I am secure in the knowledge the task won’t be forgotten, I can now forget about it and get back to the original work I was doing.

My to-do list works in tandem with my ideal week. I plan out my broad strokes with the ideal week schedule and manage the little tasks involved in each project or day to day activity in my to-do list. I do have to be a little bit careful about not looking at my to-do list at the beginning of the day for fear that I will be derailed by the little things it contains. I work on my big projects in the morning and through about 2:00 p.m., and then I look to my to-do list to manage the rest of my day and get everything done.

 

Delegate

Perhaps the hardest thing for any small business owner to do (and remember, I consider you a small business owner) is to let go of some of the control of any aspect of your business by delegating it to someone else. As small business owners, we often have to figure out how to do everything on our own – all the way from the most important business decisions down to cleaning the bathroom. After a while, it becomes a way of life and we feel pretty good about the fact that we can do so much by ourselves.

Ultimately, however, our self-reliance can become a hindrance to our long-term success. Yes, you can do your own bookkeeping and taxes, and yes, you can ship your own art, and yes, you can clean the bathroom, but is doing these things the best use of your limited time?

A week consists of 168 hours and every minute you spend on one task is a minute you can’t spend on another.

I am fortunate to have great people working for me, and the work they do for me frees me to focus my efforts on the work that I have prioritized as most important for our long-term success.

You might say “I’m a starving artist, I can’t hire anyone.” Indeed, you may not be able to hire someone to work full-time for you, but if you can simply farm out some of the more basic parts of your business, you will find you have more time to create. Consider having a bookkeeper take over your day-to-day financial record keeping. Hire an art-student to come into your studio weekly to organize and clean the studio and catalog your artwork. Have your spouse take over your website maintenance.

To my delight, I have found that not only can others do the work I was originally doing myself, after a little training they often do it better than I could!

Learn to say “No”

While you may have countless great ideas and opportunities, none of them are any good to you if you can’t get them done. Sometimes you just have to learn to put your foot down and say “no” to things that are going to prevent you from accomplishing your priorities. Again, your ideal week can be a huge help in budgeting your time in relationship to “opportunities” that might pop up.

You might be approached by a charity that is looking for volunteers to help with an event. If you believe in the cause it can be very difficult to decline. Before you accept, however, go to your ideal week calendar and ask yourself where you can fit in the commitment and how much time it’s going to require. If you’re not willing to give up other priorities to fit the commitment in, decline the opportunity.

Michael Hyatt has another great post on saying “no” in a positive way: http://michaelhyatt.com/how-to-say-no.html

Eliminate Distractions and Create a Buffer

Prioritizing and planning are meaningless if you can’t stay focused while you are working on your priorities. We live in a world of constant distraction. Email, phone calls, television and even friends and family can intrude on our productive time and prevent us from accomplishing our goals. Once again, the urgent can get in the way of the important.

I experienced another huge productivity increase when I simply changed my habits around my email. I used to work on my email first thing in the morning. I would arrive at the gallery before 8:00 a.m. and open my inbox to get to work on clearing it out. Inevitably, I would end up stuck in my email for hours, and sometimes all day. Email comes in at a steady stream, so just when you think you have it licked, another message rears its ugly head.

Now, I don’t even open my email until after 3:00 p.m., and yet, amazingly, I can still manage to respond to all of my correspondence before the end of the day.

I try to do the same thing with phone calls – I ask my staff to take messages or I let calls roll-over to voice mail so that I can deal with them on my time. Obviously there are exceptions, but most emails and calls aren’t so urgent that they can’t wait a few hours so that you can stay focused on your most important work.

I have also found that I am less distracted if I create a physical and psychological buffer between myself and the world around me. A closed office door (or studio door in your case) and headphones create enough of a barrier that all but the most insistent distractions are blocked. While the wrong music could be another distraction, I have found that classical music and instrumental movie soundtracks actually help me focus.

The Payoff

I know these suggestions are pretty simple, but it’s amazing how taking control of my time has impacted my outlook on life. At the end of each day, I can now look back with satisfaction on the work I’ve accomplished and the progress I’ve made toward my goals, instead of feeling guilty that I didn’t get everything done.

Managing my time more carefully has, almost miraculously, given me more time to stop and smell the roses of life. Over the last several months, I have read two lengthy books to my children and spent more time with my wife, Carrie.

There is still much more I need to do to optimize my time and work and I’m not always 100% consistent, but at least now I feel like I am on the right track and have the tools at my disposal to take advantage of the time I have available.

What are your greatest time-management challenges? What tools do you use to maximize your productivity? How does your control of your time impact the art you are creating?

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business. Connect with Jason on Facebook

23 Comments

  1. I use Wunderlist for my To-Dos and couldn’t survive without it. I have a dozen different lists from To Do to what to get at the hardware store the next time I am there. Likewise for Costco, Walmart, the Grocery Store, and my art booth…and so on and so forth. It is synced across multiple devices like phones, laptops and workstations so whenever a thought hits me, I can divest myself of it.

  2. Hello Jason – this is an excellent post and myself as an art consultant and artist business advisor – I see this frequently. Time is very democratic in that there are only 24 hours of it – but for artists the need for time to visualize and express their work on an ongoing basis . . . can be a challenge. Add to that – creating art is not just an “on-demand, technical skill” it also demands an emotional connection and meaning that may be more abundant on some days more than others. Leaving behind work that others can do and delegating it can prove to be a more liberating approach . . .

  3. I definitely agree about the email. If I start answering them in the morning I can guarantee the whole day will pass before I finish. I have two small children and as a single parent my time during the day is very limited and precious. I run errands instead and set a time limit to be back at home/studio.

    There are some really good points here Jason, thank you. With my children I find it terribly difficult to get much work done in normal hours. So my studio time is 7.30pm – 2.00am instead. In some ways I am more unorganised but in other ways I am more driven to set aside actual chunks of time. The beauty of my hours is I am not interrupted or tempted by distractions nearly as much as during the day. I suppose by having two very distinct work times has helped me. My day time office/errands time and my separate late night studio time.

    My tips would be to schedule actual time for your work just like any job yet remain flexible. If something becomes unlikely to happen fill that time with another task. I think a lot of artists are tempted to do other things when the task falls through. So having that to-do list really helps here. I have been using a notebook for years so might have to look into these online examples! Having an organised space also really helps.

  4. This is a great reminder, Jason. For the last year I have been using a spreadsheet weekly planner I customized in Apple’s Pages app. It was working quite well for me but I slipped off it at the beginning of the summer as my wife (who is a teacher) had the last couple of months off. I found myself becoming disorganized as the doldrums of summer set in (low sales, vacation time and Georgia heatwave!) As I ramp up for the fall, I have revamped my fall schedule thanks this post. Thanks!

  5. For those who prefer a pen and paper to do solution, I really like Bullet Journal methods:
    http://bulletjournal.com/
    It’s really simple, customizable, and I don’t have to be online to use it (i.e., less email and social media distraction).
    When I need a list that I can use from multiple locations (town errand list, for example), I love Workflowy.com. It let’s me organize my lists and tick things off it from a phone app wherever I am.
    Thanks for the spreadsheet tips, Jason. Good timing for me, too!

  6. This article came at a perfect time for me. I have totally lost myself in life. My works in progress are staring at me waiting patiently for me to return. Sometimes I feel I’m not meant to be an artist. Life keeps getting in the way of my studio time. Summer’s are hard. We live on a Lake and have a boat. I’m not complaining but work is calling me everyday. How can I become sucsseful if I’m not there? If I could only find the discipline to make the time. I haven’t worked seriously in weeks. I’m not managing my web page. Most of all I need to build a new body of work. For future gallery shows. Getting back into the mix. So after all that venting. Thank you! It’s time! I need to organize. This article and the comments are so motivating to get busy organizing so I can get busy working at what I love!

    1. I’m sort of in the same boat. – no pun intended!! 🙂 I make a living as a self-employed graphic design artist. I’m constantly struggling to make ends meet. I feel totally overwhelmed so much of the time that my painting ends up being the last thing I address. I don’t know how to control the chaos that seems to reign all things – but I do like this spread sheet idea.

  7. Great post. I have been on a roller coaster ride for a while trying to figure out the best way to organize my days. There are several things in this post that I will be using in the future. Thank you so much

  8. This was a really inspiring article. My biggest problem is that I never seem to have any time left to produce my art after I have done all the other things that have to be done first. Having just made a plan of my week showing my actual unavoisable obligations, I am shocked to see how many hours I actually have left. Working in my own home is always going to cause a few problems, but I think I can see now how I can prioritise and organize the hours. Thank you.

  9. great post and just in time when all sorts of problems raised their heads during an extreme time crunch, so I took a day and felt sorry for myself, complained but after sleeping on everything I’m better and thinking clearly. I do pretty well with my time for my art because I could spend all day everyday my problems arise when I don’t leave time to manage the rest of my life. It is just a matter of taking control, however you do it, and control it and don’t let it control you. Easier said than done but you just have to do it for sanity’s sake 🙂

  10. Jason, your red dot blogs are providing hundreds and probably thousands of artists all over the world with a wealth of information, ideas, and good sound advice; and this one was no exception! I consider them so worthwhile that I make it a point to read each one. But while we’re on the subject of work/task overload and time management, I would like to offer a suggestion. What if you were to make the red dot blogs a weekly or semiweekly offering? Personally, that would make it SO much easier for me to keep up with them. They would be something to eagerly anticipate; I would be saying to myself, “It’s almost time for Jason’s next blog!”, rather than “Another one ALREADY?!” 🙂 I can only speak for myself, but I suspect that many more artists would benefit from your blogs… if only they could keep up with reading them all! I could be wrong, but might it also be easier on you to know that you only had to produce one or two a week? It would free up some space in your weekly template for other important tasks. Just a thought, but, either way, please do keep the blogs coming; we appreciate and need them!

  11. I completed “My Ideal Week” in excel using Michael Hyatt’s template – what a gift! I retired over a year ago, and had wanted to create more of a structure for myself. I’ve posted the schedule in my office/studio, and am positive it will help me better manage my time and become more productive.

    Thank you so much for providing such practical, useful information in your blogs. I agree with Michael Green that a weekly blog would be more digestible – your loyal fans would certainly not forget about you in the span of seven days! Thanks again!

  12. Great topic, Jason!
    I’m not really good at spreadsheets. It’s easy for me to blow them off or lose them. Todoit dropped me because I just wasn’t using it! What has helped me has been the tools I’ve learned in a personal development program. Here are the questions on one tool I use: What is Critical for me to accomplish today? What is Urgent for me to accomplish today? What is Important for me to accomplish today? Figure out the 3 highest priority, highest impact activities I will focus on. What are the 3 highest income producing acitivities I am focuing on and getting done today? Who do I need to contact today. Really important stuff that came up that I can do at a later date. If I have time I will…Another tool is to look at my goals for the day, what obstacles there could be (distraction, surfing the net, etc) , what plan do I have to deal with those obstacles. What 3 activities I will take immediate action on. I work on these every morning, very first thing, plus I write down the tasks I need to do that day. I have been really happy with this system. I’ve been spending days going through old tools, etc from when I was a jeweler, books, papers, etc. I hadn’t painted in a long time. But with these tools I’ve started painting first think in the morning so I can’t say I couldn’t find the time. And of course, learn to delegate and say no.

  13. Another thing I do is set a timer. It keeps me from over doing something when I can’t waste time. I’ve started using a timer when I paint. I really lose track of time there otherwise. It also keeps me from noodling a painting to death, because I know it will be going off so I want to get as much work done before my allotted time is up. I end up making decisions more quickly and decisively. And I know that I’ve painted for the day which gives me a good sense of accomplishment.

  14. Great read, I would be lost without my planner. It keeps me on track and accountable. I am a one woman army, and there is lots to do in running my show! This year was the first time I was able to enjoy the summer season and still get my work done without running myself ragged. Thanks Jason

  15. Always feeling somewhat overwhelmed, I had a list of things I needed to get done that day. As I completed each item on the list, I noted the start and finish time on my calendar. (Previously, I just ran through the list but never felt I accomplished enough.) What I found by doing this made me feel a bit better. For instance, phone calls I needed to make and thought would take less than 10 minutes were actually taking about 30 minutes or more. Making 3 phone calls took 90 minutes rather than the 30 I expected. Delays included “Please wait for the next available person,” then being redirected not only once but sometimes twice to get to the right person; having a call drop; being given another number to call; having to now look for information I thought they had. I began to realize I wasn’t wasting time and shuffling papers; part of the time it took to get some projects done was out of my control. When I saw the list of what I had actually accomplished helped. However, I’m still going to look at the spreadsheet and work on other aspects of my day. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

  16. Jason, Many thanks for your excellent tips. Here’s what works for me – Like you, I use a to-do list. Also, I paint every weekday from 8am until 3 or 4pm (with exceptions for meetings with gallerists, designers, collectors, etc). Marketing/email/website updates get done in the evenings (that’s my ‘homework’ when my sons are doing their homework). Thanks again!

  17. Great article, Jason, and I think we forget that probably everyone, no matter what you do, feels overwhelmed these days. Always good to know you are not alone. As an artist, the part that was not addressed was the thinking part. Making art is often not a thing that like paperwork has not a real beginning and end such as paying 5 bills and filing. I find I need time to think about a new series, what to include,, what not to include. What feeling will it have? How many images to get the concept across, size, etc. Often, like a lot of people, I suspect we are doing this when we should be sleeping. Well food for thought. Thanks again!

  18. Another great post Jason! I have a burning question, though: A while back, you recommended ToDoist, which I got. Then a few months later (maybe during the Academy?) you recommended WorkFlowy – which I also got, and switched over. Can you please clarify – do you now use both? If so, how do you use them together?
    Thanks, Lynn K

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