“Time is the single most important resource that we have.
Every single minute we lose is never coming back.”
Have you ever found yourself getting irritated or anxious after not being able to work on what truly matters to you due to time-consuming “adult" obligations? Do you ever go to bed disappointed with yourself because you weren't able to create as much as you would have liked that day, week or month?
The past few months have been eye-opening for me in terms of realizing how important it is to prioritize tasks and create schedules for myself if I want to succeed as an artist/creative entrepreneur. I had been working for employers full-time for basically my entire career so far until last June, when I decided to resign from the Art Teaching position I had in the same school for five years. Currently, I am working for an employer only part-time teaching art and working on my own artistic projects the rest of the work day.
The first month or so after resigning, my husband and I had our hands full moving from our old apartment into the house we are living in today. After we were relatively settled in, and I felt like I had a decent work space set up (and the mental capacity to start this new phase in my career-gulp!), I began creating lists of both short and long-term goals that I wanted to accomplish. I knew from the start, that if I wanted to get anywhere as an artist, I would have to get serious, take matters into my own hands, and accomplish at least one thing every single day that would help me get closer and closer to my goal. I am lucky to have had those full-time job experiences which helped me develop a strong work ethic, organizational skills and an urgency to get things done.
It's been a struggle to fit everything I want to get done into one day, of course, as it probably is for most self-employed artists. Even though I consider myself relatively good at sticking to the commitments I have set for myself, it has been hard to remain disciplined working from home. It's been especially hard to focus on more business-related tasks because I am enjoying myself SO much as I finally have time to devote to my own artistic journey. During this time I have also learned that when one works from home, distractions are ever-present and that people who have never experienced being self-employed are prone to thinking that because you are working from home and doing your own thing, you must not be under pressure at all. Yeah, right!
Being the owner of a small business means managing accounting, inventory, marketing, finding time to network and create relationships with other artists/art enthusiasts, managing websites and social media, AND making awesome art. Not to mention, when one is self-employed, usually this means having to find different ways to diversify your income, which means juggling a bunch of things at once. Your level of success and income depends solely on you and the hustle you are willing to put in once you have defined your goals. As artists we are fully in charge of our own careers and, the sooner we realize that we are running a business and have to both learn to think strategically and follow through with decisive actions, the more successful we will become. For all this to happen, it is imperative that we learn to take control of our time.
Though I feel like my personal artistic journey is just beginning and I still have a lot to learn, I am happy to report that I have made decent progress towards my first set of goals, which included defining what it is that I want to offer, creating a cohesive online presence through my website and various art/creative platforms, growing an organic following on social media and to continue working hard at developing my artistic skills. I have managed to keep up with frequent posting on my main accounts (some daily, some weekly). I have also made it a priority to create blog posts twice a week and am continuously learning about SEO in order to reach a larger audience. I've learned SO incredibly much already and am progressing towards better time management, which I consider to be the foundation for everything else. Here are a few things that I have implemented myself and have allowed me to progress slowly but surely towards my objectives.
9 Useful Time Management Tips
1. Define your goals
“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” –Yogi Berra
First and foremost, you have to think about what is most important to you. Define what it is you want out of life at personal, career and family/social levels. These are all equally important. Who do you want to become? For me, it helps to think about the people I admire, even if they are not in the same field I am in professionally speaking. What is it about their personality that draws you to them? What kind of energy do they put out into the world? What would you say THEY prioritize? What steps do you think you have to take in order to become the version of yourself you want to become?
Once you know what you want in these three categories, set specific goals for each. Make sure these goals are measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Personally, I never think more than a year in advance. I list my goals for the year (perhaps around 5) and flesh out more specific things to work on each month based on those goals.
2. Create a weekly schedules and daily to-do lists
“Create a definite plan for carrying out your desire and begin at once, whether you are ready or not, to put this plan into action.” –Napoleon Hill
After thinking about where you want to be at the end of the year and breaking that larger goal up into monthly tasks, you have to think about what specific actions you will have to take each week to make those monthly goals happen. Creating weekly schedules and daily bullet lists whenever necessary is extremely helpful. For me, they are essential in order to function on a day to day basis.
I am usually pretty strict about following my time-block schedule from Monday through Friday, but for the weekends I prefer to leave my days a bit more open and flexible by creating simple checklists of things I have to get done. By keeping things more flexible on Saturdays and Sundays, I am able to work around family gatherings, social commitments, or other special events. As long as I make sure to check off my to-do list items, I go to bed happy, knowing that I made some progress.
Creating daily to-do lists is especially helpful on more chaotic days that will be full of important and varied activities. When I know one of these days is coming up I create my to-do list, making sure to highlight the activities I need to prioritize. These bullet lists include appointments or errands that I didn't initially account for in my weekly scheduling. If I am not able to get through my daily to-do lists, which happens more often than I'd like, I take the next day as a new opportunity instead of beating myself up about it. Life happens and, though it is important to create plans, we also have to remain flexible and keep in mind things are always going to pop up.
The image below is what my ideal work week looks like. I really recommend creating a schedule using time blocks. However, I highly recommend you to modify your schedule's format depending on what works for you personally. Remember to include personal/self, work and family/social time in there! You can create a re-usable template either digitally or by hand, whatever floats your boat!
My Ideal Work Week:
3. Learn to say NO
“We must say "no" to what, in our heart, we don't want. We must say "no" to doing things out of obligation, thereby cheating those important to us of the purest expression of our love. We must say "no" to treating ourselves, our health, our needs as not as important as someone else's. We must say “no.” -Suzette R. Hinton
Remember, time is finite resource and every single minute that goes by is a minute you will not get back. Life is short and we have to make sure we are spending our valuable time doing activities that will get us closer to our goals and overall happiness.
Set your non-negotiables from the start and account for that time EVERY day. For example, for me, it is extremely important to have time to work out, enjoy home cooked meals, and to get decent rest every single day. These are things I need for my health and well-being. It is also a non-negotiable for me to have time to spend with my husband at the end of each work day and to have the opportunity to catch up with extended family or friends on weekends. These are things I need at a family/social level. It is imperative for you to make time for those special people in your life.
I will not take on projects or say `yes` to social gatherings that are not going to contribute to my goals in some way. These needs will obviously vary from person to person. Always keep in mind that your mental and physical well-being is just as important as anything else. I firmly believe that the better you take care of yourself, the better artist you will be. Not to mention, you will be able to create art for a longer time.
4. Identify personal time-wasters and cut down on distractions
“You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks."
We live in a world of constant distraction. If we aren't careful, we can waste entire days without being productive at all. You need to assess for yourself whether those activities that are taking away so much of your time are helping you get closer to your goal in any way. Be honest with yourself! If they aren't, cut them out. For example, if you find yourself stalking people on social media for hours on end, engaging in constant negative small-talk with so-called friends or other activities that will bring nothing positive to you, cut those activities out of your life. I personally am completely unapologetic about it. If you find this too hard, at least avoid doing it during times when you should be positive and focusing on your work.
Make sure you are using social media only for work-related tasks during the day so that you aren't trying to finish up important things late at night, when you should be resting in order to be fresh and productive the following day. Not resting properly will affect your work and productivity and will perhaps even throw your entire week off.
Schedule in times for non-art related tasks in a smart way so that you use your most productive hours for creative tasks. Instead of checking your email once every few hours, check and respond to emails once a day and make sure not to spend more than 30 mins on them. Make things like phone calls, errands, home chores, etc. all revolve around your production time as much as possible.
Keep your phone on silent during times that require special focus and attention and try to diminish multitasking. Studies have found that if you are trying to do several things at once, it is likely the outcomes of those things will be mediocre. Instead, set specific times for each task and focus on one thing at a time.
I really recommend setting aside some time at the end of each week to think about what your personal time-wasters are and when it is you find yourself getting sucked into them. Modify your schedule if at the end of the week you find something didn't work for you.
5. Keep studio/office, artwork and computer files organized
“For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned." -Benjamin Franklin
A lot of time is wasted when we have to look for things. By keeping your work area, supplies and artwork organized you will not only be able to find whatever you need faster, but you will avoid lost/damaged work, accidents and a lot of anxiety. At the end of each workday, I like to spend a few minutes organizing my studio/office so that the next morning I am inspired to start right away.
As artists, our computers, phones and other devices collect a lot of reference image files, scanned artwork, etc. I recommend keeping these digital files organized and labelled appropriately. Being organized is especially important because, being self-employed, you will have to stay on top of several different sources of revenue and specific client projects. Not to mention, we are also responsible for keeping track of our monthly income and spending. It is very important to create a system for organizing receipts and invoices as well as contracts, client emails and other necessary documents. Create back-ups on a regular basis.
6. Set reminders and alarms throughout the day if necessary
“Work is a necessity for man. Man invented the alarm clock." -Pablo Picasso
If you're anything like me, time goes by fast when you are in the process of creation. Even though production time is extremely important, as business owners it is imperative for us to stay on top of many other things as well. I use my phone to set reminders and alarms on days in which I have to be somewhere at a specific time (appointments, meetings, classes, online workshops/webinars, etc.). For me, punctuality is essential in order to transmit professionalism and seriousness. It shows you respect other people's time and that you have your priorities in check. Also, each day can be very different as a self-employed creative and it can be a lot easier to forget things when you have no co-workers or bosses reminding you what you have to do and where you have to be. It's imperative that you set your own systems.
7. Assess and improve time management strategies
“Practice without improvement is meaningless." -Chuck Knox
At the end of each month, it is useful to sit down and think about what worked in your scheduling practice and what didn't. Maybe you find you are able to be more effective creatively in the morning, in which case you should consider scheduling in your art-production block earlier. You can leave tasks that require less critical thinking (responding to emails, posting on social media, etc.) at a later time. Or perhaps you do some research and find out you get more engagement when posting on social media at specific times, in which case you should not waste time on them at other moments of the day. Assessing your systems regularly will allow you to keep improving your productivity levels over time. Improvement is the name of the game when you are building a business!
8. Consider delegating tasks
“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do." -Jessica Jackley
I am SO guilty of burning myself out after wanting to do everything alone! Because I am interested in a very wide variety of things, I get excited and want to learn/experiment with them first-handedly. I start new things when I already have a lot on my plate and perhaps even succeed at finishing everything on time, but my health takes a toll. I have to remind myself that the tasks that I set out to achieve have to be feasible.
One thing I have learned these past few months is how important it is to define goals and streamline systems in order to reach success sooner. There are things that you have to be willing to set aside if you want to become amazing at one specific thing.
Once your business takes off and/or you have the resources to get help, I suggest you do it. You can delegate the tasks that don't excite you as much like maintaining your website, cleaning your studio/office, scanning and organizing artwork, etc. This will allow you more time and energy to focus on producing artwork and this will allow you to develop artistically faster!
9. Be consistent and never forget to celebrate your accomplishments
“Happiness does not come from doing easy work but from the afterglow of satisfaction that comes after the achievement of a difficult task that demanded our best." -Theodore Isaac Rubin
We tend to focus on everything that we have yet to do and don't take a moment to realize how far we have come since we started. It wasn't until I started writing this blog post, for example, that I realized all of the things I have been able to do in only a couple of months! PLEASE TAKE A MOMENT TO PAT YOURSELF ON THE BACK FOR YOUR HARD WORK EVERY NOW AND THEN. Milestones are important and acknowledging them will encourage you to keep working hard towards your goals.
If you have done your absolute best every day, you ARE progressing and you should be proud of yourself. You should be proud of yourself for being brave enough to even take this entrepreneurial route and for working hard to create the life you want to live.
Finally, I want to encourage you to dream big and never let fear hold you back from achieving your dreams. You can get anywhere if you believe in yourself and set yourself up for success by learning, planning and being consistent. Don't let perfectionism, fear of failure, or criticism get in the way of something you truly want. Also, take it one step at a time! Remember that getting things done is better that not doing them at all. After all, growing a business is a learning process and we will be improving throughout the way. The important thing is to do our best on a daily basis and to never give up!
What are you greatest time-management challenges? How does your control of your time impact your work? I'd love to hear your answers!
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