Finding the Time

Every artist I know (in addition to many other creative solo practitioners!) struggles with the challenge of finding some kind of time management system that works for them. For many, artistic time must be balanced with a job, family, or other responsibilities. Setting goals is one thing, sticking to them is quite another!

I have had to rethink my system a lot the past year, as I transitioned into retirement from working full-time as the librarian and gallery director of the UGA College of Environment & Design. While I have a lot more free time now, it’s very easy to let things slide – to this afternoon, to tomorrow, to next week. I must say, it is still true that if I have a deadline, then I am the most productive. I like having a clear goal, and I like getting something concrete accomplished, so I try to set my own deadlines and figure out a structured plan for meeting them. I know that this isn’t what works for everyone, but here are some of the things that I have found through trial and error to be very effective for me!

First off - coffee! As I mentioned in my first post, coffee is a driving force of my creativity. It is not just the energy coffee gives (who am I kidding?) but the quiet time I get from sitting with a cup of coffee. It’s so important to me to have that time to be introspective, let ideas bubble to the surface, and let my mind wander and sift and mix ideas and clear things out. A lot of people forget that making art isn’t easy - it involves sifting through all of the options of color and design and weight and size and purpose. For me, it’s essential to do this step during alone time – even if that means being “alone” in a coffee shop while the buzz of other people’s conversations surround me. It turns into soothing white noise that allows me to generate ideas, make plans, and feel a sense of accomplishment when I leave.

Also, it sounds simple, but I keep lists. I try to be methodical and organized about lists… but sometimes they get out of hand! I constantly use (my whole family constantly uses) index cards – they become running lists to follow what needs to be done. I used to be a big believer in the Franklin Planner – that was helpful when I was working, but now I am trying to wean myself off of that system and use Moleskine notebooks instead. I’m still always grabbing an index card to write on, though. If an item on the list does not get accomplished that day, I just move it to another day, and do the best I can.

I recently moved my studio from downtown Athens to a building behind my house. While being downtown was great since there’s so much going on, I can now walk out the back door and arrive at the studio without a 14-mile commute. So that saves a ton of time! Once I arrive at the studio, I often survey what I have intentionally left out – I set things out when I leave, knowing that right away it’ll catch my eye and I’ll be reminded to continue working on it.

When I was working full-time, Saturdays were pegged as my “work on art” day. Though I made adjustments here and there for important events (or avoiding football Saturdays!) I made a commitment to spend one day per week in my studio in downtown Athens.  With the support of my family, I was able to keep this schedule for close to ten years. So I felt like I had a pretty good work ethic going!

But NOW, since retiring in September 2010, I have to try to keep a schedule even though I don’t have an outside force driving my time decisions. Having structured time is very important for me, so I’ve set aside one morning per week to handle paperwork and research, and I try to spend four hours each day doing something creative. I LOVE to get up early, so I frequently get these four hours in before lunchtime! This is actually a very freeing goal, as it’s automatically built into each day, but it also allows me time to do my normal everyday things such as exercise, enjoy being at home, see friends, etc. Also, it leaves time to research and plan and do things that are inspiring, like poring over craft and fiber journals, going to see exhibits, traveling and going to libraries and bookstores.

One of the things that I have always tried to keep in mind was that if I worked hard and stuck to my time management goals, by the time I retired, I would have an art career started, and that I would be able to take off from that point in time, into a new world as a full-time artist. And here I am!