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10 Tips For Productivity as a Working Artist

Sometimes, it just feels like there are not enough hours in the day. I’m a busy artist and I’m also a mum and wife trying to run and maintain a household. No, I don’t have 3 pairs of arms but I do have a few tricks up my sleeve to help with the day to day grind.

First off, let me just say that I’m really lucky to have a fantastic agent to help me along with finding new work and taking care of that part of my business (seriously, I don’t know what I’d do without my wonder agents). However, I still have a lot to do as a solo freelance artist. I understand entirely how overwhelming things can get sometimes. The past 6-7 months have been particularly difficult and overwhelming with the added pressure and stress of major illness so implementing organisational strategies for my own well being has been very important.

It can be really hard to separate home and work, especially when you work from home. There’s laundry, there’s the thinking of what to make for dinner, making sure you have the ingredients to make what you imagined having for dinner, fitting in some exercise (because we all know that keeping fit helps with concentration, focus and general well being), there is bill paying, packed lunch making, the business of making sure that kids get to school on time and get home again safely, there are after school activities, making dinner, helping with homework, making sure any school notes are seen to and dealt with on time, dealing with the cold callers, deliveries, cleaning. I could go on but I’ll stop right there before we all get overwhelmed.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as hectic as this on a daily basis but some days are up there on the hectic scale.

When you consider that my kids leave for school at around 8.30am and return at 3.30 that gives me a 6 hour window to dig into work. I have to stop for a bite to eat during that 6 hour window too, so let’s call it 5 1/2 hours.

Ok, lets start painting!

Nope.

My job doesn’t just involve making art all day. Some days, I feel lucky to even open a sketchbook or hold a paintbrush. The other things involved in running a freelance business can be time consuming and ultimately take you away from what you really WANT to be doing, and that is making art.

So, how do we learn to make things a little bit easier for ourselves as busy, creative, working artists/mums?

Here are a few of my tips.

  1. Get up an hour earlier.
    Ok, so if you’re already getting up at the crack of dawn or even before the crack of dawn then maybe this is not suitable for you. If you are a habitual “hit snooze” person and just need that 5/10/15 more minutes in bed, I urge you to just try it and use that 1 hour to do something that you enjoy. You could use that extra hour to fit in your exercise for the day, you know, start the day with energy. Or you could use it to read something new and learn a new skill. It could be that you are doing a challenge project such as the 100 day project or inktober and this hour in the morning is your time to get it done. This is a hard habit to get into, believe me, I know but it’s so worth it. It’s difficult to do in the winter when it’s cold and dark so start in the summer time when the sun comes up earlier and by winter time the habit will already be formed making it easier to get out of your cosy bed in those dark cold months. It’s a beautiful experience to see the sun come up and enjoy the peace of a sleeping household with headspace to focus on something just for you.
  2. Make good use of technology and portable tools.
    Here I am typing this post, in the infusion suite of the cancer clinic while sitting with my husband who is going through treatment. I’m using my iPad to write this blog post while we are here. My husband doesn’t mind and I’m making use of my time. If you find yourself away from your office or studio for prolonged times or at certain times such as kids soccer matches, doctors appointments (waiting times can be very loooong) plan to take a sketchbook and pens with you or use your phone to catch up on emails or messages.
  3. Schedule social media posts.
    I have a real love hate relationship with social media. Instagram is my favourite, Facebook not so much. I have learned over the past few years that I need to block out Facebook because it sucks me in and I can’t get out again easily. Sometimes I even open Facebook to do one specific thing and as soon as the site opens I have forgotten what it was I was going to do so I scroll and scroll and scroll in the hope that I’ll remember what it was I went there for in the first place. Then, an hour later I’m still there, scrolling my life away. 
    Stop, step away from the Facebook! Pinterest has a similar effect but the pictures are so pretty that it’s slightly easier to forgive. I find that Instagram is my go to for connecting with peers, and sharing my work. I have recently started scheduling posts which makes my life so much easier. I usually can set up a few posts at a time, in advance, which I can do at anytime of the day (see number 2). I then try to answer messages in batches too at certain times when I’m using the app so that I’m not constantly being drawn in every 2 seconds because in reality, although it’s social media and you really should be social, I also feel that if I was working for a company, would they be happy if I was constantly “socialising” on social media on their time? I don’t think so.
  4. Look at emails sparingly.
    By sparingly, I mean, if you can, only answer emails at the start of the day and then again at the end of the day and don’t look at emails in between. I try to do this but sometimes it just isn’t possible. But by doing this you free your mind of the “I just need to reply to this email quickly” mentality and in turn it allows you to focus on being creative because really, those admin jobs can drain your creative mind, zap your energy and leave you feeling frazzled.
  5. Plan out your week.
    I use big whiteboards and draw a month grid with important dates, deadlines etc on it. It helps me to see at a glance what is going on, what I’m working on and gives me a clear outline of what I need to try and achieve each week. I work backwards from deadlines so for example, if I have a deadline for 30th June and it’s the 1st June and I have to do 10 illustrations, I will work backwards to figure out how many illustrations I need to do in each week/day to hit my deadline. I also have an open notebook on my desk constantly where I can jot down things that I need to do. Google sheets and Google calendar are also very close friends of mine. In my Google calendar, I plan out all appointments, after school activities for the kids, events, deadlines, when I’m going to workout (yes I plan my workouts like an event or appointment otherwise it just doesn’t happen!) and everything else that requires me to remember that I have to do something or be somewhere at a certain time. It gets it out of my head which allows me to concentrate on other things.
  6. Work out when are you at your best creatively.
    Is there a certain time of the day that you feel that you are creatively more in the zone? If so, use that to your advantage. Block off that time in your calendar and make that your art time. Blocking off chunks of time for certain tasks allows you to focus instead of floating around aimlessly. Try not to do too many things at once, it will hurt your focus. Take regular breaks, even if it’s just for 5 minutes at a time. You could for example allocate 3 hours for creating art, work for 50 minutes at a time then take a 10 minute break. Use a timer so that you can keep on track. I use my fitbit silent alarms to gently remind me.
  7. Get enough sleep.
    No brainer. Now that you’re getting up an hour earlier in the morning you’ll need to make sure that you are getting enough rest. Make a time to finish work each day and stick to it. Do something to help you relax, spend time with your family and friends and then go to bed at a decent time to allow your mind and body to recharge.
  8. Do not disturb
    My kids are a bit older now, very independent and can entertain themselves and they’re at school for so many hours per day so that’s when I have my creative time. If you have younger kids, you may want to consider making your creative time when there is another trusted, responsible adult around to meet your child’s needs. You could ask a friend or family member to do this for a couple of hours or try to find a spot at a daycare centre for your child. I did this with my eldest daughter when she was little when I was working from home (for the company I was employed by) a couple of days a week. I found that she benefited from the social interaction with other children and she was involved in fun play activities and I could focus on work. This applies to adults too. If you work from home and frequently have people popping round for a coffee during your work time, gently explain to them that you’re busy and can’t do coffee right now but how about another day/time when you’re free? This can be tricky because when you’re at home working, it can be taken as you’re available and not doing very much else. I have found though that everyone understands this and now everyone just knows that I’m working so it generally doesn’t happen anymore.
  9. Have designated times for household chores.
    And stick to it! Otherwise you’ll find that you’re doing laundry when you should be working on a project you need to finish up by the weekend. Saturday is laundry & tidy up day in our house. Rather than doing a little bit everyday I do it all on one day which suits me and it works well for us. My kids are now at an age where they are starting to help out with certain chores too. If you designate certain tasks to your kids it will lighten the load a bit for you. You’re NOT being a slave driver in doing this so don’t feel guilty. What you’re actually teaching them is valuable life skills and that a little bit of work is not a bad thing. It’s “character building” as my dear mum would say! My youngest daughter loves it when I ask her to do a job and usually carries it out with great enthusiasm. My eldest daughter has certain jobs that she has to do around the house each day. You could also try make as many meals ahead/in advance on Sunday and make sure you have all the essentials in your fridge for the week ahead so that you don’t have to eat into your work time to go to the shops to buy milk.
  10. Keep your workspace organised
    Being tidy and clutter free helps me immensely. It could be said that I’m verging on OCD in this area but really I’m not because I do let my studio get a bit out of hand in the messy department as the week rolls along. Do this one thing if nothing else and it will give you clarity and will allow you to go about your creative work with a sense of peace and calm. I always aim to tidy and clean my studio either at the end of the week on a Friday at the end of my working week or on a Sunday so that I can begin the next week with a clutter free space.

Do you have any other tips on being productive? I’d love to hear them, tell me in the comments below.

Comments

  • Laura Irrgang
    September 13, 2017

    I absolutely loved this post, Zoe. I am so impressed that you have this much energy and focus with two children and a husband going through cancer treatment. It was very generous of you to share these tips in what is probably already a very hectic time for you. I got SO MUCH out of this. I also have 2 young children (My youngest is off to kindergarten this year so I have my days back for art!) and am working on art full time now. I’ve been out of the full-time swing of things for a few years, so your ideas are invaluable. It’s a relief to hear practical tips from another working artist, especially a mother. Thank you again, Zoe. You’re such an inspiration to me. I’m sending healing and peaceful thoughts to you and your family.

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  • Emma
    October 13, 2017

    Dear Zoe
    Great post. I’m in the same boat and this all resonated so much. Thanks for sharing. E

    reply
  • Gabrielle Shamsey
    November 14, 2017

    I loved this post. It was very helpful. And yes FB aid the worst. It’s a total waste of time and yet I still check in on it!?! Ugh. I found your name from “Live Happy” magazine. You are incredibly talented. Keep up the good work! And I’ll say a prayer for your health. 🙏

    reply

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