Productivity for Artists Isn’t About Doing More

Productivity for artists doesn’t mean that you work harder or take on more than you can handle. It means that you work smarter—that you use your time wisely.

If you want to be a more productive artist, you must embrace your role as the CEO of your art business. In that capacity, you understand that every decision you make impacts your income, influence, and legacy. Every decision.

Painting by Danielle Figueroa
©Danielle Figueroa, Do Not Disturb. Oil on gallery canvas, 36 x 36 inches. Used with permission.

When you are productive … when you are fully in charge of your art business … you know which tasks are most important and which can wait.

A Productive Artist's Profile

Before I get too deep into this topic, I have to fess up to having more than my fair share of unproductive days. My productivity seems to come in cycles. Maybe it’s the change of seasons or the promise of the New Year, but, lately, my productivity has soared.

I am still trying to figure out the productivity puzzle. I read plenty about the topic. I listen to productivity podcasts. I, like you, want the secret sauce that will help me eke out one or two more tasks in a day. (I’ve also discovered that one can, ironically, be incredibly unproductive while researching productivity.)

3D Mixed media painting on wood by Patricia Raible
©Patricia Raible, Water Timpani. Continuous mixed media painting on wood, 48 x 6 x 6 inches with 3.5 inch base. Used with permission.

I’m in the process of holding individual video conferences with every single member of my coaching programs to reflect on their year with us. After asking about their accomplishments, I want to know about the challenges they continue to face.

Those who have been working with us longer have higher level and focused challenges. Those who are newer consistently list time (lack thereof) and prioritizing as their biggest challenges.

You are not alone in your drive to become a more productive artist. But the good news is, it’s a skill you can learn.

How You Spend Your Time is a Reflection of Your Priorities

Becoming more productive is a process you need to put in place and, here’s the clincher, follow for months and years. You must be committed to the process, and you won’t be unless you’re also committed to your art business and career.

You get to choose how to spend your time, and how you spend your time reveals what you prioritize in life.

How you spend your time tells the rest of the world what is important to you.

What productivity looks like to me now is very different than how I saw it 15, 10 or even 5 years ago. Ten or 15 years ago, productivity meant checking off tasks on a list. The more I checked off, the more productive I was. Write, write, write. Make, make, make. Send, send, send.

Now I see productivity holistically—the way it should be. I look at my purpose, vision, and goals rather than zeroing in on tasks. Don’t get me wrong, eventually the tasks need to become a focus, but they must always be connected to the big picture.

This is one of the first lessons I teach in the Art Biz Accelerator.

If you don’t look at your art career holistically, you are likely to be distracted by every new idea tossed your way. Forgive yourself! You’re an artist whose senses lead to inspiration and experiences that become the seeds of the work you make. You are blessed with more ideas than most people will have in a lifetime.

But when you want to sell your art … when you want to share it with more people … when you want to be recognized for your work … you must know which ideas are meant for you at this time. You can’t allow yourself to be distracted by all the noise.

The Secrets of Highly Productive Artists

I’ve been working with artists since 2002. Thousands of artists have read my book and blog, listened to my podcast, attended my workshops, enrolled in my courses, and been supported by my coaching programs. My point is that I’ve had the pleasure of working with lots of artists.

The artists whose careers I’ve witnessed run the gamut in terms of their approaches to their businesses. I’ve observed plenty of artists struggling to hang on while others, sadly, give up entirely. I’ve also, blessedly, had the privilege of watching many of them thrive.

There’s a clear distinction between committed, ambitious artists and those who are half-assing their way to what they hope will lead to something interesting.

I’ve said it hundreds of times, but it must be repeated. There is absolutely nothing wrong with making art for pure enjoyment. But when you try to show and sell it—especially when you want to make a living from it—you owe it to yourself and to other artists to be serious and professional.

Painting by Lucia deLeiris
©Lucia deLeiris, Paradise Harbor. Oil, 12 x 16 inches. Used with permission.

In order for high-achieving artists to reach their goals, they must distinguish themselves. For every ambitious artist I’ve worked with, this means approaching their art, business, and career with utter devotion. Unwavering seriousness.

They have committed to a life as a working artist. They make hard decisions about the opportunities they encounter. They learn what to say No to and what to say Yes to. More to the point, they know that if it’s not an absolute Yes, it’s a No.

High-achieving artists also know that their chance of success increases dramatically when they have support. It’s much easier to go off course when you have no accountability. When you work by yourself it’s easy to let things slide by telling yourself that it won’t matter because nobody will know.

Trade-Offs are Required

Will you spend your morning on email and social media? Or will you focus on writing that grant application or finishing your latest commission?

You’re going to have to make some trade-offs. To be your most productive self, to be fully in charge of your business, you must come to terms with the fact that you can’t do everything you want. Nobody has that much time.

What are you willing to give up to reach your goals?

What habits do you need to change or enact?

Start Your Day With Intention

Don’t tell me you’re too busy and can’t let go of a single thing. Everybody is busy. Everybody is distracted. Everybody wants to do more.

Painting by Daniela Matchael
©Daniela Matchael, In My Dreams. Oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches. Used with permission.

Being busy is boring. Regardless of the work you do, you’re juggling personal and professional demands on your time. You want (and need) to stay connected to the world, your creativity, and your one precious life.

What’s more interesting is being an artist who is committed to growth and improvement, one day at a time.Productivity for Artists

A productive day starts the night before when you decide that you’re going to have a productive day. Be determined that you won’t allow outside forces to impede your progress. Visualize taking back control when those forces try to spoil the productivity party.

You are committed to your art career.
You are in charge of your time.
You understand there are trade-offs on the path to your goals.
You are not afraid to say No.

You are the freakin’ CEO of your art business.

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8 thoughts on “Productivity for Artists Isn’t About Doing More”

  1. Reading your posts always prompts me to take a quick scan of my business/life progress. I had a moment recently in the studio where it felt like nothing was being accomplished as we touched so many things from website updates, curating a new exhibition and making work! However, at the end of the day my assistant and I realized we had had a VERY productive day. Reflection and recalibration is constant but having a plan for productivity with stated goals and measurable outcomes is essential. I am grateful for the tools I have learned and re-learned in Alyson’s courses and books and I have reaped the benefits of doing the work in and out of the studio!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      This is so great to hear, Kim. I cannot imagine you being unproductive ever. But it happens to the best of us. Glad you have the tools to reassess.

  2. (I’ve also discovered that one can, ironically, be incredibly unproductive while researching productivity.)
    Ha ha ha, sad but true!

  3. It’s been my experience that I must reflect on my goals and my accomplishments almost every other day and then recalibrate them, mostly in small ways, but occasionally lightning will strike while I muse on my priorities, and I’ll commit to a larger, more unexpected path.

  4. I love brainstorming & coming up with new projects & marketing ideas, and although this can be very productive, it does distract me from my studio practice. But nothing beats a great day in the studio, and getting back in there is the best way I’ve found to remind myself of that.

  5. I’ve definitely found that accepting the cyclical nature of my productivity means I take a more holistic approach. I’ve learned which times of year are best for me to do different kinds of tasks. And I recognise that those periods when it feels like I’m not doing anything are part of the process. I’ll be filling my well and getting my systems in order. Instead of beating myself up, I now honour the seasons of my productivity 🙂

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