As an artist and 1-person business owner, you are the talented maker, gregarious promoter, delightful conversationalist, and head honcho. All. At. The. Same. Time.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all of these simultaneous roles.
You’re juggling all of the moving pieces of your art business along with the responsibilities and joys of your personal life.
Perhaps … Just maybe … It might be heartening to remember that you are no busier and no more overwhelmed than the next artist. Everyone has something that steals their energy.
On the home front, it might be school-aged kids, struggling adult children, or aging parents. I also have clients whose work is sidelined by moving and building projects. And artists who deal with chronic pain, illness, and life-threatening health issues.
These are all real reasons for lower productivity.
Every artist I have ever worked with would like to squeeze more time from their busy calendars. After all, you are overflowing with ideas. You’ll never have time to make everything you want to make, and that is incredibly frustrating.
In this post and episode of the Art Biz, I'll share 8 tips for time management along with 2 truths to consider.
Recovering Productivity Geek
Before we get deep into productivity tips, I must confess that I am a recovering productivity geek.
I used to read everything about the topic that came into view—subscribing to productivity newsletters and investing in more productivity courses. I still get caught in that trap.
But my interest in productivity has evolved since reading Oliver Burkeman’s book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals. I find myself recommending this book to everyone. (affiliate link)
His introduction is titled “In the Long Run, We’re All Dead.” Sounds fatalistic, but he speaks the truth. We’ve been given an average of 4,000 weeks on this big blue marble called Earth, but we act and work like we have infinite amounts of time. Trying to get more done, adding more to our calendars, isn’t necessarily the best way to spend our time.
Burkeman writes, “Productivity is a trap. Becoming more efficient just makes you more rushed, and trying to clear the decks simply makes them fill up again faster.” Chew on that for a while. Preferably while sipping a watermelon margarita by the pool.
Time Management Is a Lie
In sharing these time management tips, I’m not encouraging you to do MORE. I’m encouraging you to be more efficient so you can enjoy, as Mary Oliver wrote, this one precious life.
I’m just going to jump in with the first truth, which is this: Time management is a lie.
It’s impossible to manage time. The clocks keep ticking and the sun continues to rise and set. There’s nothing you can do about that.
Rather than talking about Time management, you need to focus on Self management.
Use these 8 tips to help with self-management and stick with me until the end because I’m certain you’ll be comforted by the second truth.
1. Make time for planning.
Planning time is your best friend.
If you think you’re too busy to set aside a couple of hours a week to plan, you will have no one to blame but yourself when you lose sleep. You’re likely feeling swamped because you didn’t make time to plan … when you stumbled from task to task because you had so much to do.
In my experience, overwhelm happens when everything is up in my head. I don’t know what happens up there and who is responsible for such shenanigans, but my brain in overwhelm gear is pretty worthless. It’s unfocused, directionless, fearful, and anxious. This makes it impossible to get anything constructive accomplished.
The solution is to get out the calendar and task list and map out everything on my plate.
I am speaking from experience as I’ve been in this state recently. It happens! In fact, it happens more often than I’d like to admit. But I can always find my way out of the overwhelm when I set aside time to plan.
Quick tool: The Brain Dump
2. Understand your natural rhythms.
When do you do your best work?
If it takes you 2 hours and 4 cups of coffee to wake up in the morning, don’t attempt your most valuable work during that time. Know when you are your most productive self and hold that time sacred for your art or writing.
As a corollary, if you aren’t currently productive in a particular area, monitor your calendar and figure out what you might need to switch around to make the most of your days.
3. Honor your calendar.
If it’s important, schedule it. Block out time on your calendar to take care of tasks that need significant amounts of uninterrupted time.
My calendar not only has my timed appointments with clients and coaching groups, but also blocks of time for creating content and making connections with people.
Review your calendar at the end of each day and again before you begin work in the morning.
4. Turn repeated tasks into systems.
Stop reinventing the steps it takes to publish a newsletter or blog post, or to promote an exhibition. Create reliable systems for every task you undertake on a regular basis. Well-defined systems will save your behind and help you rest easily.
A system is a series of steps that answer the following questions.
- What, precisely, do you want to happen?
- What tools and technology will you use?
- Who else will be or needs to be part of it?
- What are the repeatable steps—exactly?
- What kind of review process will you put into place to make sure the system is working?
In his book, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, James Clear encourages us to focus on systems instead of goals—systems comprised of tiny (atomic) improvements. He writes, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” (affiliate link)
As I say in the Organize Your Art Biz lesson on systems, one of the key benefits to systematizing as much as you can is that reliable systems eliminate the need for making decisions—saving precious brain power for the most important aspects of your art and business.
5. Group similar tasks together.
You have heard this advice before, but it might be time to revisit it when it comes to your art business.
Use the momentum you create from starting a single task to complete other tasks that are similar.
For example, write four article drafts in one sitting rather than doing one a day. It’s easier, I promise! It sounds crazy, but it’s true. Something happens when you devote a couple of hours to focused writing. It’s like your ideas start having babies. They multiply and feed off of one another, so pretty soon that one little idea becomes four.
Same thing happens when you schedule social media posts for an entire week or month of content.
Other tasks that you might group together include the following:
- Run all of your errands or do all of your online shopping in one, dedicated, afternoon.
- Process email in your inbox during two daily sessions rather than “checking it” throughout the day.
- Save packing and shipping for dedicated time slots rather than doing it as orders come in. When I used to sell copies of my book directly from my website, I had text right there on the order page that said I shipped every Tuesday and Friday. The automated email buyers received included the same notification.
6. Stop multitasking.
Multitasking is working on diverse tasks simultaneously and, usually, doing them all half-heartedly: responding to email while attending a webinar, texting while trying to write a newsletter, or just moving back and forth between your inbox and another open window on your computer.
Research shows that only about 2.5% of college students can multitask effectively.
And get this: Switching from task to task and back again adds as much as 25% more time to what it would normally take to complete each task. Twenty-five percent!
You don’t have 25% more time to waste.
If you want to save time and be a better self-manager, stop multitasking.
With so much demanding our attention these days, we all fall into this bad habit. When you catch yourself, feel free to snap out of it by reciting a mantra I devised for these moments: I do one thing at a time to completion.
7. Automate everything possible.
What happens when someone signs up for your email list? And then what? And then what?
You can automate those responses when you use an email marketing platform.
Inside of my Grow Your List program is a lesson titled Designing a 5-Star Customer Experience which will help you figure out the steps so you can use autoresponders to do much of the heavy lifting.
You'll also find lessons on networking, using sign-up lists, segmenting your list, and more.
Also consider automating:
- Savings. Take 10% out of every payment and put it in a separate interest-earning savings account or retirement fund.
- Meals. I love to cook, but we went through a meal-delivery period. My favorite thing about meal delivery isn’t the meals themselves, though they are delicious, but that it removed the need to make a decision about what to eat. (See #4.)
- Orders for supplies you use regularly. For example, I love that Amazon sends us a package of 2 electric toothbrush heads every 3 months.
8. Learn to say No (and mean it).
I saved the most difficult for last.
Invitations bombard you from every direction, and you have to have the strength to know what is critical to add to your calendar and, more importantly, what doesn’t deserve a place on your schedule.
It’s fairly easy to say No to what isn’t palatable or what doesn’t sound fun. It’s harder to turn down the things that are more enjoyable in order to give your best effort to long-term progress.
Clarity is key.
When you are very clear about your direction, it’s easier to say No to the opportunities and requests that don’t serve your best interests. This is the toughest lesson you’ll learn when trying to build your art business.
If you master saying No, you’ll master yourself and your business.
The Second Truth
Those are the 8 tips.
I promised you a 2nd truth around time management, which I hope you’ll find comfort in. And that is this:
The important stuff always gets done.
Somehow, magically, amazingly.
It gets done because it’s important! You recognize its value and somehow manage to make it happen. Knowing this truth is a relief.
Remember: You have an average of 4,000 weeks on this planet. Don’t try to do more. Try finding ways to enjoy what you’re doing and to make time for the things that feed your soul.
If you find it difficult to manage yourself and your time, support and accountability might help. I give you that inside the Art Biz Accelerator. It’s a community of trusted artists who are on a similar journey and get you. I lead the coaching and conversations
Check it out and join us if it’s right for you. You can join anytime but the sooner you join, the sooner you’ll reap the benefits.