As an artist and one-person business owner, you are the talented maker, gregarious promoter, delightful conversationalist, and head honcho. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all of these simultaneous roles.
Know that you are not alone. Perhaps it’s comforting to know that every artist at every level seeks more effective time management skills.
The first truth I want to share is this: It’s impossible to manage time. The clocks keep ticking and the sun continues to rise and set. There’s not much you can do about that.
Rather than talking about Time management, you need to focus on Self management. Use these 8 tips and be comforted by the second truth at the end.
1. Learn to say No (and mean it).
When you are very clear on your goals, it’s easier to say No to the opportunities and requests that don’t serve your long-term goals. This is the hardest lesson you’ll learn when trying to build your art business. If you master saying No, you’ll master yourself and your business.
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.
2. 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?
3. Group similar tasks together.
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.
- Run all of your errands in one afternoon.
- Process email during two daily sessions.
- Save packing and shipping for dedicated time slots rather than doing it as orders come in.
- Schedule social media posts for an entire week of content.
4. Single task.
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. Stop multitasking.
Multitasking can be as simple as moving back and forth between your inbox and another open window on your computer. 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.
5. Automate everything possible.
If you’re still writing checks, welcome to the 21st Century! There’s such a thing as automatic bill pay. Yeah, really. Sign up! Sure it takes a bit of time to set it up, but it will buy you peace of mind.
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. (This is covered in our Collector Relationship Essentials class).
Also consider automating:
- Savings. Take 10% out of every payment and put it in a separate interest-earning savings account or retirement fund.
- Meals. We’re fans of Green Chef, which delivers 3 meals a week to our home (not all weeks, but maybe twice a month). My favorite thing about meal delivery isn’t the meals themselves, though they are delicious, but that it removes the need to make a decision about what to eat.
- Orders for supplies you use regularly. For example, I love that Amazon sends us a package of 2 electric toothbrush heads every 3 months.
6. Understand your natural rhythms.
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’re at your best and hold that time sacred for your art or writing.
7. Honor your calendar.
If it’s important, schedule it. Block out time on your calendar to take care of items that need significant amounts of uninterrupted time.
Review your calendar at the end of each day and before you begin work in the morning. This brings me to the final tip.
8. 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 to map out everything on my plate.
If these 8 tips fail, remember the 2nd truth: The important stuff always gets done.
It gets done because it’s important! You recognize its value and somehow manage to make it happen. Knowing this truth is a relief.
I'm curious: What are your best tips for time management or self management?
This post was originally published on August 6, 2015 and has been updated with original comments intact.