Are These 4 Time-Stealers Robbing You of a Successful Art Career?

A student in my Art Biz Bootcamp asked last week on a coaching call, “Where do you find the time?”
After I gave him my answers and we hung up from the call, I thought: There’s no such thing as finding time. We have time. It’s up to us how we choose to use it. [Tweet this.]
Then I thought about time bandits. I came up with four big things that rob us of that time. Do any of these sound familiar?

©July Cady Ryan, The Time Stealer. Acrylic, 12 x 12 inches. Used with permission.
©Juli Cady Ryan, The Time Stealer. Acrylic, 12 x 12 inches. Used with permission.

1. Disappearing Thoughts and Ideas

Writing everything down saves you energy because you don’t have to try to remember everything later. It gets these thoughts out of your head and frees up that space for creativity.
It also helps to focus on your priorities, which brings me to the rest of the time-stealers.
I live and die by the task list. If I don’t capture a thought or to-do item immediately, it’s often gone forever.
This means that my lists are really messy at first. Later, I take time to gather them and put them into Asana, the task list app I use.

2. Squishy Priorities

You know what’s important. You know what’s pressing. You know when you have a deadline.
Those are your priorities.
The problems arise when you don’t have deadlines, a situation that occurs regularly when you own your own business. No one asks you to turn in assignments or reports.
You must give yourself deadlines.
Studio is priority #1. After that, I’d place building your mailing list, connecting with other artists, and researching opportunities at near the top of most artists’ to-dos.

3. Attention Splatter

My Pomodoro app ticks away as I wrote this post.
My Pomodoro app ticks away as I wrote this post.

You could easily waste an entire day flitting from email to Twitter to Facebook to Google+ and around again. And then where will you be?
You know that your priorities require focused attention.
I’ve been using the Pomodoro Technique (thanks for the tweet about it, Claudine Hellmuth!) to help me stay focused on one task at a time. I don’t recommend it for studio work, but I’m using it right now to write this article.

4. No Boundaries

You can’t run a successful business while trying to please everyone. And, as #2 and #3 above show, you have to be disciplined enough to focus on your priorities.
You need boundaries around whatever or whoever is stealing your time away from your goals. Examples of boundaries:
– I don’t answer the phone, email, or door during studio hours.
– I don’t check email after 7:00 p.m. That’s family and wind-down time.
– I politely decline opportunities that take me far from my goals.
– I don’t do housework during work hours.

There are many other time bandits these days. What’s stealing your time?


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66 thoughts on “Are These 4 Time-Stealers Robbing You of a Successful Art Career?”

  1. Hello Alyson..I enjoyed this article most for the truthfulness in how time is used up,not found. As it appears, we as Artists do have mutual similarities on the topic, as I too declare guilty for wasting some without proper organization. From experience I know that using guides in time handling is the best way for me to reach a daily sense of accomplishment- in work and home. Thank you for an enlightening reminder to keep focused.

    1. Hello Alyson: I know this is a delayed reply, yet I just noticed it as I browsed among my posts. Please excuse me, as the box wasn’t checked to receive follow up comments. What I meant by “guides,” are: calendar for timing things I must do; handwritten lists and mostly, a determination to follow up the next day, when things don’t go as planned. It’s life, no? I learned quite awhile ago that I can’t take everything so seriously or with the urgency I used to feel internally. It arrived as a realization that no one is paying me to get sick over matters which I know have solutions. That said, it meant that staying healthy IS my priority. Art is my passion and full time dedication. Yet, knowing when to break,is just as important.
      All the best to you, and thanks for keeping us all at our best!

  2. Great post and great ideas. I can see some areas of improvement and some I do well (quick pat on the back :)) Quick question though, how do you manage time in the studio with constant time robbers that are urgent and important? ie. kids sick, Kids injuries etc Last year I spent over the 1/3 of the year with sick or injured children. As a mum I have so many uncontrollable variables that effect my time in the studio. Suggestions please xx

    1. Catherine: Other mothers can probably speak better to this, but my advice is to set boundaries with your kids. Let them know you love them and will be with them as soon as you are finished in the studio.
      Kids will learn a lot from your behavior. If you’re putting their needs ahead of yours in everything you do, they will miss a strong maternal role model.
      Obviously if they’re very sick or injured you have to take care of that. But you take care of it and then get back to work.

  3. Elizabeth Petrulis

    A timely post. I am struggling with this. I think (besides getting side tracked on social media…) I tend to over research. I spend far more time than is necessary on collecting information before beginning to put it to use.

    1. Elizabeth: This is so very common! I see it in my students – looking for the magic pill that will make everything better. So, how are you going to stop this in the future?

    2. Elizabeth Petrulis

      Well, I am beginning to recognize when I have enough to get started and I am struggling to force myself to stop– knowing that I can always do more research latter when needed. The trick in being mindful (and minding my own advise.)

  4. Hi Alyson,
    My biggest time waster (besides my real job)…. Is trying to find my creativity during the time I have allotted. It seems I have to nurture the artist in myself…in order to retrieve any creativity. If I have something pressing to do or just got off a busy shift in the ER…there seems to be no artist inside of me. Sometimes I am sooo inspired and then I have to interrupt things and go to work.
    Iis there some way to change hats faster? Music helps….but I am at the mercy of my artist who has her own mind.

  5. Oh Lord…you are describing all the things that get in my way. Ugh…yes, and yes. Seeing it here and hopping over to quickly review the Pomadoro Technique video has already given me a bit more focus. Thanks Alyson. Always great information.

  6. Theresa Grillo Laird

    Time stealer for me seems to be not setting specific time aside to do all the annoying and time consuming things of life other than working on my art. My husband recently suggested taking the day that is already partially reserved for painting with a plein air group, and dedicating the rest of that day to marketing tasks and home/life maintenance tasks. Usually these tasks are mixed into a jumbled mess with studio time lasting from morning til late night, and resulting in everything getting done haphazardly.I’m going to give it a try.

  7. Setting boundaries is always hard but I try to pattern my studio time after my late aunt, author Joan Lowery Nixon.
    Her office was sacred space. The family legend is the kids knew when her office door was shut, you could interrupt Mom if someone was bleeding or on fire:) She wrote many, many books and raised a wonderful family. Those “chunks” of time are worth gold.

  8. Oh hooray! I absolutely LOVE this post, Alyson!
    I have written my top 4 priorities on a decorated card and put it on my ever evolving studio vision board.
    Thanks so much for the wonderful tips, you help so many of us with the nitty gritty!
    Chrissy x

  9. Thanks, Alyson, for always addressing something so relevant. Life is so demanding, and I find myself scratching my head at the end of the day wondering how the day got away from me. I need to prioritize my time better! I feel like it’s a common problem for those of us with creative minds. I can really relate to all of the posts here!

  10. Another time waster..Time spent gathering art knowledge (attending workshops, reading books, taking classes,) without the continued practice required of using this knowledge to develop your skills. Without developing your skills you can’t progress. It is easy to think that another class without the time committed to practice will solve your problem.

    1. You have hit the nail on the head for me Roger. I realize I waste time for all the reasons Alyson suggests but my biggest time waster is reading / you tube / classes … anything where I think I can become a better artist by osmosis! The reason, I have realized for a long time, is that I don’t like my work yet and want it to be better so, instead of practicing and producing lots of rubbish until I improve, I think I’ll just soak up all that wisdom from the various media and suddenly become Cezanne overnight. Not a good strategy. Will use Alysons advice and set some priorities.

  11. Great advice, Alyson! One of the best things I’ve done to establish boundaries is banning from my studio any device that connects to the Internet. Even my Smartphone. It’s amazing how much more I’m able to accomplish without those distractions.

  12. Curious Alyson why you say you would not recommend the Pomodoro technique for studio practice? I use it all the time for painting. I find it really gets me out of my left brain and I accomplish a lot more and quit second guessing myself. A self imposed deadline, and I look forward to my 5 minute break and then back at it. It keeps me focused on my painting.

    1. I’ve been using the pomodoro technique in my painting for at least 2 years also, although I’ve modified it to 55 minutes with a 5 minute break. I love it. Has helped me in so many ways.

  13. Alyson,
    Thank you for this post! You are always so spot on. I love your use of squishy priorities. How do you evaluate the most important priorities? Do you use some secret measuring stick to say this is number 1, number 15 . . .??
    Social media marketing is the biggest time bandit I have right now – learning what’s best and what’s not and then applying it. AAUGH!

    1. Lyn: I think it’s deadlines. That’s why they’re so important.
      Use the Pomodoro Technique on your social media time. Give yourself, say 2 Pomodoros a day for it.

  14. I’m pretty lucky in that my studio is seperate to our house – so the walk across our property is long enough to change my mindset from “mum” to “artist” and, as much as I have my phone with me, it gets put on a docking station which has a cover – making it a real challenge to check social media or procrastinate without losing my music.
    That said, I really must move my books OUT of the studio. The temptation of having my library along the walls is just too much some days – especially when I tell myself that flicking through them is “research”.

    1. Chan: Yes, making that walk symbolizes making a transition. Perfect.
      Some artists need books. Sounds like they’re a distraction for you. Maybe you could just hide them?

  15. Yes, time is our most valuable possession. I used to run a small framing business to supplement my art career, but quit about a year ago. Here is a little poem I say to explain this to my students:
    “I’ve not much time, I’m sixty-two
    There’s lots and lots I’d like to do!
    And that is why I cannot
    Cut that mat for you!
    They got the hint and it we all got a good laugh!

  16. another excellent post, Alyson! My current distraction is finding a way to organize the little slips of paper my desk is buried in, where I’ve jotted things down I need to remember . I think Coach Lucinda called it a “time home”. Is there a single data base or program that somehow organizes all of the aspects of our work, from contacts to possible leads to upcoming things I’m not yet working on to People connected to a project I’m trying to fund….It seems as if you have several different programs, but another time thief for me would be having to learn several new programs. Anybody?
    Anybody tried to do this with Prezi? best, Lynne

  17. A few years ago I stumbled upon Michael Hyatt’s ideal week. I sat down and did the first draft of how I would like to spend my time with the major focus of being in my studio. I am fortunate to have all adult children who are out in the world flourishing and that is helpful. I stick to the schedule as much as possible. I don’t answer the phone when I am working. I put alarms on my phone so that I don’t lose track of time…

  18. Studying stats for website and e-newsletter can be a huge time-waster. One can easily get lost in all the piles of data available… to what end? Seems like a good idea to approach these reports with a plan, to find very specific bits of useful data that will inform specific actions to take. For instance, I found via Mailchimp stats that 62% of my readers were using mobile devices to view my newsletter. So when I redesigned my website it absolutely had to be mobile-friendly.

  19. Fun topic! And, thanks Alyson, for the priority wrap up!
    I think I’ve done something like the Pomodoro – maybe it could help others?
    If I have a big day of stuff to do – lots of it I don’t really want to do – I will set a timer for 1/2 hr or 1 hr at a time and then switch back and forth from doing things I like and things I don’t. 1 hr of taxes, 1 hr studio, 1 hr taxes, 1 hr studio, etc. Time flies and I get a lot done.
    I set timers for lots of other stuff, too – like lunch time. That can really eat up an afternoon if you’re not careful! 🙂
    I have often thought I should actually make a hat or dig one out of our hat bin and put a label on the front of it – so when I need to switch directions I put on a different hat and it helps with the “transition”. “Painter” or “bookkeeper” or “web designer” – and set the ol’ timer, of course!

  20. Bee,
    You have expressed my thoughts much better than I did. As you say, trying to improve your
    skills by “osmosis” is no substitute for the practice required. Maybe art teachers need to assign homework between classes for those serious about their art career.

  21. Alyson,
    My husband, whose the artist, bought your book because after a BFA and an MFA, he still struggles selling his art. he currently has a job because he needs to pay his student loans. This of course takes up time that he could be spending in his studio. I’m reading your blog because I am a great supporter of his and want him to succeed. You and others have posted a lot of great advice and I will be sure to pass it along to him. Thank you.

  22. Hi Alyson, I’m finally catching up on the many messages I didn’t get to while my mother was very ill. Talk about time stealing… but it was important at the time to be there for her. Now I’m playing catch-up. Can one ever catch-up on lost time? It seems that I’m starting over (mentally) even though I was very focused and working diligently to follow your great advice before my unexpected family emergency. Do you have any thoughts on this?

    1. Kathleen: I am sorry to hear about you mother. I suggest reframing it as an opportunity new start rather than catching up on lost time. The latter is impossible and you’re almost setting yourself up for failure. You have a new opportunity to jumpstart your business. Do it with a clear conscience.
      Take a deep breath, thank the Universe, and dive in!

  23. Just hearing the words “Take a deep breath” helps me to slow down and re-evaluate. Thank you so much for you words of wisdom! I’m starting over by starting to read your book right now! Hugs…

  24. I would say I have some of those 🙂 I think most of us do at some point and to some degree. What holds me back even more right now is not knowing what to aim for this year

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