Dwelling In Your Zone of Genius

There comes a point in every artist’s (every entrepreneur’s) business where you can’t grow without hiring someone.

It might be a paid intern, your kid, a website helper, or a bookkeeper, but you need the extra hands if you want to expand.

Who do you hire?
What will they do?

Zone of Genius

Your primary focus as an artist is on making art. That’s when you are in what Gay Hendricks calls your “Zone of Genius.” In his book, The Big Leap, Hendricks writes:

In your Zone of Genius, though the time you spend there produces great financial abundance, you do not feel that you are expending effort to produce it. In your Zone of Genius, work doesn’t feel like work.

I’m certain you know what that feels like. Bliss.

Your goal is to take those tasks off your plate that aren’t in your Zone of Genius – the tasks that keep you from making your best work. It’s the art you produce in the studio that nobody else could do. [Tweet this]

For example, you might be competent at updating your WordPress template, but it’s not your best work. It takes you away from your best work.

Consider how lovely life would be if you could dwell in your Zone of Genius most of the time. How would that feel?

Signs That You Should be Delegating

Here’s how I know when I’m doing something that someone else should be doing:

  • I procrastinate the task.
  • My shoulders get tense when I’m working on it.
  • I snack on something salty every 30 minutes.
  • I crave a cocktail at the end of the day.
  • I’m short and cranky with people around me.

I learned HTML coding in the 1990s when I wanted to put teacher material online for our museum education department. Even then, I wanted a cocktail at the end of the day. I was so tense and cross-eyed.

Still, I learned it. It has served me well since knowing how to build a website was the reason Art Biz Coach was able to go online so quickly back in 2002.

I’ve continued to add to my technology repertoire – to my detriment. I know too much. I don’t do it well, but I knew it, so I kept doing it.

Until recently. I hired someone to take the most frustrating technology off of my plate. I believe I could have been further along if I had let go of these frustrating tasks much sooner.

Signs That You’re Doing Your Best Work

See if any of these sound familiar. When I’m doing the work I was intended to do:

  • I can get in “the zone.”
  • I am focused and flying through my work.
  • I’m more relaxed.
  • I feel extremely satisfied at the end of the day.
  • I’m happier.

This doesn’t mean I’m performing at peak all of the time, but I can only get to this place when I’m working in my Zone of Genius.

What You Can Delegate

On a recent webinar, someone asked for a list of tasks they could turn over to someone else. That list is going to vary from person to person, but I can help you get started.

I encourage my clients to keep a list of everything they’re doing that someone else could do.

Think about it. What tasks are you currently taking care of because you don’t have help? Start your list now.

Make it an ongoing list that you continually update as these tasks come to mind. Group the items into like tasks that require similar skills and prioritize.

What is the task you dislike most in your business? What do you procrastinate? What do you lose sleep over?

The order in which I hired for my business was:

  1. Web/tech assistance
  2. Bookkeeping
  3. Client care
  4. Graphic design
  5. Client management software help

I love taking care of my clients, but I was losing sleep because I felt there were some who were falling through the cracks.

Hiring Someone

I understand that, as entrepreneurs, we have to wear a lot of hats because funds are tight. There will never come a day when you have “extra money” to hire someone.

As a business owner looking for growth, you must be so in tune with your art business that you recognize the point at which you must hire someone. In fact, smart artist-entrepreneurs will hire before they think they’re ready.

Another thing that might get in the way is that sometimes we feel guilty asking someone else to do the work we don’t want to do. But you know what? That work is in their Zone of Genius. It’s where they choose to dwell because it makes them happy.

Who are you to keep that work from them?

Note: I am neither an attorney nor an accountant, but I do want to warn you that the U.S. rules around having assistants in your studio are changing. The person you hire as contract help might actually be considered an employee by the IRS.

Ask your accountant for guidance on this and, perhaps, hire an attorney to help you with a legal contract.

Your Turn

How much time are you currently dwelling in your Zone of Genius?
In what order would you prioritize your team hires?

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25 thoughts on “Dwelling In Your Zone of Genius”

  1. I would prioritize housekeeping and bookkeeping but even though I should have hired someone a long time ago, I don’t have the room in my budget to do it. I have to pay the bills and living expenses first, and after that there’s nothing left for outsourcing.

  2. Babysitting! I figured out that I am a happier mother if I let someone else “enjoy” my 2 year old a few times a week so that I can work on my art.

  3. I used to do most of my own framing to keep costs down. I have a wonderful framer for the things I could not do, but have since turned all my framing over to him. I enjoy the relationship we have built and love not having to turn my dining room table into a framing studio!

  4. Susan Purney Mark

    Three years ago I hired a book keeper/assistant/web person and it was the best decision I made for my business. She comes to me each week for about four hours and does the work needed for that week. Once in a while she’ll do some research on her own for. Me and generally keeps the office part of my business on track. We also share plants and gardening tips!
    If you possibly can hire someone, some lean months I pay her more than I pay myself.

  5. Two years ago I started hiring a studio assistant to flatten and organize the tin I use. She is totally worth her weight in gold. She makes all the difference in how I am able to work in the studio and have a regular job driving a bus. With her help I am able to work more freely and create more work. I totally agree with you.

  6. Christine Margotin

    I totally agree with this “zone of genius” idea. I am a sculptor and this artistic activity requires help in the studio. I hired someone one year ago and have never been so productive since then.
    I feel I also need someone for the back office work, exactly the type of help Susan Purney Mark mentioned but I don’t know where to find this part-time help and how I could afford it…

    1. Can you start just bare bones? Like 1/2 day a week? If you click on the hiring link above, I tell you how I found my assistant.

      Craigslist might also yield results.

  7. A lot of creative entrepreneurs end up wasting a huge amount of time and energy trying to do everything in their business instead of concentrating on the one thing they went into business to do! It leads to overwhelm, burnout and disillusionment. Its a habit that is very easily to get into because, especially when you are first starting out, you can barely pay yourself, let alone someone else. It is precisely why we created the Time Traders Club, a community for entrepreneurs where they can trade the skills they have for the skills they need in our virtual time bank. It helps entrepreneurs stay in their zone of genius (we call it their zone of brilliance), right from the start. Most artists tend to be solo entrepreneurs but we have never met a solo entrepreneur that succeeded on their own.

  8. I love the idea.of Time Traders Club. How do I find out more about it?
    Alyson, I think we are always scared to take on someone we are responsible to pay. I do know that for me to create the kind of website that really works I need someone who knows more than I do to make it show up. I want to learn how to edit it & add new images, but I don’t know how to make it show up when someone looks for.me…as a printmaker, not just by my name. It seems like a real professional act to hire someone to care of things we don’t do well!

  9. I agree with this genius zone thing too, but have found that one must be prepared to train whoever they hire which takes a lot of time that hopefully will pay off in the long run. I wish I could find someone like Susan has, who is multi-talented. They are very rare!

  10. This post is brilliant. I love “the zone of genius!” My art is slow – each piece takes 10-30 hours or more to complete, and my friends joke about how they’d never have the patience, but they don’t get that you don’t need patience when you’re in the zone!

    My big hurdle is shipping. I have refunded more shipping fees because I felt bad about not getting things out the door when promised…

    I don’t have the volume of sales (yet?) to justify hiring someone to handle this for me, so I’m working on my systems instead to make it as painless as possible. A new postage scale, buying postage online and scheduling package pickups means I shouldn’t even have to leave the house.

    BTW Alyson, I only recently discovered your blog and I love it! I’m working my way backwards through your archives and will definitely be a regular reader going forward.

  11. Running a blog, making art, and going to school full time is tough for me. I did recently read a little ebook about outsourcing work, and honestly, I had forgotten all about it because I never thought outsourcing would be necessary as an artist. Now that I think about it, my biggest time waster is definitely managing social media and finding new blog topics. Could definitely find someone to help me with that!

    The ebook I was reading had linked to some websites to outsource work to the Philippines and the advantages. While this would be the most affordable way for me as a full-time student to afford work, how do you feel about outsourcing work to other countries?

  12. Marketing, marketing and marketing. Online that is. I’m quite happy with promoting my exhibitions and selling stuff at shows but I need more traction for my online biz stuff – coaching and selling my work.

  13. Very interesting. Actually I think That artist got thousands of psychological barreers. And one of them is that they doesn’t want to delegate, because they think that it will change their art or something, that it will not match to their vision, that they will do it better if they do themselves. Not the best choice at all. Because if you stay alone, you’ll never cross the vision of others and start feeding some ego-trip. It can become toxic for your art AND your business. Great content Alyson thanks.

  14. Hi Alyson,

    This is right on. I know it was a great relief to me when my husband and I hired weekly cleaners, because cleaning the house was not in our “zone of genius.”

    I do need web help, seem to have been hacked recently and am hiring out to try and fix that (not fixed yet). I occasionally hire a friend to be my P.A. (personal assistant), but realize that when it comes to organizing international show entries, shipping, and many other tasks I could use a personal assistant full time. Meanwhile, I will whenever I can

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Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

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