My last post was on building a media kit and I’m happy to report I’ve made much progress! Having written a whole lot about myself, talk about pumping your ego LOL 🙂 I’ve decided to give my writing a few days to marinate. It’s always good to read over what you’ve written a few days later for a fresh perspective. In terms of photos, turns out that a family gathering doesn’t set the scene for taking photos…so I’ll be planning a photo shoot for tomorrow instead. Just me, myself and I! In the meantime, as I continue to plan out my marketing and promotion tasks, I started to think about time management for the creative. How certain tasks can be forced upon us with discipline, but others cannot, like creativity and inspiration…how does that work with scheduling? Can it really be scheduled?

Time management seems to be the most talked about and most lamented about topic. Sometimes I puzzle over the fact that I was able to manage peoples’ time as a job, but unable to do it for myself so well. I often feel overloaded and overwhelmed with my own schedule and it really makes me angry, giving me this unsettling feeling. I wondered why it would be easier to manage a team schedule. As the manager of a team, I was able to deflect lower priority tasks and push things around to ensure that crucial threads of work continued. I also restructured a lot of projects and broke them down into many phases, in order to meet certain deadlines. So something was complete, but more would be added at a later date. I suppose in part it was a political position too, negotiating to make a request fit with time that we had available. Hmm, I guess for my personal projects, I can’t see so clearly in black and white. All my creative work is important to me and I tend to just go with the energy and momentum of the moment. I don’t want to lose the drive when there’s a spark of inspiration. It’s always difficult to sort out priorities when you are in the trenches. I think I understand that now. Of course, doesn’t help when every client says they need this or that ASAP as well. Or perhaps the famous…“we needed this done yesterday…”

Realizing that I simply have a more taxing schedule this year, I attempted to figure out this time management thing for myself. I guess it’s also part of growing up and living here in Italy that has altered my time management. Being in a household with other folks means you have less alone time and more family responsibilities. Chores and all kinds of happenings that interject into the day. I’m sure all the moms out there can relate. Whether you have kids of not, having to run a household or care for people puts the same stresses on your schedule. I need to balance things out for myself, because I don’t want to get grumpy and frustrated when dinnertime comes along and I happen to be in the midst of creating something wonderful. I hate being interrupted.

It seems so straightforward – just schedule your time with the projects you must complete…block it all off. There are plenty of fancy programs to help you do this on your computer or directly online. Or you can go old school and just whip out that old fashioned weekly planner. I’m sure we’ve all tried this before. Unfortunately, real life simply does not happen as planned, ever! Reality happens and your perfectly planned blocks of time will only be a fantasy schedule for an imaginary person. If you are able to follow by a strict schedule, you have no issues with time management…so I bow to you…seriously, that is a miracle to me…but for the rest of us…

I am starting to think of time management like dieting. Seriously. There are a million programs and special diet schemes out there and often we learn that one plan works for some, but not others. The reason being that our bodies are different and we all have unique aspects in our health history and genetic make-up, thereby changing the game. Time management is similar in that we all have different personalities, work schedules, responsibilities and limits. Some require an aspect of strict scheduling, while others work best with certain flexibilities. Some people can run on 4 hours of sleep and others like me need way more! I realized that I need to learn more about myself and my creative habits, to figure out the method that fits me just right.

PRIORITIES and DEADLINES

I believe that one can never overemphasize the importance of setting priorities. I have responsibilities with deadlines that I simply must meet. Working to sustain your livelihood or household is definitely a top priority. Whatever your circumstances, there are times you simply have to buckle down and get it done. I put my paying jobs into first priority and sometimes that really is motivation enough. Other times you just have to work through it nevertheless – although thinking about what prize you will reward yourself with afterwards helps as well. That said, money can’t be the only motivator in the end. You have to consider the amount of time and effort something will take and what it’s worth to you, before diving in. Is it helping you towards your ultimate goals…making it a priority?

If there’s a call for a challenge…even if you are super excited about it…do you really have the time to fit that in? Is it really the thing to do that will help you grow and learn? If I really want to get something done, I do need a deadline. Otherwise, I will not complete it. However, I’ve learned to dismiss things when it’s just not the right time. Rather than bookmarking every single thing, creating a big mess on the unconscious mind, too. I think it’s clutter…to blindly think you might get to that, if you just add it to the list. I have learned to realized that new opportunities will arise. So there’s no need to dwell.

Which brings into question a special aspect regarding time management for creatives. There’s something about creative work that requires that excitement and mojo of the moment, right? When you get into that trance. If you aren’t feeling it…you could be trying to work the whole day, but end up accomplishing nothing. So although prioritizing is so darn important, I think for creatives we also have to weigh what we can work on with all our heart at that moment as well. You can’t sit down and write a novel or paint or sculpt if you just don’t feel passionate about it. It applies for all creative work, because you are creating something – not just going through the motions of xyz.

I know that many people believe that you have to drudge through those times, even when inspiration doesn’t come… so you will be ready when the inspiration decides to hit. I understand that position of thinking…but I don’t think it works for me personally. If I’m tired or out of it…I might be able to loosen up by playing and creating – but it doesn’t end up as any work. It’s just that, playing. So for me…I give myself the option to just move on to some other priority or just say, hey, I’m going to play! Not pretend that flailing for 8 hours is considered working. It just doesn’t jive with me.

FLEXIBILITY

One of the reasons why I freelance and design from home is because I want the flexibility to swap my schedule around as necessary. So it’s supremely important for me to remember that and take advantage of flexibility when I need it. If I start planning things hour by hour… what have I done, but simply brought the 9 to 5 home?  Yes, I’ve got to get work done, but I give myself the flexibility to fluidly move between projects and swap out sections of time depending on what’s going on with my life.

I also think the flexibility is needed to accommodate for when inspiration does strike. If you suddenly get rolling in a project, it’s so frustrating to have to stop, because xyz is scheduled. I like being able to follow an unexplored path to see what happens. A bit mad scientist like. So strict scheduling again, does not work for me. I almost think that it stifles creativity…at least for me. If I think about inspiration I’ve received, it’s more often when I’m doing other things. Studio time is just working through those ideas…

So I’ve come up with a fluid system of time management. Since I still have the day job, that is the top priority – always. After all, we do have to learn to assume responsibilities and do things whether we feel like it or not. Like brushing your teeth and taking a shower – haha…just do it! With the rest of my time I work on my creative projects according to priority – but when I feel the most productive to do that kind of work. Certain projects might have deadlines, others might be personal ongoing projects or explorations. I rank them and work on them in that order, but jumping around if I feel like it and time allows. Over time I’ve also learned a bit about my own rhythms and when I’m most productive on the computer or painting or crafting something or another. I find it extremely helpful to give myself that flexibility, because I’ll get something done faster when I’m in the mode and mood.


RE-ENERGIZE or RE-DIRECT

Of course, there are times when I simply feel overwhelmed. The culprit was probably taking on too much to begin with. Which is why a monthly calendar of sorts really helps me to see the big picture of my time, before saying yes to something new. I’ve certainly burned myself out many a time. And I’ve had to ask myself the question so many times, in the midst of slaving away…why!? why!??! Before taking on more work, I have to remind myself of my ultimate goals and how the project fits in. Does it help me learn something? Grow something? Spread the word? Or do I have the time to participate for fun? We often want to do it all, saying yes, yes, yes! Perhaps as we grow older and wiser, we learn how to say no…and not feel bad about it!

I’ve found it really important to add in texture to my schedule. By that I mean, getting out…doing something completely different. If you do something heavy…afterwards, try to go with something more lighthearted or less stressful. You wouldn’t want to have to do your taxes, then go write an essay, followed by coding a program or something… it’s like stress, stress, stress. I personally need the variety and spice, breaking things up and making my activities balanced with each other. I think it helps to re-energize me… taking a walk, collecting wildflowers (taking lots of photos of them) going to get a snack or a coffee. Little things that balance out my day…or at times serving as the reward for having finished something not so enjoyable  – like laundry!

EXPERIMENT AND ADJUST

So ultimately, I think of my fluid management is like having multiple layers or lots of rings that fit within each other. Hmm, can’t really think of a good way to put it. But there’s the big picture…like my yearly goals, both business and personal. Then there’s the actual dated schedule planner, month to month with the major deadlines…things I must do. Then if you zoom in closer week by week, certain things need to be done, but can be shifted around. Like a bunch of blocks that you can move around in any way, but they fit within a week’s time…usually leaving breathing room, so it’s not a tight fit that you are shoving them into each other to make it all fit. Okay, enough with the bad analogy. It makes sense in my mind anyway! I certainly don’t know if this method of time management will work forever. It takes more than a month to see if it’ll work. Not to mention, our lives are ever-changing and our methods will evolve with time. However, I wanted to share my thinking process and hear what perspective you have on time management, especially for creative types of work. Let me know and I hope that we can all get a better grip on our personal schedules and move forward with our creative businesses. Until next time…

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