Tips: How to Stay on Task in the Day to Day Grind

Being a full-time artist who works from home may sound like a dream come true (and in some ways it is) but it isn’t easy. The transition of creating my own work day took a lot of discipline. Honestly, there are still some days I fail at this miserably, but learning to prioritize and keeping a schedule are extremely important.

Below are some tips that I have learned.

  1. A Schedule – keeping a schedule of approximately when you start working and when you finish in a day is important. To be blunt, I am terrible at this, I am prone to being random. Don’t get me wrong, everything I intended to do gets done on time without fail, but I have trouble keeping an ordered structure of hourly tasks each day. However, having some kind of order is REALLY important. If you tend to be more random like me, and keeping an hourly schedule is a lost cause use a list. Write lists of the particular tasks you want to get done each day and follow that like the word of The Gods. Things may not be completed by a particular hour, but should get done in a timely fashion and by the end of the day.
  2.  Time Flies – When working by yourself, it is easy to get distracted, especially if your working from home. It is important to be time conscious. At home, there are always chores and other tempting objects like the computer or cell phone to occupy the time. It always starts out small too. I will think to myself, “let me just put a load of laundry in.” This turns into, ” I didn’t notice how dusty the floor is.” And the next thing I know, BOOM! An hour or two goes by. Though I was productive doing tasks around the house, those hours should have been used on creating art. It’s important to realize how much time adds up by distractions and activities which can usually wait until after your scheduled work hours.
  3. Take Breaks, Eat and Stay Hydrated – When you’re in the creating zone it’s all-encompassing. Hours will pass on by like the dashed painted white lines on the road while speeding down a highway. Most artists know that feeling, “I am just going to finish this one section and then I will take a break.” Then that one final section of work doubles and then triples. Before you know what’s happened, you have been working for hours and wondering why you a have headache, and why your stomach is growling at you! Then you look at the clock and realize it’s already 5:00 p.m. and you haven’t eaten since breakfast! Most creatives, or anyone passionate about what they do have all been there. It’s so important to take breaks, eat, and of course stay well hydrated. I used to fight with my tired self, unable to let go of my work even for an hour, like I was literally super glued to it. In the end. it just made me cranky and frustrated, because my level of production slowed down and I needed to re-fuel. If you have this same problem, try setting a timer on your phone for a snack, water break or lunch. Timers are great for reminding you to step back for a minute and return with a fresh set of eyes.
  4. Know How YOU Work Best/Art School Crash Course– This may seem like an easy one. We all think we know how we work. However, let me tell you, it took me the years in graduate school to figure this one out! This part is a bit lengthy, to summarize a bit, below is an explanation about the difference between graduate and undergraduate work (yes, there’s a BIG difference), and about the general personal methods of having a studio practice. I also share what I have learned about my own way or working. From my experience (and also from talking to other art graduates from other schools) a thesis in graduate school, isn’t so much about the topic or that final step before you get that fancy diploma. It all about time management and learning how you work. Most professors give you an assignment, which may even seem easy at first, but it’s a multiple step ordeal which takes months to complete. This is different from undergraduate studies because different questions are asked, the structure of time, and the level of depth of a topic are not the same . In undergraduate school most students learn WHAT, and in graduate school you spend time learning WHY and HOW. For example, as an undergraduate, you are expected to find a subject (what your work about, let’s say for example Food), and then experiment with various types of materials (clay, wood, paint or charcoal to name a few) like you’re a guest at some glorious art buffet. At the end of it all, just as you get your bill from the waiter, or diploma, you should have figured out what you liked the most. However, instead of asking yourself, was it the stuffed mushrooms or the meatballs? The end result, is a bachelor’s degree, where you have a concentrated topic and a medium like for example, Food and Painting. As a side note, the pace or time frame as an undergraduate is short, you usually have a few weeks of experimentation to figure out what you want to do. Graduate school is a whole different ball of cheese. By the time you enter, your expected to know what topic your interested in, and also what material you want to work with. Of course, there are students who don’t have any idea what they want to do. However, these students usually fumble through classes and then get slapped in the face later with a huge thesis they aren’t prepared for. These students usually fly by the seat of their pants. They end up rushing to complete work, and then practice talking up their artwork with mumbo-jumbo conceptual art jargon they learned to protect their work, which really isn’t all that great to begin with. In graduate school, if you already have a general idea of what you want to do (like for example Food), it becomes all about why and how early on. You can start to examine your topic, unpeel the layers like an onion, into all the various ways to approach that one subject. Going with my subject example of Food. Possible research might start out with: fast food, organic food, the top foods consumed in the USA, processed food, pesticides, health and food consumption. The list goes on and on. You dig deeper and deeper until you are so engulfed in what your subject is about, you almost forget how it all started, and what the point may have been in the first place! While examining the layered complexity of your topic, like a slice of  Baumkuchen cake (European dessert, cake batter is poured in layers over a continuously revolving spit in front of an open flame), it is then the “how” starts to come in.  A professor will give you a direction to explore on your subject and then expect to see amazing results, perhaps even a completed art work in a month or two. That four to eight weeks, and how you use your time to complete this massive assignment is entirely up to you. You are completely on your own and most professors don’t want to be bothered by daily questions about it. It is at this time, you have to be true to yourself and questions such as: How do I work best? Is it with people around me in a working social environment? What times do I find myself to be the most productive? Is it early in the morning or late at night? Do I work steadily or in spurts? All of these questions get answered around this time, if not consciously, then definitely subconsciously. For example, I had friends that worked like machines. They could get up early and work every day on a schedule like they were a super-human factory. It was impressive and I wished I could do that too. It took me awhile to accept that I couldn’t make art like that. I produce in spurts. I will do nothing but produce art like a crazy woman for almost every possible waking moment. I won’t go out except to do errands and I pretty much disappear off the social radar. This can last days, weeks or even months. However, at some point I do need a break. At this time, I will stop everything, and won’t produce a thing for about two weeks. Like a sleepy family relative waking up from a decent dose of tryptophan loaded turkey on Thanksgiving, I reappear out into the world to join with friends and be a part of social activities again at this time. Also, I don’t work well with other people around. I work best completely alone. Most people I find are the complete opposite. They need people around to keep them motivated and on task. However, I get distracted, even if someone is working on their own project in the same room. I tend to get irritated easily and lose my train of thought. Believe me, I am not proud of it, but learning our faults is important too. Also, I am not a morning person. My work day starts at 10:00 a.m. or 11:00 a.m., I know to some, I may sound like a slacker, but my body just doesn’t seem to cooperate with an early morning schedule. To compensate, I work late hours and will be up working sometimes until 2 a.m.  The point is, everyone is different, and it’s really important to know how YOU work best.
  5. Respect Your Time/Be Able To Say NO – Once you have a schedule and know how you work best, it’s important to stick to that allotted time. Friends or family may contact you while your working, and since you don’t have a boss or a paid schedule someone has given you, it’s easier to let your own schedule slide. People also tend to assume that since you work from home, that you have more time to spend on other activities. However, this isn’t true, people who work from home are just as busy as anyone else who works a 9:00-5:00 job. In all honesty, I work a lot more, because I have no reason to clock out and go home. Stay at home entrepreneurs I find work more than the average worker bee, because they have to build a business from scratch by themselves. This is hard and very time-consuming, but also one of the most rewarding things I think someone can do. So, be sure to stick to your own schedule like it was given to you by a boss who will fire you if your caught socializing on your phone!

I hope this is helpful and thanks for reading!

 

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