The Blog

Ask GYST: Time Management for Creatives

Consider writing your own obituary or late in life roast. Think specifically what you want to accomplish in your life. What is it that you really want?
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.


Why should you have great time management skills?

Effective time management is an essential skill for creatives. Artists need to work smarter when times are tough. Those who manage their time and get organized are some of the top achievers in any field, and the arts are no exception. It becomes ever more important when you are under many deadlines and pressure to get things done in a timely manner. It will help with your stress level as well. So jump right in and see if these suggestions will work for you.

Being an artist is not only creating the work itself, but managing your own career. Even if you have a gallery (or other support structure), you should keep track of everything yourself. You never know when a gallery will close and you may never see the paperwork on your own collectors. Or a natural or man made disaster might destroy your files as well as your artwork. So take steps to get your archives in order and save everything to a disc and put it in a safety deposit box at least once a year.


What is the First Step?

Evaluate. Take stock of your current situation and how you manage your time. What resources do you have (or should you have) in order to keep track of all the things that you need to do. Do you feel like you are running out of time to do your projects? Then get organized.


Evaluate your current situation. Answer the following questions.

1. When do you most often work on the highest priority items on your list? During the day? In the evening?

2. Are you finding yourself finishing things at the last moment? Do you put off activities until you are in crisis mode?

3. Do you set aside time to plan ahead and create a time line for your projects?

4. Do you know how much time you are spending on various activities? Making your artwork? Working on business aspects of your career such as updating your mailing list?

5. Do you get interrupted often when you are working?

6. Do you set goals in order to determine which activities are the most important?

7. Do you leave time for the unexpected? Do you panic when something unexpected comes up?

8. Do you rank your to-do list based on what is high, medium or low priority? Do you rank each new item when you start a new project?

9. Do you find yourself stressed over deadlines and commitments? Do you ever miss a deadline?

10. Before you take on a task, do you evaluate it in terms of the rewards you will get from the task?

OK, now evaluate your answers and figure out what steps you need to take. Either you are managing your time quite well, or your a just getting by, or your management skills are a disaster. The good news is there is help for all three.


Tools That Will Help You

Set up your office or workspace so that you can find what you need. There are a number of solutions to this if you own a computer. You should either create your own tracking system, or invest in software that keeps track of all your work as well as your art business matters.

Use a calendar for everything. Link your calendars together if you use Google, ical or an iphone or equivalent.

Figure out what distracts you from your work. See if you can rearrange your working life so that those distractions are less interruptive. If you are a procrastinator, then see that section later.


Staff Meetings

Every business or organization has staff meetings, usually once a week, in order to communicate what is taking place, and what needs to be done. Just because you are a single artist working in your studio, does not mean that you should have a staff meeting with YOURSELF! Schedule one once a week at least.



Use software, or use paper, but make a list of those things that you need to do. Setting Goals
is very important. How do you know what to do unless you create a goal for yourself? Then prioritize those goals into sections that are a HIGH, MED and LOW priority. Artists tend to neglect goal setting because it requires time and effort. What they fail to consider is that a little time and effort put in now saves an enormous amount of time, effort and frustration in the future.

If you have not done so already, consider writing your own obituary or late in life roast. Think specifically what you want to accomplish in your life. What is it that you really want? Not what others want of you, or what you think the art world wants, but what YOU want. Be honest.

Personal goal setting will actually invigorate and motivate you to get cracking! It gives you short and long term vision on your practice, and helps to prioritize what is important. I will also give you focus, instead of all those ideas spinning in your brain and help you concentrate on the resources you need to accomplish your tasks.

By setting sharp, clearly defined goals, you can measure and take pride in the achievement of those goals. You can see forward progress in what might previously have seemed a long pointless grind. By setting goals, you will also raise your self-confidence, as you recognize your ability and competence in achieving the goals that you have set. This really works. You check more things off of your to-do list and it makes you happy.

You should have goals for:

three months
six months
one year
three years
five years
ten years
and lifetime goals

Keep in mind that the world is rapidly changing, so you should let your goals change, and your experiences help in those decisions. 10% of the jobs we will have in the next 10 years have not even been invented yet.


Some things to think about: (realistic answers are the best)

What are your artistic goals?

Is there any part of your attitude which is setting you back or keeping you for pursuing your dreams?

What level do you want to reach in your career?

Do you need education about how things work or certain topics in order to get your sh*t together?

Do you have or want a family?

What are your financial goals? And when do you want to get there?

What pleasurable activities are in your goal set? Are you allowing time for vacations or other life events?

Do you want to participate in activist activities or make the world a better place?

Do you want to start your own business or work for someone else?


Are all your goals really big? If so, you might create a larger number of goals that don't seem so daunting.

Your goals and plans can change. That is the beauty of this strategy. You may learn a new skills or come up with a great business idea and it might change the course of your career. Allow these things to happen, and then rewrite down your new goals.


SMART Goals:
A useful way of making goals more powerful is to use the SMART mnemonic. While there are plenty of variants, SMART usually stands for:
• S Specific
• M Measurable
• A Attainable
• R Relevant
• T Time-bound

For example, instead of having "to sell 6 artworks" as a goal, it is more powerful to say "To have completed 6 sales of my work by December 31, 2015." Obviously, this will only be attainable if a lot of preparation has been completed beforehand!

Enjoy it when you accomplish a goal. You deserve it.



OK, so you are a procrastinator. You put things off until the last minute, and then kill yourself to get the job done. This can be a big time waster and a career derailed. So you don't feel like working on something, and rather do something you enjoy more? Consider turning it around. Get the thing done that you are not so happy about doing, and then do something you enjoy. You might find that you actually have more time to really enjoy your other activities, instead of worrying while you procrastinate.

Do you feel overwhelmed by the task? Usually that means the tasks you have created are too large. Break them up into smaller sections. Then do one section at a time. Your sense of accomplishment at getting to check off all those items will help your self esteem. Come up with a great reward for yourself, such as a nice long coffee break, or a trip to the gallery. With the experience of having achieved this goal, review the rest of your goal plans:

• If you achieved the goal too easily, make your next goals harder.
• If the goal took a dispiriting length of time to achieve, make the next goals a little easier.
• If you learned something that would lead you to change other goals, do so.
• If you noticed a deficit in your skills despite achieving the goal, decide whether to set goals to fix this.

Consider hiring someone to help you complete tasks, especially if they are things you don't know how to do. Don't know how to build a website? Find another artist who does know these things and either pay them or work out a barter.

Activity Logs

If you are having trouble getting things done, keep a record of what you do when (including the times you take a break to eat that bowl of ice cream, or the time you take to text a friend, or you spend on face book). At the end of the week, you may be surprised at just how much time you spend on certain activities. Prioritize.


Scheduling is the process by which you look at the time available to you, and plan how you will use it to achieve the goals you have identified. By using a schedule properly, you can:

• Understand what you can realistically achieve with your time;
• Plan to make the best use of the time available;
• Leave enough time for things you absolutely must do;
• Preserve contingency time to handle 'the unexpected'; and
• Minimize stress by avoiding over-commitment to others.

A well thought-through schedule allows you to manage your commitments, while still leaving you time to do the things that are important to you. It is therefore your most important weapon for beating work overload.


The Art of Filing Stuff

You not only need to manage your time, but you need to manage your stuff. Have you ever desperately searched for a document you needed right then? Not only do you waste your own time, but you may also be wasting the time of others. (This goes for showing up on time for meetings as well).

On a typical work day, we deal with many documents, presentations, graphics, and other files. There's a flurry of data pouring in from all directions that we need to process and, usually, store to retrieve later. We want to be able to lay our hands on the information we need -- at the right moment, when we need it -- so it can be used for further analysis or report writing, or perhaps for creating a presentation.

So, consider a filing strategy and set it up. Here are some pointers:

• Avoid saving unnecessary documents. Don't save it unless you think you may need it in the future. Or, if you can get the information on the web easily.
• Name your files and folders in a way that gives you an idea of just what is in there. Both on your computer and in your hard copy files. Store related documents together.
• If you have finished a project, take it out of the current set of files and put it in another place of completed projects. You can always go back and refer to an older file, but don't clutter up your workspace with things you no longer need right away.
• Don't overfill your folders. Just like a goal, make a few folders for separate activities on a project.
• Install organizing software on your computer.
• Back up your sh*t!



If you write a lot of emails, be sure to address one subject per email. When you cover too many things in an email, you will often not get a response back on all the items you addressed. Label each email clearly with the subject at hand. If you are going to use the word also, check yourself. Be very clear about what you are asking or the information you are delivering. Make sure to specify what you want from the email, such as a follow up phone call, an email reply or specific information.

Internal emails, just like other emails, should not be too informal. Remember, these are written forms of communication that can be printed out and viewed by people other than those for whom they were originally intended! Always use your spell checker, and avoid slang.


There are many more strategies for time management, but this will at least get you started. Search the web or more details and information. But whatever you do, get yourself organized.

Before You Go

Popular in the Community