Time Management for the Creative

One of the hardest things I have to do, in terms of self-discipline, is to tell myself no. No, you cannot take on that project. No, a graduate degree is just not practical within the current framework of your life. No. No, no, no…

My husband and dear First Reader would tell you that I don’t say no often enough, either to myself, or others. I take on responsibilities I probably shouldn’t. Saying no, well, it’s not in my vocabulary. It is, it’s just not always visible. I’ve said no rather a lot this last year. Said maybe, said yes when I shouldn’t have… Time management is challenging for me. It’s not just me, either. I notice many of the people I hang out with have the same challenge. Our brain is bigger than our energy? Dad used to tell us when we were kids, and being taken to a buffet, that we shouldn’t let our eyes be bigger than our stomachs. So many things looked good on the spread, but he knew what we hadn’t yet grasped, that we could physically only hold so much. And then we’d waste what we couldn’t wrap ourselves around. Even what we could eat, if we shoveled it in too fast, we’d wind up groaning in pain from overeating. Taking on too many projects is a lot like that. Oh, sure, I want to do art, writing, grad school, family commitments, work, certificates to dress up my resume, home renovations, gardening… the list goes on. I have many interests, and my brain goes bouncing off with exclamations of delight every day. Shiny…!

It’s very hard to be a realist when we want to be a dreamer. Reconciling the two means self-discipline, which is anathema to most artists, even though to really succeed at art (be it visual or textual mediums) you must practice enormous self-discipline. So how to maintain that balance between the looseness of creativity, and the structure of discipline to keep oneself on track rather than perpetually chasing squirrels like an exuberant Golden Retriever? Learning to say no. Not only to others, but to oneself. Routines are vital to the creative, because they open up the mental space necessary to exercise imagination free of guilt over taking the time for oneself. Because at least for me, being creative feeds my soul, and given my training (not quite the right word, but it will do for now), that feels selfish. I counteract it, in part, by selling art (books and drawings and such) because that makes me feel like I’m not wasting time, if that makes any sense. I don’t have to do this, but I do it because it eases my sense of… I don’t know quite what.

Now that you have whittled your to-do list down from infinite possibilities to: this isn’t going to kill me, what next? Carve out some time. Me, I’ve been doing MinInktober in the mornings between the First Reader leaving for work, the Little Man getting ready for school, and me going to work. That’s about 45 minutes, broken up. I also do other things in that time, but taking 10 minutes for a tiny sketch is reasonable. You’ll have to find your own niches, but most of us are not so tightly scheduled that you can’t carve out bits here and there. Once you have your niches marked in your routine, give yourself permission not to always fill them. There will be days that you just can’t. I’ll sit there after work, knowing I need to do this, that, and the other thing, but my body just won’t move.

The other thing I need to schedule, and I suspect I’m not alone, is time to fill my creative well. Personally this means music, walks in the woods, books or museums of music, podcasts about history or other interesting bits that fall into my work, reading both for research and fun. Again, I enjoy these immensely, which means I have to fight that ‘but this is selfish!’ voice in my head to remind myself that these things are vital to both my self-care, and my production as an artist. It’s perverse, perhaps, but it works for me. Speaking of self-care, do I need to be explicit about the necessity of such things as eating, drinking, bathing regularly, and most of all, sleeping? I do with myself, so the answer is likely yes!

This isn’t meant to be definitive. Not only will it be different for each individual, it changes constantly for each of us. Life rarely stays in the same rut for very long. Some days, I wish it would. Boring is less stressful than change. Less stress means more mental energy for all these projects I want to take on. It also means better health that allows me to meet the challenges physically. But life isn’t easy, and that makes art more poignant, does it not?