Erin Farnsworth Studio

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ERIN FARNSWORTH STUDIO

 
Monthly Newsletter
April, 2020
 
 
Finding Time for your Art
 
Many of us have some kind of creative past-time or hobby.
Some even dream of making their creative work into a full time career, but don't have the luxury of working full-time on those goals.
 
Whether you use your creative endeavor as a rest from other work, as a side gig, or as part of a plan to move into full-time creative work, it's really easy to let other things steal moments away, and to be left feeling like you've just got zero time for it.
 
There is hope!
 
Let me share some tips and tricks to prioritize your creative endeavor, so you can m ake real progress, whatever your goal, and no matter what your creative work is.
 
We all need this.
I'm a professional artist. I'm also a mother to five kids, ranging between 3 and 15. They take up a lot of my time. A LOT of my time--especially right now, since all five of them are at home all of the time, and four of them are supposed to be doing all of their school work from home.
 
Many of you reading this will be in a similar situation--you're at home and you're a caregiver, so you already struggle to find time to take care of yourself. Some of you are home and don't have other people to take care of, but you do have work demands or school demands (or both) to manage. Of course, we all have the siren call of Netflix and other temptations to battle that often steal time away from more worthwhile pursuits. 
 
So what do we do about this?
 
I'll be real and tell you that part of the reason I'm writing this post now (though it has been planned for some time), is that the last few weeks I'm struggling with my productivity more than usual too. I know I need to do the things I've learned in the past that help me stay focused on my goals and keep me feeling like I'm making progress on some things that matter to me. It's simply so easy to get swallowed up in the endless to-do's, the needs/wants of others, or empty time wasters. These issues are all part of modern life for all of us. 
 
So here's what I've learned, building my art career and my own technical abilities over the years while I also had many other things to do (and distractions calling my name). I hope my advice will be helpful to you!
 
1. Schedule Blocks of Time
 
I can't take credit for this idea, it has been used and taught by many efficiency and productivity experts (most recently for me was Jordan Page from funcheaporfree.com). This one will take a minute to explain well, but stick with me, it's a big one!
 
Think back to being in high school...
 
A high school student has many classes in one day. They go to a class, and pull out whatever materials they need for that class, and focus on just that class for the entire class period. If they know how to be a good student and succeed, they don't let distractions stop them from getting done what needs to be done for that class. When the bell rings, they stop what they're doing, pack up, and move to another class. Then they repeat, focusing on only the next class. They do this over and over again, and then again when they get home and have homework time, or go to sports practice or music lessons: only focusing on the activity or task at hand.
 
At some point as adults we all become habitual multi-taskers. We're often doing many multiple things at once. This can be great when you need to make dinner but still keep an eye on the kids and the dog. But in general, this is a real productivity killer. Why? Because when we're flitting from one activity to another all day long, the things we really want to be doing just never seem to find their way in. These things need more than a 2-minute time span, and they need all the little things to be put aside in order to focus on them.
 
Instead of working task by task or hour by hour all day, or just taking what comes along and doing that, when you organize your time into blocks, you give yourself permission to only work on what is scheduled for that time period, and not be distracted by other things (unless they're actually emergencies). 
 
Here's a quick example of my schedule when my kids are in school:
 
5-6:30am:  Work time. Get up and get down to the studio. Work on artwork until it's time to take the bigger kids to the bus at 6:30 (with a brief interruption for waking them up at 6am).
 
6:30-8am:  Kids.  Get older kids to the bus, get elementary age kids up and going, breakfast, do hair, out the door. Unload dishwasher and switch over laundry.
 
8-9am: Morning self care. Exercise, shower, get ready.
 
9-11am: Home To-Do's. Any errands, laundry, bills, cleaning, or other home tasks need to fit into this time (or they get pushed to the next day). 
 
11am-12pm. Special project. This is an hour to dedicate to getting work done on my current family history project (things that are important to me but that I never do unless I prioritize them). Currently this is finishing my parent's website. After that will be my youngest son's baby book, and then some other family history books I'd like to make.
 
12-12:30pm: Lunch.
 
12:30-3:00: Work. Put the little one down for a nap and get more work done. Some of this time ends up being spent on marketing, research, prep work, emails, writing newsletter posts, etc. But the bulk of it is used for working on my artwork--and all of it is related to my art business. I try hard not to let other things take away from this important time, which is so very limited right now (when I can't work full time).
 
The rest of the afternoon is scheduled for kids and homework, dinner prep, eating and cleaning up, family scriptures and other family activities (but I'll spare you the details). I rarely do artwork or other tasks during this time, just like I rarely use the other scheduled times to do things outside of what they are meant for.
 
I know this probably seems too simple, but just setting a timer on my phone and giving myself permission to put things away when it's time to move on to the next block has made all the difference in making progress on my big goals that otherwise always seem to get pushed aside.
 
2. Take your work seriously and demand others do too. 
Every successful work-from-home person has learned this (and since many are working from home for the first time now, many are learning it!). You simply can't let yourself or others act like your work isn't important enough to prioritize, just because you are doing it from home.
 
When I set work hours for myself, I don't schedule other things during those times, including activities with other people. If someone asks if I'm free on a weekday afternoon before my kids come home, the answer is "No." That's when I work. The exception is rare.
 
It's Okay to talk about your work seriously and expect that other people do too. If you downplay the work you're trying to do when talking to other people, they will take the cue that it isn't super important to you, and therefore they don't need to respect it either. It's best if you set these boundaries and expecations from the beginning, so you and everyone else understands and respects your time.
 
3. Don't let unimportant tasks steal time.
If you're familiar with the landmark book, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," by Stephen R. Covey, you may be familiar with this one.
In the book, Mr. Covey talks about how tasks can be categorized into either important or unimportant, and urgent or non-urgent, making four categories as they combine with each other.
 
The first priority is important urgent tasks (crises, pressing problems, deadline driven tasks), but we also have to watch out for unimportant but urgent tasks (texts, emails, phone calls, other interruptions) and for unimportant non-urgent tasks (games, trivia, tv, and other time wasters).
 
The category we have to learn to protect is important but non-urgent. These are the big goals, the large projects, the work we have to do now and every day to eventually obtain mastery. There is nothing urgent about these tasks, but they are important--so we have to learn to not let those unimportant tasks sneak in and steal time away from them.
 
4. "Batch" other work
 
I was reminded of this one recently by Janeen Alley, who is a health and life coach and all-around productivity master (on Instagram @janeenalley).
 
"Batching" refers to taking things that you need to do periodically, and do a bunch of them at once, so that you have longer stretches of time to do what matters later on. The kinds of things that I gather up and "batch" are studio prep work (stretching canvases, priming boards for new paintings, printing images for new work, etc.), writing newsletter posts, and (when I'm on top of things) writing and scheduling social media posts. It's quicker to do several while you're at it than one at a time--just like it's quicker to make twice the food and save one for later (make two "batches"). 
 
5. Prioritize your Kid-free time
Kids at home? Give yourself permission to prioritize your kid-free time.

When the kids are sleeping/visiting friends/at school/watching a movie, it's really easy to spend that precious time scrolling Facebook, or to feel like you need to catch up on some cleaning while nobody is undoing your work elsewhere (amiright?!).
 
But this time is prime productivity time for your creative work and your big goals. Use it! Don't spend it doing laundry. You can do laundry while the kids are around. Don't waste it mindlessly scrolling your phone, you'll be happier if you use it purposefully and put yourself and your goals first during these moments. I talked all about this in my newsletter about kids and art a couple of months ago (you can read it here): www.erinfarnsworth.com/feb20
 
6. Minimize Distractions
We live in a world FULL of distractions. Your phone pings or chimes constantly, telling you to pick it up. Netflix, social media, phone calls, interruptions from other people--these things and more can take our focus off the work and minutes or hours later you realize you've been totally derailed.
 
I have learned that when it's work time I need to minimize these distractions. Here are a few tricks I've used or heard other artists mention that they use to stay on task:  
  • Turn off notifications! If you're drawn to your phone with every noise it makes, then tell it to stop making noise!
  • Those texts will be there in another hour or two when you're ready to read them.
  • There are apps that you can download that silence your phone for a certain amount of time, and apps that try to help you stay accountable, locking distractions until you are really done.
  • Some artists just put their phones in another room entirely to get it out of their space and their head.
 
I've also learned that for me, I can stay quite productive while listening to something (so I listen to music, audio books or podcasts), but I have a much harder time turning on something that is meant to be watched. This sounds obvious, but the temptation to turn on an episode of "The Office" while you paint is real. 
 
7. Use Deadlines and Accountability
Patrons at an art show I held in an antique gallery in Belgium, 2015
Long ago when I was a young mother, with graduate school newly finished, I had to figure out what to do artwork for. In school there was always a deadline, a show to prepare for, critiques to have and progress to make. When you're out of school and working by yourself, you have to find your own reasons to create.
 
I learned quickly that submitting work for art exhibitions was a great way to keep up my productivity. Even if you're really consistent in working those few hours a day that you can squeeze in, it's helpful to have an occasional 'push' that a deadline gives you. Other tasks move to the back burner--because your piece must be finished in time. There are tons of online shows going on right now to apply for, as well as traditional shows every year that are just right for your medium and style--you just have to find them! A few good sites to get your started in your search are artshow.com and callforentry.org (CaFE). They both have thousands of entries for shows coming up that might be great for you to apply for.
A brief word of caution in this: If you're not used to applying for art shows, you should know that even the artists at the top of their game get rejected--
A LOT. Rejection is part of being an artist: future newsletter post on that to come. 
 
It's also great to apply for Grants, art fairs, and other things that really get your work out there, and give you a push to get a lot done.
 
The other thing that can get you moving more is to set up some accountability. Join an artist group that supports you and your work as you support others (or just find a few artist friends in real life or on the internet, so you have someone to show your work to and ask for advice when you need it). Take an online course. Join social media with an account just to show your work. Art accounts are especially popular on Instagram but you can find many on Facebook and other platforms--and believe me, there's a real emotional push to get your work done and out there when people start signing up to see it.
 
 
That's it, Folks!
 
My 7 Best tips for prioritizing your creative work, so you can get done some of the things you want to be doing!
 
I hope each of you have a really productive Spring!
 
--Erin
 
 
Stay well, friends!
 
Was any of this newsletter helpful to you? Would it be helpful to someone you know?
Feel free to forward this email or send them the link to sign up for my newsletter and I'll send this issue over to them. 
 
Current newsletters can only be read by subscribing, but previous newsletters can be found on my website, just below the subscribe form on my newsletter page. Check them out if you missed a month...
 
  
 

From the Studio
 
 
Continuing prep for some larger paintings that I am working on now, this past month I finished two more hand studies, one in oil and one in watercolor. 
 
Both of these paintings as well as last month's drawings are available in my sales gallery:
 
You can see them both in more detail and see what I'm working on now by visiting my Instragram page.
 
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All artwork and text on this website is copyright © 2019 Erin Farnsworth