Time management for artists

How to be effortlessly consistent with your creative practice + my unconventional planning tip for creative rebels.

Time management for artists they key to an effortlessly consistent art practice

In this episode of the Art with Soul podcast, I share some time management tips to help you make time consistently for your art and creative practices even in these challenging times, while balancing your responsibilities towards children and family. I also share my unconventional planning tip to help you schedule your day as an artist. You’ll find a written transcript of the podcast {edited for readability} and additional resources below.

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It is no secret that the pandemic has been a very challenging time for many of us – homeschooling has become the norm, as has working from home. We’re all locked in our homes together all of the time, which has made it challenging to find uninterrupted “me time”. Any wonder then that many artists and creatives are feeling a little bit overwhelmed, struggling to find time for their art practice as they tryto juggle the demands of family with the call of their art tools?

In fact, this is the question that my creative friend and certified Zentangle teacher Aishwarya {who is @tangleandinspire on Instagram}, asked me recently. “I would love to hear how an artist manages to be creative, along with managing family, kids, etc. in these virtually demanding times. Does sticking to a time table help for creative genius to happen, or does one eventually fall out of the main purpose?”

The challenge with finding time for creativity

This is such an interesting question, and one made even more urgent and relevant due to the times we are currently facing – with the world in lockdown, most of us working from home, and homeschooling becoming the default. Even though things may be limping back to normalcy, I suspect that there will be a “new normal” to adjust to, with more flexible working and no visibility yet on when schools will re-open once again.

Full disclaimer: I’m not a parent – it’s just my husband and I and our two fur babies. But I’ve heard all about the challenges of homeschooling and keeping children entertained, so I have an inkling of how chaotic things can get.

While things have been fairly smooth for me in many ways, I have also had to take up many additional responsibilities that I didn’t have to bother with pre-pandemic. But there are positives, too, like not having to deal with the stress of driving to work or making grocery store runs, which has freed up a lot of my energy and creative vitality. I also don’t need to worry if I’m “normal” if I prefer to stay home and paint rather than go shopping over the weekend! We’re all home all the time now!

But all of this staying at home has led to cabin fever. There’s no clear me-time anymore. For me, it used to be the few hours after I was back from work and before the husband returned home in the evening. For those of you with children, I’m guessing school hours would have been your me-time. But now, those clear boundaries have blurred. So, what’s an artist – or indeed a creative – to do when your family seems to demand your attention 24×7?

There are two main time management suggestions that I have for you to consider.

Time management for artists: Creating personal boundaries

setting personal boundaries for artists when homeschooling and working from home

The first is boundaries. I know that a lot of us aren’t too great with boundaries. In India, especially, women have been taught that family and catering to the needs of your husband and in-laws and children comes first. However, constantly putting family or others first is also the fastest way to burnout, dissatisfaction, and in many ways, a loss of identity.

When the message that you’ve seen and, more often than not grown up with, is one where women are the primary caregivers, putting everyone’s happiness ahead of their own, understanding and implementing boundaries can be very difficult. Yet, it is one of the best time management suggestions that I can offer to anyone who is struggling to make time for their creativity or interests in these times – and indeed at any time.

Setting boundaries to support your art practice

So how do you set boundaries around your creative time?

At its core, it’s simple: designate a certain time during the day or a certain activity as sacrosanct. Ask your family not to disturb you. Set some homework for your child or designate that as their free time to do with as they please {if they’re old enough, of course} and tell your husband and any other family members that you will be unavailable for a certain amount of time. They’re all adults – they should be able to look after themselves!

I also know that it can be easier said than done, especially if your family has never really heard you asking for me-time, or hasn’t considered that you would appreciate some time away from them to focus on your own interests.

Dealing with guilt around setting personal boundaries

Setting boundaries is something that almost all of us have to work through in any relationship. But if you’ve never set boundaries before, it can be a little more difficult. It can take time to enforce boundaries and you may need to repeatedly tell your loved ones that you’d appreciate not being disturbed when you’re creating art.

Which leads, also, to guilt. You can end up feeling like an irresponsible parent or an uncaring partner for asking for some time alone. But really, all that you’re doing is taking out some time for yourself – be it 30 minutes every day or a few hours over the weekend or any amount of time that you need to focus on your creative practices. And it is important to carve out a certain amount of time when you can sit down and focus on your creative practice. What I can tell you is that it gets easier the more you stick to it.

Also read: What it means to live a creative life

Time management for artists: Identify your time wasters

identify time wasters

The second suggestion I have for you is to identify your time wasters. There are obvious time wasters, like social media scrolling and binge-watching Netflix, and hidden time wasters, which are more difficult to spot. But we all have them.

Let me give you an example of what I mean by hidden time wasters. One of the hidden time wasters that I identified is research. When I tinker around at the back end of my website or decide to try my hand at a DIY project, I can spend hours looking at countless tutorials and articles. However, most of the tutorials, after a certain point, are quite similar. I could have just read or watched two or three tutorials and begun my project, but I tend to spend half a day or more watching multiple tutorials until I’ve confused myself. And then I go back to one of the first tutorials that I had watched and follow that, because it covered everything that I needed to know!

Eliminate time wasters

Once you know your time wasters, it becomes easy to minimize or eliminate them. One of the best things that you can do is to set time limits for each of them. This works very well for obvious time wasters like social media and Netflix, and to a certain for the hidden time wasters too.

A better tactic for hidden time wasters is to get very specific on what you are setting out to do. Going back to my research example, let’s say if I was looking for a DIY kindle cover project, I can find tutorials on creating everything from stitched fabric covers to leather covers and carboard-covered covers. Taking a few moments before hand to decide what kind of project or materials I want to use will help me to narrow down my search. I tend to combine this with setting a time limit for my research as well.

One common productivity hack that doesn’t quite work

productivity tips for artists and creatives morning yoga

I don’t think I can wrap up these suggestions without touching on a very common productivity hack – to get up an hour before everyone else does, or to sleep an hour after everyone else does, and use that time to focus on yourself. I’m not a big fan of this suggestion because it doesn’t always work. If you’re not a morning person or a night owl, waking up or going to bed an hour earlier or later isn’t going to help. Because if you’re feeling groggy, grumpy, and sleepy, you won’t be at your creative best, and may well come to resent your creativity – and that’s not what you want! And I know that a lot of women, especially, get up quite early in the morning already, so trying to wake up even earlier is counterproductive.

This is why my first suggestion was boundaries. I admit that it’s difficult, but once you set boundaries, and once your family is used to your boundaries, it is the best way to get some creative time and/or some me time – and I bet you need some of that! Besides which, for those of you with children, you’re setting a very good example for your child. I think that we need a little less selflessness and a little more selfishness to really thrive as artists and creatives – and indeed, as human beings! And the best thing with boundaries is that your me-time doesn’t even have to be at the same time every day!

How to schedule your day as an artist

bullet journaling for artists and creatives

Which leads me to the second part of Aishwarya’s question – of sticking to a time table. I know a lot of people like to schedule or plan out their time, but it just doesn’t work for me. I find it restrictive, and my inner rebel doesn’t do well with too much structure!

On some level, I’m willing to bet that most artists and creatives are rebels too! We think differently, and, more importantly, as artists and creatives, we need space and time to go looking for ideas and to allow them to marinate. While regimenting your creative practice may not be too helpful, having a daily art or creative practice is important.

So how do you balance daily creativity without a highly structured schedule?

Also read: How to create a regular art – or creative – practice

Planning for creative rebels

I’ll share my way, which I arrived at after trying and rejecting multiple goal tracking and planning systems. I have a daily non-negotiable to-do list, and art is always on that list. I may spend 10 minutes, 30 minutes, half a day, or 8 hours in my studio, but I show up for my creative practice, and more often than not, so does my muse.

planning for artists and creative rebels

Having a strict schedule on the other hand freezes me up – and not just in my art practice. But, rebel that I am, I have come up with a planning system that works for me. I spend some time at the start of the month listing out the things I’d like to accomplish that month. I then break those down into weekly and daily goals, that make their way onto my to-do list. This way, I know why I’m putting things on my to-do list and what I need to get done, so I’m getting in that productivity and doing all the planning without it becoming overly regimented.

As creatives, I think more than regimented schedules, we need some time to compost our ideas and some spaciousness to enter the flow state when we work. And this takes me right back to boundaries!

Also read: The ultimate planning system for creative rebels

When you are actively creating – be that zentangles, which is what Aishwarya does, or painting or writing, or even baking, you need a relatively distraction free environment. Bringing your family on board with that will help you not just in these uncertain times that we are living in, and not just in your creative practice, but in almost all areas of your life.

Because the thing with boundaries? Once you’ve set them in one area, it becomes easier to set them in others. And you get to determine how flexible your boundaries are!

I hope you found these suggestions helpful. If you have any questions at all, or a topic you’d like me to speak to on an upcoming podcast episode, please drop a comment below.

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Posted in The Art with Soul Podcast.

I’m an artist and art educator, podcaster, tarot reader, and writer. I share my discoveries along the path to inspire you to live a more creative, soul-centered life. Receive my love letters for more of my musings on life and creativity. P.S. I love Instagram - join me there?

6 Comments

  1. I, too, am grateful that my family structure is such, I can devote enough time to my creativity without too much of distraction. But, I have friends who have had to put their creativity aside during this past year and my heart goes out to them. I too can’t work with a time table, but I do note down things I need to do on a daily basis. I follow the list as per my convenience and try to tick off as many as I can off the list. It does give you a sense of satisfaction when you spend time cultivating your creative interests, isn’t it? I survived last year only because I gave enough time to my art and my writing.

    • My heart really does go out to people who are forced to put their art and creativity aside. And I have also seen friends who have a lot of responsibilities and many moving parts to juggle make time for their art, even if it’s just in short bursts of 10-15 minutes. Which is why I think boundaries + examining time wasters and eliminating them can really help most people find some time for their creative practices. Besides which, 10 minutes a day adds up over time, and is a decent window to working on something.

  2. I can feel the pain of all the artists. I had to prioritise a whole bunch of things before art. But it has to be done. Such is life. Just hoping to sail past these times with a sane mind. Personal boundaries are so hard to maintain, specially with toddlers. And i am guilty of feeling the guilt too. Haha it feels like you are talking to me. Thanks for this post.

    • Maintaining boundaries with toddlers is difficult – I completely get that! I also think there are seasons to where we are in life; sometimes we are able to prioritize better than others. I think it’s also important to remember that. Have you tried involving your kiddo with your art, by the way? He’s taken to yoga so adorably!

  3. Thanks for sharing this excellent post, Shinjini. You know, I’ve been at the deep end with a constant tug-of-war between my responsibilities and my creative pursuits and I can so well relate to the challenges that most of us go through, especially more so with having to take care of children and the elderly as in my case. I’m glad to say waking up early two hours before the household wakes up hugely helps and I swear by time-boxing as a tool that enables me to make time for writing and art. It’s a constant juggle, believe me, Shinjini and often stressful, to say the least, but I know I couldn’t do without my writing or my art. They’re Oxygen for me!!

    • And I love how you seem to balance everything with such ease, Esha! It’s such a pleasure to see how you show up for your art and writing alongside everything else that you have on your plate.

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