My main problem is time management. Between work and my studio practice, I feel too busy to network. How do I find the time to run my social media account? I can’t seem to do all of these things and make art. — Stretched thin and stressed out.
If I could offer a simple answer to your question, I’d have millions of dollars in book deal money. The unsatisfying answer is that being stretched for time is a part of most artists’ lives and that reality doesn’t change until you start making an insane amount of money for most artists. For most sole proprietorships, $250,000 a year represents the benchmark when time constraints ease because you can afford more support.
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Given your to-do list, the cause of your stress may seem self-evident, but I think it’s worth spelling out the larger cultural shifts responsible for your predicament. Because if having a job, making art, and getting people into your studio was hard pre-social media, adding the demands of managing a website, social accounts, and emails creates a perfect communications shit-storm. Sure, we can connect with more people than ever before, but that comes with a pretty big downside. For every real-world networking and marketing task, we must now complete a virtual equivalent that takes twice as much time.
I mention this because I hear that you want time to do all the things you’re supposed to do, and I want it to be clear, not just to you but everyone reading this, that it’s not possible. The question isn’t how to drive ourselves crazy doing all the things, but how to stay sane by doing fewer of them.
Let’s start with the biggest problem of them all — stealing time from ourselves. If you don’t allocate time to yourself, you will never feel like you have it.
Of course, easier said than done. We develop bad habits for good reasons. Plumbers get a paycheck that tells them they’re plumbers. Artists, well, you’ve got membership cards and your art. Work can offer a sense of belonging and fill a self-confidence gap caused by not having the standard cultural signifiers of success. If the larger culture sees art as a hobby or entertainment, obsessively toiling away in a studio demonstrates dedication and seriousness artists are often not afforded.
Endless work hours may also represent the ultimate avoidance strategy. It’s the thing we do to avoid tackling scary problems.
I should know — I operated this way for years, working obsessively, never giving myself even a few minutes to meditate or relax at the beginning of the day. I didn’t know I was avoiding making changes because I was too busy being busy.
The upshot was a life defined by reactive problem-solving and decision-making, rather than a responsive work life that gave me time to plan and set priorities.
Time for yourself is the equivalent of putting an oxygen mask on in an airplane before helping the person next to you — once you can breathe, you can do a lot more. (It’s also similar to budgeting — pay yourself first, so you have the resources to care for others.) For me, spending 15 minutes at the beginning of each day meditating marked a transformative moment in my life. I felt stronger, better able to tackle my daily work, and my stress dropped.
I want this for you, too, so I urge you to find time to do nothing each day. It will be the most productive part of your day.
Free mental space gives you time to identify the core purpose behind your tasks. Artists negotiating time constraints need to do this if they don’t want to lose hundreds of hours posting content on Instagram.
Artists engage in social media inconsistently for many reasons, but the top amongst them is time intimidation. So, let’s clear up this pervasive myth: While nearly every artist wants more visibility for their art, the best way to achieve that isn’t volume sharing. Forget about posting 24/7 on Instagram (or another platform) unless it’s something you love. Post once or twice a week — a manageable time commitment — and spend the rest of the time talking to people on the platform you use. It is better to post once a week and chat with many people than to publish seven times a week and connect to no one. You’re not a content creator looking for likes, you are an artist looking for connections.
And the first person you need to make time to connect with is yourself.
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Editor’s Note: If you have a problem you’d like advice on, send your questions to [email protected]. Include your name and location, or a request to remain anonymous. Letters may be edited.