Do you struggle to make (and maintain) time and space to do your creative work?
Working as an artist or creative comes with the challenges of managing your time and determining and holding the space you need to do your work.
If you work from home as a self-employed artist or creative it can be easy to get in the habit of prioritizing other work, people or animals around the house. Chunks of time and even entire days can slip away without getting to your work. Plus, when you have the flexibility to manage your own time, it can be tempting to agree to any number of other commitments. Your calendar fills up, leaving you with not enough or no time or space to do your work. For those striving to maintain a professional practice or business alongside other paid work or unpaid work (like parenting), it is challenging to prioritize time and have the headspace to work on a creative practice too.
My clients and I talk alot about what it means and what it takes to make and maintain time and space to do their work. And I continue to navigate figuring these things out for myself in my own work and life as a creative professional. Through coaching conversations and my own experience I’ve come to recognize that it isn’t just about making time for doing various aspects of our work. Space is also part of what we need. Space to experiment. Space to explore. Space to plan. Space to go bigger or deeper. Space to make mistakes. Space to recharge. Artists and creatives need time and space to be able to do their work.
Here are some observations and a few tips and strategies that I hope will get you thinking and help you make and maintain the time and space you need to do your work:
Some of my clients talk about “stealing” or “carving out” time or “squeezing”, even “cramming” creative work into their day or week. When I draw their attention to the language they are using they often shake their heads in dismayed recognition. This is not how they want things to be. Backfilling time for creative work in and around work for other people - paid or not, meetings, appointments, family responsibilities. Of course it may be necessary to operate this way some of the time in our busy lives. Work can be made in quick focused spurts. Applications or proposals can be thrown together and submitted last minute. Quick wins can be realized. But when this becomes the default way of working, there is little space for deep exploration, development, planning or meaningful progress. Working this way all of the time can lead to frustration and feeling unfulfilled.
Other creatives set unrealistic expectations for themselves about what time and space they need to do their work. This can come from a couple of different directions, each creating its own delimas. One is overestimating time and space required. Some think they need huge blocks of time and space to do any work - I’m talking about wanting to be able to set weeks or months aside to do specific types of work at the exclusion of everything else. “ If I don’t have this huge chunk of time, it’s impossible to do my work.” They have an all or nothing mindset about the time and space they need to do their work. Of course some are able to create big chunks of time for themselves through sabbaticals, leaves of absence, residencies and other strategies. These opportunities can be transformational for creatives because they do allow time and space for deep exploration, experimentation and development. But for most creatives it is not feasible or practical to make time or space this way consistently. I coach them on thinking through other options they might create for themselves besides having all of the time and space or nothing. The other way that unrealistic expectations can get in the way of creatives doing work is underestimating how much time and space required to do the work. For example scheduling an hour or two to do something that actually takes four hours. (Confession: I still fall into this trap sometimes!) Or committing to a tight schedule that requires jumping from one type of work to the next without space to be prepared or get into the right mindset for the work to be done next. Underestimating time to do our work and the space we need to give ourselves can be really detrimental to the quality of our work, energy and mindset. I find myself working with clients at all stages of creative careers to help them become more aware of and realistic about how much time and space they truly need. And I continue to work on it for myself as well!
What does making time and space for your work as an artist or creative mean to you?
So how can artists and creatives get a better handle on making and maintaining time and space for their creative work?
Here are a few prompts to think about:
Set time aside consciously.
It might sound obvious, but trust me it is a game changing move to allocate specific blocks of time in your calendar to do your creative work and then schedule other things around that. If you aren’t setting time aside consciously, you are leaving your time up for grabs. You will be left scrambling to do your work in the scraps of time left.
Take care to consider the different aspects of your work when blocking time. For example, hands-on making vs administrative tasks, vs promoting your work vs applying for opportunities or funding are very different types of work that demand different focus and mindset and energy.
What times of day or day of the week are you at your peak to be your most focused and productive for the types of work you need to do?
Think beyond the day or week.
What work do you want or need to make time and space for daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually?
Block time in your calendar for this work ahead and you won’t be scrambling to find the time!
Set boundaries at work and with family and friends.
Allocating this time and maintaining it may require letting your friends and family know that you need time for your creative work. That your creative practice or business is in fact your work and that you take it seriously. Think of ways you can ask for their support to get that time if you’re struggling to figure it out. If you are also employed outside of your creative practice or business, set realistic boundaries with your employer. Employers set boundaries with their employees, and this should go both ways. One way you can set a limit is by leaving on time most days instead of staying late routinely.
Get into a routine
The more that you can build a routine around doing your work the less you will struggle with making time and holding space to do your work. It will just become part of how you live your life as an artist or creative. Routines begin with making decisions about what you will do when and then practicing sticking to them. You might need a daily routine or more of a weekly routine. Start small and build on. Tweak as needed.
Be intentional about space
Finally, consider how much space you need for exploration, play, experimentation, planning and thinking. And the space you need to be prepared and present with your work.
What are some new ways you could approach making
and maintaining time and space to do your work?
How I make (and maintain) time and space for different aspects of my work: Personally, as someone who is very visual and attuned to colour, I’m a big fan of colour coding my calendar. Purple for time I’m blocking for creative work like writing or new content creation. Blue for client sessions. Yellow for my professional development commitments. Green for outreach and networking. Pink for personal appointments, family or social commitments. It helps me see my day and week at a quick glance and assess and balance what time I’m consciously set aside for what priorities. I hold weekly time for things that are important to me and schedule around those blocks. And I block time months ahead for reflection and planning sessions, creative deep dives and time off. It works for me.
Join the conversation and help inspire other creatives. Please share what works for you in the comments!