Productivity for Artists / by J. Logan Carey

Working a full-time job and trying to find time to draw, write, and practice art can be really challenging for me. I'm sure most people run into the same issue whether it's balancing school, family, personal life, or whatever. At the end of the week I always seem to feel like I haven't put enough time into my work and I start thinking I'm not progressing at all. I tell myself I'm going to come home from work and get out my sketchbook and sit down for hours, but it is just so hard after a day of job stress to do anything much more than make dinner and collapse on the couch.

Time just seems to go by and I'm not really sure where it went. So I've been gradually adjusting my habits when it comes to the time I put into art in a few major ways and have seen some success so I thought I would share it with y'all...

1. I've started getting up earlier

Yes, I knoooow. This cliche old gem from motivational coaches and even your grandma. I am the absolute definition of NOT A MORNING PERSON. It has been tough, but I've been getting up an hour or more earlier to have dedicated time to work on art.

This has really helped me be more productive because when I sit down at my desk, I know have a set amount of time to work until I have to leave for work and I'm groggy enough that it feels like I'm wasting time and energy getting up early if I don't draw.

This time in the morning, I have discovered, is also the best time for me to draw because I'm relatively fresh-minded after a night's sleep and am able to concentrate and focus much better, even being groggy. There isn't any commotion about making dinner or running errands or any of the hundreds of other things that seem to fill your evening agenda. It's time reserved for only me and I actually feel more refreshed after the fact because I feel like I've already invested time in my own passions before doing work for other people.

2. I accidentally discovered the secret to beating creative block

WHOA. This probably sounds nuts, but stay with me.

A common issue many artists and creatives have is when they sit down to draw, or write, or make whatever...nothing happens. They stare at a blank page and then...the panic sets in. No ideas come to mind, they don't know what to draw, what to write. They are an empty abyss from which ideas should be magically springing forth. Creative Block has reared it's ugly head and now you're screwed.


Well I decided that I didn't want to spend much of my precious morning time thinking about what I wanted to draw because I knew I'd be too sleepy to figure that out. So I started deciding in the evening prior. Then...something kind of magical happened. I actually drew that thing. Even if I wasn't very inspired to draw that particular subject or even if I thought it was above my skill to do so, I did it anyway because I had already made the decision to do it.

What I discovered is that when I sit down in front of a piece of paper to write or draw without knowing beforehand what I want to write or draw, I get totally stuck. I get stuck because when I think of things I should draw because I need the practice or whatever, I don't want to. I don't want to because I feel like those things are above my ability as an artist and I'm afraid to try and then when I suck it will confirm my belief that I can't draw those things. Or, I don't want to draw certain things because they're not the fun part, the exciting part.

Everyone wants to draw Spider-man, but no one wants to draw fire hydrants on the sidewalk underneath were ol' Spidey is swinging on a web. But you have to draw those fire hydrants, because without them, it's just a character with no context, no background, no story. In order to tell the story, I'm going to have to learn how to draw the million other things that aren't my main characters. Even if it's frustrating right now because of my skill level.

When you sit in front of a blank page and try to come up with an idea, you make safe decisions. You choose to make things you're already comfortable making, things that will not push against your limits, things that feel like they will be satisfying to make and show off. This is why you get creative block. Because you know that you shouldn't be making a safe decision, but you can't push yourself to make the scary one. You don't draw fire hydrants, you draw Spider-man. Over and over. This is what separates artists from people who are on shows about stupid human tricks. You can do one thing well because that's all you ever have tried to do.

When you decide what you are going to create before you ever sit down to create it, you choose the right thing to make, not the safe thing because in this moment you absolutely know what you have to do. You have a voice inside you telling you exactly what you need to do, even if it's scary. This is because you're kind of dumping it on your future self to do the heavy lifting. Or so you think. The real heavy lifting is just making the decision. The rest is just following through.

3. I started tracking my time

As Jacque, my better half, can tell you, I don't enjoy making detailed schedules. In fact, it gives me a lot of anxiety. I just don't like nailing myself down to specific amounts of time to do some activities. I feel like it robs my life of spontaneity. What if I want to spend MORE time doing a thing, what if I want to spend LESS? I can't be tamed! Or something.

But what is very clear, is that unless you get control of your schedule to make progress on your creative goals, your goals will get buried under a mountain of work, errands, and time-killing activities like scrolling social media and watching whatever is on TV. So I decided I would track my time for a week and see how much of it I was putting into creative stuff. Not tracking EVERY SINGLE ACTIVITY mind you, just the art related stuff. I don't care how long I spend in the bathroom.

Now there's probably a million ways to track your activities and I won't tell what the PERFECT way is because it's different for everyone. But I'll tell you what I use: Toggl.

Toggl is a free time-tracking tool available on the web and all major platforms. It's designed for teams tracking how much individual people are working on certain tasks, but it works great as a way to track how much time you're really spending on your projects.

What I've discovered is that even if I feel like I haven't done enough at the end of the week, which is what usually happens, looking at the time I've put into drawing, or watching tutorials actually adds up to be quite a bit. More than I thought really. Toggl will display your total tracked activities in a pleasing infographic so you can see what you're really doing.

Here's my last week from Monday until Thursday:


You can change the day you want your week to start on, but I just left mine on Monday. Now, you track Activities and those activities are assigned to Projects. So you can have lots of different Activities in one Project. You can see from the infographic above that my main activities are Drawing and Studying Art (reading art books, watching YouTube tutorials) that I've decided to file under a project called Art School. I'm teaching myself and making my own curriculum so it's really helpful to see how much time I'm actually putting into it as the week progresses.

I also have a project called Feed Your Imagination. This will be anything from reading to watching some of my favorite sci-fi television shows. After all, you get ideas from everywhere and if feels good to think I'm just added more to that library of ideas in my head for future stories.

Toggl's mobile app is a very simple affair and it is a quick open-and-on to start tracking an activity. Your frequently tracked activities will be at the ready with one tap. One of the best benefits of tracking my time this way, besides realizing that I'm not totally wasting time like I previously thought, is that when I sit down to do something and start Toggl, I feel like I am really focused on that one activity, after all, I'm tracking it. When I'm tracking the time I'm sitting down to draw, I get distracted less, pull my phone out less, daydream less. It's a subtle, yet powerful way to tell yourself that you are doing one thing and one thing only right now because you're giving yourself credit for it, so you'd better be honest.

Give it a try for week and see what it can do for your productivity.

That's it for this verbose post, hope you enjoyed it and it offers some helpful tips for making progress on your creative projects!