illustrator's life
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Time management tips for crazy artists. Part 1: How to deal with surprises and Internet’s traps.

*Warning! I’m not a master of organization nor productivity, but I’m trying to get better all the time. What you can read in my blog are my struggles and my own personal effects, not an universal remedy for everything. I’d love to see this is helpful, but don’t get mad if something is not working for you. And if you’re super awesome please share your tips and hacks as well – that would be very very appreciated;

Mermaid on bike illustrationHow many management tips starts with “write a plan”??? I don’t know (my math skills again), but it seems like most of them. No argument here – plan is important, except it’s next to impossible to follow it, if you’re freelance illustrator and happen to be human (checked and checked). If you work for someone, good luck with creating very intricate schedule – for one amazingly organized client who somehow knows exactly what is needed from you and has all the answers, kind of immediately there are hundreds of others, who are quite an opposite. Yup – standard is to wait for everything. Of course there are some companies easier to coop in this matter and those which really drives you nuts. I could write whole book, maybe even trilogy about it, but my point is that delays are part of this job and they are ok as long they are not caused by illustrator 😉

Well, we are just humans and we’re doing fun, cute, colorful products for kids not a brain surgery or space ships, so there’s no need to overreact, however it just forced us to be flexible. Yeah, sure – easy to say, but how be cool and collected when you have already a lot of work (like A LOT) and you do everything you can to manage this crazy amount of fun stuff already and suddenly some surprise comes out.

Wood Monsters IllustrationMy surprises for last few day were: a) additional work for project I should be done with already (not my fault) b) some cool opportunity – my shiny new agent will have a booth in SURTEX – omg omg omg -the only thing is that, as a children’s book illustrator I do not have portfolio suitable for this kind of event (well, if you don’t know what’s Surtex, that means you’re not interested in topic of licensing art at all, so in short I’ll just write that’s one of the most important event in this industry). So I have very, VERY limited time to create some kind of demo range. What to do now??? First thing I did obviously was panic, and then I tried to avoid reality for 15 minutes and next, tried to deal with a problem in organized way.

How to deal with surprises.

It all comes to some soul searching and honest self–motivation talk (not speech, speeches just don’t work). This is not an easy part, but super essential. Being honest with yourself is one of the most important skills you should learn if you want to be successful freelancer or entrepreneur (well actually they are both very much alike). You can cheat your boss, if you are working in a call centre (but don’t do this!), but not when you’re working for yourself and your own brand. So! Zero stupid excuses! Zero pretending that you’re not checking facebook at the phone, zero false sick days. Btw. Have you ever noticed how small and medium size business owners and freelancers are getting sick far less often than “normal people”? It’s simple as that – no one gonna pay us unless the work is done. We agreed to those terms when picked our awesome professions and that’s it. Try to implement the same rule for said “normal people” and you will have a riot on your hands not to mention unions, media and who knows what else. I’m not saying that health issues are all imaginary and you should forced yourself to work no matter what or even worse go sick to your work place – nothing like that!. All I’m saying is that in primary and high school I was sick ALL-THE-TI-ME and as an adult I rarely have a need for any medicine.

Bottom line is, ask yourself right questions and give the answer from the bottom of your heart.

Cat on Scooter Illustration

So, what my situation looks like?

My planner seem to be already filled to the fullness and maaaybe smart thing to do was to say no (to the “possibility” because point a) isn’t really optional). Thing is, that as much as I’m smart (obviously 😉 ), I hate giving up. Just hate, and I don’t respond well to popular “you can’t have everything”. Because first of all, why not? And second more importantly, it never means really everything (which would be technically impossible, duh,) but always refers to having a little bit more. I have no idea why people say things like that all the time. I do want to have many things in my life and if it will be hard – fine!

So, my first assessment was, I’m super busy, but I’m stubborn ekhem persistence and I don’t want to let possibility go. But, to be fair I was thinking about new markets for such a long time and done nothing to give it a chance so, this kick in a butt is priceless. Meaning yes, that is important not just a whims so, I will make some moves in my schedule and put extra work.

What can I do to make a space for “new things”?

Although my first instinct is just to abandon everything and through myself into new adventure. This -surprise, surprise- is not a way to go. Sure, there are some emergencies from time to time, so if this happens, yes! Leave everything and fight with fire, but as soon it’s under control, go back to where you started and firstly re-write your plan.

Maybe there are things you can let go (or just postpone), but if you positive that there are none there’s only one solution – boost your productivity to complete items from to do list faster.

My tricks how to be more productive and effective.

(this is ideal scenario – sometimes I do like this, but sometimes I get distracted)

  • I wake up at 5AM even though I’m not a morning person and start working nearly immediately. Longer I wait in bed after hearing alarm harder it gets, so I tried to be good to myself and jump out of bed. I open Photoshop right away and start putting color piece I assigned previous day. Kind of no-brainer task. Zero other things (ok, maybe small snack) until at least 7 – I don’t open my inbox, social media, nothing. Maybe I have little problem with working efficient during this time because it was so hard to get up, so I want to make it worth an effort. So, it is still early in the morning and some of my work is already done – awesome feeling!
  • Thing what is easy to put aside during busy time is taking care of yourself – big mistake. Maybe finding 2-3 hours a day for trip to gym is hard, but doing at least 20 minute of exercise at your place is not negotiable. You will feel better = work more efficient. (and eventually look better = feel even better = work even more efficient). Same goes for healthy food. If you don’t feel like cooking just make someone to do this for you. This brings us to next point…
  • Outsource whatever you can! I know! No one will do this as good as you will and maybe this is true (but in fact not always) but let it go! Concentrate with those task which are REALLY your specialities and find someone else to do the rest. This will take some preparations and lots of nerves, but it’s also soooo worth it! Think through every single task you do doing your day which is not crating art and how much time it takes. From my observation the hardest to hand over are those task which “take just a moment and it will be more fuzz to explaining it so I’ll just do it by myself” My example is cutting paper for sketches – when I do sketches for specific project I like to prepare pieces of paper in same size or at least same proportion. Maybe I could just make lines on bigger piece of paper but it just helps me to have those unneeded parts cut off. Depends on project, it takes me from few to 20 minutes each time. Seems like nothing, but it happens regularly and easily adds up to 2 hours I claim to not have for a coffee date with my BFF. This is a trivial task anyone can do this, specially I’m not that pedantic about it as well. Ok, great but who I could use ask for help? My unfair advantage is that Tytus, my hubby, is a freelancer as well, but with less busy schedule, so my choice is obvious. Depends on my work load, he takes control over our everyday life and he does few things for me like invoicing, responding to easy emails. He corrects my blog posts – I write rather fast (I discovered this super power recently), but spelling and punctuation are not my strong side, so if you read this and you see tones of mistakes that is probably because I published this without letting Tytus read it and fix it first. There are many tasks I’m not comfortable letting someone else do it, but eventually (I mean like this week) I have to! For example all those portfolio pages – I don’t even use them well mostly because it takes so much time! I’ll let you know how that worked out. I understand that not everyone has Tytus, but be creative! There are so many people in your life for sure. Maybe, if you’re somewhat successful think about starting some kind of mentorship/intern program? There are big chance you’re able to teach some enthusiastic kid about your work and this kid probably knows his/her way around internet better then you do (no offence, it just seems that now kids are born with tiny smartphones in their hands), so can take better care of your social media or your page.
  • Panda with mustaches illustration(yes this is time management tip)
  • Tomato technique – not my idea, but absolutely awesome one. It goes like this – for 25 minutes concentrate on task without any interruptions, after that 5 minutes of break – this is a one circle. After 4 of those, you can do 30 minutes of break. Point is to give 100% from yourself and do as much as possible in this time, which is easy as it’s only 25 minutes right? I usually do a little bit longer period – I concentrate as long as one episode of Star Trek or some podcast last – so about 45 minuts average.
  • Speaking of podcasts – I love them! This is perfect way to learn interesting new things, but working same time. Of course, it works bests with tasks which are not involving that much of a thinking like putting color (specially on series of illustrations with palette set earlier). I started with Smart Creative Woman which is great but now I prefer to listen to entrepreneurs like mentioned in a previous post Pat Flynn or Levis Howes. They usually pumped me with their energy and I learn a ton. Remember – I think that being illustrator is very much like a being entrepreneur.
  • And my worst nightmare – Keeping Internet time under control. For me that’s a main time eater, I do love watching movies and even more TV series, but I can do it in small doses. Right now I just watch one episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D a week and one 20 minute of Brooklyn Nine Nine from time to time – not much I believe.

How win battle with Internet.

Internet is so tricky! Why? Because you can’t just stop using it, like you do when you want to quit something bad for you. This is a tool every artist need – for connecting for example, so this simple thing rules out aborting it completely, and it maybe would be lovely, if job possibilities would magically appear only in your mail box and you just could log in there every now and then, but it’s very much not like that. Maybe, if you’re a super star and you don’t need to worry about finding new clients, just work on your art,nothing more than that. Yes, sure, you can forswear Internet Evil. Congrats, but most of us just need it to work so the key is to use it right. Post about what I do to market myself is coming soon, but now I’m more about:

How to not waste time in this fun place called Internet:

  • so far, my best idea was to state publicly, when I will be online. Not that anyone would care, but I felt wrong about breaking this, so I didn’t. My mistake was doing this only for one day. So! For now my regular internet time will be half an hour at 7AM and second half at 9PM my current local time. If I’m off schedule is because I’m waiting for a bus or plane and catching up on social media seems like a good thing to do.
  • I loooove checking all stats, likes and other acts of approval on social media. Arrrr, such a waste of time! Good practice is to schedule posts for time when you’re offline – this way, you can’t check every ten minutes how many people like your new drawing (and it’s so much fun all those “pings!” showing up). I started with Facebook because, for more than a year I was posting kind of same time – about 8AM GTM+1. When we went to Central America, this was about 1AM and I’m usually sleeping this time, so I started scheduling my illustrations for this hour and when I was waking up my post was there for few hours and it got most of likes already. Looking at insights etc. and analyse, it is actually important, but hey! Guess what? You don’t have to look at this all the time, once a week is often enough.
  • Pintrest – another great trap, because is so easy to excuse yourself with “oh, I just need to collect reference for my new project…yeah, sure, and all those cute kitties and homemade ice cream recipes, I will probably never use because of, hahahaha, lack of time, are also part of this project about dinosaurs? True – Pintrest is more effective for finding images than Google as users put there what’s most appealing so the quality is in majority great BUT! Simple as that – write what you looking for, set a timer and than run away as fast as you can.
  • All kind of industry focused pages (included this blog I guess) – this is very important to learn what’s shaking, but you should set some specific time a week for that. Look – sure you can take away something from every article, but there are hundreds and hundreds of them and one leads to another. BUT! You will grow more as an artist by drawing etc. than by reading so! Depends on where you are with your career(at the beginning you need to learn some basics so you need more time obviously), set appropriate amount of time for lecture. When you stumble upon something, which might be interesting, copy URL of this and read it when time will come. NEVER, when someone just email it and you’re in the middle of something else (and why you checking email anyway?;) ).
  • Try hard not to fallow every idea it comes to your head like : hmmm, I wonder if I could learn Klingon in Memrise (yes, you can, and Memrise is btw most awesome platform for learning languages, yes real ones too) or where exactly is Mount Kosciuszko?
  • And besides all hacks again some soul-searching is most crucial. Try to understand that every hour spent on scrolling Facebook or looking at photos from stunning places (guilty as charge) is a hour taken form your life forever. The same hour you could enjoy with your friends in some nice place. So, how stupid is to waste time and then gibing up on most important things like relationships? Or gym? Or reading book you actually picked? Very stupid. Seriously. Maybe making a list of things you love to do other than sitting in front of computer will helps? Maybe some people have to stay in their workplace whether they really working or not, but not us! So, think about those great real time experience every time you’re tempted to go on Buzzfeed. Because one more time(!) – are old photos interesting? – yes, butthey are not more interesting and fulfilling to go to look at them to museum with some interesting person? Was this a little bit harsh? Maybe, but I was talking mostly to myself and I need  results not to be extra nice or diplomatic .Monster Car Illustration
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2 Comments

  1. Thank you SO much for starting this blog, I pray you do keep it up! Some of your characters such as these shown here and what you have available for POD I would think could represent you in the Surtex booth, I mean at least it would give potential clients a window to your style. I realize you have evolved and you stated a few posts ago, increased in skill on PS in the past few months, but every image you show here shows yours sense of color, your talent, and your true artistry.

    Anyway, you have MY dream job currently, and I have read every word you’ve written and will likely read them a second and third time as I need reinforcement and push (all of us crazy artists types do!).

    Like

  2. Dear Doris!
    thank you so much for this awesome comment! This makes me want to write all day long, which is not gonna happen but I promise there will be updates every week. Few years ago other artists’ blogs helped me with my career so not I feel like giving back 🙂
    I have my finger crossed for you and check this illustrations : https://ewakozyrapawlak.carbonmade.com/ – she’s a Polish illustrator, very successful at least in Poland, have you thought about using your skills this way?

    Like

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