How Efficiency Can Improve Your Life and Art by John P. Weiss for faso.com
The majority of artists I know have day jobs. They set their alarms, brew their coffee, tighten their neckties, perfect their makeup, grab their computer bags and hit the morning commute.
Their days are filled with meetings, quotas, emails, phone calls, texts, travel, office politics, deadlines, promotions, acquisitions, shift work, and the many other quotidian rhythms of commerce and professional life.
Some days bring professional recognition, raises, bonuses and personal satisfaction. Other days bring let downs, frustration, depression and a sense of endless entrapment.
Add into the mix all the commitments and responsibilities of family life. Getting the kids to school, sports practice and assuring homework gets done. Maybe a quick workout, walk the dogs, enjoy a glass of wine with your spouse and then it's off to bed. Before you know it, the alarm clock shakes you out of a blessed slumber and you're back on the career treadmill.
Somewhere in the above narrative, waiting like a forgotten child at the bus stop, is your artwork. Remember that? Before school, marriage, career, mortgage and life took over?
How on earth do we recover our creative sanity? How do we rescue the artist within and sooth our frazzled souls with the magic elixir of artistic expression?
Coffee Shop Conversation
Recently one of my readers and her sister were kind enough to reach out to me. They were in town for a family event and asked if I had time to meet. They wanted to "pick my brain" about art and how I juggled my professional career and artistic passions. So we got together at Starbucks.
In particular, they were interested in how I managed to run a police department and also write and paint regularly. It occurred to me that what I shared with them might be of value to others. Because we are all way too busy, and time often grows thin. So, what follows are a few tips and tricks that have served me well. Maybe they'll help you, too!
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication
Leonardo da Vinci is credited with the line, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." In this age of abundance and endless choices, it's easy to become overwhelmed. What I have found is that there is salvation and peace in simplification and minimalism. Increasingly, I have discovered that letting go of distractions and whittling down to the essence of what we wish to achieve is the key to success and personal fulfillment. How? Here are a few tips.
Adopt short time lines
Whenever I impose a short time line on something I wish to complete, I always do better than an open ended due date. Short time lines force me to make compromises. "Sorry, I can't attend this Friday's wine party, I have a project to complete." Taking months to execute tasks that only require a day or two is silly. Short time lines force you to perform.
Three tasks only
I like to journal and chronicle my life and personal progress. I also keep a small, leather pocket notebook with each day's goals. I've found that jotting down my top three tasks for the day keeps me on track. Yes, distractions intrude, but reading those top three tasks each day forces me to follow through more often than not. Any more is too much and you're likely to fail.
Check emails less
I follow Professor Cal Newport's excellent blog because it's chalk full of useful advice about achieving "deep work" and attaining your goals. One thing that Cal Newport encourages is the adoption of "deep work" which means stripping away all distractions in order to immerse yourself in your passion.
I have both work related emails and personal emails programmed into my iPhone. There was a time when I was conditioned to check messages constantly. The problem was that it became a huge distraction, eroding my focus and productivity. So I moved to checking my emails midmorning and late afternoons. Sometimes I falter and take a peek at night, but over all I've greatly reduced the reflexive habit of constantly checking my phone. Also, I seldom look at social media. It's fun to see what family and friends are up to, but it can be very time consuming.
The power of minimalism
I've become a huge fan of Joshua Becker's website "Becoming minimalist." His book "The More Of Less" outlines a template for less cleaning, less anxiety and less stress in your life. The key is to strip away the unessential stuff in your life. For example, I used to buy every pochade box and new plein air gadget that came along. I'd use them once or twice and then they'd sit forever in my closet.
Now I'm actively donating and selling items I don't need. I've narrowed down my field painting equipment to smaller, light weight pieces that literally fit into one backpack. By painting smaller (8x10 and 9x12") I take up less space and finish field studies faster, before the light changes too quickly.
I've discovered that light weight backpacks under my plane seat trump more bulky carry on luggage. And when I get where I'm going, I simply strap on the backpack and move about more freely than dragging a carry on bag behind me.
Harness the power of batching
A lot of people boast about their ability to multi-task, and while they may indeed be able to juggle, the product of their work is marginal at best. I've found in my own work that whenever I set aside uninterrupted time to complete one task, the quality of my work is far better. However, there are times when we can harness the power of "batching."
Batching is basically accomplishing two or more tasks at the same time. The key lies in the fact that one activity requires little to no focus. For example, whenever I find myself waiting in line for a prescription, grocery checkout or related transaction, that's a great time to respond to emails.
Similarly, whenever I hit the gym for a workout, I put on my earphones and listen to podcasts and books on tape. Aerobic exercise and weight training requires little focus for me, so I use that time to enrich my mind with great podcasts and books. That's the power of batching.
Long flights are the perfect opportunity for me to write blog posts and catch up on reading. Same with doing laundry or sitting around at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Use these downtimes to be productive.
The power of saying no
I hate disappointing people, and for a long time this held me back. I spent years in my local Rotary club, attending meetings and weekend projects. Our club did wonderful work for our community and beyond. But the weekend commitments and weekly meetings kept me from pursuing my passion of painting and writing.
I used to play golf and often got invited to weekend tournaments and fundraisers. Yet every time I found myself out on the golf course, I'd ask myself why I wasn't painting instead.
So I quit. Both the Rotary Club and golf. Yes, there were voices who protested and encouraged me to stay. But I knew that I'd never become the artist and writer I longed to be if I let others spend my time for me.
You have to do it graciously, but the power of saying no means that you recapture the time you need to pursue the things you're passionate about. And when you do, you suddenly realize that you should have done it long ago!
Healthful living amplifies the good
There was a time when I joined the chorus who proclaimed, "It's five o'clock somewhere." Weekend parties, winery tours and brew pub lunches are delightful diversions. But booze is the great de-motivator.
Give me a glass of sauvignon blanc after work in the garden, and say goodbye to that night's workout and painting session. Especially during the work week, when my daytime mental energies have been tested and frayed.
However, well honed habits can save us from ourselves. By creating cues (like your running shoes by the front door) we can ignite healthful habits that lead to routines. My dogs help me here, because every time I come home they campaign for a run or walk. Making your workouts a habit, be it early morning or after work, will re-energize you. That way, should you choose later to hoist a few bubbles or vino, you can enjoy it, guilt free.
Sleep is the other best kept secret. Going to bed earlier, or sleeping in later, is important if you want to function optimally. Naps can help here, if you can squeeze them into your day. Sleep restores you and helps your mind subconsciously process the noise of life. Try to make it a priority and you'll be amazed what it does for your efficiency and productivity.
Declutter that studio
Finally, allow me to implore you to clean up that studio of yours. Whether it's a closet, bedroom, rented space or sprawling craftsmen barn. Take the time to eliminate the inessential.
I used hang onto every art magazine I bought. Then one day I said, "This is crazy." So I used my iPhone to photograph favorite images from each magazine and uploaded them to my computer. Then I donated every magazine to the GoodWill, so someone else could enjoy them.
I still have a sizable library of art books, because they're a source of unending inspiration. But I've whittled down my equipment to a studio easel and closable wooden palette (to preserve paint). I only use one solvent (Walnut Oil) and similar size brushes and varied palette knives. I've also narrowed down the pochade boxes I'll keep, and will soon be selling off many I no longer use. And I work with a limited palette.
A studio devoid of extraneous stuff is easier on the mind, I believe, and more conducive to creativity. Yes, some artists thrive in chaos.If it works for you, great. I realize that what works for some doesn't always work for all.
To conclude, I encourage you to seek simplicity, minimalism and efficiency in all you do. Hopefully the above tips will help you as much as they've helped me. Creating awesome art, healthful living and personal happiness are all possible with a little effort. To that end, I wish you much success in achieving all three!