Time management and art

January 15th, 2014 | 5 Comments

Five lessons I have learned from having a goal of painting 1,500 hours in 2014

As we entered 2014, I found that I had created a New Year’s resolution for myself.

The resolution was more of a personal goal — what Jim Collins might call a “big, hairy audacious goal.”

I knew that I wanted to give my all to painting in the forthcoming year. I also knew that giving my all takes time — a commitment of time. The idea of painting (and sketching) for six hours per day popped into my mind. That’s 30 hours per week.

time management and art
Stopwatch running. (Game show announcer voice: Wristwear generously provided by George W. Stone.)

Extrapolating this figure over the course of a year, I realized I was staring at a goal of 1,500 hours of painting and sketching in 2014.

So there I was in my studio on January 2, with an Ironman stopwatch strapped to my wrist, pressing the start button when I got to work, pressing the stop button when I stepped away from the easel, and logging my progress into a worksheet, seeing how it all adds up. Call me a nerd? So what!

Now two weeks — 10 work days — into the year, I have logged 27.5 hours of creative time. Unfortunately, that’s already more than 30 hours behind my six-hours-per-day target. However, on a positive note, I have already completed three wall-worthy paintings.

Four lessons I have learned so far

As you’d expect, I’ve even more keenly aware of how I invest my time. I feel like a football (soccer) referee keeping time in a match. But I’ve also unexpectedly learned several subtle lessons.

1. Get to work. Second-guess less.

Perhaps most importantly, I’ve really cut down on how much I second-guess my work in general. I’m more likely to turn my sketches into paintings, sooner. In the past, there had moments when I have endlessly tinkered with a good design for a painting. One time in particular, a sketch went through 20 iterations, which turned out to be an exercise in diminishing returns. In retrospect, the first sketch was pretty good — good enough to be painted.

Now, by contrast, I feel like the process of working — simply sitting down at the table, computer, or easel — is more important when the stopwatch is running. Not every painting I make will be great, or good, for that matter. Yet, if I can keep working, I’m more likely to make good work, and potentially great work. Even if I make minor, sub-par work here and there, I’m closer to making something good, because I keep learning as I go. The key is to keep working. Process will take of product.

2. Tracking time fosters accountability and focus.

When the stopwatch is on, it’s all about making art. A laser-like focus develops, and distractions get pushed out of the way. Checking the twitter feed is for break time. ! )

3. Keep on keeping on.

On a number of occasions, using a stopwatch has motivated me to not take a break — to keep motoring along — especially when I’m approaching an hourly milestone in a given day. If I see that I’ve painted 52 minutes so far, I somehow feel encouraged to paint another eight minutes, to “top things off” at the hour mark, and then take a quick break.

It’s a lot like doing bicep curls at the gym. No one stops at nine. You have to go for ten.

And, when I’m staring at the prospect of working on a complicated section of a painting, that same top-things-off mentality often kicks in. Rather than be stymied by the complexity of a section, I think about the smaller goal, of painting just a few minutes to get started. In turn, the complex section seems to break into more manageable parts.

4. It all adds up.

The stopwatch has certainly helped me realize how effort adds up. In the past, I often wondered whether I was painting enough. For whatever reason, I thought I was being lazy. Now that I’m accounting for my creative time, I’m easier on myself, because I’m able to remind myself of what I have already accomplished. It’s much easier to say “I’m doing the best I can, given my resources, circumstances and obligations.”

5. Compartmentalization has its benefits.

Fifth and finally, when I take a break, or move on to other work (such as unrelated consulting services I provide for clients), I feel more able to shut out pressures related to my creative work. A football match seems more enjoyable when the creative work is on hold.

Too big of a goal? To be determined.

Ultimately, I might be overreaching with my goal of 1,500 creative hours this year. A goal of 1,200 or 1,000 hours might be more realistic. After all, I have client work to do, and there are many other things to do. I enjoy posting my work to social streams. Life in general needs to be attended to. The value of visiting with friends and family cannot be overstated.

The key is finding ways to focus, while maintaining a balance. When I reach the end of January, I’ll revisit my progress, and consider adjusting my BHAG for 2014 accordingly.

Have you experimented with keeping track of your art-making activities? Share your story below.

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5 Responses to “Time management and art”

  1. J M says:

    Similar, but not the same, as “Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret”


    • A brilliant equivalent, José. I appreciate what you’ve shared, especially “I’ve often said I’d rather have someone who will take action—even if small—every day as opposed to someone who swings hard once or twice a week. Seinfeld understands that daily action yields greater benefits than sitting down and trying to knock out 1000 jokes in one day.”

  2. Giles says:

    That seems so labor intensive for 2013. Shouldn’t there be a paintbrush with sensors that knows when you start and stop painting and then wirelessly sends the information to an app that allows you to analyze time of painting, pace, number of strokes, pressure applied, when you changed colors, and can make pie charts that show you the percentage of different strokes you used, and on what days you worked the longest, etc.? I shall call the brush the “Artvaark Electrobrush” and the app will be called “Monet in Minutes.”

    Also, George W. Stone never bought me a watch.

    • Giles, I will not attempt to gainsay your observation regarding the labor intensity of my timekeeping methodology. I am sure that there could be a more tech-forward approach to tracking my artistic activities.

      I think your Artvaark invention sounds fascinating. Might there be some kind of tie-in with next-generation toothbrush technology? If you ever get around to prototyping one, I will proudly volunteer to beta-test it for you.

      George W. Stone has never purchased a watch for me, either. Some time ago, I asked him what kind of watch I should purchase for running, and he offered to send me his retired Ironman. So, if you’re saying that you want a new watch, you might want to ask George about his recommendation for a running watch. He just might have another spare ready for you.

  3. George says:

    Actually it’s my sister’s old watch. And when I run, it’s on MY time. I don’t need Timex to tell me what’s what. So I shipped that shit out to Tempe. But the yarn bracelet: now there’s a story. It was braided by Phet Poudsanee, a young Buddhist monk I met in Luang Prabang. He showed me around for a few days and we struck up a correspondence. He was considering leaving the monastery and going to school to get a job to support his mom, a rice farmer. That yarn later traveled by post from Laos to Washington, DC, and finally to AZ. Now it’s on Grant’s wrist. It’s the yang to the yin, the complete opposite of a watch, a simple handicraft imbued with spirit, tangled with hope.

    Giles: I will send you a watch or a yarn bracelet. One tells you what time it is, the other tells you what time is. You pick.

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