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YOU

Being dedicated to your work as an artist means to fully embrace what you do, taking the good with the bad, and putting in the necessary hours. Yes, being an artist is hard work. However, even doing what you love doesn’t mean dedicating your whole life to your art (business). There’s still space for having a good work-life balance. You can also learn to work smarter, not harder, to get the most out of your hours. And, taking on a side job doesn’t mean that you’ve sold out; on the contrary, it might be what’s needed to pursue your art. It’s about finding the right balance and the right fuel to keep going.

Commitment

If you really want to make/write/produce something, you need to find the time to do it. It is all too easy to postpone our tasks, since making something creative can be quite a challenge and failure is not a sentiment most of us have learned to embrace. Without a deadline, you may find yourself postponing your work indefinitely. Doing so ensures that your project can’t fail, but it also means that it never gets a chance to succeed.

Without a deadline, there is no urgency.

Without urgency, there is no project.

So, start by setting a deadline. And, even better: chop up your work into small, manageable chunks and set deadlines for each. Leave room for failure and exploration. A great way to hold yourself accountable is to tell others about your deadline, so they will ask how it’s coming along. Critically, you’ll need learn to live by your own deadlines. Take them seriously, and on occasions when you’re truly not able to meet them, don’t throw away your planning, but reschedule. Afterwards, reflect on how you could’ve planned better.

“I’ve figured out three tricks that work for me:

1) In the morning I can work really hard. If I start at 8:00 then I do a lot before 11:00.

2) I have chosen a colour for each project that I’m working on and I use those colours in my digital agenda for each project.

3) Sometimes things come up and you have to change the plan, but then at least I realise that I have to fit those hours somewhere else. It really works. When writing, I put my timer on 40 minutes to just focus. In that time I try to stick to my desk, and not make any calls or grab a coffee.”

Iris Sikking
Independent Curator, The Netherlands

Time management isn’t the sexiest subject, but done right it will become second nature. It is about being the master of your time. Nowadays, our lives are filled with ways in which others can distract us and make demands on our time—phone calls, social media messages, emails, etc.—but through time management, you can create blocks of time to focus on your own goals, ensuring that it’s you who determines
what you do with your day.

  • Step 1: The Purge
    Throughout one week, make an honest list of how you spend your time, in 15 minute chunks. Include the time you spend on your phone, browsing, taking a shower, sleeping, commuting, etc. Look at things that absorb a lot of time, but do not give you much in return, in particular ‘downtime’ activities like watching tv, gaming or texting. See if you can win some of that time back by imposing some rules on yourself. Try to find the ideal balance, in which your down- time rejuvenates you for your uptime.
  • Step 2: The Intel
    Time management starts with a clear picture of what actually needs to be managed. What are the goals and responsibilities that take up time? Stephen Covey has a great book about setting up an entire system for determining where your time goes, but it’s quite intense and not for everybody. You can also use this simple method: Make a list of the different roles you have. For each, define the recurring tasks. Then, add to the list any upcoming one-off tasks.
  • Step 3: The Overview
    Now, make a huge space on your wall to work on your planning, where you can pin pieces of paper or use stickies. Start with your recurring tasks, assigning each one to a specific day in the week. This will give you an idea of how much flexible and free time you have. If you have more tasks than time, try to rid yourself of any time-consuming tasks that do not contribute to your long term goals. Then, add the one-off tasks.
  • Repeat every week
“Someone else would say my life is unbalanced, but my life is my work so I think my life is balanced.”
Yukiko Kitahara
Ceramist and Founder Kúu Workshop, Japan / Spain

There are a lot of decisions you take in life that can have a lasting effect on your work. For example, let’s say you’re considering living in your parents’ basement rent-free. It may cost you some street cred, but will earn you the freedom to spend time on your goals. Or, let’s say you’re thinking of starting a family. That will cost you a lot of time for your projects, but may earn for you a sense of belonging that deeply inspires you.

How should you make the big decisions that will have a lasting impact on your time and budget? What is the true cost of a rock ’n’ roll lifestyle?

Of course, there is no single “right” way to create your life. Every individual will make choices to find her or his own preferred balance. It might even be the case that what you think will bring balance to your work and life, doesn’t. A great example is the writer Walter van den Berg, who quit his day job once he was successful enough to live off his books, only to find out that he wasn’t able to write without the perspective and distraction that his day job offered to him.

When making the big decisions in life, many will try to offer you advice and wisdom, but ultimately you will have to make the choice work for you. Before taking any big decisions that will be hard to walk away from, be sure to first take an honest look at all the possible ways it may impact your life—both what it gives to you, and what it costs.

“I take my personal life with the same importance as I take a job, so it gets the time it deserves. I force myself to go out with friends and make plans.”
Francisco Alcántara
Architect and Musician, Spain
“I’m used to being away, it is a sacred space. I know that I can completely devote myself to what I do. I then quite often work late, whereas when I’m at home I try to avoid that.”
Anna-Maria Helsing
Conductor, Finland

Rutger's Field Notes

When I finished university, I found myself in the privileged posi- tion to buy a house. Then, three years later, I realised I wanted to pursue a different job. But, if I were to quit my job then and there, I wouldn’t be able to afford my house anymore. My choices were interlinked: if I couldn’t sell my house, I couldn’t quit my job. I was married to the house.

Who is more free: A person who has an okay job, no financial worries, and lots of free time, or, a person who has a dream job, with no financial security and no control over their free time?

The answer will probably differ from one person to the next. How much does the first person like the job, how financially insecure is the second? But the point of the question is to demonstrate that life as a creative does not grant you total freedom. At the very least, you will have to find food and shelter, so there are practical and financial obligations. This is a helpful realisation.

In her book “How to Be an Artist Without Losing Your Mind…” JoAnneh Nagler suggests that the perfect solution is to get a day job. Not a bad suggestion, but it’s not necessarily the best one for everybody. Creative people tend to find different ways to cope with their financial responsibilities. Here’s a few options:

  • Find a job (that isn’t necessarily related to your work, or personally fulfilling) for a couple of days a week that gives you financial stability. This will buy you the time and headspace to do your own work the rest of the time.
  • Find a creative job in the field you like, but in the type of job that is more secure. For example, if you’re a musician, get a job at a festival or podium.
  • Reduce financial responsibility as much as you can by aggressively avoiding financial commitments. For example, travel by bike or foot instead of car or public transport, find a vacant house you can housesit instead of paying for accommodation.
  • Whatever you choose, realise the trade-offs you’re making between creative freedom, time and commitment. Find a balance that works for you.
“Try a lot of different things. Have one steady job for your income and do a lot of different things on the side.”
Karin Noeken
Theatre Director, The Netherlands

No one is inspired all the time. If being creative is your job, though, you can’t just wait for inspiration to strike, you’ve got to get to work even when the tank is empty. The question is, how? If staring at a blank canvas only gets you more frustrated, look elsewhere for the fuel you need. Here’s a few tips that might help you get refuelled, and back on the road.

Inspire yourself with other people’s work

To remind yourself why creative work is so worthwhile, it’s not a bad start to experience some of the results. Visit a concert of a band you love or maybe one you hate. Go to the theatre and be surprised, annoyed, triggered or shaken. Be a regular at museums, galleries, and gatherings with other artists. You will find new ideas, new energy and fuel for your creative process and your business. Don’t be scared to see things a little outside of your comfort zone, whether it’s experimental opera, or a local museum you never bothered to visit. You’ll be surprised at all the strange places you find fuel. And, just so we’re clear: Yes, when you’re a creative, going to concerts, plays, movies and exhibitions is actually part of your job. Cool, huh?

Console yourself with other people’s struggles

Sometimes, seeing other people’s successful projects can feel demoralising. If it seems like every other artist is succeeding and you’re struggling, it’s time for a little more perspective: all creatives sometimes struggle, and all creatives sometimes fail. The NPR Podcast “How I Built This”, for example, is a series of interviews with entrepreneurs who tell the story of how they became successful. Along the way, they always seem to have ‘back against the wall’ and ‘should I quit?’ type moments. It really is part of the process. And though we might think we already know that, it’s good to be reminded. Then there’s the Netflix documentary series “ Abstract”, in which successful artists present their work and how they go about it. There are of course happy endings, but also very real struggles and self-doubt. Car designer Ralph Gilles had to be dragged out of the basement by his brother to achieve the success he has today. Go figure.

“You might feel that you have to be behind your computer for long hours. However, a walk or a visit to an exhibition can spark many new ideas that you don’t get while sitting down. I get the best thoughts when travelling therefore I always carry around a small booklet to write down my ideas.”
Iris Sikking
Independent Curator, The Netherlands

The great thing about being a creative entrepreneur is that all the time and effort you invest in your work has a direct benefit for you. The downside is that it all comes down to you, so if you don’t put in the work, there is no progress. It’s hard work.

So, what does it mean to work hard? First and foremost, it’s putting in the hours necessary to build your craft, to constantly learn and improve, to show your work, and to network and meet people. Beyond that, it’s working not only hard but smart: being aware of how to use the time you have wisely, make plans, focus on specific goals and take the time to create quality.

“If I don’t work I don’t get paid, but it’s not only about money, it’s about evolving. We are lucky, because of course it’s work, but it’s not a job.”
Salvatore Vitale
Photographer and Co-founder Yet Magazine, Switzerland

At the beginning of your artistic career, it may seem like success is a finish line. However, achieving some measure of success only raises the stakes for your next project, making it all the more important that you are in a constant process of creating opportunities. It helps to remember that while there are of course moments to celebrate, there are no finish lines. You still have to work and evolve to keep your momentum moving forward.

The American illustrator Christoph Niemann said he came to the a wonderful realisation that being inspired was not something he had to wait for, but that if he worked from 9 to 5, inspiration would come at some point. He just had to start working. Whether you are working on a new design, a new song, or a new sculpture, it pays to just start working.

It’s better to make a shitty thing you can improve on, than to wait for a fully formed idea to pop into your head. That’s not likely to happen.

It is a lot easier to put in the work after you realise that every single second you devote to your work makes it better. With every single thing you make, you improve as an artist and as an entrepreneur.

“Hard work! It is all about hard work! Work a lot with your instrument or the things you want to improve in your artistry. There are no shortcuts!”
Caroline Leander
Pianist, Singer and Composer, Sweden
“It mainly comes down to hard work. Even if you have talent, without hard work you’re not going anywhere.”
Jesús Prudencio
Graphic Designer and Illustrator, Spain