Increasing Your Productivity
by Maria Piscopo
Regardless of your area of expertise, you can no longer just be an artist. The future belongs to the owners of art businesses. If you have recently said to yourself, “All I really want to do is draw, paint or design,” you need to reexamine your business objectives and productivity issues.
The balance between running a business and being creative can create productivity conflicts. For example, where do you find the time to both promote and create your work? What are the best techniques for managing project stress? The key to most effectively balancing productivity, project management and your personal and professional needs is to find more time and less stress.
FIND MORE TIME
Have you ever felt that there is not enough time in the day to perform all of your tasks? Do you ever end the day with a full list of things to do? Do you ever complete the work week with several items still remaining on that list? Do you ever feel you can't control all the chaos? These are common concerns for all creative professionals. It is a result of an imbalance between work and job and lack of control—yes, control!
As Ed Gold says so beautifully in his book, Business of Graphic Design: A Sensible Approach, “Being successful...does not require one to make a choice between control and creativity.... Creativity’s dirty little secret is that control is not the enemy; control is a necessary ingredient that makes creativity possible.”
The basic concept is that you have dual responsibilities to control, your work tasks and your job tasks. These are two very different things. Your work is defined as your creative assignments. Your job would include everything you must do to manage your work: project management, promo pieces, bookkeeping, marketing and even a personal life.
You think you are in control when you put your work tasks first and let the job tasks wait until you get around to them. This is backwards and very destructive to productivity. As difficult as it may seem, you must reverse your priorities and control your job tasks first and let the work come in as it will. Why? Because you don’t want important job tasks to be left behind and because work will get done in whatever amount of time you give it or suck all the time out of your life leaving no time to do your job!
Adopting this concept means you must identify all the job tasks by the day, week and month. Include all tasks, both personal and professional. They will range from everyday activities such as answering e-mail, reading trade magazines and finding family time to the periodic tasks of updating a Web site, designing/producing promotional material and taking time off.
Once you have identified all of these tasks, take your personal calendar and schedule them as daily, weekly or monthly actions. Schedule everything! There are two good reasons for this amount of control: The act of placing them on your calendar increases the chances that they will get done; and “lists of things to do” kept in your head are not a good use of your time, energy and attention. In fact, you can concentrate more on your creative (the work) when not distracted by your life (the job).
So despite the seeming contradiction, control equals freedom. Once the job tasks are under control, you can direct your focus onto incoming work. This includes all of your creative work, even taking into account rush jobs and last-minute client requests. These are the clients, deadlines, budgets and projects that arise and sweep away anything else you had planned for that moment–sound familiar? Incoming work tasks will displace job tasks every time. But because these job tasks were already on your calendar, the good news is that they are not doomed to be left behind, just rescheduled.
ADDRESS THE STRESS
Most stress in a creative service business stems from attempts to balance conflicting needs. And stress damages your productivity. You have conflict trying to reconcile your business needs with your client’s wants or from managing your dedication to your work and the desire to spend time with your family. Any of us could compose an endless list of personal and professional stress inducers. The important thing to accept is that these types of stress are normal. To reduce your stress and increase your productivity, try these simple suggestions:
You’ll never be truly caught up, so stop expecting it. There will always be a neverending succession of professional and personal job tasks and client work projects. (You hope!) You must stop looking for the bottom of your in-basket or expecting to see the top of your desk. It only makes you feel like you’re drowning and will never surface. Think of this business as the ongoing rush and flow of a river. Don't expect a calm and still body of water. Do relieve your stressful feelings with a good time management system as discussed. You will be more balanced and productive when you stop playing “catch up.”
You’ll never make everyone happy. When faced with problems over any project, stop and find the difference between subjective and objective unhappiness. Subjective unhappiness is someone’s opinion or second-guessing, and objective unhappiness is based on accountable and measurable goals or benchmarks for the project. You must make clients happy on an objective level, but you can't always expect clients to be happy on a subjective level. There will always be clients that want you to jump through imaginary hoops to make them happy. (Sometimes the hoops will even be on fire!) People will have opinions that cause you stress but you have to stop and ask yourself—do you need to do anything other than acknowledge and recognize their opinion? Recognition of someone’s opinion without needing to agree with it will go far to smooth over a stressful situation and restore balance. If you have met all the measurable objectives, maybe you should not be asking “how high?” if no one has asked you to “jump.”
Learn to say no. Stress is often created when you say yes even though all logic and common sense tells you to say no. Production of any creative project is a perfect example; a client makes a production or pricing request and you know that an unqualified “yes” will cause great stress, decrease productivity and reduce profits. Try one of these three alternate endings, “No, but here’s an option to look at” or “Yes, and this is what that will cost” or, simply put, “Let me get back to you.” In each case, you have presented further considerations that will reduce the stress of dealing with difficult situations while keeping up your productivity.
Take the time—today—to make more time by scheduling some time to start a system. Schedule a day to identify those "givens" and get them on your calendar so they don’t languish in the get-around-to-it pile. Embrace control as a friend and not an enemy to get on a path to creative freedom. Find balance in your life by refusing to play “catch up” and going with the flow. Learn to manage the stress of your everyday life, so it does not manage you! CA