Question: How can I get more time and energy to devote to my craft?
In this Q&A episode, I answer two questions that I often get which are closely connected.
"How can I get more time to make my Art?" and , "How can I get more energy to make my art?"
When you have more energy, you can make more time. When you have more time, you'll be able to create without exhausting yourself. Let's look at 8 ways you can have more of both.
Note: The only affiliate link on this page is the link after the article for the Realism LIVE event. All other links are provided for further reading.
1) Prioritize Your Time
In order to prioritize your time, you need to start by knowing where your time is going. Do you know where your time going? Try keeping a time journal for one week to find out. I know it sounds like a drag, but like a food journal, it will give you a baseline if you use it. It only works, however, if you are also completely honest with your entries for the week so you can see patterns. I don’t recommend making any changes to your “usual” here. This is meant to be your baseline against which to compare your new plan.
Marie talks about RPPs: Really Productive People.
Science proves exercise optimizes brain, mood, focus (book: Spark by Dr. John Ratey:
Now that you have an idea of where your time has been going, you can decide where you can cut out the non-essential things to make room for your non-negotiables.
There are always responsibilities you must make time for. You have to account for these, but the non-negotiables I'm talking about are the ones you prioritize AFTER you account for the things you have to do.I'm talking about time to make your art. Now you get to say “no” to things that sap your energy and your time so that you can focus on making your art.
As Marie Forleo says, “When you know what’s important, it’s a lot easier to ignore, what’s not”
Prioritizing your time means be careful what you say yes to. If you are a recovering people pleaser like me, it is crucial to remember that every YES is saying “no” to something you will no longer have time for. Take the time to know your non-negotiables, so they don’t get crowded out.
2) Get Enough Sleep
Let’s be honest, sleep deprivation causes The Stupid.
While there are times we may need to pull a late night to meet a deadline, this is definitely not meant to be a regular productivity “tool.”
Here is a list of negative effects caused by sleep deprivation posted by Healthline in May of 2020:
concentration is tough
High blood pressure (for those who regularly get less than 5 hours of sleep)
Risk for diabetes (it screws up your insulin levels)
Weigh gain (It confuses grelin and leptin, the chemicals that tell you you are full
Reduced sex drive
Risk of heart disease
It makes you more accident-prone
Science also shows that the less sleep we get the more vulnerable we are to becoming anxious and depressed.
My last reason to get enough sleep is that lack of sleep lowers creativity. As artists, I think that’s all we need to remember.
3) Eat Right
Please note that all mention of diet in what I am about to say is in reference to your plan for lifelong eating, NOT the temporary diet people go on to lose weight. I am a firm believer in finding a sustainable, long term way to eat that cares for your body without leaving you starving (not good for creativity or mood or energy).
I am NOT trying to be a drag here, but you know darn well that if you are taking in a lot of sugar, it’s going to sap your energy and contribute to moodiness and brain fog. It also creates cravings
At the very least I recommend reducing your sugar intake. It’s not going to harm you. If you want to take it a step further, eating clean is also always beneficial. This means eating foods that are processed as little as possible (think less frozen dinners and more grilled chicken). It’s certainly a way to reduce salt. Like reduced sugar, there are numerous benefits to eating clean and I will link to them in the shownotes.
If you want to go a step further, you can ditch the grains and go paleo. This one is not usually a well-received suggestion, but in the modern world, grains are not as beneficial as they used to be. Gluten in particular can cause many people problems in multiple areas ranging from digestive issues to eczema. Disclaimer, I only play a doctor on TV, so consult with your doctor if you are considering a change in your diet. All I can tell you is that I gave up gluten a decade ago to reduce inflamation in my hands from eczema. It immediately helped. I also lost weight and lost brain fog. And I got an added benefit I was not expecting: my blood sugar leveled out after a lifetime of being hypoglycemic. Again - I am not a doctor, but I also would not consider going back to gluten.
Now, I’m not completely paleo. You know I say do what works for you. For me, the magic combination is gluten-free, tons of vegetables, some fruit (mostly apples), and gluten-free oatmeal every day with lots of seeds and some nuts. I also eat wild rice every day, which is not a grain but in fact a long-grain marsh grass.
This diet is not due to medical allergies for the most part, so I can and very rarely do indulge in dairy. For the most part, I’m vegan, and while this choice is for me one of ethics, it has also been good for me. There are many directions you can take your diet, and I can’t tell you which one will be best for you. There are even diets based on blood type. Only you will know which diet will work for you.
4) GET ORGANIZED. More on this in a later episode, but generally speaking, for me, this isn’t about making “to do” lists, but rather, having a system for getting things done.
Includes having a permanent home for things I frequently use that are not nailed down like the fridge.
Now, people ask me, Caroline, that may work for your keys when you can leave them on a hook by the door, but what about things I carry around, like my phone?
A. Choose it a permanent home in each room of the house so that no matter where you were, you have a place to look to determine whether or not it is in that room.
example: my airpods.
If I can’t listen to a podcast or watch an instructional art video while I’m working out, “ain’t nobody goin’ nowhere”. I have a limited time to workout before my day job. I can’t afford to waste even 10 minutes roaming the house looking for my phone or my air pods.
If I don’t want to waste my time in the mornings, I have to have stick to those locations (that also happen to be out of the dog’s reach) if I take them out.
The more you practice this, the more time you’ll find you save.
5) REDUCE CLUTTER - definitely in your studio, but everywhere in your environment. [Future interviews: Julie Coraccio “Clear Your Clutter Inside & Out”]
[Amy at organizingforartists101.com]
[Dana White interview]
Being organized also pretty much mandates that you keep the clutter to a minimum.
You do not have to give up all your stuff and go minimalist to declutter.
You don’t have to be born a type-A personality, either. You just have to want to produce art regularly and take some action.
This is also a topic I’ll jump into in depth on another episode so for now I only have one tip:
Remove as much paper from your studio as possible.
I’m NOT talking about drawing paper! I’m talking about a studio that may also double as an office. Multi-purpose rooms cause clutter. When you need space for multiple activities, you will end up stacking up bills and papers to make room for your art tools. When surfaces are covered we start to shrink inside. This is the opposite of the expansive feeling we get when we are feeling creative.
Note - you may not have paper bills, but you probably have some papers taking up space in your studio that would be better to remove.
SO, I recommend, if possible, keeping your filing in a separate location from your art. EVEN if you’re like me and have a podcast and tons of teaching notes.
My trick is to have a dedicated shelf in my mudroom beside a file cabinet, trash can, and shredder. I keep my notes together in a set of plastic file drawers next to my favorite chair where I transcribe them into electronic files. This is done in a place where I can relax and enjoy sitting where my family is. I move the papers into the filing room where I take care of them with the TRAF system. It stands for: Toss, Reffer, Act, File. I know, I know, the TRAF acronym can be rearranged to spell RAFT, which makes more sense, since it’s a word. TRAF is best to me though, because of the order of the items.
Start with momentum by TOSSING all the stuff you don’t need. It’s easy and will make your pile smaller. Please do consider a shredder however for anything with your address on it or sensitive information such as account numbers, ssn, or birth date.
If you have paper that needs to go to someone else to get done, try your best to text, call, email, snail mail, or walk that item to that person immediately. If you absolutely don’t have time, try a shallow basket for these items and take care of them weekly (or sooner if they are super time-sensitive). They do not need to take up real estate in your home.
These items aren’t always doable immediately. If you’re filing after business hours (likely), you may not be able to stop and make a call to ask about a charge on your phone bill that needs to be removed. In this case, put it into a SHALLOW basket but make sure you get it done ASAP - you can remind yourself with your phone app.
This one is self-explanatory. Not everything needs to be kept, but if it does (or you just want it), I recommend using whatever file system works for YOU. For me, it’s filing by subject in a cabinet. The one piece of advice I can give you here is if you can’t find the folder you know you already have (say for DMV) for some reason, just make a second folder and consolidate later. At least you’ll have it where it belongs. No matter how much you think you’ll remember dropping it in another spot, you probably won’t. Or, just as bad, you do not want to just toss it back into the pile and not get the paper cleared.
Key to filing is to do it REGULARLY. If you do, you’ll eventually get to the bottom of your pile, and THAT is such a good feeling, it should help you keep a regular habit going forward. Again I recommend SHALLOW baskets for stuff needing to get sorted for filing so you don’t get too huge a pile before you really need to address it. As a fail-safe, if you forget about your filing for a few weeks, make a habit to at least deal with it when the pile reaches the top of the basket.
IF YOU HAVE ONLY A SHORT BLOCK OF TIME, you can do a TRAF session just to sort your stuff:
Toss all garbage, hand out (or gather your deliverables to get out all at once), take care of the action items, and now you know all that is left is straight up filing. Again, especially if you make stacks of action items and things to get to other people, this will only work if you follow through with moving those things along as well as actually filing the filing pile before it fills up again.
6) BEWARE OF THE IV
I’m not talking about an intravenous drip, though that too will seriously hamper your mobility.
I’m talking about the INERTIA VORTEX. Inertia, also defined as Newton’s First Law of Motion, states that an object in motion stays in motion. An object at rest, stays at rest.
There’s lots more scientific blah blah blah to Newton’s laws, but you get the point.
How many times have you dropped onto the couch to watch “one episode” of the walking dead and before you know it you've finished the season (or all of them), and YOU feel like the walking dead?
How many times have you said, “I can’t stop now, if I sit down, I won’t get up again.” You instinctively knew you were "on a roll" with whatever you were doing, and also knew if you stopped, you would stay stopped. Note: This is not an endorsement of exhausting yourself. Regular, consistent progress is your best friend.
It’s important to be mindful of when we rest and how it fits in with the rest of our goals. As an artist, it’s all too easy to not paint, or draw, sculpt, etc… for weeks, months, or even years.
My suggestion is that if you’re going to rest, have a plan, and schedule it. The discipline part of it is up to you.
The flip side of this is wasting time with motion inertia. A lot of people don’t realize they are wasting time by cleaning up the house or suddenly being distracted folding the laundry that has been sitting there all week.
It’s great to be tidy, but again, try to stay mindful of when you are procrastinating because creating something new is JUST TOO OVERWHELMING.
You can see the pattern here of being mindful. This is how you will become aware of your intetia triggers: things that cause you to stay away from your craft.
7) EXERCISE REGULARLY
Sometimes energy comes from doing.
People hate it when I bring this up, but, as Marie Forleo helpfully reminds us, a regular exercise routine is something all RPPs (Really Productive People have in common, and it’s often incorporated into a morning routine that is non-negotiable - something else RPPs have in common.
I have a morning routine that involves coffee with my husband, making breakfast for my kids, and exercise before work. I combine the exercise with something I love that motivates me: podcasts, audiobooks or art instruction videos. This converts something most people dread into something I look forward to as “me time.”
And believe me, I still don’t love working out. But I love how it makes me feel, and I look forward to the me time. The key here is that no matter how I feel, I show up. The motivation always arrives after I start.
After you exercise regularly for a while — the new science says it takes takes an average of 66 days for a habit to become automatic. I can vouch for this. Sorry to all of you who were banking on the 21 days thing. You might get lucky, but if you’re past 3 weeks and still struggling to get into your habit, keep showing up.
I CAN tell you that I feel like working out each day because the day before, I showed up and I worked out. Action begets action. And Kindergarten stickers on your calendar really do help. There is science around “not breaking the chain” of your new actions - marking each day you workout on the calendar. It releases dopamine in the brain for one thing, which feels great. Now you can just put an “X” on your calendar if you don’t want to deal with stickers. Just make it big and bold. I find that I now have a weekly minimum that I demand of myself for workouts. If I’m nearing the end of the week and I’ve got 2 more stickers to earn, I usually find a way to get the workouts in.
One last note on exercise. I know it takes time, but I find it to be true that people who exercise regularly get more done. It’s part of becoming a high performer.
8) Last one: MEDITATE REGULARLY
Meditation has lots of benefits:
Science Daily.com cites that research shows that meditation can have a long-lasting effect on brain function, including creativity
There are tons of resources on this and I've included some links for further reading below. I swear by a regular meditation routine to keep me grounded, focused, and, I hope, more creative. Brene Brown says, “Don’t shrink, don’t puff up, just stand in your sacred space.”
Meditation is the sacred space within for me. Having the ability to cultivate that space inside means that no one can move you off of center if you don’t let them. It’s the best place to live.
By now you’re probably thinking, “you’ve told me to get MORE sleep, to find the time to exercise, and now you want me to find the time to meditate! WHEN exactly was I supposed to paint?”
The answer is, you will only find the time for the non-negotiables in your life when you MAKE the time. I’m suggesting you decide which things in your life need to be non-negotiable to give you the life you want.
Meditation can be done in as little as a few minutes a day. I actually meditate before I fall asleep while listening to a holosync audio from the Centerpointe Institute. I’ve included a link to information on this technology. It works by delivering different hertz in each ear of audio wave patterns that promote deep meditative states and thus a “super-enriched environment for your nervous system, causing enormous (and very beneficial) changes in the brain.” Note: I haven't found any negatives to using holosync and use it regularly, but check it out for yourself to make sure it's a good fit for you. I did call them and ask questions, and they said not to use it with children under 12, and I am not a doctor. I personally love it.
You don’t hear the holosync part of the audio, as it’s layered underneath sounds of nature or relaxing music. It is designed to bring you through the four categories of brain wave patterns: from beta, when we are awake and alert, to alpha, the state of relaxation between sleep and waking (often noticed when you’re falling asleep and may suddenly feel like you’re falling), to theta (this is the one associated with creativity and dreams) and finally, delta, the state of dreamless sleep.
Now, some people say that I’m not “supposed” to meditate while laying down, and that I shouldn’t fall asleep while meditating. But laying down while meditating has always worked for me. And you know that I’m going to say go with what works. I’ve been meditating since I was eleven, and my own meditation teachers over the years had absolutely no problem with lying down while meditating.
It’s also the best way for me to add meditation to my day, because it doesn’t cost me timewise. Meditation has always been a way to supercharge my energy. If I can add that on top of falling into a deep sleep, I’m all for it. Incidentally, I always wake up when the music track ends anyway, but just long enough to take out my air pods and drift right back to sleep. This is just one idea of how to fit meditation into your day. If you want to try it you can always do shorter spurts, even taking a 2-minute break at your desk. There are plenty of phone apps that can help with this, too. It all comes down to whatever works for you.
Incidentally, I have found that the inner calm I get from meditation also helps me not feel so rushed all the time. It enables me to “make friends with time,” as Marie Forleo also recommends. She points out that if you don’t see time as something you are always fighting, you are much more likely to feel like you have enough. Interestingly, this dovetails with what one of my meditation instructors talked about. He used to talk about “stretching time.” Now whether he was talking about quantum physics or speaking figuratively, I find that the practice of regular meditation definitely gives me more of a sense of being in the present moment and having the time that I need instead of rushing around like a ping pong ball.
In closing, keep in mind there are also seasons to life. There are times when you may not get in as much as you want to. When I had my babies, I did not paint for months at a time, and when they were toddlers I did not have a regular painting practice because I switched my work around to an at-home job at night so I could be with them during the day. The necessary sacrifice here was my art, and that was more than OK. If you are taking care of very young children or an adult who needs your focus and attention, whether or not you are also juggling a day job, you will probably have to put off your goals to launch a side gig or career change into full-time art. Just know that “seasons” are meant to be temporary. The suggestions I mention in this podcast are meant to support you with self-care all of the time, however. They will help you not step on your own tail in becoming a full-time artist, but they will certainly also help you take care of yourself during a challenging season of your life. Remember that when it comes to taking care of yourself, you have to make YOU a priority to do that well. Please be kind to yourself.
Drop me a line with your thoughts, tips, and struggles on getting more time and energy to make your art. I'm always listening.
Love and light,