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A Creative’s Most Valuable Tool: UNINTERRUPTED TIME

You can have the best writing pens, pencils, brushes or paper but if you don’t have the most valuable tool in a creative person’s life, all those tools are simply decorations in your studio. As an artist, one of the biggest challenges I face daily is the owning and holding on to the most valuable tool of all, UNINTERRUPTED TIME.

Working out of a home studio, generally means you’re home. You’re not clocking in and out and do not have to be at a certain location while everyone else is. This opens the door up to requests from your loved ones for favors, rides, responsibilities and chores being offloaded as well as making you the available recipient to a slue of interruptions throughout the day. I want to preface this article with the the acknowledgment that I feel very blessed to be surrounded by people who love me and need me and am grateful to have every single one of them in my life. That said, I’d like to share with you a big realization I recently had.

There are several ways I find my inspiration: walking (on a treadmill or outside), looking through Pinterest or Instagram, staring out the window (yes, you read that right), reading books, doodling, meditation, watching an online class and generally other similar things that look like I’m free and have nothing to do. These activities used to make me feel guilty, however I realized that these are the most important steps of my creation process, an important part of my workday. However, my workday is generally bombarded with interruptions.

Ideas need momentum. One builds onto another. Imagine that ideas are a big bucket of seeds secured with a crank. When you’re creating, you crank the bucket to start tipping it over, pour out and start planting your seeds. Phone rings, text comes or someone walks in the room and at a screeching halt, you’re interrupted. You need to crank that bucket back up to pause so the seeds wont fall out. Interruption is handled. Now you have to crank the bucket to pour the seeds out again. Think about that cranking each way, using your creative energy muscles and now imagine how much creative energy is spent simply by stopping and restarting. Now I want to walk you through one of my typical days:

After the morning ritual of prepping breakfasts and lunches for me and the family, and dropping off my daughter to school, I go to the gym for an hour. I come home, throw some ingredients in the slow cooker for dinner and I’m ready to work by 10:00 am. I have to leave to pick up my daughter back up from school at 2:45 pm. With a half hour lunch in between, this gives me about 4 1/2 hours to realistically be able to work every day. But, throughout my day, I get an average of 3-5 texts, 2-3 phone calls and about 25 notifications from social media and emails PER HOUR. No exaggeration. By the way, as you’re reading this, this is a good time to take your own interruption inventory. So, I decided to examine each interruption:

TEXTS: notificaton comes : 5-10 seconds to read the notification. 5-10 seconds to reply. repeat until conversation ends with an emoji. Average text usually takes 3 rounds of exchanges = average 1 minute per text. Add to this, the time to refocus (recrank that bucket) and wrap your mind around what it was you were working on adds about 30 seconds to a minute. One text costs me TWO minutes of interruption. I multiply that by 4 (the average texts I get an hour) and I have lost 8 minutes an hour, daily.

PHONE CALLS: RINNNNNG: “Hello?” Usual kind exchange of how are you, how is everyone, what’s going on, then get to the question or reason of call. Cut it short with, sorry I’m working. Can we talk later? Average 1-3 minutes a call if it’s brief. Two to three calls an hour, with an average of two minutes each (if it’s not my Mom. If it is, add another 5 minutes at least) = six minutes an hour gone to phone calls.

SOCIAL MEDIA: The ultimate time leach: For me, it’s an average of about 20 notifications an hour. OK, just look at the notification and look back (DON’T OPEN IT ARPI! DON’T OPEN IT!) which equals 5 seconds to peek which leads you to be curious about what else is going on in the world, or who commented on your last post, ok just a quick reply since FB rates you on how fast you reply (on the business pages) equals about 30 seconds for each data hit which equals about 10 minutes an hour lost.

EMAILS: Well, this is a bottomless pit and I think you get the picture.

Calculating the time checking and responding to texts, phone calls and social media (not including emails) averages about 24 minutes WASTED every hour for me!!! Multiply that by the 4 1/2 hours a day that I have alone time to work, that’s 108 minutes, almost half of my work day spent being unproductive. I multiply that by 5 working days and 4.33 weeks average per month and that makes 39 hours EVERY MONTH spent on tasks that really don’t make a difference and can wait.

I’m not even taking into consideration days where the family has doctor appointments, field trips, grocery shopping or any other responsibilities of people who have loved ones who rely on them.

So imagine you’re an employer and finding out that your employee is doing the same. Which believe me, they are. You are paying your employee one week’s worth of salary for being personally social on your dime. Ouch right? When you’re self employed, the only one you’re shorting, is you.

What can you do?

1-Decide what your optimal, realistic work time span is. How much time would be enough to work straight through, and be your most productive? Mine is about 3 hours. During this time, put the phone on airplane mode, turn off the notifications on your computer and silence the house phone.

2-If you have elderly parents, call them before you start your workday. Ask them how they’re doing and tell them you love them. Then advise them you’ll be working and unavailable for the next (fill in the blank: 2, 3, 4) hours and to call only if it’s an emergency. Do the same with whoever else relies on you. Check in on them at the end of the 3 hours.

3-If you have a significant other that works from home, have a conversation about the importance of not being interrupted. The same would benefit them.

4-If you have a baby or toddler at home, consider getting help for those hours so you can work. If that’s not feasible, forget the dishes or laundry when the baby naps. That’s your work time.The dishes and laundry can wait.

5-Consider waking up an hour earlier and/or staying up 2-3 hours after everyone else sleeps and making that your work hours. It used to be that I worked best from 10:00 pm to 2:00 am but my body revolted and that schedule caught up with me.

6-Establish your creative space where you can be alone. It’s very difficult for me to work on a project while there’s people in the room. Why? I love to talk! I want to talk to them and they want to talk to me! Why set yourself up for disappointment or have your family feel neglected? Create or find a space where you can be alone and no one you know will start a sentence with your name, or Mooooooommy!!! Use the space when everyone else is occupied or out of the house and walk away from the space when you’re done. If you don’t have the space at home, find a cool coffee shop, library, local garden or park. Just find some alone time as a daily practice for at least 2-3 times a week if not daily.

7- Some days, accept that it’s just not going to happen and take care of things that would occupy your mind otherwise: grocery shopping, cleaning, reorganizing, writing bills, cleaning out your inbox or closet, making appointments. Taking care of these tasks will make your intentional work time more productive since these jobs are not cluttering your creative brain any more.

8-Communicate with the people who love you and explain that for you to be able to do what you do (write, draw, bake, sculpt, fill in the blanks) you need uninterrupted time. Just like you wouldn’t call a teacher friend in the hours you know they’ll be in a classroom, the same respect and consideration should go to you when you’re in the studio (coffee shop, library, or whichever space you call your studio).

9-Share this article.

The bottom line is this, we all love our families and have responsibilities. That’s a blessing. Life is all about creating a balance and just as much as you need the time to make art, you need to spend time with the people you love. If you want to live a creative life and maybe even make that your career, be intentional, have a plan for it and communicate that plan with your loved ones. If you are serious about your art making and treat it with the respect and discipline it deserves, others will too. At the end of the day, you’ll feel more satisfied knowing you gave yourself that precious gift and that will in turn allow you to enjoy even more, the rest of the hours in your day with the people who matter most.


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