Thursday, January 22, 2015

Protecting Your Studio Time: Let’s Talk About Time-Management

Okay, some of you are already holding your sides because you are laughing so hard.  You may be laughing because you are asking, “STUDIO Time?  WHAT studio time?!” OR you know me well-enough to be laughing at my audacity in thinking I have any idea how to discuss this, given my own struggle with this very issue.

Well, fasten your seat belts with your seat backs upright and your tray tables stowed because this could be a bumpy ride!

To begin, I am going to time-travel backward about 30 years to the time when I was a young mother.  I was working full time as an RN in Labor and Delivery, and teaching part-time as a childbirth instructor.  Married, with two young children born 17-months apart.  Studio time?  Honey, it was non-existent.  

Okay, I take that back:  I did have a bit of a quilt life, but it was squeezed into a once per month block of the month club class that I took for my own sanity and those late night sessions (rare!) when I needed to gear down after a stressful shift at the hospital.  I would sit at my tiny dining room table during the wee-hours of the morning after my evening shift and hand-stitch my constructions.  

In those days I did almost everything by hand (insert an image of me smacking myself on the forehead here!).  I was occasionally frustrated by my lack of productivity in the quilt realm, but the truth was I was so busy and overwhelmed by my new reality as a mother that I didn’t have much time to focus on it.  

circa 1985

I wasn’t making small work at that time.  I think my frustration level would have been lessened somewhat if I had chosen smaller, more attainable projects that could give me a sense of successful completion.  I was making large quilts, or trying to.

Why wasn't I working smaller then?
(Nest series, size 8x8x1.5 inches)

So, there were a lot of years of low-productivity.

We moved, and even though my children grew up (whether I wanted them to or not) and left home to pursue college and start their own lives, my first six years in Texas were spent commuting back and forth to Kansas caring for my sister and mother, who passed away in 2001 & 2003 respectively. 

Eventually a window of time appeared.  I began to produce more work, get into shows, and even win a few awards here and there.  I learned how to play with surface design (dyeing and screen printing my own designs on cloth) which I regard as one of the best things about moving to Texas (there are many other things!).   I started getting requests to write some articles, blog posts, become involved in an organization by serving on the national board of directors.  I got really stinking busy again!

Somehow, I seemed to be managing these new responsibilities and I certainly enjoy them all.  Then, last year, another event came to the surface involving my husband that suddenly created twice as much travel and time away from home.  It was a wonderful event and I enjoyed every single moment of participating in it, but wowza did my studio time take a hit.  

I’m not just talking about the time I sit in front of my sewing machine or stand at my print table.  I’m also talking about that time that, on the surface of things, doesn’t look productive but is:  that time to dream, to sketch, to simply sit and ruminate about a project and where you want to take it.  That creative juice, or flow.  THAT is where I seemed to get myself into trouble.
With studio time at a premium I found myself so rushed to “get something done” that I would enter the environment already creatively “blocked”.  Stuck.  Nothing.

As deadlines began to appear over the horizon and move closer….closer….CLOSER I felt something close to internal panic.
I really needed to sort myself out.  How could I manage to juggle all these things, which admittedly were exceptional this year, but still….?

I needed to identify a system that would keep better track of my deadlines, for one thing.  I think I need a white board!  My system of keeping things on my iphone calendar with an alarm doesn’t seem to be as effective now as it was when I was managing only a couple things in the studio.  I need to see it.  Often!  And what is more satisfying than crossing something off that list?  If not a white board, then a big flip chart that I can write on and prioritize items and deadlines.
Here is what I settled on...a frameless "white board" that
clings to the wall and is (supposedly) harmless to the surface.
Here is what it looks like going on the wall.

Not gorgeous, but it is a solution to a problem!

I'm using this one (of my two new white boards)
for deadlines.  

I need to find more time.  Huh?  Don’t we all have the same amount of time in every day?  Yes, but what if a significant part of your schedule involves travel?  There is a lot of down time sitting in airports, airplanes, trains, etc.  Use it more wisely.

Carry a sketchbook.  Don’t groan yet (I can hear you!).  Yes, the sketchbook is for sketching, but so much more:  it can be a place of creative management.  I do a great deal of doodling in an actual paper sketchbook (see above):  either a small moleskin with small windows on each page or a 5x7 moleskin.  Both tuck nicely into my travel purse or backpack.  I do a lot of creative work on the plane.  It is a time to gather my thoughts about a particular project or idea.  Sometimes, I put earphones in, even if I am not listening to music or an audiobook, just so my seatmates won’t be inclined to chat me up.  Don’t get me wrong:  I still listen to music and sometimes chat, but I find that I get back some of my creative energy when I doodle, sketch ideas, or simply write them down.
I travel with small stitch projects that I call ‘Sweet Little Somethings’.  

working on this during a long flight.

Here are a few of the little stitched constructions. Often these are
a combo of cloth bits, paper, and ephemera along with stitching.

As you can see, they are a mixture of cloth and paper, nothing precious at all.  I bring this in a small Ziploc bag along with embroidery scissors, embroidery thread, and needles.  It is another way to let the creative juice flow and work with intent.  Will these little somethings become a big something?  I don’t know and frankly do not care.  It is the process, not the product, that I am interested in.
Take a bit of time to reorganize your studio workspace.  Perhaps you don’t need to do this because you are not as much a work-slob as I am, but wow, I really make a mess when I work.  I can fill the surface of any work table, no matter how big, until I am left with a space about 8x10 inches.  Yikes!  That is all fine, but I need to clear it off and put things away so I am ready to come back in and get going.  Have you ever avoided your studio because it felt overwhelming to go in?  Well, I have. 

I save myself so much time if I take a bit off the end of my work to straighten things up.  I use less time looking for stuff.  I WANT to go in there and work because it is ready and waiting for me.
Finally, create some sort of starting ritual for yourself before you engage in your work.  Silly?  Maybe.  But it works for me.  I have a couple of things I do.  First, I have something I say to myself every single time I walk down the hallway to my studio.  Second, I often light a candle for the duration of when I am in the studio working, because that time feels (and is) sacred to me.  

If I am feeling a bit stuck, I have several activities that I choose from to loosen up.  For me, drawing and printing on watercolor postcards, sale tags, etc., get my juices flowing.  I side-step from this over to the big project at hand.  I find that doing a parallel activity allows my brain to relax and ideas to bubble up.  I consider this a form of mental calisthenics.

I won’t pretend to have all the answers to this challenging problem.  As stated earlier:  I continue to struggle with time-management myself.  I would love to read some of your ideas and solutions. 

If you are a young parent:  take heart.  You are a young parent for a finite part of your life.  Find some smaller, more attainable projects to satisfy your creative urge and know that there will be time out there in your future.  I promise! 

Carve some time for yourself whenever possible.  I firmly believe this is not only good for you, but also good for your loved ones as it keeps you energized. 

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