We all have 24 hours in a day, and unless you can slow time like The Flash or Superman, there’s nothing you can do to change that. But what if we could find a way to do MORE with the time we have?

One of the most common complaints we hear from artists is that they can’t find time to train, paint, or study nature like they want to.

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dalí (Source)

Trust me – we know how you feel!

Bill currently divides his time between keeping his galleries filled with new paintings, running monthly critique and Q&A webinars, producing art training videos, writing weekly blogs, helping answer artist’s questions through email and social media, duties with our church, art shows and workshops, and most importantly – family.

Our hectic schedules are the reason I’ve spent years researching and testing the best time management ideas and tools out there.

Today I’ll share the top 7 tools I’ve discovered for helping artists find more time to do what they love.

7 Powerful Time Management Tools for Artists

 

Tool #1: Eisenhower Matrix

I recently discovered this at a conference I attended, and it’s been a game-changer for me. It’s simple, actionable, and easy to maintain day after day.

All you really need is a pen and paper (or an app for your phone).

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Draw a 4-part matrix.
  2. Label the two top quadrants URGENT and LESS URGENT and the two left quadrants IMPORTANT and LESS IMPORTANT.
  3. Place your entire to-do list in its respective quadrant on the matrix. For each item simply ask yourself if it’s urgent, and then ask if it’s important.
  4. Prioritize your tasks based on their location in the matrix:
    • Urgent and Important – Accomplish immediately
    • Less Urgent and Important – Schedule a time to do later
    • Urgent and Less Important – Delegate the task to someone else
    • Less Urgent and Less Important – Forget and don’t do any of these

Again, if it’s not urgent and it’s not important then DON’T do it!

Here’s an example of how to put yours together:

 

Want to shift this tool into turbo drive?

Try writing your matrix on a white board in permanent marker, and then add your tasks using a dry erase marker. Then hang it somewhere impossible to ignore.

Boom – now you have a constantly evolving matrix that serves as a physical reminder of what items need your focus – and the time-wasters you should avoid.

Tool #2: Timebox Your Day

This is one of the most strait forward and effective tools on our list. Absolutely anyone can do it, and it takes almost no additional time to set up and execute.

All you need is a pen, paper, and something to time yourself with.

Hint – make sure your timer makes plenty of noise, because it’s imperative you know when the clock hits zero.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Write down everything you want to do in whatever order they come to mind.
  2. Choose a time limit for each item on your list – I recommend somewhere between 20 and 45 minutes.
  3. Set your timer and focus on your first task.
  4. STOP as soon as your timer rings. Part way through a sentence? Only half done with the yard work? Stop anyway!
  5. Take a short 2 to 10-minute break and then start the timer again for your next task.
  6. Repeat until your list is finished.

The most important thing to remember with this tool – DO NOT GO OVER your set time limit. Think of exceeding your time like taking a bite of cake while on a diet – does anyone really stop after just one bite?

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Tool #3: Use a Calendar

Calendars have been around for approximately 260,000 years (a totally made up number), but most people still don’t consistently use them.

In fact, you’ve probably written your schedule on a calendar before and still missed an important meeting. Sure, maybe you’re just not the calendar type – but don’t give up just yet.

Look at that dusty old calendar with renewed interest and get your life on track.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Commit to using just one calendar – Google, hanging, flip, chalk, electronic, or whatever else you want to use. Decide on one format and put all your effort into using it over everything else.
  2. Schedule in segments – whichever works best for you. I don’t recommend planning by the day, and very few people need to manage their days in 15-minute increments. You’ll likely fall somewhere in-between.
    • Day segments
    • Morning, afternoon, and evening segments
    • Hourly segments
    • 30-minute segments
    • 15-minute segments
  3. Avoid overlapping plans – whether you plan an hour at a time or schedule out every 15 minutes, do NOT have overlapping events on your calendar. Devote 100% of each planned segment to its assigned task.
  4. Review – This is where most people fall off the wagon. It’s not enough to simply write down what you want to do. To succeed you must have a specific time set apart each morning to review the upcoming day, and time in the evening to consider how well you carried out your plans.

We all have calendars sitting around our house or popping up on our phone, but how many people do you know who use them consistently?

Admittedly, I’m not one of them (yet). But, everyone I know who uses them swears by them.

After all, there must be something special about them to stick around for 260,000 years, right?!

Tool #4: Good, Better, Best

Source (lds.org)

Not long ago I heard one of my personal heroes, Dallin H. Oaks, discuss prioritizing our time based on the principle of Good, Better, Best.

He used the example of the Sears Catalogue – do you remember those days?  He said he noticed in many ads three choices:

Don’t you wish we had such a simple layout for our priorities?

Deciphering between good, better and best can be a difficult thing. No easy-to-follow formula has been designed for this tool yet. However, it can also be one of the most fulfilling ways to maximize our lives.

Dallin H. Oaks shared this story to illustrate:

A friend took his young family on a series of summer vacation trips, including visits to memorable historic sites. At the end of the summer he asked his teenage son which of these good summer activities he enjoyed most. The father learned from the reply, and so did those he told of it. “The thing I liked best this summer,” the boy replied, “was the night you and I laid on the lawn and looked at the stars and talked.” (1)

What the parent’s may have considered a good activity turned out being the best experience for their son. That’s the difficult part of this tool – we may look back later and realize we had our priorities all mixed up.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Consider what matters most to you and find a way to do it.
  2. Just say NO to things that distract you from ‘the best.’ Guard your YES’s like gold, because they’re worth just as much. That means you may have to turn down an upcoming workshop or movie with friends…

Yep, that’s it.

We have so many good things we can be doing that sometimes the better and best things get crowded out or forgotten. Is the time we devote to one activity worth the time we’re taking away from another?

If done consistently this can become less of a tool, and more a way of living – a very fulfilling way of living.

Tool #5: Get Rid of Distractions

This tool is like steroids for everything else on the list, and it’s super easy to use!

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Decide what’s necessary to complete your current task.
  2. Remove everything else until your task or Timebox is complete. Here are some suggestions:
    • Place your phone on Airplane Mode or Do Not Disturb
    • Disconnect the internet
    • Place a Busy sign on your home or office door
    • Remove clutter
    • Clear your calendar ahead of time
    • Invest in a good set of noise-cancelling headphones

This may sound overly simplified, but that’s really all it takes. Well, that and some well-chiseled willpower…

Do whatever it takes to ensure ZERO distractions can get to you while you’re “in the zone”!

Tool #6: Batch Work

Recent studies have shown that willpower is a finite resource. Think of it like a muscle – as you use it throughout the day it grows steadily more tired and weakened. That’s why people are usually able to ace their diets in the morning, but then struggle as the day progresses.

That’s also why this tool has been growing in popularity. Batching means less task switching, more time spent working ‘in the zone’, and less willpower expenditure since we don’t have to start new projects as often.

This isn’t for the faint of heart though. It requires intense periods of concentration and falls apart quickly if you’re not dedicated.

It also pulls several principles from prior suggestions, so it’s helpful if this isn’t the first tool you try out.

Here’s how you do it:

  • Set a period of uninterrupted time – usually 2-5 hours minimum. Depending on the project it may be useful to dedicate 1-3 days instead of working in hour increments.
  • Choose a distraction free environment – a studio or office may work if friends and family aren’t in the habit of stopping in unannounced. Some find it easier to focus in a new environment. Airbnb has become a go-to option for those wanting large periods of distraction-free time.
  • Create clear goals – ‘Painting for 2 days’ isn’t likely going to be clear enough to keep you focused. Instead, set goals like:
    • Finish 3 new paintings
    • Read 2 books
    • Deep clean the entire house
    • Study 4 Master Oil Painting training videos
    • Write 14 birthday cards for friends and family
  • Prepare equipment – Make sure you have what it takes to accomplish your goal BEFORE you begin (plus backup supplies). Walmart runs destroy focus and take a considerable amount of time away from your intended purpose. This includes prepping your meals (even if that just means ordering delivery ahead of time).
  • Limit breaks – batching takes a lot of energy, and it’s easy to get pulled into extra long breaks or naps during the day. My suggestion is to limit work-time breaks to 15 minutes (outside of 30-minute meal breaks). Make sure you physically get up and walk away from what you’re working on during breaks to give your mind adequate rest.
  • Reward yourself – find something special to make crossing the finish line extra fun. This doesn’t have to be extravagant, though it can be if you want to really treat yourself for a job well done. Here are some ideas:
    • Enjoy a relaxing bubble bath
    • Purchase a year’s membership to Master Oil Painting (wink, wink)
    • Sit down to a nice meal at your favorite place
    • Catch up with an old friend
    • Order a set of new paint brushes

Like I said – this is not for the beginner. If you can get batching down though, you’ll be amazed by what you can accomplish.

Tool #7: Track Your Time

This is an excellent tool for those who’ve tried everything else and still can’t figure out why their to-do list continues to grow.

It’s difficult, feels cumbersome, and oddly enough it takes quite of bit of time to carry out. But it’s the best tool there is for finding leaks in your day.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Create a spreadsheet in 15 to 30-minute increments. You can do it however you want, but this one works well.
  2. Write down what you did at the end of every waking hour.
  3. Repeat every single day for 7 days.
  4. Review your week and calculate how much time was spent in each activity.

How much time did you spend reading compared to watching tv? What could you delete from your schedule to make more time for painting; taking walks through the park; or talking with family?

There’s no better way to target waste areas in your schedule.

Long ago I heard an analogy of rocks, pebbles, and sand.

When the sand goes in a jar first – then the pebbles – then the rocks – they don’t fit.

Do you know that feeling?  Trying to get it all done, but never having enough time?

Amazingly, when the same amount of rocks go in first – then the pebbles – then the sand – it all somehow fits!

 

Did we miss any of your favorite tools? Please share any that you think might help fellow artists spend more time doing what they love.

 

Let us know which tool best helped you find more time to enjoy your artwork!