Time Management

Time Management for Artists

Reprinted from my blog on the American Tapestry Alliance website,Wednesday, April 26th, 2017


Catherine Gray, 'Allotted Time 2'.

Catherine Gray, ‘Allotted Time 2’, 40 x 40 cm, 2016. Cotton warp, wool weft. Photo: Catherine Gray.

It’s About Time:

Identify your Distractions

Barbara Burns

We live in a world full of distractions. It’s so easy to get side tracked. The first step in good time management is to identify the distractions that capture you. Knowing what gets you off track, you can start to make changes to avoid these things during the time you want to be productive.

I’ve broken this up into sections you can work on, one at a time. If you follow along, when you are finished you will have a schedule for your work time. You want to be sure to have break/fun time too.

There is an app for everything. Rescue Time is an app that monitors what you’re doing on the computer. If you get lost in space on the computer this may be useful.


Determine the things that are distractions for you. Make a list, writing down as many things as you can think of. Consider solutions to help you stay focused. When I was in college I loved dried apricots. I kept a box of them on my desk and could only indulge when I was studying. It actually worked! I call this The Golden Carrot Reward. Find what works for you. Also, begin to consider times to indulge in the things that are distractions.

Multitasking is not as productive as you think

Janette Meetze, “Hands On, Slow Selfie” (2015), 22.5″ x 20″

I’ve done some reading about multitasking and, surprise, it doesn’t really work well. Our brains just aren’t designed to do it. I know when I multitask I often make mistakes. For instance, when I try to write an email and talk to my husband at the same time I don’t hear everything he says and I wind up having to go back and make corrections in the email too.  It’s difficult to concentrate on two cognitive tasks at the same time and do both well. My solution is to do mindless knitting when we are having a long conversation and I want to keep my hands busy. I have trouble sitting still.

If you set aside time in your schedule to work on one task at a time you will find you are more productive. You don’t have to complete the task in one sitting, just have time in your schedule to come back to it. Don’t schedule more than one task at a time.


Do a test. Try writing an email while having a conversation on a different subject. Notice what it’s like to do this. Are you having trouble concentrating? Can you do both well? Think about how much you multitask and whether it actually works for you. Write down what you discover and start blocking out time for individual tasks in your day.

Dedicating time to non-art tasks

If you are devoted to your art you probably wish you didn’t have to take time out to take care of all the mundane things in life like laundry, food shopping and tasks related to the business side of your career. But sometimes life gets in the way. That can be a good thing. I find it’s useful to step back and take a break from my work. When I return, I see what I’ve done with a fresh eye. It has helped me catch things before they become a problem to correct. You can use this “step back” time for those “other” tasks. When you structure time into your day to take care of those non-art tasks, you can be guilt free when you’re doing your art because you know there is time scheduled for both. So let’s get organized.


Make a list of all those things you do in the course of a week that are not related to creating art.  Start thinking about how much time it should take to accomplish each task and consider time in your schedule to do these tasks.

Block Out The World

When you are ready to begin working, block out any distractions. Turn off your phone. You can try a website that plays repetitive music, focus@will. This is instrumental music with repetitive beats that is chosen to put you in the mood to work. If music isn’t your thing and you work in a place where noise is a distraction, try a white noise machine. I like to listen to recorded books I download from my library. I do have to turn off the ebook when I need to concentrate, but when I’m in the zone weaving, a book helps keep me going. The book occupies my mind, while my hands are working.

Studio Time

Sarah Swett, Hang up and Draw, 2008, 54″x36″

So now it’s time to get down to work. You need to schedule studio time. What is the most productive time of day for you? Morning, afternoon, evening, late night? Block out a time when you know you work best. In that time go to your work place, where ever this is, and be ready to work. It may seem a bit mechanical at first if the spirit doesn’t move you, especially if you are in the design phase of a project.

Jack London said:

“You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.”

Once you develop a routine, you may find that you can control the creative flow instead of being controlled by it. This is your studio time. Time you are working on a project, whatever phase you’re in, developing inspiration, design, creating, finishing. If you’re in a shared space tell your family, housemates, or studio mates not to disturb you in your studio time. Maybe, hang a little paper clock on the door with an arrow pointing to the time you’ll be available. If you need to, hang a Do Not Disturb sign so you’re not interrupted.


Begin to set aside uninterrupted studio time. Try out different times of the day to see what works best for you.

Get Organized 

When I begin a new project, I like to start with a clean slate, so I clean and organize my studio. I put everything away from the previous project, I place my drawings and old cartoons in a large manila envelope. This holds everything generated from the previous project and goes into a file drawer I have for the purpose. On the outside of the envelope is the name of the project along the top edge and the envelopes are filed alphabetically. I even have some from projects I chose not to follow through on. Now I’m ready for the next challenge, and the next mess.


Organize your work space. If you’re moved, get out your cleaning supplies and give it a good cleaning. Create systems to keep everything neat and organized for easy access. How much time have you spent searching for something you need? Organizing is time well spent.

Melinda Heal, “Focusing on Focuing”

Get Focused

To get focused you need to know what your priorities are. You need to know what is most important to you.


Make a list of the top three things that are important to you. It could be art, family, travel or kids, creative time, volunteering. Write them down, whatever they are. Anything not on this list should be prioritized lower on your list. If art is the most important put it on the top of the list.

Time to Make a Schedule

When creating your schedule be sure to put in more time than you think to do each task. Are you the kind of person that needs a strict time frame to work in, or do you prefer a looser structure? You know what works for you. Those lists you made earlier will help you with this process. Be sure to block out time for your art, and non-art activities.  Maybe you only need a 30 minute block, once a week, for dealing with a particular aspect of your non-art life. Take everything into consideration, and be sure to leave time for having fun. You also want to be sure to build in time in your schedule to clean up between projects. You may want to start this on paper and once you have a schedule worked out you can transfer it to a paper calendar or your smart phone calendar.

You may find you decide to give up or cut back on some time eaters like TV or Face Book. Last fall, I gave up TV in the evenings and used the time to work on the computer. I was amazed at how much I was able to accomplish in the time I thought I needed as brainless downtime. You may decide to go to bed and wake up an hour earlier than usual. Mornings can be very productive time for some people. Maybe you choose not to answer emails on the weekend. Don’t be locked in to your usual habits with your schedule. Be open to trying something different. You may be pleasantly surprised.


Using your lists from earlier projects, create a schedule. Not every day has to be the same. You can think in daily, or weekly blocks. Remember to give yourself enough time for each task and some down time to relax. This will be reworked as you move through your week and see what is working and what needs to be adjusted.

More Lists 

I keep a small pad of paper and a pen on my bedside table. Every evening, when I first get into bed, I write down a prioritized To-Do list of things I want to accomplish the following day. Having this list serves two purposes. It means I don’t have to run through these tasks in my mind and worry about what I need to do. I can’t forget them because they’re written down. This helps me sleep better. Second, in the morning I pick up my list and start to work with a focused mind. As I go through the day, I cross off tasks as they’re accomplished, which feels good. I also have what I call my master list. It’s broken up into indoor, outdoor and some things by season. It’s mostly non-art tasks that I put on my daily list as the spirit moves me.


Create a master work/project list that will feed into your daily schedule. Use paper or your smartphone, whatever works for you.

Setting Reminders

Now you have a schedule to work with, but maybe you need an assist. Reminders can help keep you on track. You can take the To-Do list you wrote last night and plug the tasks into your schedule for the day which can be as simple as post-it notes, a paper calendar, a black or white board or use the Reminders in your smart phone. You can also set the timer and calendar in your smartphone to alert you that a block of time is up or soon ending. This will help keep you honest and can be freeing because you don’t need to keep an eye on the clock. Oh, yes, you may want to put a clock in your work space if you don’t already have one. Whatever method you choose, be sure it really works for you and keeps you on track. Eventually, you’ll probably outgrow the need for reminders as you become comfortable with your schedule.


Figure out what sort of reminders work for you and implement them.

A Few Final Words

Ruth Manning, “This takes time”

Begin each work week with time scheduled to review what you want to accomplish in that week. This will help you stay focused and feel empowered and in control of your schedule. When you feel empowered it will be easier to be focused and positive.

If you have a paper calendar, post-it notes or paper lists, designate a place for them so you always know where to find them. A bulletin board or basket can work well.

This process is for you. Not everything here will work for you. Maybe you just needed to read this to be stimulated into creating a distraction free zone for your work or maybe you need a strict schedule to keep you going, or something in between. Whatever your needs are, be sure to follow through. If your art is the most important thing in your life, find a way to prioritize your activities in order to facilitate that.

One last tidbit:

Michelle Pfeiffer said: “I’ve learned you can have it all, but you can’t do it all.” Learn when to say no.

Good luck with managing your time and getting organized.



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