When I sat down to write this post I was initially stumped for ideas on how to explain all the little shortcuts I take to keep a more streamlined day in my studio. As artists, we all do seemingly obvious things to make our days easier, from making a cup of coffee to taking an afternoon walk, but rarely do we share these nitty gritty tips with others.
It got me wondering why do I, and so many of my artist friends, find being productive so difficult? Why does focusing on techniques that make you a better artist trail behind on a list of artistic priorities? I think our fellow artists, designers, and photographers who are already feeling burned out by the holiday grind could really benefit from a few practical ways to up their productivity right about now.
If the saying goes that it takes ten thousand hours to become an expert at something, why do I feel like so many of these hours are spent in a cycle of trial-and-error with creative productivity? Perhaps because the genius myth has us all thinking as artists we don’t have to actively work at productivity like its any other job or skill set. Or maybe it’s that artists aren’t told how helpful a schedule or daily routine can be to your creative output. Either way, I think it’s important to dissect, as much as possible all the little productivity tricks we do to remain consistent and active, even when we might be losing steam.
Ahh… my favorite. Just ask your nearest sloth to confirm that napping truly is the productivity tip of legends. Have you ever seen a sloth smile? How could you not trust that face? Study after study shows that napping is good for your brain function and productivity output so get horizontal on the regular and try it out. To perfect the art of nodding off, try and nap in the afternoons for about 20-30 minutes, but for no longer than 90 minutes to not mess with your sleep cycle too much.
What have you been mulling subconsciously? Often the best creative inspiration comes from the dreams we have, so try and utilize this gold mine buried within your brilliant brain. You could use scenes or images you’ve seen in your dreams for quick sketches, or to create narratives for character development. Writing down your dreams also helps to create routine and structure while building seamless bridge from your personal life to your creative work. Oftentimes writing down my dreams makes me feel a deeper connection with my art, which generates more meaning in what I’m creating.
This productivity tip has widely been shown to increase your work output — from getting the most out of a training run to finishing an illustration. Try listening to music that works for you, maybe classical symphonies put you in the zone, or perhaps some blaring punk rock really gets your creative juices flowing. There’s no hard and fast rule to what type of music you should listen to, it should just feel good and get you going, but shouldn’t distract you, so maybe instrumentals or Brian Eno-type ambient tracks are better for you. Every artist is different though, so experiment to see what works.
The Pomodoro technique is an exercise in which you work at a task for 25 minutes straight, then stop and take a five minute break, then repeat. It’s been shown to help people study more effectively and better retain information. You could also try this timer-based productivity exercise. Personally, I think it’s a bit of trial-and-error and depends on the person, but I’ve found that if I work for 30 minutes with a 10 minute break, then repeat, I can make art solidly for 3-4 hours without any problems.
After preaching about the benefits of a good walk before, the evidence still stacks up that walking for creativity is a super effective (and simple) productivity tip that can help you think and create with more clarity. Even 10 minutes a day walking outside can make a huge difference in how you approach a project when you return to your creative space. Alternatively, try working in a park, or taking meetings while walking with the hopes that changing up your physical environment will influence your creative headspace.
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