Shop Talk

Letter Shoppe: How I Have A Successful Career In 20 Hours A Week

How I get so much done only working about 20 hours a week?

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I work so little and still get so much done. Not only do I take on four clients a month for hand lettering commissions but I’m also swimming in passion projects like producing new monthly workbooks teaching lettering on Patreon, and putting together 30-minute interviews every other week for my new web series Women of Illustration.

All that doesn’t even include all the other things you have to do to run a business as a freelance illustrator like blogging, social media, client on-boarding, accounting, and customer service.

Your art will always feel like your baby, so give it the time it deserves.

So I get it, you’re doubtful. But I promise I’m not made out of magic or lazy, I’ve just figured out over the years how to be my most productive self. It’s through an enormous amount of trial and error, daily practice, and trying out almost every “productivity” app out there that I’ve finally found a way to work smarter, not harder.

I know what your thinking; is this whole article just you bragging or are you going to tell us how you do it, you beast?! Don’t worry, that section is coming up in 3…2…1

Dina Rodriguez

This idea of perfection is more likely to cripple you from finishing something then it is to motivate you to do better projects.

Practice means better, not perfect

I’ve always hated the phrase, “practice makes perfect” because it makes you think perfection is attainable if you just try harder. Bullshit! This idea of perfection is more likely to cripple you from finishing something then it is to motivate you to do better projects. It’s all about making more and showing it to the world than it is to refine your work to the point where no one sees it.

Done is always better than perfect. The more you make, the faster you become at getting things done. Then the more work you have to show off, the more likely you’ll attract clients to your portfolio, get more fans on social media, and build up a reputation for being a making machine.

Remember the first time you ever did an art project in school and how it took you forever to finish it because you needed to make sure every macaroni piece was in just the right place and you only barely understood the concept of glue? Me too. It sucked.

I remember feeling out of place, dumb, and just not talented enough. This, of course, was because I had never done it before. Then over time, with every project, and new medium, you get better and faster. Then by the time you’re in high school, you can easily find yourself cramming an entire art project in one night. This same concept applies to everything; you just have to keep doing it to get better

Typically in the morning (or whenever I wake up), I work on one project, take a lunch break once my brain starts to drift off, refuel and then go back to work on the next task.

Listen to your imagination, and put it on a schedule

We all work at different paces and feel our most productive at various times that don’t always fit with everyone’s else’s 9 to 5. Some of us need a break every 90 mins, while other can go 6 hours straight if they are working on the right project. The most important thing to remember is to stop looking at everyone else and figure out what makes the most sense for you to get the work done because it’s all apart of the process.

For me, I’ve nailed down a daily routine of working on two projects a day. Sometimes it’s just one part of a more significant project, or I’m powering through writing an entire article in the afternoon ( I may be doing that right now).

This works for me because although I love my job of teaching and drawing, sometimes it can feel overwhelming so I need to focus on just one task at a time. That way my shiny object syndrome can’t get the best of me.

On days when I’m not feeling it, I give myself permission to take time off…

On days when I’m not feeling it, I give myself permission to take time off. Sometimes it’s rescheduling one of the things on my to-do list, or saving my workload for the weekend to have a blissful day binging on Jessica Jones (that was yesterday).

For those of you out there who still have a day job, the same rule applies. You just have to find a consistent time to work on your stuff until it becomes a habit.

Creating a habit is critical in all of this. For me, a huge help is working in a co-working spot like WeWork, in Portland, Oregon so I’m forced to work without the temptation of TV time… my greatest weakness.

Maybe your routine is waking up extra early before your day job, getting some doodles done during lunch, or having some extra “me time” after you put the kids to bed. Getting started might feel strange at first, but after a few weeks, it will become second nature. Not only will this help you get more done, but it will help program your mind to be creative when you need it.

Whether you are just in the beginning phase of drawing for the fun of it or offering your services to clients you need to keep track of your time.

Track your time, and you will have more of it

Whether you’re in the beginning phase of drawing for fun or offering your services to clients, you need to keep track of your time. This will help you figure out how much time you need to complete projects, making it easier to give yourself a schedule of what’s a realistic timeframe to finish something.

Once you get in the habit of turning the timer on, you can use it to benchmark other time-sucking activities, like the wormhole that is social media and the never-ending email inbox. It’s usually these activities that distract us the most and move our brains out of production mode and into social mode. This is why I only give myself about 30 mins for each at the beginning and end of each day, so I don’t waste an entire afternoon looking at YouTube cat videos.

When I first started creating my lettering workbooks, each 20-page zine would take over a week to make, but now that I’m on issue 14 for Novel Lubalin, I can get them done in just under 4 hours. If I never tracked my time, I would never grasp just how much I’ve improved in just the last year.

I use a free app called ANDCO that not only helps me track my time, but it also includes features to help you run your business. This powerhouse of an app can help you build proposals, send invoices, give yourself daily tasks and has a super cool in and out feature that automatically tracks your income and expenses, so you know if you’re losing money or living large. It’s free with no strings attached, so you have no excuse! Download it now before I say something else to distract you!

…to prevent the inner monster in all of us from rearing its nasty head, you need to ask yourself these questions so you can find your “me time.”

Find your “me time” questionnaire
Your art will always feel like your baby, so give it the time it deserves. If you’re anything like me when I don’t get any “me time” to draw I slowly turn into a monster and go through creative withdrawals. Then when I ’m spending time with family or friends, my mind is too occupied with “ahhh I need to make something” instead of giving those other aspects of my life my full attention.

So to prevent the inner monster in all of us from rearing its nasty head, you need to ask yourself these questions, so you can find your “me time.”

  1. What do you use to reward yourself? Netflix, food, playing with the kids? Use this as a break marker when you find yourself having a hard time focusing. Give yourself at least 15 mins to an hour doing this activity, and this will refuel you to keep going on your next project.
  2. How do you like to work? Do you feel most comfortable working at the dining room table, or in a coffee house with the perfect soundtrack of caffeinated chatter in the background? Find a place that feels like yours to help put you in the right mindset to get shit done.
  3. When do you feel the most productive? In the morning drinking coffee, at night when it’s quiet, or on the weekends when the kids are out of the house? Try one, or try them all till you find one that sucks the least and stick to it.
  4. How much stuff do you want to make in a week? Set a goal for yourself; maybe it’s to write one new blog a week, post three times on Instagram, or make something every day, even if it sucks. Time yourself working towards this goal and try to find ways to speed up your process, whether its spending less time looking at inspiration, using digital tools, or finding the perfect background music to keep you focused.

There you have it. Tons of tips from an illustrator that could be complaining about how burnt out she is, but instead have plenty of space open on her social calendar and has run out of shows to binge on Netflix. I get a buttload done every week, and you can too if you know how to make the time for it.

When is your perfect “me time?” I’ll be checking out the comments on this article and would love any feedback, additional tips, and what your “me time” looks like.