Wednesday, February 03, 2016

be creative despite reality

I've been sharing my basic approach to managing my day as well as my philosophy around it which comes down to this: ritual and systems. I want to make my life as easy as possible so I can expend my energy into making art. So let's get down to the nitty gritty. How do I deal with the nasty, boring bits of running a creative business-- social media, admin, bookkeeping, email, etc?

These parts, which many of us see as a distraction from our real business of making art, is still part of our business. Every hour you put into it is part of your regular work week. I used to think that that part was "extra" and not really important to who I was as an artist-- going to the studio and making stuff was the most important part.

I have a quote on my wall in the studio from Lorne Michaels, who has gotten the best work out of some of the best comedy minds from the last 40 years. The quote says, "True creativity needs boundaries". What that means to me is that I have to rub up against the demands reality makes on me every day, and I have to figure out how to be creative despite reality. Taking care of the business end of things is me working within boundaries, and it makes me a better artist because I can get more of my work out there into the world. So don't think of managing your business as a limitation that cuts into your creativity, think of it as a boundary that you need to be creative.

Let's start with accounting and books since everyone hates that the most.

I set my calendar to remind me to do my books every month on or around the 15th. By then all of my statements from the last month have been issued and I can take a look at everything. I use Outright software for bookkeeping and I really like it. It's easy, takes no special technical knowledge, and while it's not free, it's not that expensive.  It grabs all of my income and expenses from all of my business accounts including PayPal, so with the push of a couple of buttons  I know exactly what is coming in and what is going out. I can also use it to issue online invoices. My monthly bookkeeping usually takes about an hour, and once I get over the dread of doing it, I actually enjoy it. It's fun.

Admin is a daily task, which is mostly managing orders and communicating with customers. I have a system with email:

  1.  Open email.
  2.  Delete as much as I can.
  3.  Answer every query as quickly as possible. 
  4. Close email.
 This will take me 1-2 hours. When I'm done with email in the morning, I'm pretty much done with it for the day. I will check it at lunch to see if there is something important, and same in the evening, but anything that can be put off for the next morning, I put off. I think answering a customer within 24 hours is a good goal rather than trying to answer emails as they come in. Checking and answering email throughout the day is pretty distracting, especially in the studio, so I keep a lock on it. My phone has most notifications turned off so I don't get pinged throughout the day.

Then there is social media, which for me is not only the public platforms many of us use like Instagram and FB, but also includes my monthly newsletter and things like this blog. I spend probably 3 hours a month getting my newsletter ready, and each post I write on the blog takes about 3-4 hours total. I think artists should incorporate social media into their routine and not just use it willy-nilly, because you end up spending way too much time on it. But... like many people, I love connecting with the world through social media, and it is hard keeping it in check. I know there are a lot of apps out there to help you schedule posts and send them out across platforms, but I am more plodding about it.  I try to post as often as I can about my work, but noodling around on it is something I try to use as a reward for myself and not just as a constant indulgence. I know that when I am going down a social media rabbit hole, I am bored, uninspired, and/or procrastinating. It's an awareness I had to develop over time, and it helps me manage myself.

All in all, I work anywhere from 6 to 9 hours a day (not including my 30-90 minute lunch), and I dedicate about 25% of that to the things that happen outside of the studio. I do not work weekends except for emergencies and holiday time.

I've said it before and I will say it again: it's never to early to start managing your business in a professional way, and it's never too late either.