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How do I structure my time as an artist?

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An artist’s life can sound endlessly romantic to non-artists: self-expression, focus on aesthetics and an unusual disregard for social norms. Yet there can be no continuous self-expression without a reliable, balanced work structure; without it, artists aren’t likely to pursue their practice long-term. This structure is the consequence of decisions regarding two main points: time and tasks.

  • Time: How much time do you want to invest in work?
  • Tasks: How do you fit which tasks (or projects) into this time?

A balanced work life is the consequence of a balanced life

Work within a balanced life

Your work time’s “inner balance” is the consequence of the tasks you pursue: certain activities will make you feel more balanced than others (you might love to sculpt, but not enjoy the networking required to sell your works). Yet as a fellow human being, a more holistic balance can only be achieved by focusing on what happens beyond your work schedule:, work needs to be embedded into a (personal) life worth living. A balanced work life is the consequence of a balanced life; it’s hard to imagine someone who’s work time gives them pure pleasure, while their personal life feels like hell. What gives you joy and satisfaction outside of work? How do you replenish your energies? Is it meeting people or doing sports, family events or solitude? The better you understand your psychosocial needs (what relaxes you, what benefits your overall satisfaction), the easier you will be able to build a life around it.

How much time do you have?

Artists tend to love their artistic practice. They’re passionate about it, aiming to work as many hours as possible to dig ever deeper into it. This works for spare-time artists, because they have an undeniable day structure defined by their job or school or family requirements: when to get up, when to go to bed, etc. For full-time artists, every hour of the day could potentially be used for work – yet using every hour for work isn’t sustainable. Instead of trying to work as much as possible, full-time artists need to define a reliable long-term work structure. 

A straight-forward way towards this simply defines the time allotted for one’s work: (a) how many work days do you have per week, with (b) how many work hours per day? All work tasks should happen within this time: office work, transport and insurance of artworks, the actual artistic practice, cleaning the studio, hosting studio visits. You can see these numbers as most personal metrics of your professional life structure, since they ultimately define how your professional persona is connected with your personal life – and how sincere you are about taking your professional art role “professionally” (working more doesn’t make you more professional, but working sustainable might). Understanding these two numbers also allows you to make smart choices about temporarily ignoring them for overtime, while being unclear about them tends to enable an unhealthy work-life balance.

Structuring your time

To understand how much (work) time your week has, consider doing the following:

  • Define the number of days of your work week: The Western work week usually consists of five working days, with the weekend being used to replenish your energies for the upcoming week’s challenges. Is there a valid reason to  temporarily work a sixth or even seventh day?

  • ​​Define the ratio between sleep, professional and personal life: In a day consisting of 24 hours, how many hours do you need to sleep? If eight hours suffice for regeneration, the rest (sixteen hours) can be allocated for your professional and personal life. You need to define the general ratio between these two – is it 50:50? Do you temporarily change this towards more spare time (because of guests visiting you this week), or the other way around (because of an upcoming solo show)? This ratio shows you how many work hours you have; it might be six, eight or ten daily hours, and can vary from day to day.
    Every minute you work beyond this is overtime; are you sure there’s a valid reason for it? Strictness about not working overtime will benefit your long-term work motivation, and thus be beneficial to your overall life experience.

Stay mindful about your sleep/work/life ratio, and how changing it affects your moods and overall life experience – it really is the foundation of your work-life relationship.

Consider reading the chapters about the anatomy of work-life balance for artists, structuring tasks, and handling overtime.