I was chatting with a couple of artist buddies earlier this week and one of the things that came up was the havoc that summer can wreak on devoted studio time. Considering our drawn-out Vermont winters, paired with an elongated mud season, there isn’t any question that being outside during this very limited time of sun and warmth becomes a priority. In addition to a host of other outdoor activities, most folks I know have a garden to tend. So it’s no surprise that, despite the days being longer, July and August pose an even greater challenge than usual for squeezing in everything one wants to accomplish.
This certainly isn’t a new or unique problem and doesn’t only occur at this time of year. When my kids were little, it became something of a quest to try to figure out how to carve more time into my schedule so I could be in the studio most days — or let’s face it, to try to carve out any time to be in the studio most days. The theories and advice surrounding ‘productivity’ which have become so prevalent in articles and on blogs now, just weren’t as easily accessible then. I did my best to make it up as I went along.
I was so excited to find the book A Question of Balance: Artists and Writers on Motherhood by Judith Pierce Rosenberg, which at least let me know I wasn’t alone in trying to devise a way to squeeze creative time in with the myriad of daily chores I had to cover. But truthfully, I found the book pretty discouraging because it seemed that those who were most successful, were so because they had hired a full-time nanny, or had a spouse who covered all bases on the home front, neither of which was a consideration for me. The most valuable wisdom lay between the lines in what a minority of those interviewed wrote: it all comes down to compromise, commitment, and some good old-fashioned ingenuity. There is no magic bullet.
One of my friends from the aforementioned conversation said that although she is spending long hours moving earth and pulling weeds these days, she is still thinking about her art and working through ideas while she’s in the garden. She may not be in her studio, but she is creatively active nevertheless. Her point reminded me of Adam Grant’s TEDtalk “The Surprising habits of Original Thinkers” which touches upon the fact that moderate procrastination can foster greater innovation and better creative solutions. To be fair, having an overflowing schedule that keeps you away from the studio isn’t quite the same as procrastination, but Grant’s theory offers a positive way to frame the frustration you may be feeling when you aren’t able to put in as much active studio time as you wish, highlighting that having time to consider and develop ideas can provide a more successful outcome. And it’s quite likely that the interruption from her usual schedule will provide a fresh perspective that will make for positive progress once she can get back to the studio more regularly.
For what it’s worth, another solution which has been very successful for me is one that I learned from Cal Newport of Study Hacks Blog. (I’ve mentioned him before; he is the guy who champions the idea of “deep work” in order to make concrete strides with what he calls “knowledge” work.) Newport asserts that scheduling is key. Don’t just add an item (i.e. studio time) to your to-do list, schedule it. It’s a rare day that everything on one’s list gets checked off, but with a designated time-slot on your calendar, priorities will get done.
Please leave a comment with your solutions for tackling this common dilemma. Thanks!