7 Ways to Keep Your Art at the Top Of Your To-Do List

The stereotype of the starving artist makes the assumption that creatives have time on our hands. That we hang out in subway stations strumming an upright bass, that we camp out all day in our apartments, smoking and cursing at our typewriters. It makes the assumption that we’re low on money, devil-may-care about our careers, that we scoff at the prospect of saving a penny. La vie bohème!

Truth is, many creatives know how to pull in a decent paycheck. Many have full-time jobs that require us to wear bras and pants and suits. Many of us have kids, spouses, houses, dogs, and 401-k’s. We’ve spent so many years making sure we keep bread in our cabinets that we come to the frantic realization that we’re running out of time. The piano collects dust. The book isn’t written. The art piece stalls.

We can always get more money, but we can’t ever get more time. This post is for those of you who want to make art, but can never seem to find the time. Your art always sinks to the bottom of your to-do list. Here’s how to break out of the cycle and dive in for good.

Use the 10 minute rule.

I used to think I had to devote hours a day to my craft. This resulted in long, late-night forays into the rabbit hole of music, and I truly enjoyed these hours by my open window, playing the piano. But I ended up practicing less. It was such a time commitment. Weeks went by without me picking up my guitar or sitting at the piano.

A guitarist friend told me to simply find ten minutes a day to devote to music. Ten minutes. I tried it, figuring “what the heck, it’s only for a few minutes.” Those minutes really add up. Sometimes all it takes is to hold the instrument (or paintbrush, or pen, or wrench) in your hand in order for inspiration to strike.

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Master the art of leaving things undone.

As someone who is self-employed, I have to come to terms with the fact that my work is never done. There will always be emails to send, blog posts to write, ideas to pitch, and marketing strategies to crack. You name it, it needs to get done. And that’s just half of it. I have litter boxes to clean, dogs to walk, dishes to wash, groceries to buy, and the list goes on longer than the Mississippi river.

The art of leaving things “undone” means to discern what is essential now and what can be left for later – to not let chores and busy work get in the way of what makes life LIFE. You are an ARTIST. Stop dusting your china cabinet!

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Know when your flow happens.

Artists rely on cycles of energy that we call “flow” – the ability to fully immerse ourselves in energized focus. We lose our sense of self and time in the catharsis of our art. For some of us, this happens first thing in the morning before the rooster crows. For others, it happens late at night after the kids go to sleep. Know when the flow happens for you. You’ll hear advice to “wake up early”, but this doesn’t make sense if your creative wave doesn’t come until 10 pm.

If you can, live somewhere affordable.

So many artists, writers, and musicians flock to New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, to find themselves cramped in 12′ x 12′ apartments with three roommates and two jobs they need to juggle just to pay the rent. They don’t have time for their art. Even if they do, many of them don’t want to bother their roommates by keeping the light on or pounding on the drums. For every artist that finds success in these cities, there are many more artists that are priced out, who leave the city with their easels and ukuleles and palettes, hoping to find a moment or two when they don’t have to wait tables.

If you live somewhere cheaper, you can spend less time at work and more time in your spacious, sunny, 2-bedroom apartment with the spare room devoted to your art. A few years back, I worked for only three days a week and I could still pay rent in Ohio. I devoted the other two days to my craft. I was happy, mentally healthy, unrushed, and had the space to spread out.

Lighten up.

Life is full of obligation – of parking garages, grocery stores, and medical bills. When we have a daily commute and a weekly schedule, it can be hard to keep your love sharp. Surround yourself with art that opens your mind. Decorate your home with inspiring prints and textures, wear clothes that make you feel sexy and on-point, go to concerts, art festivals, car shows – whatever lights that spark.

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves why we started. We get so close to our art – so worn by the daily grind – that it becomes an obligation. Lighten up. Don’t take your art so seriously. Let your inner child play, make, create, and experiment.

Find a job that doesn’t suck your soul.

If you can help it, don’t work from 6 am to 10 pm. Don’t take a desk job that bores you. Don’t sacrifice your passion on the altar of money and false security. I spent years in desk jobs, waking up at 5 am, working until 7 pm, and experiencing anxiety over pleasing a boss. During this time, my art suffered. When I walked away from these jobs, I felt like the world was ending. For my art, things were just beginning.

Carry a notebook.

You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again – carry a notebook. Whether you’re an artist, entrepreneur, musician, writer, what have you, inspiration strikes at the weirdest times. If you come up with a snazzy song lyric in the car wash, write it down! We spend so much of our lives waiting around – in line at the DMV, waiting for our doctor  – that we always have scraps of moments here and there to scrawl some thoughts and to stay on that energetic edge.

A hard truth I’m still learning: what you do every day matters more than what you do sometimes. If we can’t make time for our craft, it means we’re not making it a priority. No matter what treadmill on which we find ourselves sweating, we will always have the yearn to create. We must give ourselves permission.

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