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Be Productive Even in Short Studio Sessions

Be Productive Even in Short Studio Sessions

Eric Maisel

Dear Dr. Maisel:

Like any artist, I crave long periods of time in the studio. But in fact those long periods are awfully hard to come by and I know that I’m letting all those smaller bits of time that are available to me get away from me. Any thoughts on reclaiming those lost, fleeting minutes that fly by each day? — Ralph L., London

Thank you, Ralph.

If, like many artists, you find it hard to secure sizable chunks of time to paint—and even if those large chunks are available to you—it is good to get clever at organizing your mind, your equipment, and your life so as to make the best use possible of those small chunks of time that fly by each day.

Carving out those longer painting periods of course remains essential, because creating requires extensive and concentrated intervals of work. So you have the ongoing job of finding the way to create those substantial painting periods. But small chunks of time can have significant value if you get in the habit of using them well.

Here are four tips for using small intervals of time in productive ways:

1. Get in the habit of knowing what your current painting needs, so that you can return to it with an internal understanding that you are “turning directly to the left arm” or “working on that second rose from the right.” By maintaining a clear sense of what you intend to tackle next, you avoid procrastination and you find the motivation to turn to your painting even though you only have a few minutes at your disposal. Naturally, such clarity isn’t always available. But it is available more often that we suspect if we train ourselves to be open to it.

2. Create some projects that lend themselves to being worked on in small increments. Maybe your central or major works can’t be divided up neatly and maybe they require the kind of attention and concentration that only long painting periods afford. Still, mightn’t it be possible to create some secondary or smaller projects that lend themselves to being worked on for fifteen minutes or thirty minutes at a time? If it is, then over time you’ll complete many additional works and do a nice job of building your inventory.

3. In order to make use of these small chunks of time as they arise, we have to break our habit of routinely and reflexively turning to one of our “distraction addictions” to while away those minutes. As a matter of routine, and without thinking about it, people nowadays check their email, browse the news online, turn to Facebook or Twitter, catch up on one or another of their Internet games, or do something else Web-based so as to “get rid of” those few minutes. Until we break that habit, there is little chance that we can make productive use of the fifteen or thirty minutes that become available to us throughout the day.

4. We need to remind ourselves just how quickly certain things can be accomplished. How long does it take to write a two-line email to someone who might help to grow your art business? Typically people hold this to be a huge task because anxiety wells up in them when they think about putting themselves “out there.” But the reality is that the email itself takes hardly a minute or two to write and a microsecond to send. If you learn to calm yourself, center yourself, and not magnify the risk involved, you could make significant headway every time you found a few minutes at your disposal.

In an ideal world we might find ourselves doing less scrambling. For most of us, however, the reality is that our days are choppy and jagged and that bits of time suddenly arrive — and vanish. It isn’t that we have to grab every one of those fleeting intervals and make use of it. By the same token, though, we do want to grab a lot of them — as they may be the only time we have available.

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