organization for the artist
Post #354 • August 26, 2004, 6:04 AM • 14 Comments
The above shows my kitchen table and floor as I turned the chaos of my life into order. Why don't schools teach artists how to handle reality, by which I mean the drudgery of modern living, paying bills, organizing papers, managing time? Does that ask too much?
I've gotten by over the last ten years using a non-system of crisis management, general mental sharpness, and a talent for pulling solutions out of my rear at the last minute. I know more than a few of my artist friends operate the same way. Let's face it: if we naturally possessed organizational skills, we would have run the numbers and gone into some sensible field like real estate instead of art. We act according to ideals, not systems.
But I realized that by not organizing my time and workload I have been creating problems for myself, not getting enough done, scrambling idiotically at the last minute for every deadline, and creating a cloud of guilt about a mysterious pile of chores about which I had no idea how to tackle. So I dealt with it. I eliminated the dreaded pile and I now have a system for dealing with things in a way I can live with. In case it helps out anyone else, I present Franklin's Organizing Tips for the Artistically Inclined and Organizationally Bamboozled, or something.
1. You need some supplies. Fork over eighty or a hundred bucks for a file cabinet. If you're my age you probably need the four-drawer one. (If you don't use all the drawers you can put art supplies in the empty ones.) Get the kind where you can just toss the files in there, not the ones where you have those hanging files that the other files go into. I know you, and you're not going to fool around with that shit. Get a box of plain manila file folders. (Yeah, the colored ones look pretty, but you have to stick labels on them, creating an additional step, whereas the plain ones you can label with a pencil and erase to reuse. Besides, you have artistic inclinations that will cause you to feel certain things based on the color of the folder. You don't want to think about that.) Get sticky notes. (All yellow. See previous parenthetical. You'll see the fuscia note attached to something and freak out about it.) Get some plain paper.
3. Address the pile. Take two file folders, label one with a star, and label the other with two stars. For each item in the pile, do the following:
- If it demands immediate attention or you have to handle it in a manner of days, put it in One Star. (I have bills, a list of invoices to send out, checks to deposit, and the info on a client who wants to buy a painting.)
- If it doesn't demand immediate attention but would make life better if you did it, put it in Two Stars. (I have a card from the Voices and Venues people about their new website, some maps I want to give back to my folks, a coupon for Linens 'N' Stuff because I need some, and the business card from someone who expressed interest in my writing once whom I want to contact.)
- You have some choices regarding an item destined for One Star or Two Stars. One is to put a sticky note on it saying what you have to do with it, with an estimation of how much time it will take. (The one on the V&V card says "look this up" and "20 m.")
- But if the item has too much bulk, like my pile of business cards that I want to turn into a contact list, file the items together into the cabinet, take a piece of plain paper, put the same info on it ("turn business cards into contact list, 5 h.") along with the label you filed it under ("filed under 'contacts'"), and then put the paper into One Star or Two Stars.
- You may just have an idea for something, in which case simply write it down on a piece of paper with a time estimate and put it in One Star or Two Stars.
- If the item demands no action but you want to keep it, label a folder for it and put it in the file cabinet, or, obviously, put it in there with like items.
- If the item meets none of the above criteria, throw it away. Revel in the bliss of jettisoning crap you don't need. Consider whether this bliss might outweigh the necessity of keeping the item as per the previous step.
4. Spend one or two hours every weekday (whatever that means to you) taking care of stuff in Star One, and when you run out of things in Star One, go to Star Two. Ideally, you want to have as few items as possible in Star One relative to Star Two; this means that you are spending relatively more time improving your existence and less putting out fires. When you take care of something, look at your time estimate and see how closely you guessed it; this makes you better at managing your time.
5. Spend an equal or greater amount of time each day making art.
The above ideas may seem pretty basic, but finding out about them from those books I mentioned made me feel like I'd had a revelation. Actually, I felt like I had just discovered the can opener after spending years getting those funny metal cylinders open with a hammer - enhanced, but relative to a pathetically uninformed state.
Good luck and tell me suggestions if you have them.