Saturday, 15 March 2008

Separating the day job from the art job

I had to do my first lot of performance reviews the other day. Things were going wrong at work, I had very little time to myself, and I really had to sit down and spend a couple of hours assessing how my staff were going. My manager mentioned that she did hers at home. At this point I'm thinking 'I've been working my butt off all week, and you want me to take stuff home? I already have 'work' at home - it's called my illustration/ art business'.

Sometimes working from home (and not getting paid for it) is unavoidable. But when you're running a business from home already, sometimes the last thing you need is to bring more 'work' home. Here are some thoughts on separating the day job from the art job, in particular how to leave the day job at the 'office'.

Avoid bringing the work home in the first place

1. Schedule time for the task at work and tell everyone else to take a number in the queue.
If it's really an important task, other people should respect you enough to listen when you say 'no, I can't do that right now,' or 'I'll get to that as soon as I've done this'. Of course we all live in the real world where other people can be jerks! Everyone has an agenda, but sometimes you have to stick up for your own. Most people don't even think beyond their own tasks and deadlines, so unless you tell them you're busy they won't know. Communication is key!

2. Ask for help and use it when it is offered
At most places, there's too much work and not enough people. But unless you raise the issue of having too much work, your boss may not know. That being said, you may have the manager from hell who doesn't care, but if they are a decent human being they will try to help you out. You can do this by re-prioritising tasks, delegating work to others, swapping tasks with team mates, getting help. There is no shame in saying that you need assistance. And if someone offers a hand and they can seriously help, take them up on the offer! A boss would rather have two people doing the work and it getting done on time, rather than one person doing it, missing the deadline, and going on stress leave from the mild heart attack they suffered trying to be a superhero.

3. Work away from your desk/ away from your co-workers to get work done
Turn off the email, put the phone to voice mail, switch your mobile to silent. If you use Outlook for meeting schedules, add an outlook 'meeting' showing that you are busy. Be unavailable. Those other tasks can normally wait a few hours (of course there are exceptions to every rule!) Better yet, book a meeting room and close the door. Go out to the tea room when nobody is there. If all else fails, tell everyone to leave you alone and put on the headphones. Make a sign that says 'please come back at 2pm'. Be serious about it. The minute you answer one person, the rest of the office will forget or choose to ignore what you've asked them to do.

4. Go into work early or stay back late (on occasion)
If you need more time to do the work, then do it at work. If you're lucky you get paid overtime/ time in lieu , if not, it impresses the boss that you're still there when everyone else has gone home! I'm lucky that I have flexible hours, but I find that I often get more done in the two hours before everyone gets in, than in most of the day. The same when I've worked late. With no one there to bug you, the task can often take less time. And because you're at work, you don't have the distractions of home.

5. Get a new job
If you are finding you're working 10hrs everyday, and then bringing home another 2-3 hours of work, then you seriously need to think about whether your job is worth it, and whether you really have the energy to be split between two careers. I'm not advocating throwing in the job immediately, but it might be an idea to start looking for a new job.

70+ hours a week means that your health is probably shot, you have a serious caffeine addiction and that you have no social life. And the reality is that you really can't be productive every hour of those 70+ hours. You need to eat, to recharge the batteries, to think outside the box. If you're slugging away at work, then you don't have time for your brain or body to switch off and recuperate.

You may love your job and it's really not a chore, but when you think about those hours - that is a two person job! And there's only one of you!

If you have to bring home work from the day job...

1. Try to avoid doing work from the day job where you run your art business
You should try and separate your art business from the rest of your life, in the same way that you should separate your day job from your home life. This may be simply having everything stored in a box which you pull out when you want to paint, a separate room for painting/ packaging products, an 'area' assigned for art. In all likelihood the day job is different to your art business, so try and do your work in an area where you won't be distracted by your outstanding art business 'work'.

2. Have a breather before you start the work
When you come home from the office, there are two ways you can continue with your day job 'homework':
1. When you get home kick off the shoes, maybe have a shower, grab something to eat, have a short period of time to do something you enjoy. You can't work 15 hours straight and not expect to turn into a crazy person. Trust me, last year I did about 2 weeks straight of 12-15hour days, and fell flat on my face at the end of it. It screws with your diet, your sleeping patterns, and your social life. You need to have down time. You deserve to have down time.

2. If it's a task that will only take an hour, get home, grab something to eat, have a quick break, then dig in and get it over with. That way you have the rest of the evening free.

3. Prioritise your work
Your day job in all likelihood pays most of your bills, or is at least more reliable income than your art business (unless you're a casual, but that's another story!). If you have work that you know is coming up which is REALLY important, then let your customers and clients know that things are going to take longer than normal to process. Think about putting your commission queue on hold, sending out orders only once a week, cutting back on forum visits, going through your inbox once a day and answering emails at scheduled times.

The same thing goes for deadlines with commissions. Schedule deadlines for when you know you've got time off from work (if you can), or organise an RDO/ day off close to the deadline. Hopefully you're already finished, but if you're not, you don't have the day job to contend with.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Organisation 1: ToDo lists and the part time painter
I always have a to-do list that is a million miles long. Every time I remove one thing, another two get added in its place. I have to-do lists for my website updates, my chores, my goals, presents for myself (I like this list the best!), current projects for the medieval group I’m involved in, to-do lists for myself at work, to do lists for the people on my team (I’m their manager, I need to remember what I’ve asked them to do!), and anything else I can possibly think of.

Because of my shift from worker bee to manager at work recently, I’ve been doing a lot of shuffling of to-do lists, a bit of playing around with different techniques, a whole stack of reading, and a number of dismal failures. Why am I writing about them? Because it saves me having to remember everything that I’ve learnt! So what are the benefits of a to-do list, how do you implement them, do they work, and are there any secrets to using them effectively.

Why use a "to do" list

  • It saves your brain, and your sanity! If it's written down, you don't have to 'remember' it. Imagine having seven paintings you need to get done in a month. If you are focusing on the fact you have 'seven paintings to do' you will likely start stressing about the seven colour schemes, the different poses, where do I find references, how am I going to get them done on time... and so on. A ToDo list allows you to essentially put down six of the paintings and focus on them one at a time. A whole stack of smaller tasks are much easier to deal with than 7 big tasks where you can't even think of where to start.
  • You feel like you've achieved something when you cross it off the list. It may just be the act of putting a like through something, but it's kind of cathartic knowing that you don't have to deal with that task ever again (well, at least not for the next five minutes
  • It acts as a record for what you've achieved. This can be a great pick-me-up when you're feeling like you've been sitting at your desk/ easel for hours and not done anything. I can tell you, working in management where you don't actually deliver anything but 'the project on time and within budget and without your team killing each other in the process', it can be a wonderful record that proves you ARE actually doing stuff!
  • It improves our organisation. Just the act of sitting down, writing a list of things to do, and sorting that list helps us focus on what we need to achieve.

How to create an effective ToDo list
This is the way I try and do it. I'm not saying that it is the best way or the only way - this is simply the way that I work and what I find works for me.

  1. Write down any tasks you have to complete - complete brain storm. It doesn't matter how detailed or vague the list, just do a complete brain dump of everything. N.B. If you have multiple ToDo lists, or you like to categorise them, then do this set of steps for each category.

  2. Look at each task. If it's going to take longer than 2 hours, you may want to try and break it down into smaller steps. The smaller the task, the less daunting it appears and the more likely you are to actually do it!

  3. Prioritise the list. This is probably the most important step. Writing a list is all well and good, but if you don't rank the tasks you might as well have a shopping list. Ranking can be as simple as:
* If I get time I would like to do this
* I really should do this, but if I don't, 'meh'
* I must do this, but I have a little time to do it
* If I don't do this I will have to live on 2 minute noodles for the next week/ my client will get ugly/ the deity I pray to will smite me down

Being a visual person, I like to colour code my list - red items being really important, orange ones need to get done within the week, and some other colour for the rest. I try to have only 2-3 items as 'critical' tasks as it's less stressful than seeing a page full of red items.

4. If you want, rewrite the list in order. I do this by scrubbing notes down on paper, then transferring it to a spreadsheet/ online tool/ new sheet of paper/ white board.
5. Give yourself a rough estimate of when the tasks should be completed by.

Multiple lists vs. one looooooonnnnnggggg list
Some people like fifty lists - one for the chores, one for work, one for this project, one for that project. Other people like having everything in one place. Basically everyone is different so you have to work out what is best for you. Personally, I have a few lists on the go partly because if I put them all on one piece of paper, it would probably look like Santa's toy list and go scrolling off under the table and out the door!

I have:
  1. A work - currently it's specific to the project I'm managing. No doubt I'll do up a second list for general management processes. Because of security I can't use an online tool, so I carry around a paper scribble list for jotting down tasks, and then transfer these onto an excel spreadsheet which I colour code.

  2. An 'art business' list. I often have a whiteboard which I scribble down tasks on, but recently I've started using an online tool which I plugin to my google homepage.

  3. Another general todo list, though more often the art list is being used for adding things like 'pick up washing powder from shop' or 'return library books'.
Using a ToDo List
It is not enough just to write down a list. A todo list is just that - 'To DO'. That means you actually have to do the stuff on the list!
  • Delegate - see if there are any tasks on the list that you can palm off to someone else. That load of washing, why can't the partner put it on? Typing up the minutes of the meeting, there were twelve other people at the meeting - see if one of them can do it for you (remember to return the favour at some time!). If you can afford it, think about hiring someone to mow the lawn/ clean the house/ do the bookwork/ help package your orders.

  • Be realistic with your tasks. Don't set a deadline if you know you probably won't make it. That will just make you feel like a flop when you can't finish it on time. Also be aware of your habits. Organise your day around when you work best. If you are like a zombie before 10am, set that time aside for dealing with small, simple tasks from your list, and leave the really important high priority tasks to a time when you are going to be able to deal with the task effectively.

  • Re-assess the list half an hour before you go home or finish up work. Think about what is most important to get done the next day. I actually highlight what I need to do the next day, every afternoon before I go home. Sometimes I'll write out those tasks onto a sticky note and fix it to my screen so there's no way I miss it.

  • ToDo lists are flexible. If the boss changes her mind on what task is most important, drop things down or off the list. It's a guide only. Just because it's on the list, doesn't mean something terrible is going to happen if you deviate from the list.

  • Don't procrastinate and do all the 'fun tasks first'. Do the important ones first, maybe give yourself a reward for completing the task, but never just put off the task because you don't want to deal with it. The fact is - that task is still going to be horrible, doesn't matter when you do it!

  • If your current method isn't working, try something different. I've been writing ToDo lists for a long time, and it's only been in the last few weeks that they've really clicked. They've always kind of 'worked', but now that I HAVE to save my brain from complete mental meltdown, I'm finding the benefits of sticking with a system is really paying off. I still want to try some different online tools, but the general process is going to stay the same for me.

Available tools or Paper vs Technology
There is a plethora of tools available out there. You don't need all those fancy online tools to make a todo list, and to be honest, sometimes it's not practical to be stuck on the computer all day.Here are a few simple ideas:
  • Notebook/ paper and pen/ pencil/ highlighter - simple, can be taken anywhere, but can be tedious to rewrite. Also, if you're like me, I misplace small bits of paper, so make it something you aren't likely to throw away!

  • Excel spreadsheet - can be customised, comes with Microsoft office, there are already some templates out there for use

  • Post-it notes - they come in a range of colours and shapes. You may simply want to use different coloured notes for different tasks and fix them into your diary, removing them when you've completed them.

  • Whiteboard - great for brainstorming and quick to adjust.
  • - a list of online tools and their features

Hopefully people will find this of some use! As I mentioned several times, organisation is a personal thing - what works for one person may be useless for others. If you have any tools that you use, or other tips, please leave a comment!

Further Reading - be inspired by other people’s to-do lists, some are works of art, some like -