Saturday, 11 July 2009

How to prioritise competing tasks

In a previous column, I briefly mentioned working smarter, not harder. One of the things that I find difficult to manage at times is what to do first. You get so many things on your plate, you only have so many hours in the day, yet you are expected to complete everything NOW! When you have conflicting commitments and you can’t really drop them, how do you work out what to do first, and what to push to the bottom of the list?

First and foremost, have some way of keeping track of everything you have to do. There’s nothing worse than finding an email you forgot to answer... a year or two later. I’m guilty of that, in fact I know I’ve got a couple of way overdue tasks on my list! This is my way of working things out.

  • Paid work should always come first! If you are a professional, you need to treat your paying customers like gold. They are your bread and butter. Being slow is ok, as long as you keep communications open and tell them you’re going to be slow. But never take money and renege on your contract or sale. It’s going to be hell on your reputation, and nothing travels faster than bad news!
  • If you have two tasks of equal importance and one’s been in your in-tray longer, that’s the one that probably deserves your attention first. However, if it’s hanging around for ages – like months - maybe you should reconsider doing that task at all.
  • The job that pays more bills is the one with the highest priority. Being an artist is important to me, but my day job pays all the niggly things like my mortgage and for food– so I’m not going to screw up that because I was up all hours painting! (Says the girl up til midnight painting on a ‘school night’ *ahem*).
  • If a task seems too hard or you know that you are never going to get to it, you are entitled to boot it out the door. Don’t keep it on the list, there is seriously no point.
  • If a task looks like it’s going to suck the life out of you and take forever, see if you can break it down into smaller tasks. An hour of sketching is a little more manageable than having to draw 50 line art pieces.
  • Stuff you’ve bartered for should be treated the same as paid work. No one hates another artist who receives a trade and reneges on their promise. It’s just not cool. Don’t do it.
  • Do fun tasks after you’ve done the ‘work’ stuff. Use it as a proverbial carrot (or in my case chocolate). If you do all the fun stuff first, you’re only left with boring, tedious things that will seem to take forever and ever and ever and.... so try and organise your tasks using this theory.
  • Do 5 minute jobs NOW! Don’t procrastinate. Knock them over and get them out of the way.
  • Be able to live with your decisions. Recognise that in order to do things well, you have to focus on one thing at a time!

And above all, learn to live with the fact that there are only so many hours in the day, only so much work one poor little trooper can do before they keel over, and that you are not in fact a superhero that can do 12 things at the one time. It just isn’t possible! As much as we would like it to be!

If you are interested in tools to help organise yourself a bit better, here’s a previous post I made on creating and using todo lists

Link shout-out - I Draw Girls

Links shout-out! A great collection of digital tutorials/ walk throughs that don't just focus on drawing women (despite the name). Even though this is mostly centred around fantasy & games art, there's plenty for any digital painter. There are zombies, ninjas, mecha, life drawing sessions, studies of old masters, free brushes, backgrounds and architecture. Worth losing yourself for a couple of hours. Check it out!

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

5 online photo editors

Digital editing doesn't require expensive software. You don't even need to be home to access you desktop editor. Simply hook into the Internet and have a look at the 5 best online image editors (according to Lifehacker readers)

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

What should you do when you need to take a break (EMG Zine May)

Working two careers can be exhausting. Sometimes you just need to step away from one to keep your sanity. It might be that your day job has taken over your life and you barely have time to cook dinner, let alone paint. It could be that you are a full time artist, and you find yourself doing more business and marketing tasks than painting and you need time to create new products. There could be family commitments, illness or injury.

Whatever the reason, how should you go about the process of cutting back on some of your commitments?

I've had to do this several times as my work peaks and recedes. Some months can be very cruisy, while others I have maybe an hour to myself all day. I still keep on working both jobs, however the balance is definitely skewed towards the day job at the moment!

So where to start?
1. Identify the 'dead wood' you can trim from your life
2. Ease back on commitments you can't get rid of, or don't want to drop i.e.simplify your life!
3. Work smarter

What should you look at getting rid of first?

  • Things you hate. You know the tasks I'm talking about. They are the ones that you drag your heels on, avoid answering emails to, put in the 'too hard' basket. They suck the creativity right out of you. They bore you. They feel like work. If you're doing work like this, and have very little time to call your own, you will burn out.
  • Things that don't make any money or you are doing for free. If you can't do the job, someone else can. And if it's free, unless you are doing it for your own reasons it is unimportant. If it was truly important, they'd be paying you!
  • Things that are not cost or time effective. If you spend 10 hours making something, then sell it for a few dollars, then you are selling yourself short ... especially if your time is limited. Your time is a valuable commodity!

How to ease back on commitments and not disappear entirely

  • Maintain an online presence somehow. Whether you use a blog, twitter, facebook, or mailing list, make sure you don't disappear of the face of the earth for 6 months at a time
  • Finish the things that you've started or reschedule them. It's bad business to turn around on a client and say 'that painting I'm halfway through, well can't do it' if you really can still finish it. Reputation is still king when it comes to business.
  • Prepare people for the change or give them alternate contact points. If you're closing down your shops, try and give people warning, or at least tell them you can still ship products, and give them a contact point.
  • Try and ease back on things, one thing at a time rather than all in one hit. Sometimes this is unavoidable, but if things are gradually getting more and more hectic, you can try and start cutting back one thing at a time

How to work smarter?

This is for another column, but essentially it comes down to:
  • Know thyself. Know your limitations, habits and strengths and work to them
  • Learn to say 'NO' and to prioritise your tasks
  • Value your time and energy
  • Try not to over commit!