Time Management for Artists

When I was in college, one of my professors introduced a theory on time management called 21 Blocks.

Every day had 3 primary time blocks: morning, afternoon, and evening, which meant each week had 21 Blocks. The theory suggests that each time block should be designated for something specific. One might say, “Each week I’ll give four time blocks to family, ten to work, three to exercise, three to entertainment, three to personal growth.” (Or however you need/want to break up your time.) Scheduling these particular blocks would bring purpose, reduce guilt, and empower the person to better yeses and nos. My professor suggested that whether we used 21 Blocks or not, that time needed to be allocated or it would be lost or misused.

I never wanted the rigidness of committing to only do x activity during y time at an hour-by-hour emphasis, but the philosophy resonated. Planning productivity//scheduling success: that was something I got behind and started to live out.

Over the years, I’ve fleshed out my own theories regarding productivity and success, and I thought there might be a few type B creatives who would appreciate a type A/B approach to creativity. I don’t use the 21 Block Method. I use a modified 12 Chunk Idea. I have found that it brings purpose and possibility, reduces my guilt, and empowers my decisions. Warning: none of this is rocket science.

Here’s what I do:

1. Understand what it is I want (from my career.)
This is actually different from setting goals, because want comes from the ID part of your brain.Execution comes from the EGO. My friend and mentor Ruta Sepetys uses the guiding question, “What do I want my name to mean?” to define want, and I think this is a stellar approach.

Saying “I want to be successful” is dangerous. Success is a moving target and so very personal to each of us. (For instance, I volunteered one day with an adaptive climbing clinic at my gym. I worked with a disabled boy for nearly an hour to be able to place his foot on a toehold that was four inches off the ground. Upon achievement, he looked at me and said, “I’m climbing,” and all the volunteers cried. For me, that same climb wouldn’t have been achievement. For him, it was a gold medal effort, a perfect success.) Achievement must be personalized and accurately defined. So a follow up to that initial question is useful: I’ll know I’ve achieved success when ________ happens.

2. I write down measurable goals in two stages.
One, the big goal or the big success destination.
Two, the pitstops I’d naturally (seemingly) have to pass along the route to that success destination.
(I do this every January 1st and have for years.)

3. I “Time Chunk” the year in months based on realistic expectations, known deadlines (both personal and professional) and the knowledge of how I work best.

This is my actual Time Chunk Calendar for 2015. (It will be different in 2016.)

January, February and March are drafting/revising months.
April and May are marketing months.
June and July are rest and exploration months. (i.e. I’m playing around with a middle grade that has permission to suck.)
August and September are draft-a-100 pages of Book Four months
October and November are marketing months
December is marketing and family.

Here are some of the things that informed those Time Chunk choices:
I had an April 1st deadline for my third novel, Dressing the Part.
My next deadline isn’t until April of 2016, but time is sneaky.
My next novel, The Lies About Truth releases November 3rd.
I want to add MG to my repertoire over the next three years. (Yes, I build five and ten year trajectories for my career.)
I believe in taking sabbath time and I often can’t on a weekly basis, because I juggle three jobs.

4. I assign pitstop destinations to each Time Chunk and I protect them.

For instance, I want to do 24 school visits in 2015 based on one of my overarching goals, I want my name to mean “Friend to Educators.” Because I was drafting in the spring, I gave the weight to the fall and set the following pitstop goals:
I would like to do 10 school visits in April and May
I would like to do 14 school visits in October, November, December.

Other than schools I’d booked too far in advance, every single time an educator approached me for a visit that would take place in January, February or March, I said, “How about April or May?”

Does that mean if my editor comes back in April and May and asks that I do a revision I say, “I’m sorry, I’m not back to writing until June.” Of course not. I adapt. Time Chunking is about creating ideal conditions and focus, not about controlling everyone/everything around me.

What I’ve found from using this method:
Measurable productivity.
Career trajectory.
I used to struggle with thinking I needed to be marketing and writing at the same time. Maybe some writers can do this. I can’t. Those two things feel separate and come from different parts of my brain. When I gave myself permission to say, “I’m not worried about marketing right now; I’m drafting” or “I’m focused on marketing for this month; all of my story work exists in liminal space until August” I felt the incredible gift of focus.
Less guilt.
If I know what I want and I’m working toward it, then when I use my NOs, the Nos come from a conviction rather than laziness and my yeses come from trajectory rather than succumbing to people-pleasing pressure
A stronger sense of being present.
I used to be body in one place, mind in another all the time. I’ve managed to reduce some of my wandering attention span by giving myself permission not to do all of the things all of the time.
Being locked in at the hourly level of 21 Blocks gave me hives. When I tried adaptations of this, I constantly felt like a failure and feelings of failure drain my energy levels. (I was supposed to get x done, and I didn’t because of this unforeseen circumstance that popped up.) Having a month or sometimes three months to achieve a pitstop goal something gave me freedom to make soup for a sick friend or take a really long walk or drive the Trace to clear my head or watch a soccer game. I’m going to work a lot (because of the sheer number of jobs I hold), but I don’t have to be a slave to those jobs. I am a human being, not a human doing.
Less stress in a stressful profession.

Does Time Chunking work all of the time?
No. Unexpected things come up and I adjust. I.e. August and September are writing months, but I will be attending the SCBWI LA Conference, TASL regional conference, SCBWI Midsouth Conference, and a MadCap Retreat. Those tighten the schedule and mean I’ll say no to more day to day social things, but I’m committed to those organizations because they meet a larger goal for my I want my name to mean, “Generous and growing professional.”

Will Time Chunking work for everyone?
Probably not. The goal is to find something that produces feelings of success and impact in your life

Do I hope Time Chunking helps someone?