It Took HOW Long?

Back in the 90s when I began art school, throughout my year-long Design Foundations course, we were frequently asked by our instructor to make things within a specific time frame. While the exercise was always connected to whatever design principles we were exploring at that point, the lesson was primarily about learning to finish on time.

At first we were just awful at it. The allotted half hour would be up and we’d wail, “No! Just a few more minutes! Pleeeease!” Finally, after two hours had passed and it was time for lunch, Bill would make us stop whether we were finished or not (usually not).

We didn’t start to improve until Bill hinted that perhaps, of all the possibilities in our minds, we ought to choose the one we could execute within the designated time frame; that in such situations, the best idea was the one we could finish.

But we weren’t really successful until the last term of the course when Bill told us to trust ourselves, vehemently reminding us that we knew our stuff and no longer needed to explore every possibility on paper. By then, I was making some of my best work in less than 15 minutes.

I was reminded of this when drafting Friday’s post. The writing just went on and on like one of those early projects – way exceeding my time and word limits. I soon as I realized I had not chosen a subject appropriate to the time allotted in my schedule, I should have set it aside in favor of another topic. In the end I was pleased with how it turned out, but was it worth sacrificing everything else on my schedule for the day? In hindsight, I think not. Would it have been even better, or come more easily, if I had taken a break from it? Probably so…

As a creative, I find it difficult to resist solving a problem – even it it’s not a high priority one. Whether in a design or an essay, it will nag at me until I find a satisfactory resolution – and that takes however long it takes. Sometimes I’m convinced this is how creativity works and that’s why I maintain a flexible schedule. Other times, I recall my training and must acknowledge it doesn’t have to take that long.

I think it comes down to knowing a few things well:

  1. What tasks are most important to me.
  2. How long it generally takes me to do those tasks.
  3. How much time I have in my schedule for those tasks.
  4. How to synthesize all of the above.

Understanding this stuff requires ongoing practice. I don’t know that it’s something one can master, but I do know from experience that one can improve a great deal – starting with developing the self-awareness to answer the four questions above.

I’m pleased to announce a new workshop series beginning in June – The True Discipline of Time Management – in which we will explore how to cultivate that self-awareness and make peace with our schedules and to-do lists, while keeping our creative hearts and minds happy. Details at my website.


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Third Hand Works

from overwhelmed to ready for anything | organization and time management for people in their "right" minds | administrative guidance for independent creative professionals [more info]



© 2008 Cairene MacDonald, Third Hand Works. All Rights Reserved.

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