my big creative year : rescuing time

I know that I could be more efficient and accomplish what I must in far less time than I do. I’m losing hours and hours that could be spent on play and exploration and experimenting. For the last couple months I’ve been recording how I spend my time in excruciating detail. I recorded what my task was, how long I spent on it, what I accomplished, how often and by what I was distracted and how much time I spent in those distractions – even if they were small. It was a tedious and imperfect process that I did not enjoy but It has been enlightening.

I’ve got issues…..

1. structure

I respond very well to structure – always have. When I’m teaching at Squam I can get a ton of stuff done, I’m happy, efficient, productive and relaxed – even though I’m super busy, I am in a place of ease. I would do very well living at summer camp permanently. At home I have not created much meaningful structure for myself. I’m surrounded by distractions and even more importantly I don’t have clearly defined work hours – that has me feeling like I’m working constantly when I’m really not. This is what’s really going on:

Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

packing and shippingPacking and shipping a couple wholesale orders – could take 4 hours, could take all day……

2. smart hours

I am smarter and more creative in the morning, so that work has to come first – even if there is busy work that feels urgent. That stuff will always be there and will always feel urgent.

3. interruptions

Also known as the internet…. I knew it was a problem but keeping a written log highlighted how much of a problem it is. What are these interruptions really costing me in time, focus and serenity?

4. exercise

I’m better with exercise. My brain and everything else works better when I’m consistent about it. I can focus for longer periods of time, I’m sharper, quicker and have more energy. The difference in my productivity is remarkable – the time investment is worth it. Always.

5. email

This is a real trouble spot. I waste a lot of time on email – looking at it, organizing, categorizing, flagging messages, and feeling guilty, embarrassed and overwhelmed. By the time I actually do something about it I’ve handled an email a number of times, stuff gets lost, overlooked etc. – in all that shuffling I’ve created confusion for myself  and annoyance and inconvenience for others. I’m making a cumbersome and overwhelming task more cumbersome and more overwhelming by not just dealing with it once.

 going forward

Just the awareness, observations and exercise of recording my days is having an effect on me. I think it would be a mistake to tackle all 5 issues full-on, all at once though, so I’m picking one to to work on this week: Email.

spider leg tangle

My big, scary, tangled inbox mess.  I will handle email once. I won’t check it until I’m ready to deal with it immediately. And I’m committing an additional 30 minutes everyday to work on the current inbox debacle. I’ll let you know how it goes.


  1. I can relate, but you are such a brave person to track your time—I would be showing how much time I could waste, it would be just to show how often I can be a deer in the headlights.

    • Thanks Ruth – it was painfull to look at…. But I have some plans to do better.

  2. I have deep admiration for your bravery. My time always seems to disappear well before much of my to do gets done. Thank you for sharing your journey. You have inspired me to continue to refine my daily process.
    Love your work.

  3. Inspirational. I think all work from home artist struggle with these issues to some extent. It’s great to read about how you’re tackling it…I’d started to tackle a couple of issues a few months ago…I’m still left with a few more to tackle, but I’m certainly working happier – and playing happier.

  4. This was so helpful and has made me face my issues with time management I too waste time being distracted by the same issues and the end of the day comes and not much has been achieved. Thank you so much for being so humble with telling us this information, as this has now jerked me into doing something about having a work ordered day this year. I am about to start the year as a student again doing Visual Arts. I am into my seventh year of life and this is my second year at college. I have done art and textiles all my life and at this late age decided to take it up with study and loving every minute. I love your work and show the other students your little boats I ordered one of the boat patterns and will make it as a project for part of my course as a social statement.

  5. I just love this post – it is so honest and by sharing, you have helped me realize that others are dealing with the very same thing I deal with on a daily basis. I keep beating myself up for not getting anything done by the end of the day when my head is just bursting with ideas and plans that never get put into place. If I can learn to do one thing this week it will be to sit down and fill out the calendar for the week – not the year – and follow my plan. Thanks, Ann.

  6. Thanks for sharing. I work a lot from home and feel I need to think about imposing more structure. I often get distracted for long amounts unaware of how much time has passed… like right now, checking emails… which lead to this post ; ) I worked full time away from home many years and feel I was more productive on personal creative projects then because I had a much more limited amount of time. Tracking productivity seems like a good experiment to do to gain an awareness of where time is going, like you said. Really loving your big creative year posts! x

  7. I don’t have a business but my email box gets nutso with craft blogs, and other interesting things.

    It got up to over 9000 so the other day I deleted a mess, filed some to read later folder, crafts folder and now it is under 1000. Need more work on that but getting it done. When did email become a job?

  8. Think this approach to tracking time spent when you work at home is so important, it’s really easy to spend way too much time on mundane things rather than creative sewing and stitching.
    WIll definitly be giving this a go myself.

  9. I could be reading my own daily journal Ann…..if I ever found/made the time to write one! ha!
    it’s definitely comforting to know that there are a lot of other artists out there who have the same issues as I do! There is hope for me yet I now realise. Thanks for this very enlightening and helpful post. x

  10. I suspect you’ve already read this book, because you talk about some of the things he suggests to try, but if you haven’t, I think you’d love Give Me a Break by Hugh Culver. After reading it I completely changed how I do things at work and at home (in different ways). I’ve been re-reading it every Dec/Jan to see if there are new things to try to help me keep focus on what’s important to me.

    One of my big changes is zero inbox (no emails in the inbox, ever). I used to leave things in my inbox at home and at work as a sort of “to do” list. But I also had separate “to do” lists and it was hard to know how to prioritize between the two (three, four) different lists. Now I either answer the email as soon as I check my inbox or I file it and make a task to answer the email later so I can prioritize it with other non-email tasks.

    Here’s my best tip for zero-inbox … I sent myself an email with the subject line “Empty the Inbox!” and that’s the only email I keep in there. That way, every time I check my email, I see the reminder to clear everything away.

    Oh, and I went from a bazillion lists of things to do (things to make, things to clean, things to blog about, etc) to one list of things to do; everything on one list. It took about a year for me to stop overloading myself and learn how many things I can really do in a day. I am now to a place where I can finish everything I have slated to do and then the night opens up for creativity, reading, or whatever else looks like fun. Before I switched to having one list and figured out my “to do limit”, the end of my night I would be a stressful accounting of everything I didn’t get done. I always felt l like I was never making any progress at anything.

    As for succumbing to the internet sink hole, there were specific times of day where this was a problem for me. My strategy for combating that is that I picked something different to do instead. About 5 minutes before the time I usually zone out and surf the web, my phone sends me a message reminding me that I’d really rather do the other relaxing thing I picked instead. So far, so good.

  11. Such an honest and inspirational approach to work. Thank you! I really like a lot of your philosophy especially regarding ‘urgent work’. You have inspired me to now put new creative work first as that urgent, necessary work will always be there and will inevitably get done. I think writing a blog is a great way of putting pressure on yourself to achieve creative goals. I might be brave enough now after reading yours to start one!

  12. Oh my Lord. I think you’re me. This sounds just like me!! I will be watching this space closely to see how you deal with it all. No pressure or anything.

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