As an artist and a graphic designer/art director I'm often torn between the many things I want to do, and the things I should be doing. When you have full ownership of the entire 24-hour block, and have some idea of what it takes to build a career around your “point of view”, the options in front of you at the beginning of your day become clear.
There are going to be those things that I can't wait to do on a daily basis. And then there are things for which I'd have to “cultivate interest”. But of course every life is a mixture of these two contingencies, and managing the business side of my life is where I often found myself less efficient, less thrilled .
When I first started to work on the business aspects of my career, for example, it became clear that I needed to have a system to organize communications, money, and commitments.
After looking around online and talking to a few people, I invested in the GTD ( Getting Things Done ) philosophy/method, a system to methodically capture and track tasks or ideas. I could then work on them through a set of organized folders (47 of them). And that way of doing things lasted about six weeks.
Quickly I had developed this nagging feeling that I was not doing something right. Actually it was a feeling that I was not doing enough of something that I should have been doing.
I was getting some results, so why was I feeling less effective, less efficient ?
I invested in some time tracking software for my Mac and iPhone. It had a wonderful interface, bells and whistles (literally), a little Notes feature, and a few other interesting little built-in gadgets. The only problem was that in order to be able to make the best use of it, I would have to be on my phone or computer when inspiration struck, or when I had to be reminded of something. For ideas, a Post-it would have to suffice, and sometimes things would have to wait till morning—if I remembered or was motivated enough to jot them down. Not good. Things were missed, and I needed to adapt to other things. Less than a month later, I was moving on. This experiment was not working for me, it was working against me. And it was winning.
A couple more of these applications later, I threw in the towel. I was done. This whole effort to become more efficient—more of a workhorse—was exposing something that I had for a long time feared deeply:
I lacked the discipline and follow-through to be doing any kind of business, or anything other than “creative work”.
That's right, I needed the discipline to trudge through, to do this stuff that was absolutely necessary in order to move my career and business forward. After all, nobody else was going to do it for me.
So, maybe I was not cut out for the business side of things, and maybe I should find people who would eventually partner with me—if there were people who could even get what I was trying to do.
Or maybe I should relegate making art to a hobby and join the “workforce.”
As a kid, I always needed a reason to do something. Abstract problem solving didn't work for me, I needed a real problem to poke and prod as a way to learn.
For example, in school I maintained a mediocre grade in math, and carried that opinion about my aptitude well into adulthood. This is partially because being bad at math is an easy idea to “pocket” in a culture that behaves as if being creative and being good at arithmetic are somehow mutually exclusive.
But here was the baffling thing: when it was time to put together a budget for a tour with the band, make quick mortgage calculations, do sales projections, or a quick risk assessment for a business on the back of an envelope, I did just fine. Why? Because I had managed to connect math to a larger working system, from the desire to play music professionally to figuring out how long it would take for a great business idea to break even.
Then it occurred to me that it takes a decent amount of stamina and work ethic to clock in 80-hour weeks of painting and drawing, or preparing for tour (which meant learning the music, writing contracts, auditioning musicians, producing marketing collateral, overseeing merchandise production, and working with booking agents.) I had repeatedly managed that kind of workload, gladly and without hesitation or loss in energy.
In other words, I never had a discipline problem, I had a lifestyle problem.
It was my lifestyle that had disjointed pieces. At least, that is how I framed things. The creative work and the business duties had always been separate houses that needed to be connected so that turning on the lights in one would illuminate rooms in the other.
Once I understood that connection, everything changed. It was pointless to track my creative time in relation to my business time. It was my life's singular style, it was my way of living.
Pragmatically too, my productivity shot through the roof, because I saw with clarity how the work found a place in the community, with an audience and clients. It put food on the table. It became clear how I could perpetuate the process of doing more of what I was put here to do.
Admittedly, I have never been one to pick things up quickly. But that's ok, I have come to find that a lot of “quick learning” is about picking up other peoples ideas and running with them. That isn't a bad way to go about things because not everything needs to be an original thought or idea. And for most people it makes no difference how they get there, as long as they get there.
But I make the exception sometimes. I do believe that arriving at one's own philosophy is a precious thing and the proportion of original ingredients in relation to the borrowed ones do show up eventually in how things taste . For people like me, personalizing that recipe feels like the only way to find any sense of self in the world. I might take a while to get there, but I do get there.
PHOTO: "Super Natsuki Tamura" Columbus Circle, New York City, 2012.