Where do you find the time?

The one question I get asked more than any other when I talk to people about my art is: Where do you find the time?

I confess I am always tempted to answer, earnestly but slightly sarcastically: “On the beach at low tide” or  “I was just browsing  in the charity shop and it was there between an old lamp and a fondue set”. I resist because I know the question is well-intentioned. They say simply looking their life as it stands and thinking about adding art into it. But, of course, the true answer is: I don’t find time- I was given twenty-four hours in the day when I was born. Just as you were. I don’t have any more time than the person asking the question.

Really, they  are mis-phrasing the question. What they mean is: How do you effectively allocate your time? or How do you prevent demands from and commitments to other people filling all your time and leaving nothing for art?

To those questions I have two answers:

  1. I make choices about what I am NOT going to do as much as I choose what I AM going to do.
  2. I have help.

To some extent I agree with the declaration: you can do everything you want to. You can have it all. I agree if, what you mean by that is, you can choose to do anything you want to do in life and succeed by your own (reasonable) definition of success. And I do think that you can, with organisation and help, succeed in a number of endeavours at  the same time. But there is a limit to what you can do all at the same time. If you have my multi-potentialite tendencies, a good lesson to learn is that you don’t have to choose WHAT you do in life so much as you have to choose WHEN you are going to do it.

I recently went to watch the film Sully ( the story of the pilot who landed a plane on the Hudson River) with a friend who knows me very well. As the closing credits came up he turned to me and said, “You want to get a pilots licence now don’t you?” And I did. That’s my tendency,  to want to DO the cool things I see other people doing, to GO to the countries I see them doing them in. But I have to take the long view. I never assume that there will not, one day, be time in life to do all the things I want to do. I don’t tell myself I CAN’T do something because there is no time. However, every time I find something else I want to do I have ask two questions:

a) Am I choosing to do this right now or later?

b) If the former, what do I choose to give up or extend the timescale on to do it?

Because, my life is full. Everyone’s life is full. No one has ‘spare time’ or time that is not filled. It might be filled with sitting on a couch staring into space whilst mindlessly eating Doritos but it’s still filled with something you are choosing to do, however unproductive or un-fulfilling. To ‘find’ time is to ‘reallocate’ time.

Some people have days filled with many dispensable activities and need only to decide to use that time for their new desire.

Some people have time that can easily be reallocated, but it is scattered about the day and they need to look at how to organise their days so that small periods of seemingly useless time can be utilised to effect, either by breaking activities into small chunks or by batching activities and reorganising days so that those small periods combine into a useful hour here and there. For example, I have dead commute time when I am driving so I can’t even read. I found that rather than just listening to music, playing informational podcasts or audiobooks in the car or using the drive as deliberate thinking and planning time made a huge difference.

Other people realistically have no time being used in un-fulfilling or unproductive activities and so must choose what to give up to start something new. Maybe they  choose to reduce their income by working fewer hours in exchange for the joy of art time. Or they accept that they loved knitting but for now the needles must go away so they can find time to paint.  Or, they  can choose to rejig timescales. They may think, well, every moment is full at the moment but, if I accept that it will take me two years rather than one to write my book, I can half the time I spend on that and that gives me time to attend the new college class I want to do.

Sometimes you need not make choices to give things up forever, only just long enough to get yourself functioning efficiently. If you are an artist who has a desk overflowing with paperwork and an email inbox jammed with old messages, consider giving up visiting that art show this weekend and spending a good few consolidated hours setting up systems to deal with your administration that will save you time each and every week in the future. Tacking a daunting and boring task now can free up so much time for joyous activity later.

Other times you have to choose not between playing on Candy Crush or making your art, but between two very meritorious activities. Do you lead a workshop at an art gallery or set up your Esty shop? Should you take a class on online marketing or participate in a charity art project? there are no right or wrong choices in those circumstances only choices that chime better or less well with your priorities for your life. Choices with short-term or long-term gains. Choices that are easy but less gainful versus choices that are harder with bigger results.

I often have to give up, not the activity, but the intensity with which I want to do it. I’d love to run a major blog with all kinds of sections and daily posts, online courses and e-books, but that not going to happen unless I give up other things. So I have compromised on the frequency of posting but, I hope, not the quality or nature of the posts. Choices to be effective need to take into account our essential natures and how our hearts feel about what we do.  I could do shorter blog posts more frequently,  but that’s not my nature. It’s not how I like to write. So I choose the compromise. (For now. I also choose to remind myself that my full hearts desire may be possible in twenty years time when I retire!)

A few people have already made choices/commitments that mean they cannot, at the moment, choose to do something new. Maybe they have chosen to care for children or aging adults and to work and to give themselves a small amount of rest time and their days are full. Maybe they have simply chosen to commit to a big art project that fills their days and cannot be extended.  If they have already done the re-organisation  and batching process then their choices are made and it may be that the reality is that they must promise themselves to find that time later in their life.

However, even those latter people may benefit from asking the question: who can help me and how?

I am exceedingly lucky. I have husband who takes a lot of the burden of practical things off my hands. He cooks and cleans. He takes things to the post office. He finds my car keys every morning. Well, actually he got fed up of that and bought me one of those beeping key rings so I can do that myself. But you get the idea. Maybe you have a person in your life – or a series of them – you can ask to help you with one of your current activities so that you can create time.

That need not be a family member. Or even a real person. Automating tasks like paying bills by automatic direct debits or using online food delivery systems can make a real difference. I was asked to help organise a series of group golf games for the fellow beginners at my club. I wanted to do it but realised  that constantly answering multiple texts and emails and making notes of who was playing when would bog my days down. So I said yes, gave up an hour or so from other activities, set up a simple website with automated sign up sheets and now it runs itself with minimal intervention by me. In fact it’s better because everyone can see who has signed up, not just me.

Maybe you can employ a ‘virtual assistant’ to do some of your studio work. Or use a service like Fiverr to employ people at reasonable cost to design your art show publicity material as I did for my urban Scrawl Show. Think about bartering with a friend; I’ll do your shop while I am at the supermarket if you can take my kids to school on Thursdays. Or choose a sequential series of actions: if I give up buying coffee from the shop every morning I can pay for a cleaner which will free up three hours a week.

There are any number of Time Management books, courses and blogs around talking about apps and planning systems. I love all that stuff. But none of it is useful until you sit down and consider your choices. and, all of it is actually quite dangerous if you use it to fill your days with regimented activity and forget to choose to look after yourself with rest and sleep time and to make time for sheer fun in life.

So, my answer to the question,  ‘where do you find your time?’ is actually: “In my journalling sessions when I sit and free write and make my choices and decisions about my true desires and passion and the best most effective use of time”. That’s why my journalling time is sacrosanct.  It may look like I am just sitting in a cafe staring out of the window with my pen in hand but its in those moments when clarity comes.

To find time, start by choosing to give something up to find time to set your priorities in life. Use your decisions about your priorities to make other choices. Then live your choices. Explain them to others. Guard them jealously. Learn to say no. Every time there  is a new tempting opportunity, retreat momentarily to your thinking space and repeat that process. Over and over. Until you have created a  life full only of the things you longed to do but thought  you never had time to do.


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