Frequently with humor.
And, on occasion, said with the understanding that it’s possibly only “no” for now. Depending upon the situation and the asker, your “no” might not need to be an immutable no. Rather, it’s a necessary response because you have determined your priorities and needs for the upcoming month or months—or perhaps a year or longer—and are committed to stay focused and engaged to achieve your goal(s). You are clear that whatever is being asked of you will derail your progress and your work. For now.
Successful time management is successful self-management. And successful self-management requires planning and organization and discipline—the ability to respond and commit to your needs and wants first and foremost.
The word “no” is your most powerful time management tool. But it’s the hardest word to say for many people.
The core of discovering why this is true for you might take years with a therapist, but it’s likely because you don’t want to disappoint. Or appear selfish or self-involved. Or rude. Or don’t want to feel guilty. You put the needs of others before your own and get lost in the mire of being pulled in too many directions, trying to please everyone else, while not accomplishing your dreams.
Of course, if you have children at home or an elderly or ill person you’re caring for, their requests and requirements most definitely must be woven into your own, if not supersede them. Sometimes.
However, if you’re frank, even if none of the above scenarios are true, you may still have an inability to articulate the word “no.” And an internal struggle invariably ensues.
Nevertheless… change is possible; you can learn to articulate the word “no” with confidence, and you can get what you want done, done.
They say that times changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself — Andy Warhol
Change, real change, sustainable change, must start with motivation. Most commonly, the stimulus that fuels motivation only kicks in when—
You can no longer tolerate your circumstances.
When you’re completely fed up (be it despondent, miserable, appalled, dispirited—pick an unyielding emotion) and recognize that you have been in this state for far too long.
When you’ve disappointed yourself too many times over the years, missed too many deadlines, or lost out on too many opportunities to advance your career.
At that moment, in distress, you’ve likely uttered any of the following exclamations one too many times:
“I have no control over my day!
“There aren’t enough hours to get everything done!”
“I’ve missed my deadline—again!”
“I’m always being interrupted!”
“There was no time today to ___________________ (fill in the blank)!”
Once you’ve arrived at this point—it’s the signal that things must change, and you are motivated into action. Then you ask:
What do I do now?
The response: it’s time to create a plan and commit to it.
I saw the angel in the stone and carved to set it free — Michelangelo
Plan. The very word sends many into convulsions.
“It’s too restrictive, too limiting!”
“It will make me feel as though I have no flexibility!”
“I don’t like or want or need structure!”
“It won’t allow for other opportunities that I haven’t yet thought of!”
As defined by Webster’s, a plan is:
Does that sound painful?
A plan will help you overcome your resistance to change and help you manage yourself and therefore manage your time.
Significantly, having a plan empowers you to spend your days being proactive rather than reactive. Setting goals helps you set boundaries.
How often have you been deep in the middle of your work, in the midst of creating, when:
Committing to and creating a plan—your vision for what you want to achieve, including goals and priorities, will ensure that you get there. Period.
Why is this?
The simplest answer is that, once your goals are clear and you have invested the energy into developing a plan to achieve them, your motivation is fixed on an established course of action, instead of becoming sidetracked by distractions and diversions. People with written goals—those not merely thought about or dreamed—are, invariably, driven into action. Most especially if the document is kept nearby and reviewed regularly.
Once you have your plan in place, it will be much easier to say “no” to things that don’t fit within your determined priorities. As well as say “yes” to those opportunities that come your way that you didn’t anticipate, but will flow smoothly within your vision. Thus, you’re in a much better position to manage your day, your priorities, and your time.
Two key components of any planning process are to (1) glean an honest understanding of yourself and how you currently use your time; and (2) envision what you’re striving for.
Individuals perceive time, use time, and respond to time in different ways. As a result, strategies that work for one person, will likely not work for another. There is no one way to be. However, what is important across the myriad types of perspectives is to be conscious of your own particular perceptions about time and how you use it.
For example, are you extremely punctual? Chronically late? Believe that whatever time you say, you have at least a 10-minute leeway? Or perhaps a combination? Do you do your best work first thing in the morning? Or are you a Night Owl? Once you are clear about your attitude towards time and when you are most focused and productive, then you can discern what options are available to make your particular time perspective work to your advantage.
Critically, you must determine what “success” means to you. While it’s generally assumed that success means money, and for many it does, success likely means different things for different people, i.e. 20 hours each week to write, four weeks a year to travel, and so on.
This depth of understanding, coupled with a clear vision is the beginnings of your plan—your ability to get done, what you want to get done.
Two exercises that will lead you toward a greater understanding of yourself, and towards developing your plan follow:
(1) Create two side-by-side circles on one sheet of paper
Label the left circle—TODAY, and the right circle—VISION. Starting with the left circle, create a pie chart of how you currently spend your time in a typical week. Note what percentage of the circle goes to a job—if you have one in addition to making art—to studio time, family, friends, pets, exercise, household chores, sleeping, and so on). Be honest.
Then, in the VISION circle on the right, create a pie chart of how you wish to spend your time using the same categories, but adding, if appropriate, any missing key components. Don’t forget to include how many hours a week you would like to spend writing and how many promoting your work.
When you’ve finished both, analyze the difference between the circles.
What do the circles reveal?
What areas or aspects of your life feel comfortable in terms of the time committed?
Which areas or aspects most need changing?
(2) Conduct a “Time Audit”
Track your time to obtain an accurate understanding of how you spend the hours of a typical day and week. For a minimum of two weeks, record how you use your time in and out of the studio. Write down everything you do—computer, laundry, studio, TV, cook, eat, sleep, walk the dog, and so on—from when you first wake up in the morning to when you go to sleep This will provide you with a true overview of how you spend your time and why you spend the time the way you do.
Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work. — Gustave Flaubert
Armed with a clear understanding of yourself and what you’re striving for, be aware that life will always include unexpected twists and turns. Your car won’t start; your child, parent, dog, cat, partner, falls ill; your boss wants you to work an extra day a week for the next month to meet a big deadline. All this can and will take you away from your very careful planning—at least temporarily. Remain flexible and never lose sight of your goals.
Remember, committing to your goals and priorities will often entail saying the word “no.” And that’s okay.
(It must be noted that an expanded version of this article was first published in Professional Artist magazine in 2016.)