The Pomodoro Technique
Illustrator's and freelancers often struggle with time management. It's particularly difficult to manage your time when you have an inconsistent workflow. I recently started using a time management technique called the "Pomodoro Technique." It's very simple: Set a timer for 25 minutes. After the timer goes off, set the time again for a five minute break. Then set the timer again for another 25 minutes, then another five minute break. Each 25 minute interval is one Pomodoro. After four Pomodoros you give yourself a longer break, Maybe fifteen minutes, or break for lunch. Then start again.
I'm finding this helps me in a number of key ways: for one, it cuts back on my internet use significantly. I like to use the internet. In fact I love to use the internet. But I often waste a lot of time just checking in with Facebook, or Google+, or checking my e-mail. Or someone posts something on one of the social networking sites and I spend entirely too long chasing links. Well that's something better left to one of my long breaks. And the checking in stuff I can do during my short breaks. But I'm also finding that I want to do all this obsessive checking-in less when I know I have only a short time to do it. Often I'd rather spend the time eating a snack, or getting my studio for a change of scene.
These 25 minute intervals are deceptively short, but it's a good kind of deceptive. It's the perfect way to fool myself into keeping focused, knowing that there's a break right around the corner. I find this makes me a lot more productive than when I do long marathons of uninterrupted work, at least, as far as drawing is concerned. Drawing is the one activity where I really have to push myself to keep going. Writing, I can do for hours. Inking, coloring, I have no problem sustaining. But keeping up my drawing stamina can often be difficult. This technique has proven to be a great solution. 's made me rethink: what is a an 8 hour work day? What's a 10 hour work day? How can it best be spent? As a freelancer and work-at-home artist, when I'm working on self-motivated projects there sometimes aren't set, external deadlines, so I'm forced to structure my day in a meaningful way. It's easy to get distracted. It's easy to fool yourself into thinking you've put in more time than you have.
To make the most of your work day, you need to have a way to account for your time, especially when those distractions can be such compelling ones, like the internet. Many of us don't have that incredible focus that allows us to work hours on end--I do for certain tasks, but not for all of them, particularly drawing, since I find it most demanding. I envy people who have that kind of relentless endurance, but I'm not one of them. You don't have to be one of them either. Everyone has their own working method and pace, but it all comes down to how you manage your time. Not having that endurance doesn't make you a lesser artist, but if you don't, you need to discover what will help you to stay on task.
So I need tools to keep me motivated. Audio books are incredibly helpful, especially fun ones. Right now I'm listening to a lot of Sarah Dessen, my current favorite young adult author. If a book requires too much of my attention, it only makes it harder to keep focused, but when it's an enjoyable and easily engaging book, it gives me one more reason to look forward to working. Since I only listen to audio books while working, this can be a big motivator.
The other ritual I have is putting on my shoes. This may seem odd, but putting on my shoes is a cue for me that I'm officially working. Working at home, I don't have to put on my shoes. I could work in my boxer shorts if I wanted to. But maybe it's like the way Mister Rogers takes off his dress shoes and puts on his sneakers at the beginning of every show--the shoes somehow affect my attitude. Don't ask me why. Whatever ritual you have that does this for you--a cup of coffee, a shower, seize on it. Work is ritual, and in working at home, you need to separate what you do with the rest of your time, and work. When work time easily flows into every other task at home, it's easier to be just kind of working sometimes, or preoccupied with the idea that you should be working. I haven't fully masters this skill, but the Pomodoro technique has helped. So what's your cue to start working? Starting can sometimes be the hardest part.
Which brings me back to the Pomodoro technique. If you need to at first, or if other responsibilities require it, maybe 10 minutes of sustained activity and then a five minute break will work better for you. Not all of us have the luxury of a full, uninterrupted work day. So if your time is divided, how can you maximize the time you do have? How can you make it more focused? How can you give yourself a cue that now is work mode, and that all other distractions have to fall to the wayside? Take your work time seriously.
But even if it's drawing in front of the TV, there's value in having small goals, for example: I'm going to finish this drawing at the end of this TV show. If all you have are small snatches of time, take advantage of them, which again, means, take them seriously. Making small goals and achieving them helps to give you the small satisfactions required to go to the next step.
But I Didn't Have Enough Time!
It's bad enough to give this as an excuse as a student, but never give this as an excuse as a professional, even if it's simply a workshop. If you need a deadline extension, ask for it, but never excuse the quality of your work because you "didn't have enough time." Of course, sometimes you won't have as much time as you would like, in which case, your fundamental craft comes into play, your ability to give something polish, to pay attention to every part of the image. You may not have time to give the piece the level of rigor that you would like, but you do have a fundamental responsibility as a professional to make sure it's polished. The words, "I didn't have enough time" simply indicate to an editor or art director that you aren't ready. Every piece should have this fundamental polish, which is why it's so important to maximize the time you have. So give yourself the tools you need, whatever they might be! Time management is as important a part of your craft as any other skill.