Up until a few years ago, I stuck with a strict work schedule. As a freelancer, I felt that it was important to keep regular business hours, just like a “regular” job. My rear was planted at my desk by 8am and it would stay there—except for a lunch break—until 5pm.
That worked for me, at first. It was actually motivating for me. But that was a time when I was busy running my Etsy shop so much of my day was taken up with customer service and shipping. As my focus shifted to illustrating children’s books, I found that working a strict 8am to 5pm schedule did NOT work anymore.
Mornings are my most creative times, and inevitably, I’d spend those answering customer emails, updating my Etsy shop, and shipping orders. When time was available to sit down and work on my children’s book portfolio, I was exhausted and my creativity was taking a nap.
There I would sit at my drawing desk, until my workday was finished. Creating nothing. Feeling annoyed with myself for not being able to just call up my creativity when needed. Being angry that my Etsy shop took up too much time and that I would never have a decent children’s book portfolio because of it.
And sort of writing this story in my head about what a failure I was because I couldn’t make all the things happen exactly when I thought they should happen.
Yeesh. I was so hard on myself.
Then I remembered: I’m the boss here.
I decide what schedule I work and what I do when. Why in the heck should I force myself into a schedule that doesn’t work for me, and sort of actively works against me?
Steph From Ten Years Ago, you were so silly.
These days I build my schedule around my creativity.
For me, that means doing the art stuff in the morning because that’s when I usually feel creative. Books, other illustration projects, and making classes get first thing priority in my schedule. That means, I know I’m tackling those things first.
I have a finite quantity of daily creative energy and time, so I use it wisely.
By early afternoon, I’m fizzling out and it’s a good time to shift over to business tasks for a couple of hours.
Sometimes I feel like making art in the evenings but sometimes I don’t, so I generally don’t count on that time for creativity. For me, mornings are the most consistent creative time. I embrace that and work with it instead of against it.
Instead of treating my creativity like something that is only allowed to come out once all the business tasks are finished up, I let my creativity shine and fit in business tasks around that.
Over the years, I’ve also noticed that my creativity ebbs and flows with the seasons. Winter and spring bring an overflow of ideas and inspiration for me. Autumn is a time when I’m best at cozying up in my studio and digging into some big projects. And summer is my down season for creative endeavors.
Because I know that summer is my down season, I can book projects around that, doing my best to avoid big deadlines that fall in July or August.
Naturally, sometimes those intentions are thwarted by the needs of a publisher. While it’s not ideal, I’ve got years of good working habits behind me so I know I can show up and produce the art even at my lowest creative ebb.
Generally, I work fewer hours in the summer and spend more time outside my studio, refueling my creativity for those more intense Autumn, Winter, and Spring cycles.
Because I’ve learned to loosen up with my schedule and embrace the natural ebb and flow of my creativity, I’ve been able to make space for my best creative growth. I’ve been able to stop feeling shitty about myself for not working a “regular” schedule. And frankly, I’ve just been a happier artist in general.
How can you build a schedule around your most creative times of the day or seasons of the year?
Your first step is to pay attention. When do you feel most creative? What times of day you find yourself drawing or painting?
Then go beyond the daily and pay attention to whether there are days of the week when you feel more or less creative.
For me, I prefer to ease slowly into my week and I’ve found that Mondays are rarely a good focused creativity day for me. Because of that, I don’t plan on doing creative work on Mondays.
Maybe Mondays are your most creative day. Or maybe you’re most creative on the weekends or on Wednesday nights.
The key is to discover when you feel most creative and do your best to embrace that in your schedule. You’re searching for the path of least resistance. You’re going to that place of openness and simplicity where your illustration career can blossom.
Don’t forget to consider the changing seasons when booking project deadlines or planning your own big projects.
If you’ve got kids home from school during the summer months or if you travel often during a certain time of year, that affects your ability to show up as your fullest creative self. Plan for that.
If winter gives you all the coziest illustration vibes, plan your most creatively intense projects for that time.
If every change of seasons sparks your creativity, plan space in your schedule to embrace those periods.
When we stop fighting the natural ebbs and flows in our creativity, when we stop trying to stifle ourselves with all the things that have to be done first, we open ourselves up to creative growth. Creative growth lets up become our best artistic selves and that leads to our bigger successes as illustrators.
Not taking these things into account is a darn good way to set up roadblocks. You know, those things that are going to have you looking back in five or ten years wondering why you haven’t made more process toward your big illustration career goal? Yeah, those roadblocks.
Listen, we’ve got enough stuff trying to roadblock us on a regular basis. Let’s not add to it by trying to force a work schedule that’s basically miserable.
Embrace those creative cycles, friend! Lean into them and they will work for you, instead of against you.
Do me a favor before you move on with your day. Grab a sheet of paper or open a word doc. Write a few sentences about how it would feel to really embrace your creative flow. It would feel pretty good, right?
Cool, now give yourself the next week to pay attention to your natural creative flow. After that week—and you should just make that a deadline on your calendar so you won’t forget—make a plan to alter your schedule.
And then have fun showing up as your best creative self, friend!