Updated: Nov 18, 2020
One of the main goals of IMA is to help artists find better practices that lead to stability in their career and finances. Our goal is not to create funding streams for artists or provide direct financial aid, but to better equip artists with knowledge and approaches that allow them to get better at supporting themselves.
Despite what anyone says, there’s aren’t definitive formulas to success. A large part of our careers will continue to be in making the most of the opportunities that come our way. We can be better prepared for them, but this will not always equate to immediate success.
In coming blogs we will attempt to unpick and discuss these areas in further depth and we will be sharing what we (IMA) believe are methods that seem to contribute positively to artists day-to-day practice. These are the things that seems to bring value to the artists practice, increase their confidence, and help them make better informed decisions about the various aspects of their careers.
In this article we will be discussing the ‘timesheet’, and how you might incorporate a timesheet into your practice to positively impact everything from your studio work to your pricing. At the end of this blog we will also be giving you access to a timesheet template, preloaded with formula’s, for your personal use.
Photo by Pixababy at pexels.com
WHY IS A TIMESHEET USEFUL TO AN ARTIST?
This is the most obvious question to start with, and for each person a timesheet provides a different use. To us, the timesheet is a tool that can be used in many different ways that help us understand and evaluate our growth and our value (both financial and experience).
Like any tool, understanding its uses is one thing, but finding your own use is what really makes it valuable, so even if you can’t directly relate to the examples used in this blog, keep in mind the ways it might be useful for you.
1. THE VALUE OF MEASURING TIME
Regardless of your practice, each step of your practice takes a certain amount of time. And each piece of work you do, or commission you take, or project you work on, may have the same steps / processes, but the time you spend on each will inevitably vary.
Let’s say I’m a painter who does portraits. And my process involves; doing photoshoot, doing a sketch & grid, then a watercolour study, and finally stretching and priming a canvas and doing the large scale painting. By using a timesheet, I can record the time I spend on each stage for each client.
Keeping track of time spent on each portrait means that I can begin to create an average length of time per-process, which gives me much more confidence when providing a time-line for curious future clients. I also become more adept at understanding my own time and I’ll know if I actually have time available to take on more work other than blindly saying yes and wearing myself out.
In short, the timesheet helps me become better at understanding and managing my workload.
2. BREAKDOWN OF ACTIVITIES
As artists, our time is not spent entirely on making work. We dedicate time to research, to tests and experiments, to applications, to our websites and social media channels, and to seeing other art and networking with peers. It is easy to overlook these activities as something we have to do as additional activities to our practice but all of this is time spent ‘working’.
Imagine we worked for an employer, and they asked us to update the company Facebook page, or send a tweet, or create an Instagram story, or reply to a customer email… all of this would fall under ‘work’. We would do this during our time spent at the office. It is the same with our practice.
Because we set our own schedule for our practice it’s easy to think of our practice as our proper artist time, and all the other activities as ‘other’ time. We might even do our social media in ‘pockets’ of time during the day. And even if we set aside a weekend to update our website and socials, we don’t track this time and so we have no concrete idea of how much time we spend doing these other activities.
But imagine this; imagine knowing just how much time you need to send that tweet, or send out an email. Imagine knowing how much time you actually spend on your practice! You might surprise yourself (you might scare yourself as well). And why is this useful?
In very practical terms this allows you to effectively timetable this into your practice. All these activities we engage in doing take up our most valuable resource - time. If we know how much of it we are giving to each activity, we might be able to organise our time better. Suddenly, that weekend of admin might actually only be 5 hours worth of our time. And if that’s the case, couldn’t we feasibly decide to do an hour at the end of each day so we have our weekend free?
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio at pexels.com
3. RECORDING YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS
We don’t walk away from every studio session feeling like we accomplished everything we wanted to do. There are bad days where I feel like nothing has been accomplished and I was just cycling through various frustrations. Does that sound familiar?
The timesheet included in this blogpost is of my own design and one I use on a regular basis - for freelance work and my own personal practice. That’s why the timesheet has columns and spaces dedicated to notes. Even when working on admin, I like to record, in note form, exactly what I’ve been working on, for example:
Thursday 8th October, 09:00 - 10:00, artist meeting (Skype)
Thursday 8th October, 10:45 - 12:15, thank you replies to retweeters via twitter
Thursday 8th October, 13:15 - 16:30, creating foley samples, editing and importing samples, sketching audio unit, backing up hard drive.
Thursday 8th October, 17:00 - 18:00, admin work, ordering cables and LED’s, clearing memory cards
It wasn’t the most exciting of days; it felt like a never ending staring contest with my screen, but logging that day (and days like that) on my timesheet meant that at the end of the week I could look back and feel a sense of accomplishment - that I had moved things forward, and better prepared myself for the more exciting creative work that could be done as a result.
As a freelancer having to often do work for other people, it also feels good knowing that I spent an entire day dedicated to my own practice.
Often the measures of success we have are the larger moments - a breakthrough in the studio, a compliment from a viewer, appreciation from our peers, recognition from an institution, a sale, a successful funding application, etc. But we should also take stock of our more humble achievements.
4. LEARNING YOUR COSTS
Creative activities don’t always behave according to the rules of reality. When we enter the creative ‘zone’ or ‘flow’ (see “is creativity a type of addiction” article) we can lose sense of time. Hours can fly by in what feels like minutes.
We also value our art differently to other things in our lives. This work, for us, is high priority. We place it above other things when it comes to funding the work. Yes, we always look for the best deal and value when buying materials and equipment but we are still spending money to support the continuation of work.
Do we know how long it really takes to finish a piece of work, a series of work, or a commission? Do we know how much money we have actually put into? These are two sides of the same coin = our cost.
Once we know how much time and money we’ve spent on a piece of work we can use that to help us better price our work. Utilising the timesheet in this way really helps in our confidence when it comes to pricing and selling our time / ability / work.
We will explore pricing work in future articles but for now, to over-simplify; if we know that this piece of work cost us £50 in materials and took us 5 hours, we’ll know that if we charge £100 we’ve covered our material costs and paid ourselves £10 per hour.
Photo by Lukas at pexels.com
5. TRACKING TIME
In it’s simplest form, the timesheet can be used to make sure we don’t over-spend time on a project. Have you been commissioned to do a piece of work? Have you only been covered for 100 hours worth of time? Keeping track of you work as we do it can help us see how much time we have put into the particular commission.
If, like me, we have multiple projects on the go, keeping a record of time can help as we jump back and forth between projects. Each time we come back to our project, we open our timesheet and refresh ourselves with recent progress and time left to work on that particular project.
Keeping a record in this way also free’s up our mental capacity. And I cannot stress how valuable this is. It takes practice and commitment to the system but once we get comfortable with it, we can leave a project midway, record any last-minute thoughts, leave notes for ourselves, and confidently switch to a new project and give that our full attention - free of any anxious thoughts about the unfinished ‘other’ project.
6. COMPARING PROJECTS
For those interested in understanding their habits a little better, the timesheet can be used as a diagnostic tool. Once we’ve recorded a few projects we can compare them across many factors. A question such as “Why did project A take longer to complete than project B?” can now be analysed according to how we spent our time. If project A was completed in evening shifts compared to morning for project B, we might say that we might be more efficient in the morning. If the working time was more broken up no project B than A, maybe we can say that we work best in smaller bursts?
The level of analysis is down to you, but the process of analysis gives us the potential to alter the way we work in order to improve the way we work, i.e. get better at practicing our art.
Photo by Anthony Shkraba at pexel