Deadlines provoke anxiety! Learn from how working artists deal with the anxiety of deadlines.
The thing that works best for me is to have a written calendar that I can look at all at once with all the year’s deadlines written down. If I need to frame, the time for that is written down, if two shows are coming up I’ll finish the work for one and start on the other, and so on.
Keeping in contact with your gallery is also written down as something to complete at specific times. I may sound obsessive, but this really helps. And I also take into account the time I need for unexpected challenges. I always give myself a little more time than I need. And I need to have this calendar on a wall where I can see it every day.
I’m a fine artist; and for forty years I worked as a graphic designer in the printing industry, where the pressure to meet deadlines was an everyday occurrence. I worked well under pressure thanks to understanding the creative process. I’d put ideas into the “incubator” and let them “cook” for a while. Creative ideas would “pop up” and I would write them down or make a sketch quickly and then get back to the job I was working on. With up to 40 jobs on my drawing board at a time, I learned that it was imperative to relax and look at the big picture; and get some exercise at lunchtime.
With my fine art, I generally have at least one gallery show a year. Since I worked full time and was raising 3 children by myself, my painting projects were left on the dining room table. When I had a spare 15 minutes while dinner was cooking, I would paint. I found that if I did little steps at a time and had a clear plan of what I wanted to do I could accomplish my gallery show paintings in time. When working at either mode of art, whether the graphic art or the fine art, I found it helpful to keep a list of things I had to do or buy right next to my drawing board. I also wore a hat that had a band that said, “Please don’t interrupt me, I’m working!”
I’ve got a current exhibition up, so this is all fresh in my mind. Here are some things that help me:
- I need to take just five or so minutes, first thing in the morning, to center myself. For me, that’s to pray and trust that God helps me work quickly and unerringly, but for others they might center is a different way.
- I make sure that I keep a fresh stack of audio books from the audio library in my studio. Listening to them keeps my mind on something other than what remains to be done, thus keeping the pressure at bay.
- I take herbal supplements that are non-addictive anxiety reducers. I am convinced they made a big difference this time, as I did not panic although there were things that did not go right.
Since my studio and its contents got destroyed at the beginning of the year, something shifted in me: things became less precious. I have been working out of improvised studio spaces and in ways that I would never have dreamed of before … and the pressure around deadlines has decreased dramatically. I now think in terms of “windows of opportunity” and I’ve become much more spontaneous and prolific. I just have to jump without a parachute and make split-second decisions that have to be good enough because there is no time for anything else.
Maybe for many artists like me procrastination is not so much about avoidance but is rather some sort of way of factoring in the intuitive and spontaneous. Since working in this new way, quickly in borrowed spaces, I have felt less stressed. I am now forced to procrastinate, until I can get a space; but when I get there I work well. Of course gallery directors, curators, and so on want progress reports; but that may be their anxiety, their lack of awareness, and their “stuff.” Maybe procrastination is a necessary part of the process for many artists—the real trick is to make sure that you jump in when you are ready.
The issue of deadlines used to be paralyzing for me. I always finished on time but I often became ill after the work was submitted. Several years ago I needed to submit work for an exhibition several months before the actual date in order to allow time for the production of a catalogue. It was a miracle! I was able to prepare my work for photography and rest for several months before the opening.
Since then I have organized my schedule so that I can complete my work early rather than at the deadline. I understood this concept before, but I think I needed to actually have the experience to fully understand how much less stressful finishing early can be. Now it is worth it to be to stay ahead of the game. Recently I missed my arbitrary deadline on a project (because of a minor health issue) but I still had plenty of time to finish the work because I had allowed extra time.
What works for you? Leave a comment!
Eric Maisel’s latest book is Life Purpose Boot Camp, available here: