Archive for the ‘Goals’ Category

What are you delivering?

It is essential to ask yourself this sort of question, whether you are doing knowledge work or physical labor. Knowledge workers don’t often immediately create a physical product as a result of manual labor. Rather, their work is more “virtual.” Physical work generally results in something tangible. They both deliver something. It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Knowing what you are delivering lets you know when you are done.

Some simplified examples of professionals and their deliverables:

  • Auto-body Mechanic/Technician - a fixed axle on a car, returned to the customer
  • Web Developer - optimized, valid (x)html files, uploaded to the server
  • Print Designer - high-res CMYK PDF, sent to printer
  • Marketing Coordinator - bulleted list of marketing mix strategy for next year
  • Novelist - 300 pages of manuscript

Now, art is a weird hybrid between manual labor and knowledge work. You can end up with a physical object like a sculpture. Or you can create something abstract like a song, experienced in the moment and described even more abstractly with coded marks on paper. Often enough, though, the final result reaches physical form somehow. The end product for poetry is likely to be some sort of bound volume with those poems in print. And music? Well, it can come in the form of a compact disc, a digital download, or a concert with concert-goers clapping their hands enthusiastically.

If you’re still with me, I realize you may be saying, “All right, Captian Obvious, it’s pretty plain that a painter will end up with a painting and a novelist will end up with a novel.” Right. But this kind of thinking will help you focus on your end product and not get sidetracked, as we artists are wont to do.

The bottom line is, this is outcome-based thinking. It helps you know when you’ve reached your goal because you were specific about it. You have created the promised deliverable, whether that promise was to yourself or someone else.

The Importance of Clear Definitions

The act of definition is where everything begins — how you define things determines everything else. Everything that follows an initial definition is dependent upon that first definition. Take philosophy, for example: the fundamental question (and subsequent definition) of “What is good?” is the foundation of philosophy. Furthermore, your answer or definition of that very question establishes a framework for your own philosophy, and gives great insight into your own psychology (what makes you tick).

Clear definitions are important no matter what your discipline is. Whether you’re a physicist, a financier, or a construction worker — it is imperative to have clearly defined standards that ensure that everyone is on the same page. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking to a thousand people or just outlining something for yourself. When things are well-defined, goals and actions are clear to everyone involved.

I think everyone agrees that clear definitions are important in communicating with other people. But what about communicating with yourself? Elsewhere, I’ve talked about how important it is to write down your goals, to plan things out. Defining your goals, tasks, dreams, and standards keeps you on track. It gives you a road map. It’s useful for people like me who are easily distracted by the path of least resistance.

Build a framework

So as an artist, what sort of things should you define? Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

  • What is art?
    What is my definition of art? What’s my definition of my art?
  • What makes a piece of art good?
    It all boils down to Plato’s original question.
  • When is a piece finished?
    At what point do I generally quit working on a piece and declare it finished?
  • Do I want to sell my art?
  • How much money should I ask for when selling a piece?
    What will cover expenses, time, and profit?
  • What are my materials?
    Will I limit myself to one particular medium or tool or technique, or will I experiment with a variety of materials?
  • What is the scope of my market?
    Should my aim be broader or narrower? More local or national, or international?
  • What are my career goals as an artist?
    What does success look like to me?

Of course, a lot of these are answered along the way, but keep in mind that the clearer these things become, the better you’re able to set goals and meet them. Try to steer clear of jargon, but be as concrete and concise as you can. If you can explain it to a child or someone who doesn’t know anything about art, you’ve done your job. And remember to be flexible in your definitions, as they will surely change over time. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to evaluate these definitions at least once a year as part of a personal annual review, where you get the 30,000-foot perspective of things.

What are your definitions?

So here’s your homework: Set aside some disruption-free time to sit down and define these things. It may take a day or two to think everything through. Define whatever else you feel needs defining. You may have a successful career and life without defining these things, but you’re likely to do things haphazardly and sloppily, wasting time pursuing dead ends. Just remember: creating definition creates clarity and focus, and clarity and focus create tangible results.

Setting Goals

Goal-setting is nothing new in the world of productivity. However, very little has been said regarding goals in the world of art. While goal-setting is largely the same as it is with everything else, it can be a little different for artists. Artists aren’t usually very goal-oriented. They tend to live in the moment, thinking of neither the future or the past. This is great for making art and capturing moments. On the other hand, unfortunately this can lead to rash and regrettable decisions. Ever heard of 20/20 hindsight? Think of the times have you looked back and said to yourself: “Man, I should’ve followed up with that gallery,” or “I should’ve asked that potential patron to make an offer.”

Just the simple act of setting a goal can make a huge difference in your life. Write it down! It gives you something to refer back to later. Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt has written about how important goal-setting in his post Goal-Setting: The 90-Day Challenge citing how just writing down his goals has made a profound impact on his life.

Put your goal in concrete terms, with some sort of tangible result that’s just crazy enough that you’ll really go after it. That way you’ll know for sure when you’ve reached your goal. In Michael Hyatt’s case, it was to write a New York Times bestseller. Later that year, he got his book published, and the next year it made it to the Times bestseller list.

Example goals an artist can set:

  • Explore a certain theme
    Pick a theme and explore different ways to talk about it in your art.
  • Start a new series this year
    Similar to the prefious, try something new that you haven’t explored before.
  • Set aside x hours each week to work on art
    Just setting aside a set number of hours to work on your art each week is life-changing. It makes you much more serious and dedicated toward your art, signifiying that your art is less of a hobby and more of a career.
  • Draw a sketch daily to post to your sketchblog
    My friend Mitchell Breitweiser has been doing this for a while on his blog, Inky Fingers.
  • Participate in Nanowrimo this November
    Writing 1667 words each day to meet the goal of 50,000 words at the end of the month is sure to produce something good.

Break your goals down into doable steps. If have an upcoming art event, the Art Biz Blog has some excellent ideas in a three-part series for promoting your exhibit, breaking it down into a number of doable tasks, all in three posts. And here on Mysterious Flame, I’ve talked about breaking big projects down into smaller pieces.

Bottom line: write down your goals, and make them manageable, so that you don’t bite off more than you can chew. But don’t make it too manageable that you won’t be proud of your efforts. You appreciate more what you work hard to achieve.