Archive for the ‘GTD’ Category

Using a Workflow to Maximize Your Creative Output

Art & GTD Part 3 of 5

Sometimes it helps to set up a workflow for yourself, breaking things down into doable steps in order to arrive at some deliverable result. This applies to artists as well as anybody else. At my design job, our workflow goes something like this:

  1. Client requests (something) from us (for example: a brochure.)
  2. Account Manager/Creative Director/Project Manager assigns the project to a designer or copywriter
  3. Designer brainstorms solo or with others, and proceeds to hash out some options for the client
  4. Client gives the thumbs-up or thumbs down on one of the options, which will most likely need a few revisions
  5. We make revisions, going back and forth with the client until it’s satisfactory
  6. Send the design to the printer (or upload it to the web if it’s a web project) who then delivers the printed (brochures) to the client
  7. We bill the client and they pay us

As mentioned earlier, art is not usually created to meet some outwside directive, but one from within. It’s internally driven. It’s no accident that artists tend to be introverted. But let that internal project manager help you along with a workflow similar to what commercial artists use. Here’s a general workflow for making art:

  1. Brainstorm, whether it’s sketches, taking quick photos, mind-mapping, or just writing down ideas on a page until it’s covered
  2. Gather any needed reference material
  3. Do formal sketches, more fleshed out than thumbnails
  4. Prepare materials (canvas, clay, paints, etc.)
  5. Make the piece
  6. Refine it until it’s where you want it
  7. Sell it or put it on display

So while the commercial route begins outside of you, the inner creative process is similar. So if you find yourself getting stuck, you can just look at the worfklow and see what the next thing is to do in order to get this project finished and out the door. Just that alone can get you moving again.

Be Your Own Project Manager

Art & GTD Part 2 of 5

If you read my post summarizing Getting Things Done, you may be thinking, “Okay, so GTD sounds great for somebody in an office, but what about an artist in the studio?

You’re right: office work is very different from studio work. Chances are, in an office, your work is handed to you. You’re given assignments. You’re expected to do certain things. In the studio, however, you choose what to do. This brings up an important topic that actually comes up in Getting Things Done — the three different models of work:

  1. predefined work
  2. doing work as it shows up
  3. defining your work yourself

Artists don’t normally “crank widgets” like people on an assembly line (if they do, it’s because they are mass-producing something like a handmade print or bronze castings). Many people at many jobs do things as they show up, but artists don’t usually do that, either. I’d say most artists define their own work themselves, deciding to work on this piece or that piece, unless commissions happen to turn up, and that’s becoming more rare these days given the current market. No, fine art is not pure “knowledge work,” nor is it pure production. It’s somewhere in between since the artist pours a good amount of mental energy as well as physical effort resulting in a tangible object. (Sure, poetry and music are the most abstract and intangible of the arts, but for the sake of argument, they can result in definite deliverables, such as books and downloadable audio files, respectively.) The artist defines his/her own work. The problem of using GTD comes up for creative types is that it’s too “left-brained” and geared toward people who deliver some abstract, nebulous “product.” That’s why we need to tweak GTD a bit and take a few cues from the business world.

Become your own Project Manager

If you come from an agency/advertising/marketing background, this is easy to do: assign projects to yourself as if you were your own Project Manager or Creative Director. These assignments can be small. In fact, that’s recommended. All too often we become overwhelmed by doing some big piece of art that we stall. I like Anne Lamott’s idea in Bird by Bird where she gives herself the task of filling up a square inch of the page with words. That’s it. It’s a lot easier to handle than the gargantuan task of “Write novel.” It helps to break things down into steps, as we’ll see in a moment. You can also “gang together” some small projects that help you achieve the bigger projects you have in mind:

  • Stretch ten canvases between now and March 1
  • Brainstorm (thumbnail sketches) 5 or 6 ideas for a series on “nightlife”
  • Brainstorm (mind-map) a dozen themes to explore

An Overview of Getting Things Done, or GTD

Art & GTD Part 1 of 5

Getting Things Done Book Cover I know, I know. Artists aren’t typically the organized types. They often take pride in how scattershot they are, finding inspiration everywhere. But as we’ve discussed elsewhere and will definitely touch on again, it’s so easy to forget all those wonderful ideas we have. It’s easy to forget what that thing was we were going to paint that we were so excited about when the idea came to us. The Getting Things Done system lets us capture all those thoughts and successfully deploy them into productive work.

Getting things Done (aka GTD) is a personal productivity system outlined in a book of the same name by David Allen. The idea is to capture what needs to be done so that it’s out of your head and off your mind so you don’t stress out about it. You put all your “stuff” into a logical system so that you can deal with it appropriately. It helps you be disciplined in such a way that you can quickly make decisions regarding whatever comes up so that you can have a plan in place to immediately act on everything that comes your way, or otherwise safely renegotiate them. What happens is you end up avoiding getting things lost in the shuffle, so you become a more effective manager of your time. Is your head spinning yet? Don’t worry — we’ll clear some things up.

Two Main Questions

GTD is primarily concerned with two main questions: What’s the context? is the first one, and What’s the next action? is the next one, perhaps the most important of the two. Clearly answering these questions will guide you to efficiency. Context is how much time you have available, where you physically are at the moment, and how much energy you have at the moment. When you are fully aware of what your context is, you are better able to answer the question of “What’s the next physical action?”. You can use this to plan ahead to do certain things in certain situations (contexts). You probably already have a list of errands to run the next time you are out and about, and a list of supplies to get the next time you are at the art store. How about a list of things you can tackle the next time you feel really energetic? That way you can harness all that creative energy when you find yourself in that situation, instead of forcing yourself to do something you don’t have the energy for. Luck, as they say, favors the prepared.

The Getting Things Done Workflow, Summarized

There are a lot of excellent resources for getting a handle on the GTD workflow, including a variety of free downloadable PDFs at David Allen’s website. (My favorite is the WorkFlow Diagram - Advanced, since it lays it all out in a nice, graphical way that visually-oriented people can understand.) The six basic steps are:

  1. Collect
  2. Process
  3. Do
  4. Delegate
  5. Defer
  6. Delete

Collecting refers to gathering all of your “stuff,” putting everything in one place, rather than having it scattered all over your house, office, and car. It all goes in ONE inbox. Processing is where you deal with each item in your inbox and decide if it’s something that can be acted upon or not. If you can do it in two minutes or less, go ahead and Do it and get it off your mind. If you’re not the right person to do it or you don’t have the time, energy, or resources for it, Delegate that task to someone else. (Just remember to put a note on your calendar or in your tickler file to follow up with that person later.) If you want to do it at some future date, you can Defer it and put it on your calendar to look into it or act on it later. Finally, if what you have collected in your inbox is not actionable and it’s not some sort of reference material, you Delete it.