How to meet deadlines and be prolific without getting stressed, experiencing burnt out or losing motivation
Imagine walking into your studio or workspace, feeling calm, centered and ready to take on whatever the day may bring. Wouldn’t it be great to have an inner knowing that whatever is on your plate will get done? I know that for so many of us, certain projects can feel like a mountain we have to climb, daunting and overwhelming. If you are an artist or creative dealing with big deadlines, I hope this article gives you some helpful tools and techniques to help you navigate even the busiest seasons of life and enjoy the ride.
I decided to share these strategies because this year I found myself painting more than I have ever painted before. Canvas after canvas I suddenly found myself getting more opportunities than time, most of which I couldn’t say no to. For the first time in my life, I had multiple incredible global exhibitions, commissions and other fun projects lined up. Even though I always prided myself with a strong commitment to my art, this level of production was beyond anything I have ever experienced before.
You probably won’t be surprised to hear that even though initially I was excited, the overwhelm and fear of falling behind soon began to creep in. In the back of my mind an alarming sense of panic began to take over. Like so many of us, I temporarily allowed this emotion to paralyze me into inaction and I even found myself unable to get started on one of the dozens of works that were due.
As you may have already guessed, I figured out a strategy, leaned into my tools for mindset, learned to regulate my nervous system and implemented personal rituals that helped me get started and make massive progress without the negative emotions. I got support, created a schedule and began the epic journey of creating work for my solo show in Paris, all while balancing my life and business. In this article, I want to share some of the biggest ways to manage big projects, my personal lessons, tools and modalities to help you complete your projects too.
Start with the Vision
Let’s start from the end in mind. Decide on what it is you want to create. Get crystal clear on the vision, theme and outcome you want to achieve for your project. This is an opportunity to get excited, and begin the process of gathering materials, reference images, tools and anything else you need to get started. Prepare your supplies and get your mindset in the right place.
Whenever I coach my clients, I invite them to tune into a full body experience of what it would feel like if everything went better than expected. When you envision your completed work in your mind’s eye, what do you see? What do you hear? How do you feel? Are there any scents or even tastes present?
For example, when I visualize my exhibition in Paris, I imagine hearing the chatter of the visitors at the art opening; I imagine feeling super proud walking around the gallery. Maybe I hear a pop of a champagne bottle and even experience the tart taste of the bubbles on my tongue. Maybe I smell a bouquet or roses or feel the warm hug of a friend I haven’t seen in a while showing up at the event. Make your vision super real when it comes to both your work and your final experience. As you may already know, imagination is more powerful than knowledge (thanks, Einstein), and part of the scientific reason for this is that our subconscious brain knows no difference between what’s real or imagined. When facing a new situation and challenge, it’s tempting to picture the worst-case scenarios, but I encourage you to flip the script and think of the best possible outcome instead. Use the excitement from your vision to motivate you to get the work done. This way we set our internal GPS and our brain can work behind the scenes to get things done to lead to this great result.
The human brain loves to protect us from anything it deems unsafe, which is why we often have tons of fear, doubt and resistance come up when we are about to start a new body of work, launch a business or put ourselves out there in an epic and inspiring way. In times when fear seems to feel debilitating, remember that having an exhibition is one of the most risk-free activities we can participate in. Of course, we fear judgement and not being good enough and worry that our shipment may get lost or that no one will buy our work, but at the end of the day, none of these events are life-threatening. Keeping this perspective, and create a safe space to journal or talk about your fears with a friend, therapist or coach.
Before I started on my new body of work, I hired my coach, Olga and Cara Roberts (previously featured in issue #29), for a single session to help me navigate the crazy thoughts my brain was spewing at me. Sometimes the act of saying your fears out loud makes them seem silly and insignificant. If you are really struggling, please know you are not alone and there is no shame in getting support. Some helpful prompts to journal through the fears and limiting beliefs are:
What emotion am I experiencing in this moment?
Where do I feel it in my body?
What does this remind me of?
How do I want to feel instead?
How would I feel if everything worked out for me?
Get on a Schedule
Once you’ve worked through the excitement, fear and overwhelm you can get into a grounded state and get on a schedule. After all, we must bring your vision into reality, right? What worked for me personally was designating certain days to studio time and working on my business and administrative tasks on other days. My schedule was Monday, Wednesday, Friday for the studio and the rest for coaching, writing and admin. It can be tempting to marathon or cram your time, but remember to use your energy wisely. Consistent effort over time trumps all-nighters. Of course, find a schedule that works for you. If you are a night-owl, try to designate evening hours to your work if that’s when your best ideas and creativity come. If you are a morning person, get in as soon as you can and use the rest of the day for less-engaging tasks.
What time of the day seems to be the best for your creativity and productivity?
What days would you like to dedicate to your practice?
Let Go of Perfectionism
Showing up raw, imperfect, while holding your vision and showing up on a consistent schedule will take the pressure off and create much better results than when you are rigid and trying to control every outcome. We all have off days, mistakes and frustrations, but the more we are willing to show up and keep moving forward the easier it will be to make progress. Part of why we are following a creative path is to play, break outside of convention and escape the mundane reality of the world. Allow for elements of surprise and “happy accidents” to happen and your work will always feel alive and even lead you to the next best thing. I keep the mantra “done is always better than perfect” near me when I’m creating to avoid getting stuck in inaction and fear.
Get in the Desired State
Visualization and anchoring are used in many fields, including sports, public speaking and more, so why not apply them to our studio practice?
According to an article in the “Washington Post,” “The science increasingly reveals the impact mental training and visualization can have on performance. Richard Suinn is an esteemed sports psychologist who first began working with Olympic athletes in 1972 and has been a proponent of visualization techniques for years. He studied downhill skiers and found that when he asked them to simply imagine skiing, the brain sent electrical signals comparable to when the athlete was actually skiing, and the muscles reacted similarly as well.” (Maese, 2016)
The next step to visualizing is adding powerful emotions to your vision. Can you remember a time when you felt completely in the flow? Maybe you have a beautiful memory of a collector sharing their thoughts and delight about your work? Bring a specific memory that energizes you to the forefront of your mind when showing up to do the work. This will alleviate the boredom of repetitive work, remind you of why you are doing it and allow for you to experience those positive emotions on demand. In neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) this technique is called anchoring, and the desired state you want to experience, such as flow, abundance, that feeling you get when an artwork sells can be elicited through music, scent, touch, sound or simply by focusing on the memory. When I’m in the studio I love to burn a little palo santo, use my essential oil diffuser and put on my painting playlist, especially on the days when I really don’t feel like working.
Integrate Discipline and Purpose
When I used to make art for me, before there were any galleries or exhibitions, while I still worked at the call center for my day job, it was exciting to come home and escape through painting. When I started to experience deadlines, responsibilities and the pressure that comes with stepping into professional territory, I realized that I didn’t always feel like creating. Some days it felt difficult and even boring. Don’t get me wrong, I was still incredibly grateful for the opportunities, but the inspiration didn’t appear every day. I had to create it, nurture it and keep it. I found that showing up, whether I felt like it or not, was the best bet on making sure I would accomplish my goals and keep the promises I made to myself. The mundane consistent practice is the least sexy part of being an artist, but it’s the one that gets us the results we are after. Of course, if you don’t feel well or need a break, listen to your body, but overall, showing up when it’s hard, or when we’re full of doubt or fear, is when we grow the most.
Make Time for Breaks
To retain your sanity during especially busy seasons, remember to take a day off each week, no matter how overwhelmed you may feel. Stepping away, taking care of your mental and physical health, will give you strength and energy to keep going. Plus, it’s healthy to have a fresh perspective on your work from time to time. Be in nature, read, visit your favorite shop or have a delicious dinner with friends to remember why you’re working so hard in the first place. Sometimes, no matter how busy I am, I cancel plans, make time to grab my sketchbook and take it to my local park to journal and draw just for me. It helps me feel like I am in control of my creativity and reclaim my own artwork when I feel like I’m producing for others all the time. Your health and wellness are your most important tools so make sure you replenish your well and invest in your joy as often as you can.
Look at the Bigger Picture
It may be tempting to get worried and anxious about how everything will work out—this is why we must remember that the opportunity we are working toward is one of many in our lifetime. When we keep this perspective, we realize that even though it feels like a big deal, it’s still only a fraction of all the incredible things we will experience in this lifetime. You may feel a little pressure right now, but think of how proud you will be when you look back on a lifetime of accomplishments, seeing how each one lead to another.
I hope my tips help you get in the flow with your big goals and help you gain major momentum in your art career. If you love hearing coaching and tips, I share them each week on my podcast, “The Create! Podcast.” Tune in and send me your questions and challenges.
You can also learn more about my coaching programs at www.artqueens.co.
Follow me on Instagram: @katerinaspopova
Maese, R. (2016, July 28). For Olympians, seeing (in their minds) is believing (it can happen). The Washington Post. Retrieved September 19, 2022, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/olympics/for-olympians-seeing-in-their-minds-is-believing-it-can-happen/2016/07/28/6966709c-532e-11e6-bbf5-957ad17b4385_story.html.