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The Hour That Will Change Your Life: Six Things Artists Should Do for 10 Minutes a Day

04/15/2013 12:38 pm 12:38:28 | Updated Jun 14, 2013

Every artist struggles with productivity -- how can you create more work, and how do you know where you should be spending your time? I recently spoke with Dorie Clark, strategy consultant and author of the new Harvard Business Review Press book Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future, who writes about how professionals can take control of their brand -- and their time. Here's a transcript of our conversation.

HH: The average artist is working alone every day, on long-term projects that are often amorphous. It can sometimes get discouraging and confusing about how to proceed. What's your advice for keeping focus?

DC: The key to success is keeping momentum going. If you're working on a project that will take three months, or six months, or a year to complete, it can begin to feel like the progress you make on any given day is negligible -- and that's not a good mindset, because it makes it easier to slough off responsibilities and stop work (after all, what does it matter?). Instead, try to set clear daily or weekly goals for yourself -- I'm going to finish this figure today, or by the end of this week, I'll have finished the preliminary drawing. That will give you enough "small wins" to stay motivated.

HH: How can artists best develop a reputation among their peers and in the artistic community?

DC: One of the points I stress in my book, Reinventing You, is the importance of "proving your worth." All artists have a portfolio where they can show others the quality and style of their work. But above and beyond that, they also -- like other professionals -- need to create what is essentially a portfolio of ideas. You should be blogging, or creating a podcast or videocast series or even just curating a smart Twitter feed. Somehow, you need to find a way to get your ideas out there and circulating, so that you're visibly demonstrating to others that you know what you're talking about, you're part of the mix, you have good ideas and you're shaping the discourse.

HH: Artists are pressed for time. If you had to recommend things you could do in only 10 minutes a day that would help improve your career, what would you recommend?

DC: Here are my top six tips. If you're really stressed, you can pick one per day -- and if you want to spend an hour (10 minutes on each), you'll see demonstrable benefits very quickly.
• First, exercise. 10 minutes a day isn't a lot, but it's more than most Americans get. Walk to the subway, or just walk around the block a couple of times when you're done with work to get the blood -- and your ideas -- flowing.
• Second, read the newspaper, even just the headlines. You'll be better informed, a better conversationalist and have sharper ideas.
• Third, email or call two contacts a day. Maybe these are people you've been meaning to get in touch with, old friends or new acquaintances. Make the effort to build connections.
• Fourth, pick a new skill to practice and keep at it for at least a month -- and maybe more, if you like it. Try learning chess (you can play on your computer), or knitting or yoga. Even a little practice every day means you can advance rapidly.
• Fifth, stay active on social media. 10 minutes a day is more than enough time to respond to Twitter messages and find a few morsels to retweet.
• Sixth, deepen your craft. Page through art books or browse web sites to learn more about a particular genre or artist or period that intrigues you. Before long, you'll have a much more encyclopedic grasp of art history, and the ways you want to emulate or deviate from it.

Creating art is hard, time-consuming work. What struck me most about Dorie's advice is the importance of building rituals into your day. We all know it's a good idea to exercise, or keep in touch with our contacts. But amidst the crush of work and other responsibilities, it's hard to make it happen. So developing a scheduling plan and treating your chosen activities like a reward -- I get to take a walk now! -- is a powerful way to make sure they get done. In the short term, it might feel like a hassle or a distraction from work; in the longer term, it will help ramp up your productivity and make you a better artist. I especially agree with her advice that all artists should create content, especially written content, to "prove their worth" and spread their ideas. Whether it's the importance of crafting a good artist statement or the need to coherently answer interview questions, I've found that being able to express yourself clearly and articulately is a must-have skill for arts professionals. I highly recommend Reinventing You as a thought-provoking read for any artist.