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having a think about work

I got a call from Peter Stanbury, who organises London's Comica festival with Paul Gravett, asking if I could draw an illustration for the front of the brochure. He wants a very simple image of a man in a mackintosh hanging from a bunch of speech balloons over London, so here are my first two sketches. Hmm, still a bit of work to do on them.

Business has been good this year, and it's been keeping me very busy, especially now. Gary tweeted yesterday that The Fleece Station has temporarily been renamed 'The Panic Station', which isn't far off.

I'm trying to figure out how to manage my time now, and it's tricky trying to balance meeting deadlines with working as I mean to go on for the next few years. I'm glad it's the kind of job I never have to retire from, I want to keep making pictures and stories until I keel over. Shirley Hughes is still going strong in her 80's, and Alistair Cooke kept telling stories on the radio until a week before he popped his clogs.

I guess, since I plan to be doing this for a long while, I don't want to delude myself into thinking that if I spend insanely long hours at the studio and neglect Stuart 'just for awhile, until I get ahead', that this is a healthy thing. (I might not always have a lot of work, but not having work and trying to get it is just as much a full-time job as having work, so I'll always be busy.) Confession: after illustrating nine books, I missed my first deadline ever, it was really embarrassing and I felt terrible. Fortunately my editors were very nice about it and managed to arrange things so the publication would stay on schedule. But I don't want to do that again, or at least, not very often. My friend Rian Hughes claims he's never missed a deadline in his life; that's amazing, but I don't know if it's something I want to aspire to at all costs. I mean, relatives get cancer, friends have breakdowns, life happens, and sometimes those things have to come first. But I don't have children or pets (just other people's children and pets), and that gives me a lot more time to spend doing what I love.

I haven't had any time this year to watch telly (which I don't mind very much) or much time to go to the cinema (which I mind a LOT.) I'm still reading books because that's part of my job and they're nicely portable. My mother in the States keeps telling me over the phone that my dad is really worried that I'm working too hard and not giving Stuart enough time (which keeps it fuzzy who's actually doing the worrying, my mom or my dad, but it's nice of them all the same). I had dinner with a well-known children's book creator about a year ago, and he scared the crap out of me when he recounted all the school visits he'd been doing, and how tired he was. I want to do that kind of stuff, but I don't want to kill myself with it either.

The other thing is, if I don't play around and do silly drawings in the mornings and ramble around London, my work goes even more slowly and all the fun goes out of it and my pictures look stiff. So that kind of play isn't time-wasting, it's really important. Blogging takes time, but it also helps me sort out my head, remember what I've been doing with my day and practice connecting with the people who are going to see my work, so that's important, too.

Basically, I need to learn how to be a complete power house during my set working hours. I'm really going to try to focus on that this year, making blocks of time where I refuse to do anything else than the work in front of me. My friend ellenlindner has a one technique, where she sets an alarm clock for an hour, and doesn't answer any phone calls or do any e-mail until the timer goes off. Maybe I should try that one.

Does anyone else have any tips on being efficient at work? I need all the good advice I can get.


( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 15th, 2009 11:52 am (UTC)
Yeah, there's a lot to be said for the 9-5 job that way! I think the studio helps me a bit, I can't just hover between cooking dinner and working, and then go straight back to the desk as soon as I've eaten. But I don't have too much problem with the guilt thing, I just really like lazing about. ;-) Thanks, Faye!
Oct. 15th, 2009 10:37 am (UTC)
firstly i think it's great you're so motivated because you love what you're doing, it's good to remind yourself that the reason you want to work so hard is because its your passion and thats such a great position to be in ^_^
though i agree on everything you say, recently i've been struggling with the two complete opposites. on the one hand i want to work 14 hour days 7 days a week just because i'm so excited about what im doing, on the other hand i want to spend time living instead of just working for fear life will pass me by. unfortunately the two pull against each other.
i'd say the best way to find a balance is to be around people who distract you, so you don't feel like you're depriving your work. to make sure that your work time is your personal time, and when thats done for the day (or the week) you switch off and let other people fill the space. work will always be there ready for you :)

good luck with it ms mcintyre, i can't wait to see what new things are on the way!
Oct. 15th, 2009 11:58 am (UTC)
Wow, thanks for that, Jamie! Yeah, I'm totally with you on the excitement thing, I'm really loving everything from making work to marketing it to hanging out with other people who make stuff. But I don't want to start missing the little details, like watching building sites and seeing where the cormorants are sitting by the river, riding my bike, stuff like that. I'm not so good at switching off, though, sometimes it seems like I'm turning everything in my life into a storybook. (That could be a bit of a clinical condition.)

Good luck to you as well! You've got so many cool things ahead of you, it's so much fun to watch! :-D
Oct. 15th, 2009 10:41 am (UTC)
Ha ha...I DO pick up the phone, but I screen first. I'd feel a bit heartless making S. leave a message! Or my mom. But if I'm 'on the timer', I keep it short. Honestly, email and the internet are the big temptations for me - the timer helps me avoid them.
My big tip is that getting exercise is so important for illustrators. Don't guilt yourself out of doing your cycling. We need to keep in shape if we're going to work 'til we're 80, Sarah! I see such a big difference in my back pain/muscle aches when I'm good about running and doing crunches, etc.
Oct. 15th, 2009 12:04 pm (UTC)
You are SO right about that! I felt terrible not being able to go to rowing, and it's a good thing the pool's just down the road. MUST take advantage of that more than once a week. Good call! And yeah, a good Thames Path bike ride's long overdue.
Oct. 15th, 2009 12:41 pm (UTC)
Swimming once a week - I should aim for that! Right now we're running 2-4 times a week, but I would like to up my distances (and figure out some way to continue over the long, dark winter). It's hard to fit it in - 30-45 minutes running, about 30 minutes stretching and general working-out, and then a shower - it really adds up. But it's necessary.
By the way, what I SHOULD have started my last post out with was a hearty congratulations on your Comica commission! Go you!
Hope to see you Tuesday, if that's still okay (I'll be quiet! :) )

Oct. 15th, 2009 10:52 am (UTC)
I'd love to be helpful here but I work with a 'wait til the combined streams of time, inclination and purpose come together then Ride the Wave' system. Consequently, I have 2 other day jobs and still dream of making a living from drawing.

Maybe my main trouble is work piling up? Do in a tidy order (though you probably already do)
Oct. 15th, 2009 12:06 pm (UTC)
Your boat work sounds so interesting, though! I bet you'd get loads of good stories from that. (Do you?)

Tidy order... why is it that I always want to do the least pressing jobs first? Argh. You're spot on, though.
Oct. 15th, 2009 02:22 pm (UTC)
I remember Chuck Jones coming to Ballyer [where I studied animation] years ago...he was in his 80's and taking about how he still painted every day and also had sex with his wife every day as well which was both creepy and kinda sweet and I thought that's what I want [the still drawing at 80 not the sex part, though I won't complain if I'm still getting some at 85 lol]

I think everyone works different...I'm far more productive and I think my work comes out better when I've ten things to do, where as if I've only one thing to do I'm utterly useless and my work suffers. With lots of stuff on I tend to be very "right this needs to be done first followed by this" and so on.

I feel if your in a place in your life where your happy working then you should do it cus god knows what could happen tomorrow.

As long as your happy in your work then keep at it but the minute you start to feel jaded or run down by everything that's when it's time to step back and say right I need to think about what I'm doing. My mother keeps screaming at me to get hobby unrelated to work cus she worries it's not healthy to work so much but I tried taking a dressmaking class and now I want to make dolls of my comic book characters lol I tried to get back horse riding and spent all my time drawing the horses.
Oct. 15th, 2009 02:54 pm (UTC)
I remember Chuck Jones [..] talking about how he still painted every day and also had sex with his wife every day

Just so long as he didn't try combining the two activities.
Oct. 16th, 2009 10:36 am (UTC)
Thanks so much, Cliodhna! I know what you mean about everything turning back into drawings, that totally happens to me, too. Can't wait to see you this weekend! :-D Good luck with everything!
Oct. 15th, 2009 05:32 pm (UTC)
You have drawn Woodrow Phoenix and Gary Northfield :-)
Woodrow's more the single-breasted than double-breasted type tho!
Oct. 16th, 2009 10:36 am (UTC)
Ha ha, I think you might be right! :-D
Oct. 15th, 2009 07:08 pm (UTC)
When you find the secret, share it with the rest of us *hug*

The other day I accidentally forgot to turn on firefox and so had about 2 hours of uninterrupted work time....and it really was incredible how much more I got done. But without the net I feel so damned lonely ;_;
Oct. 16th, 2009 10:40 am (UTC)
That is SO true! I did it for ten years, and the first five years were okay, but I really got sad toward the end of it, til I went back to art college to sort out my head and meet people. Working at home for a publisher in a totally different country made things especially lonely. I like being able to pop in and talk to my editors face to face. And getting to know people in the comics community has been the best thing ever.
*Hugs to you, too!*
Oct. 15th, 2009 11:58 pm (UTC)
hallo lovely

after a lifetime of 'research' (working both as a freelancer and in house) I can honestly say that balance is a myth. you make stuff. it needs your brains and your heart - those things aren't balanced (thankfully) so why should your work and life be. the main thing when you are in charge of your own time is to prioritise. if you have a clear idea of what you need or want to accomplish, then you have a much better chance of it happening. don't worry, some days will be all work, hopefully others can go off piste. stay true to you and the rest will follow. you're doing a great job!

with love from bridge x
Oct. 16th, 2009 10:41 am (UTC)
Thanks, Bridge! Yes, prioritising is key, I'm sure! But the off piste days are the best. :-D

Can't wait to see you next weekend! xx
Oct. 16th, 2009 08:52 am (UTC)
Actually, this is what I meant to say...

Oct. 16th, 2009 10:42 am (UTC)
AWESOME!!! Thanks so much! I just posted it up on today's blog, that is so fabulous. :-D

(Ha ha, the earlier post was fine, too, thanks for that.) ;-)
Oct. 16th, 2009 11:04 am (UTC)
Ah yes, the ancient tradition of Morris dancing.
Oct. 16th, 2009 11:36 am (UTC)
Ha ha - brilliant.
Oct. 19th, 2009 02:53 pm (UTC)
Klok, a free computer timesheet thing, really helps me. It forces me to decide when I'm working on something, and when I'm just doodling around or looking at the internet. If I'm clocked in, I'm in.

It's also really useful for working out rates and so on...



Oct. 20th, 2009 07:28 pm (UTC)
My 3 'efficiency' experiments
Having written a PhD thesis, then moved on to a 9-5 job but having a whole bunch of things I want to do outside of that, I've come up with a few devices for improving work efficiency! I'm also slightly obsessed with strange solutions to this problem.

1) Re-frame time: try a 26-hour body clock
I found I had too many mental 'resting points' in the day (nearly 11am, time for tea, nearly 12, time for lunch, nearly 2pm, still lunchtime really, 3pm, time for tea). So for 12 days I lived a 26-hour body clock, going to bed 2 hours later each night. It completely changed the way I look at time. You wake up, it is 4pm, and you know you are going to go to bed at 11am the next day. A vast expanse of 19 hours stretches away in front of you. It's an incredible feeling.

2) Track progress in time, maintain a backlog
I realised I never 'made up' time spent procrastinating. This meant the point at which I finished the thesis was just receding endlessly in time. I fixed this by drawing six circles on each day on the calendar, each one representing 45 minutes of work. As I completed the work, I ticked the circle. As the days passed I could see where I had lost time and knew I had to make it up. (6 x 45 minutes doesn't sound like much, but it turned out to be about right as an amount I could keep on top of!)

3) Prioritise saliently
These days I have many things to do (both at work and for fun), and I realised I was suffering a kind of decision paralysis as I worried about multiple things at once instead of doing any of them. I currently use LEGO minifigs to represent each task I know I must do, and I arrange them in a line. At any moment of distraction, I can simply glance at this line, and know what I am supposed to be focussing on at that point. It's also useful in that if anyone asks what I'm doing, I can simply point at the LEGO.

( 23 comments — Leave a comment )


Sarah McIntyre

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