Time Management: 3 Tools to Get You Started

XKCD #874: Time Management by Randall Munroe

XKCD #874: Time Management by Randall Munroe

Time management is one of those skills everyone knows they need. For me, it’s a lot like eating healthy and exercising. Every few months I get buried in overdue work and deadlines. “From now on,” I say to myself, “I’m keeping a planner! I’m waking up at 5am every morning and drawing non-stop till noon. I will finish 20 pages a day! I will cut out extraneous internet time!

You can see where this is going.

Just like starting a fitness program, the main cause of failure is the sudden change. Humans are creatures of habit. No matter how disciplined I am, there is no way I will be able to just chuck a 24 year-habit  of procrastinating and mindless computer surfing. I am also a full-time college student; I table at 3-4 conventions throughout the year and do freelance commissions.

The key is to make small changes daily. Effectively, you’re tricking yourself into productivity.

1. Keep track of your time

Do you know much time it takes you to draw a comic page or write a script? How much time do you really spend on Facebook or playing video games?  What can you give up during the day to make time for comics work?

Most (if not all) Indie Comics Creators don’t have the luxury of doing comics all day. Family, day-jobs, freelance gigs etc. take a lot of time and energy. It may seem like there is just not enough time for personal projects but truth is; most of us still find ourselves zoning out to TV, commuting for hours or spending more time in the shower than we realize.

First, you have to know your own pace. Some days I feel like I work for hours and barely get a few pages done. On others, I can do a few days’ worth of work in an hour. Good old Parkinson’s Law says that “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” If you don’t know how long it takes, an hour-long job can stretch out for hours. You may think you’re only playing this level for 30 mins but its past midnight and you’re nowhere near done.

Using a time-punch app, I found that I could complete a comic page in roughly an hour. If I find myself with even just 30 minutes to spare, I know I can at least finish half a page. I know that if my classes get cancelled and I have 3 hours to fill; I can do 3 pages.

Keeping track of my daily activities made me realize that I have a couple of free hours in the morning. I usually spend this getting ready for school but, let’s face it, I don’t need 3 hours to dress and brush my teeth. I have an hour commute on the bus that can be used for drawing up thumbnails, an hour between classes and a few hours before bed. That leaves me with a minimum of 5 free hours a day.

This gives me a personal minimum goal to aspire to every day. When I catch myself procrastinating or getting distracted while drawing (damn you, Netflix!) I remind myself that on any given day; I should be able to do 5 pages minimum.

Knowing your personal pace also helps with scheduling deadlines. Instead of the unrealistic and unattainable goal of 20 comics a day; a measly 5 pages a day seems like nothing.

2. Get a calendar

This may seem obvious, but I’ve known artists who hate calendars. Structured daily schedules are the antithesis to the glamorous vision of an inspired bohemian artist.  But without a calendar, deadlines become a vague concept; a dark looming behemoth.

Earlier this year, I decided to make OMGcow daily. I kept up with it for about, oh, a month. I’m now 4 months behind. I’m not proud of it, but I went through a period where I gave up. It just seemed too insane, too impossible to ever catch up. I felt like I could work all day but each day was just another I was behind. That’s on top of exams and attending/preparing for conventions.

One day, I sat down with a calendar. I was 122 comics behind. I know I can script, thumbnail, pencil, ink and digitally color 5 comics a day. At that rate, it would only take me roughly 30 days to catch up.

It felt like a huge load off my shoulders. Instead of feeling like I would be indefinitely chipping away at 4 months’ of backlog while constantly adding to it; I only have to do 5 pages a day. I could do even more on weekends! Which leads me to the next point:

3. Break up massive projects

It can be hard to concentrate on anything for more than an hour at a time. If you’re human; you also need to eat, sleep and relax. When tackling huge projects, it can be more productive to do a little bit every day.

If you work with your hands, taking frequent breaks are necessary to avoid injury! Set a timer if you have to. Get up and walk around. Get your mind off your work for just a little bit. Play another round of DrawSomething. Just don’t get distracted!

Comment and share:
What are your tips and tricks for productivity? How do you get the most out of your work day?

Sheika Lugtu lives on the internet and draws comics just for you at OMGcow.com. Ask her stuff or say hi @OMGcow

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