A common misconception about productivity is that it equates to doing a lot of work. On the contrary, it’s actually about allowing yourself to focus on making sure the work you’re doing is the right work. This, in the long run, ends up meaning not only less work but also less work redone and, of course, less stress.
When it comes to productivity, a little bit of effort each day can go a long way towards building up habits that will help you become more organized, effective and, eventually, a more successful artist.
Find an Organizational Method
Whether you’re working with storyboards or reference images, to start any project, you need to do some research first. Productivity is no different. Before you can expect to become a more productive artist, you need to figure out what that exactly means for you.
A great first step in this direction is to find a single way to organize all of the work that you do. Think of this like the storyboards to productivity. When creating an animation, the first step is to sketch out storyboards to decide on the sequence of events that are going to be in the final animation. The process of creating the storyboards help you get a better idea of what your end goal for the animation will be.
Similarly when you want to organize all of the work you do, the first step isn’t to jump in and start organizing everything. The first step is to take a step back and figure out how you want to organize everything. Would it make sense to group together things that need to be done this week? Or would it be better to organize things by your location (e.g., so you can see everything you need to do at work while you’re at work and everything you need to do at home while you’re at home, etc.)
Since this organizational method is for your purposes only, there isn’t a right or wrong way to go about this. In fact, don’t be surprised if you’ll need to make changes along the way. But it would be setting yourself up for failure to dive into trying to get organized without even knowing what “organized” means.
While you can try coming up with a system of your own, there’s no need to re-invent something that millions of other productive people around the world have already figured out. There’s a great post over at Lifehacker to discuss some of these popular productivity methods. Just like any experienced artist will tell you that beautiful art can be created with any software program, any experienced productivity specialist will tell you that the method you use doesn’t matter. Personal productivity is, after all, very personal and what works for you may not be what works for someone next to you. The key is that it is something that makes sense to you.
This might sound simple, but more often than not this is the “make or break” for why many people fall off the “organized” bandwagon and lose interest in productivity. The reason for this is simple: No matter what organizational method you use, it’s not going to be something you master overnight. As a general rule of thumb, it takes about 21 to 30 days to form a habit. That’s exactly what this is, so give it some time.
Don’t Let Productivity Stay at Your Desk
Do you find that you’re often thinking about a project outside of work? You’re not the only one. While this certainly isn’t a bad thing, when you’re not in a position to do anything about it that can cause mental strain that leads to unnecessary stress.
With the high-end software in the CG industry today, the hardware that is required to run that software is equally powerful. Costs have certainly come down in the past few years and technology is advancing, but we’re still a ways away from being able to really get work done with CG software from everywhere.
For example, if you’re a ZBrush artist you’ll really only be able to get work in ZBrush done when you’re in front of a system that can handle it. So until they find a way to port ZBrush for mobile devices (wouldn’t that be nice?), you can’t do much on your character sculpt when you’re on a train with only your phone.
But what you can do while you’re away from your desk is to jot down or sketch out any thoughts or notes about your sculpt so you can actually make those changes once you’re back in front of ZBrush. The same is true no matter what type of the pipeline you may be a part of. There will be times you’re away from your system and often times that may be when your creativity strikes.
Multitasking (Successfully) Is a Myth
While your computer may be able to multitask successfully, the human brain doesn’t really work that way. While this may be a controversial subject for many, if you really think about it, multitasking is nearly impossible to do successfully. To see this in action, below’s a little activity you can do.
You’ll need something to write with (pen or pencil), paper and a stopwatch.
On the paper, time yourself writing down the letters of the alphabet with the number just below it. So it’d look something like this:
A B C D
1 2 3 4
Here’s what ours looked like:
Once you’ve reached Z 26, stop the timer and write down how long that took you to do.
Next, reset the timer and time yourself again. This time, though, instead of doing the letters and numbers at the same time write the letters first. Only after you’ve finished the letters should you write all of the numbers underneath the letters. Again, here’s what ours looked like during the second part of this little activity:
When you’ve finished, compare the time it took for you to write down the letters separately than the numbers. The end result is that you have the letters A – Z and the numbers 1 – 26. The results are the same, so why does it take a lot less time to write down the letters first and then the numbers? The reason is simple. The human brain works best when it can focus on one thing at a time.
Control Your System, Not the Other Way Around
Whether you leave work late in the evening or in the early hours of the morning, you probably have a really good idea of what you need to get done the next day. When you get your morning cup of coffee and sit down to work, checking email is actually one of the least productive things you can do. By doing this, you’re derailing the roll you were on the day before and allowing any tasks that come through email to control your day instead of starting the day by working on what you know you need to get done that day. A great way to overcome this is to find a system that works with your preferred productivity methodology you can check often.
The term “trusted system” is something you’ll find common among productivity experts, most notably those who use the popularGetting Things Done (GTD) methodology. No matter which methodology you find works best for you, a key part is finding a way to capture not only your tasks and reminders from other sources such as email, but any ideas or creative sparks you might have wherever you are. This needs to be done in such a way that you can not only refer back to it when you’re able to do something about it, but most importantly that will allow your mind not to stress about that idea or task from now until you’re actually able to do it.
While your system should be flexible enough to be mobile, it should be powerful enough that you can refer back to it when you need to. The goal here is to find a way to pull everything you have to do out of your head and dump it into some sort of a system you know will be there when you need it. It could be a computer program, an app on your phone, a notebook or even a system of folders.
Don’t Check Your Email Constantly
How often do you check your snail mail? While the use of snail mail has declined in recent years, it is still something that most of us will
check at least once a day. And yet when it comes to the electronic version, all too often we build up a habit of checking it almost constantly throughout the day either on our computers or mobile devices.
If you really think about it, though, the contents of most email really isn’t that much different than snail mail. Very rarely, if ever, will there be an email that would have immediate detrimental effects if you drop everything and work on whatever is asked of you in that email. If something is that important, there are other means of communication such as phone calls or even just face to face chatting.
As contradictory as it may seem at first, you’re likely to find that if you limit the amount of times you check your email throughout the day, the more productive you become. This is precisely the reason why you were able to write the letters and numbers faster on their own than together in the multitasking activity above. By blocking off times to focus solely on your email, you’re not only allowing yourself to focus on your email but you’re also avoiding the distraction email provides throughout the day. This will help you focus on doing what you do best: create art.
A great tool to get you started and block off your time is Google Calendar. Try creating a new calendar and set reminders for when to check email each day. Some common timing would be to check email once in the morning and once in the afternoon, but feel free to adjust it as you need. The key is to consciously block off time to check email instead of letting it become something that you do all the time throughout the day.
As long as new technologies are created by CG artists around the world who continue to push the envelope, there will always be the need for artists to stay up-to-date on those tools and techniques. Similarly, the number of tools and techniques people around the world, from all walks of life, utilize to get stuff done is ongoing. There are millions of people around the world that use any number of techniques to be productive. The chances are pretty good that you’re not alone in overcoming any sort of challenge as you embark on your new productive lifestyle.
Just as it’s a good idea to focus on learning one application at a time, as a general rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to focus on improving one aspect of your productivity at a time. For example, are you getting swamped with emails? Focus on methods forclearing out your inbox. Once you’ve mastered that technique, find another area that you can improve.
This constant improving process is something that will be a lot easier to do if you set aside some time each week to find new tools and techniques for learning productivity. For each of those new tools or productivity methodologies will come plenty of communities of other users who are using them. Join those communities on your favorite social networking platforms and start interacting with others. As you have questions, you’ll have some places to go ask those questions right away without much effort. This will help you focus your precious time on finding the answers to your questions without wasting extra time finding where to get those answers.
If you have some productivity tips of your own that you’d like to share with other artists, we’d love to hear about them in our forums.