Rethinking “Work”

People have always asked me how I get so much stuff done. How do I find the time? Part of the answer, of course, is that I don’t do a lot of the things most people do: I don’t watch TV or surf the web or go to lunch or talk on the phone. My husband takes care of almost all of the household stuff, from shopping to cooking, which of course makes a huge difference. But another big reason I can get a lot of things done is that I have re-thought what “work” is and have so thoroughly blurred the lines between work and not-work that I really can’t tell the difference. I’ll be sitting at the computer, writing something, lost in the process, and think, “Whoa! I’d better get to work!” and then catch myself and realize that I *am* working; it just doesn’t feel like work because it’s enjoyable.

Now, that may well not be the case with most day jobs: there aren’t a lot of them that are so engrossing and enjoyable that you forget you’re at work. You seldom mistake an 8-hour day for a trip to Disneyland. But your studio work is another thing entirely, and here’s my idea: if you look at the parts of what you make, you can separate them into two kinds of work. One is the stuff you have to do in the studio, the kind of processes that require machines or lots of space or major mental activity. But after that, there are other processes that don’t require that kind of space, and those are the ones that we want to look at. What are some of the things you do in creating your work that can be looked at as other than work? Processes that are portable, so you can do them outside the studio, and relaxing, so they don’t require a lot of thought?

Let’s say you make cast jewelry. Most of the processes require equipment, and most of these feel like work. But at either end of the process, there are things you do that you can think of differently. On the front end, with the design, and on the back end, with smoothing and polishing, things that can let you slow down and become meditative. With almost anything, there’s the design process and the finishing process, and both of these can become something you can do–and enjoy–outside your regular studio hours.

I know that a lot of people who work for themselves try to keep work and not-work separate, trying to shut the studio door and claim the rest of their time as family time or down time or social time. If you want to get more done, though, it behooves you to find ways to work when you’re not working. A good place to start is with a notebook. You can jot notes no matter where you are. If you’re sitting in front of the television or at a coffee shop, you can make sketches and lists and notes. Idle doodling can lead to some amazing design ideas–some that aren’t even apparent until later. it doesn’t have to make you anti-social. Show the sketches to your kids; encourage them to sketch in their own notebooks.

I do a lot of sewing, but to me, it’s two distinct things. There’s the cutting and measuring and sewing by machine, which I have to think about and which I don’t really enjoy. It has to be done in the studio, and I think of it as work, even though it’s not the way I make a living. The other part, though, is handwork: beading, embroidery, sewing seams by hand. This is another thing entirely. I enjoy it, and much of it can be done anywhere. I can carry on a conversation while I’m doing it. I can watch a movie. I do it in cafes and on the road, when I’m waiting for an appointment and when I’m editing audio for a podcast. To me, it’s not work, even though it’s part of the same projects that have work involved.

What parts of your process can be taken out of the studio with you? Find the most relaxing, portable parts, and see if you can work them into other ares of your life. You’ll be amazed at how much more time it will give you to do the work you love.


Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.





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