All this technology we have is supposed to help us be more efficient, informed, and productive. Sometimes it does, but all too often it becomes a monster that gobbles up our time, money, and sanity.
I work on the computer all day, most days helping artists and creative people run their businesses. I also have my own time and technology to manage. So like the artists I work with, it's always a challenge to figure out how to balance it all.
Over the years I've found what works for me and for the artists I work with. Of course, it's different for everyone, but here are the four things that, when done, help everyone balance technology with their lives:
1. First things first. It's easier to balance the technology you have if you first make sure you have only what you need and no more.
Acquiring, using and maintaining techy stuff takes a lot of time, including learning time to stay current, and it costs money. These days we are dependent on technology for marketing art and often for making it too. If you're like me. you probably have more than you need.
Pare it down. Every six months or so I sit down with a glass of iced tea and think about what gizmos, gadgets, software, and other technology I'm using and ask myself, "Do I need all this? How can I simplify?" As much as I love technology, I don't want to spend ALL my time on it. I have a life, too!
Paring down to the essentials will help you balance it all because you won't be spending so much time or money on it. I recently realized that I didn't need the MacBook Pro laptop computer I owned. I mostly use my desktop computer to work, and I adore having two 27" high resolution monitors that give me tons of creative digital real estate. The laptop went to my daughter when hers died, and I felt surprisingly lighter with one less piece of equipment. Now my iPad fills in when I'm not at my desk.
2. Keep your technology updated and current. Really, this pays off in the long run.
You can't balance your time, energy and money if you are limping along on old hardware/software that works less and less over time. Trying to wrangle outdated equipment, apps and software has a huge opportunity cost included.
Updating hardware (phones, tablets, computers) and software, and how often to do it will depend on what you need it for. About 90% of my income depends on my desktop computer, so that's the thing I keep very, very current and running like a top. I buy a new computer every 2-3 years, and the old ones stay in the office as backups and for others to use. In the past year we've switched from buying software outright to "renting" it as part of an online subscription. Your needs will vary, but if you're livelihood depends on certain technology, that's the stuff you want to keep updated and new. The other things you can let go longer.
I set my computer and gadgets to automatically update the software and firmware, but I'm a bit of a control freak and like to know what's being added/updated on my stuff, so I adjust my settings to prompt me first before updating. My big desktop computer gets replaced every two to three years, my printer when it dies (I rarely use it), and my iPad and iPhone when they die or when I notice I'm spending more time than usual wrangling them.
3. Now that you have only the technology you really need, and it's in good shape and updated, don't forget to keep yourself updated too.
Make sure you have at least a beginners level of skill for using your technology. Most artists waaayyyy overestimate their technology skills. Sorry, it's true. Don't shoot the messenger, OK?
If you are spending a lot of your time wrangling with technology and are frustrated with your computer (or phone, or tablet) and struggling with the things you want to do, and if your computer and software are relatively new and are updated, the problem is you and not the technology. Unfortunately, technology isn't instantly 100% useable. There is a learning curve.
True story: An artist actually spent three days of her time trying to print artwork labels for a show. She had poor computer skills and an unwillingness to improve those skills. It should have taken her an hour, no more. Take an online "computer basics" course for your type of computer and for the software you have. It'll make a big difference, I promise. My favorite is lynda.com online training. It does cost something each month, totally worth it.
4. Schedule your use of technology and use technology to schedule your computer tasks.
I don't like being on a strict schedule. I like most of my time to be free-form so I can focus on what inspires me and what needs to get done throughout the day.
Although I would love to do whatever I want whenever I want, that's not realistic for running a business. Again, it's about balance, in this case balancing the need to be freely creative with the discipline of running a business. Here's how I do it. You can try variations on these themes and see what works for you:
- Before going into the office/studio I spend up to one hour each morning going through email and sending short replies ("Got your images, thanks!"), checking my social media, and having fun (Yeah, sometimes you just gotta watch that video.) I do it from the couch with my iPad and a cup of coffee. Then I go to work. When I quit for the day I check my calendar for the next day's appointments and commitments. If I want to spend more time on social media or drooling over the latest technology gadgets, it has to happen after my working hours. I've learned the hard way that distractions can eat up a tremendous amount of time, so I do have that rule about when I can do it.
- In my office I keep a master "to-do" list in Evernote, and every morning I check that for critical tasks and phone appointments for the day. I also check my calendar. Knowing everything I need to do that day actually helps me be more free-form. I tend to do the "chores" early so my afternoons can be more creative.
- I do check email throughout the day, but I also follow the rule that there is just about nothing in the universe that can't wait 90 minutes. That's how long I'll work on a project without interruption. Let the phone ring, the emails will be there when you're done. I have assigned special ringtones for family members, and they all know that work time is for work and not for calling me to ask what's for dinner.
- I set aside one-half to one day per week for "self improvement and technology" time. I do that on Friday, although it's flexible because stuff happens, as you know. If I attend an online workshop during the week, that comes out of my Friday time. "Friday Time" is for taking care of business and me. I read email newsletters that I've been saving during the week, balance the business bank account, update online accounts and passwords, all that stuff I need to do to run a business and keep my skills sharp.
There IS balance to be found, try something, adjust, you'll find it. I hope these suggestions help, do let me know if you have questions!
If you're just catching up with us this week, do go back and read Aletta's posts from the month. You'll gain a wealth of information that you can use now:
Chief Cook, Bottle Washer, Caretaker ... and Artist
Juggle, Juggle, Toil ... No Trouble?
There is No Such Thing as Perfect Balance
Please join Aletta in conference call:
The Artist's Journey to Conscious Juggling.
Wednesday, June 18th, 2014
from 5:00 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. Pacific; 8:00 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. Eastern.
There is no charge for this group call, other than your long distance carrier fees.
Sign up and I'll send you the telephone access numbers.
We'll have a practical and life-affirming discussion about how you can juggle art, life and marketing with less effort and more ease. Please make sure to tell me what you are juggling and what you'd like me to talk about that could help you keep the right balls in the air.
After we've shared stories and suggestions for 45 minutes, if you can stay for a few more. I'll also tell you about the new A.C.T. coaching program "Balancing Art, Life and Marketing."
If you can't make it, no worries, you can set up a personal call with me to learn more at a time that works better.