Happy, Healthy and Successful: Create a Positive Work-Life Balance, by Lori McNee

Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market has provided artists and designers with the best business tips and advice for more than 38 years now. In the 2013 edition you’ll find 1,700+ market contacts and a variety of helpful business articles and inspirational interviews with top-notch artists and designers. You can read a complete 2013 AGDM article by artist Lori McNee below, and find more great articles and artist interviews on ArtistsMarketOnline.com.

Nineteenth-century French impressionist music composer Claude Debussy stated that “extreme complication is contrary to art.” Yet, in today’s fast-paced world, it is becoming increasingly complicated for people to maintain a positive work-life balance.

There is lots of information on finding balance in our lives available. Nevertheless, for freelancers, small business owners, and aspiring artists, it might seem as though the only way to get ahead at work is to get behind at home. As a professional artist who juggles a busy painting career along with blogging, teaching, writing, social networking and family, I can speak on this subject with authority, because I have been guilty of imbalance myself.

It is essential for freelancers and other creatives to become skilled at organizing their time in order to reflect, design, create, market and sell their product. Striking the right balance is an individual choice, and it sometimes takes compromise. Below you will find some unique suggestions and practical tips on creating and maintaining balanced lifestyle for you and your business.

STAYING HEALTHY

The majority of my artist friends work obsessive hours without taking the proper time to eat, hydrate or exercise. Here we’ll look at some of the health pitfalls of creative life and consider ways you can avoid or compensate for them.

The dangers of sitting

Like many people who spend much of their day in front of a computer, artists face the same sedentary challenges. Whether you are a sitter or a stander, each pose creates different health concerns. Chances are that you are sitting down while reading this article.

According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, studies show that prolonged periods of sitting and lack of whole-body movement are strongly associated with many diseases. Sitting six-plus hours per day makes you up to 40 percent likelier to die within 15 years than someone who sits less than three, even if you exercise! The once recommended 30 minutes of activity a day is not enough. Interrupt sitting whenever you can to walk around your studio, home or office.

Tips for exercising at work

Listen to music

Many people prefer listening to background music while working. Beautiful or classical music can actually help you focus and boost productivity. Slower music is known to reduce blood pressure.

However, according to Australian physician and psychiatrist Dr. John Diamond, hard rock music causes alarm to the body and lessens work performance. Also, listening to and comprehending any talk, including the news, commercials and talk radio, is counterproductive while working.

Get on your feet

After learning about the dangers of sitting, I now stand at my easel. I also use a stand-up desk for all my blogging and computer tasks. Most artists like to stand when creating, but that poses a different set of concerns.

According to Cherrier, even though your muscles are continually at work to keep you upright, there is a lack of blood flow to the muscles being used. Lack of blood flow causes fatigue in the working muscles. It also can cause problems with vein inflammation.

Over time, long periods of standing can result in varicose veins. Joints in the feet, knees, hips and spine become locked in a prolonged standing position and this can contribute to damage of tendons and ligaments. Here are a couple of ways you can alleviate the physical stress of standing:
•    Change your workstation: Use a small footrest to shift your weight. If working in a certain position causes you to have your arm in one position for a long period, try to use something to support your arm to help curb any fatiguing of your arm and neck.
•    Keep a stool nearby: Have a stool that will help you stay in your favored working position but also allows you rest. Just a bit of support can help take a tremendous amount of stress off muscles and joints. Position yourself close to the working area, and face your work as straight on as possible to avoid bending and stooping.

resistance ball

Sitting on a resistance ball at a regular desk or switching to a stand-up desk are both good ways to get in movement during the work day.

Learn to manage stress

The American Institute of Stress has estimated that 75–90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related problems. According to the Stress Organization, job stress is by far the leading source of stress for adults.

Without a proper work-life balance in place, our work can easily spill over into unreasonable after hours, resulting in added stress and a lack of enthusiasm for life. Of course there are times when we are overscheduled, have important deadlines to meet, and feel behind the eight ball. It’s also true that some of us work well under pressure, but it becomes mentally and physically exhausting to keep up.

Inspired thinkers need a sense of freedom in order to create. Exercise and breaks with space away from work help de-stress and refuel your creative engine.

hiking by a lake

Taking an exercise break outside is good for your body and your mind.

“Space is the breath of art.”
—Frank Lloyd Wright

Declutter

Did you know that clutter is a form of procrastination that causes distractions and stress? The more clutter, the less time we have to focus on working and creating.

Mess = Stress

Taking on too many projects can also be a form of clutter. In order to bring equilibrium into your daily life you must prioritize, edit and be selective. At the end of each work session, do your best to clean and clear your clutter so you are able to concentrate the next time you return to your project.

Create a healthy environment

Another major concern for artists is a healthy working environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that indoor air quality is often up to ten times worse than the air outside, and the air in our studios can be even worse.

Clean the air with houseplants

Did you know that houseplants are beneficial to our lives? For only pennies a day, houseplants help beautify, purify and renew your stuffy studio, office or home. Plants filter out toxins, pollutants and the carbon dioxide we exhale, replacing it with fresh oxygen. Plus, all plants add moisture to the air and can even help prevent dry skin and sore throats in the winter.

Here is a list of materials that are known to cause “off-gas” pollutants in interior environments: man-made building materials, synthetic carpeting, laminated counters, plastic coated wallpaper, household cleaners, fabrics, pesticides, paints, varnishes, adhesives, printers, copiers and fax machines. Formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, is often found in new rugs and vinyl as well as cigarette smoke and even grocery bags.

Good health will allow you to keep doing what you love for many years to come. Some simple planning is all it takes to make sure you’re staying healthy while accomplishing your tasks.

orchid

Houseplants and flowers are beautiful, and they will help purify the air in your home.

BALANCING PARENTHOOD

It seems a bit ironic to be writing this section on balancing parenthood, since I just officially became an “empty nester.” That’s right, my three kids are all out of my house and leading their own lives as young adults. I am proud of them, but it is a big transition for me, and I am grateful to have my art career.

Rearing a family and growing a business are both full-time jobs. Sometimes the lines get blurred between the two. My own art career emerged between loads of laundry, during my kids’ naptimes and late at night.

Years later, what a joy it is to see my young adult children and my own art career thriving! Our children truly are our greatest works of art. Read on for tips to help you balance family life with your art career.

Become self-disciplined

Self-discipline is the ability to do what you know you should do, whether you feel like it or not. It is the most important quality for any person who is juggling parenthood and a busy career. Without it, we struggle between the forces of doing what is necessary and what is fun. Fortunately, self-discipline is a skill that can be developed:
•    Create a routine and stick to it until it becomes a habit.
•    Allocate a certain time each day to work on your tasks.
•    Do not allow distractions to detour you.
•    Focus on the task at hand, and do your best not to multitask.

Build clear boundaries

When the workplace is just a few steps away from the family space, discord with the family may become common. This is why it is especially important to build clear boundaries for the stay-at-home parent. I understand that theses tips might seem “easier said than done.” Nevertheless, do your best to set work hours for creativity and stick with them.

For parents with young children, your “free time” might be limited to your child’s naptime or playpen time. If working every day is overwhelming, pick one or two days a week. Once children are school age, your schedule will allow for more work time.

It is vital to surround yourself with people who honor your boundaries and support your dreams.

setting artistic goalssetting art goals

Limit distractions

For the home-based office, this can be difficult. Nevertheless, distractions spread our focus and reduce attention to detail, which negatively affects our work. Distractions may include phone calls, television, Internet, household tasks, social media, and even spouses, partners and children.

Staying focused and learning how to say “no” will help you cope with distractions. Set a work schedule and lay down the ground rules in the form of boundaries with your family and friends. Let your phone go to voicemail, close the laptop and shut the door to your office or studio.

Set goals

Goal setting and focusing kept me motivated when I was balancing my art career with parenthood. Back then, I was a wildlife artist, so I entered duck stamp competitions and art festivals and donated my art and illustrations to organizations such as the Nature Conservancy and the Wolf Education Research Center. All of this helped build a solid foundation for me as a professional artist. This also gave me artistic goals to achieve when motherhood suggested that I give up!

Be organized

Since work time is limited, it is imperative to stay organized. Clean up at the end of each work session so you can return to a clean workstation. Organize your projects so you are ready to work and are not fumbling around wasting time. You will become more productive and less stressed.

Stop multitasking

In the past I have proudly proclaimed myself a multitasker. The best multitasker may appear to be handling more than one task at the same time. But, studies have shown that productivity drops with multitasking because the brain cannot fully focus. People actually take longer to complete tasks and are more predisposed to error.

Experimental psychologists studying people who talk on cell phones while driving concluded that people must withdraw their attention from the road in order to formulate responses, because the brain is unable to focus on two sources of input at one time. Driving, talking and listening distract the brain and increase the likelihood of accidents.

I was so surprised to learn that simple multitasking while on the phone can cause inattention to detail, which in turn affects the quality of your work and even parenting.

Work in small increments

Have you ever told yourself, “I’ve only got 5 minutes” and then been amazed at just how much you were able to accomplish in those 5 minutes? When you are limited for time, get in the habit of doing your work for “just 5 minutes.”

Easy cleanup

Choose pencil, charcoal, watercolor, acrylic paint and water-soluble oils, which are relatively easy to clean up and are primarily non-toxic.

Work small

While my kids were young I found that it was much easier to work on small projects. This way I was able to finish and feel a sense of accomplishment and triumph.

Involve the kids

Toddlers and pre-school aged children are naturally artistic. Consider giving your child a box filled with age-appropriate art supplies so the little budding artist can create alongside you.

I did this with my own child who eventually had his first art show when he was only ten years old. Now he is a 3D artist, working for Disney!

child painting

Give your kids their own art supplies to develop their creativity. This will also keep them entertained and out of your own supplies!
Photo by Andrzej Skorut

Take time for you

Parenting is a rewarding, but exhausting experience. The only way to maintain the energy needed to juggle parenting and your career is to create some time for yourself. This is important for replenishing your energy and creative levels.

Make an effort to give yourself at least one night off per week. Use this time to do something you enjoy. Read a book, rent a movie, go out to dinner or take a relaxing bath.

Become aware of the brief moments of quiet time in your life. Most of us spend a lot of time in our cars. Instead of filling the quiet with cell phone calls and the radio, turn everything off and enjoy the silent ride. Creating simple rituals such as these can help you find balance and help you from negatively reacting from your exhaustion.

Finding this equilibrium is particularly important to artistic individuals. Achieve balance by gaining control of your daily tasks, and by making room for some healthy habits. Then you will be rewarded with more energy to create!

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Lori McNee is an exhibiting member of Oil Painters of America and ranks as one of the most influential artists and powerful women on Twitter. She was named a Twitter Powerhouse by The Huffington Post. Lori shares valuable fine art tips, art business tips and social media advice on her blog, FineArtTips.com. She has been a talk show host for Plum TV, and has been featured in and written for magazine and book publications and serves on the Plein Air Magazine board of advisors.

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