When I started out as an artist, I read lots of business books about efficiency. I had never worked in an office or had any other sort of job, and I was sure the business world could teach me lots about how to make my work more streamlined. Well, in part, it did. Some of those productivity tips were useful. But when I was following that advice, I kept running into serious blocks. And here’s why…
The business world separates work and home
Economists made a deliberate decision not to include essential free labour in the domestic sphere, in economic calculations, some centuries ago. This was largely because the world was developing a scientific and reductionist approach to the world.
It resulted in employers looking at employees as interchangeable ‘labour units’ that were replaceable. And that approach just doesn’t work for self-employed people or artists. Because we’re not replaceable. What we do can’t be replicated by anyone else – that’s precisely what gives our work value. And if we make the same ‘efficiency’ assumptions that employers typically make, and act as if we are, we’re bound to crash sooner or later.
Businesses don’t care about the state of your home and your personal life
Most of us wouldn’t relish the prospect of an employer enquiring into our personal lives to ensure we’re ‘fit to work’. It’s too ‘Big Brother’ for comfort. But by taking no responsibility whatsoever, many employers are conveniently conscience-free about paying less than a person can possibly live on, and forcing people into zero hours contracts without considering the effect of such uncertainty on their finances and mental health.
Artists often unconsciously use this mechanical, reductionist approach on themselves
Many of the companies we work with are operating on these principles. And so they will tend to make unreasonable demands of us. Obviously this has a knock-on effect. We expect ourselves to be able to cope. This process is magnified because that ‘magic’ that artists typically generate, especially onstage, makes us appear to be able to break basic physical laws with impunity. As a result we end up believing that a ‘true’ artist could manage whatever unreasonable demand is being made of us.
Artists need to preserve their sanity and creative capacity
We need to concretely understand and allow for the differences between the kind of work businesses do, and the nature of the creative process. Most crucially, our capacity to concentrate, our peace of mind, domestic peace and emotional contentment all contribute our ability to create great work consistently. And that isn’t obvious to the new artists among us, because they’re so often fed the trope of the ‘dysfunctional, troubled genius’. Many of us don’t even realise that all of the above are essential resources that need to be husbanded and marshalled if we’re to have any longevity in our careers.
Artists need to connect the importance of their home life with that of their work
It sounds pretty mundane but actually this is a fairly radical idea. For a start, it will mean that you put a priority on your health and your relationships – much more so than most young people with a 9-5 job. It will drive you to set up your home to nurture and support you efficiently – often an unfamiliar idea for young men… But more than that, this kind of connected thinking is a political act.
The separation of work and home life by economists has profound consequences for women. Most obviously, the free caring women do for infants and the elderly is not valued because it doesn’t produce profit directly, nor the huge efforts they often put into making a house a home. With conventional thinking, women ‘disappear’ both economically and in terms of their ‘perceived value’ when they’re not formally engaged in paid work. Understanding how crucial that unpaid caring and nurturing contributes to both your quality and pace of work will rebalance your appreciation of those who concretely care for you without motives – whatever their gender – but most especially the women in your life, past and present.
The benefits of balance
Long-term, you want to work in a relaxed way most days. You want to enjoy creating your work. And you want to feel supported and nurtured. That’s how the best work of your career is going to get created. Well that doesn’t just ‘happen’ and particularly not for self-employed creative people. You have to create an ecosystem for yourself that does all that. And encourage other creative people to do the same. And as a bonus, it’ll change your attitude to what’s important in life, too.
If you want to know more about healthy creative habits and how to set your home and career up to nurture your talents, you’ll find more in ‘Organizing for Creative People’.