How to keep productive and avoid creative blocks

For the past three years I have been working full time as an artist and curator. At first it was a bit scary, I was now my own boss and accountable for only myself. I didn't always know how to keep myself focused in the studio and sometimes I would have creative blocks which I could wrestle with for weeks. This is something that I am continually working on and although I still have a long way to go, here are a few things that I have learnt about keeping myself in check and working hard.

Attempting to look productive.... nailed it.

Attempting to look productive.... nailed it.

Define your Goals

Every month or two I spend time thinking about my goals and planning how to achieve them. Whether that be participating in a set number of exhibitions or gaining more connections within the art world, this clarity helps me set the tasks that I need to reach my goals. There are a number of goal setting guidelines available online which can help you clarify what you are trying to achieve. Lots of people working in the city use them and there is no reason why artists shouldn't.

Click here for the SMART goal setting worksheet.

Double up

Quite frequently when I am painting I reach a point where my inspiration wanes and I need to turn my attention elsewhere. Sometimes I won’t return to that painting for a few hours, a day, or even a week, therefore to keep myself productive I normally work on two or more paintings at once. This way when I reach a mental block I can swiftly continue on a separate task. Once my brain is focused elsewhere the solution to my initial problem often comes to me. This keeps me consistently working without wasting time by stopping and starting.

One of my weekly, very messy, to do lists

One of my weekly, very messy, to do lists


Give yourself deadlines. Do you remember in school when you messed about all year and then did a month of cramming before exams? Well, that was because you had a rapidly approaching deadline. I like to have them set each month, these can be exhibitions, commission completion dates for clients, having a certain amount of paintings finished, etc. They give me a boost of adrenaline and keep me focused.

Say yes to everything... everything!

If you want to be productive make sure that you have a suitably large amount of work to do. It may seem daunting, but by saying yes to all opportunities it will force you into a position of focus. Sometimes I see artists looking a bit lack lustre and then they tell me they haven't exhibited for many months... well I'm not surprised! You have to get yourself involved in exhibitions, if you can't get into one, then plan one. Take charge and fill up that calendar. Say yes to people who request things from you that you aren't even sure you can do yourself... keep yourself busy and work every angle. Once you are in constant demand you can start to drop off the jobs which seem less relevant to your interests. Until that point - say yes! - I may have to write a whole post on this subject.


Know yourself

If you tend to work better in the morning, then do so! Pretty simple - I like to keep a relatively regular schedule and be finished at the studio by 6pm. That way I have social working hours and can enjoy my evenings out with friends.


If you are doing all of the above and still it just isn't your day, then head out - You are your own boss after all. Do you think that people who work in offices have continuously productive eight to ten hour days? I doubt it, so seeing as no one is stopping you, get out and relax, do some life admin, see a mate. Get that work/ life balance that everyone keeps talking about.

I hope this post helps those new to self employment or who are stuck in a creative block. If you have any of your own tips for keeping a good workflow please share your experiences in the comment section below. 

Onwards and upwards!