Long term Goal Setting for Artists

In many ways, I believe an artist needs to manage his or her time like a CEO. This is hard. If you have a job that involves, let’s say, data entry from 10-6PM, you’ve got a VERY clear cut idea of what needs to happen each day. You go sit at your desk, you enter and perhaps manipulate some data, and you can clearly see what you’ve accomplished. The job involves completing a set task, and with a rather small amount of mental energy, you can dedicate yourself to the task at hand and see results.

When I talk to artists, though, the picture looks a LOT more like that of a higher level executive. Most artists that I talk to, myself included, discover that only a percentage of their time is spent actually, you know, “arting” (writing, physically making up choreography, putting paint to a canvas). The rest of the time is spent on “branding”, “marketing”, “relationship building”, “networking”, “publicity”, and “financial assessment of the product”. These nebulous items can make or break an artistic career, but they’re hard to prioritize and often difficult to create concrete action items from. These tasks no longer look like those of an artist- but those of a business owner. The skills needed to build a long term successful business are almost identical to those needed to build a long term successful artist. It’s just with a business, there’s a product. As an artist, the product is you.

Now, I’m sure this is all sounding fairly familiar to those of you who have read some productivity books, and some business/creativity books. But, even so, I think this lesson bears repeating. Just as a business needs a business plan to succeed, so to does an artist need an “artist plan” to succeed. A business plan might be drawn up so that a business looks solvent enough to take out a business loan. As an artist, your goals should be so concrete to you that you could take out an “artist loan” (or, at the very least, apply for a fellowship or grant in your chosen artistic field).

A business plan might ask you where you see your business headed in the next six months, year, or five years. You could very well ask yourself this as an artist. What long term projects to you hope to have accomplished by 2019? Sure, it sounds like a lot of time now…but doesn’t it feel like 2009 was just yesterday? Have you accomplished as much artistically as you might have from 2009-2014? I’m not saying that every day needs to be micromanaged to a T. However, I do believe that long term artistic projects don’t just materialize out of thin air. Creating an exhibition of your own work is HARD. Creating a full length dance theater piece is HARD. Writing a full-length novel is HARD. But a broken down plan might make it a little easier.

For instance, we can look at a common artistic goal in two ways:

1) Gee, I really want to write a book one day.

OR…

2) I am going to write a book.
By The end of March, I will have a plot development outline, and I will have details written on each of the major characters.
By the end of June, I will have the first three chapters written.
By the end of September, I will have three more chapters written.
I will continue at this pace of one chapter a month.
By The middle of 2016 (give or take), I will have a completed draft of my novel.

Who do you think is getting their book done?

A business doesn’t just become a fortune 500 company overnight. And most of the time, an artist isn’t just going to burst forth onto the scene with an amazing piece of work he or she developed in a weekend. But, if you put the hours in, even the most impossibly large tasks, goals, and projects can be broken down into manageable tasks.

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