Procrastinators Anonymous – How long will it take?

Okay, you received an inquiry about a project and you are negotiating with your client, working out the details of the assignment.  One of the important questions about the assignment that your client will most likely ask, besides price, is going to be, “How long will it take?”  Have you ever had to pull an all-nighter because you miscalculated early on in the project just how much time it will take to complete an assignment?  Have you ever felt the panic and stress set in as that date circled in red on the calendar is looming towards you at lightning speed?  If you answered yes to either of those questions, you are not alone.  I’ve done that more years than I care to remember. I am working on de-stressing my life—learning to create accurate schedules is a huge help in that endeavor.

Art schedules can be a little tricky to figure out.  Who knows how long it will take to get that terrific idea for a new project.? Plus, I have to work within a time frame, and have a deadline, or let’s face it, I will never, ever get the project done. If you are like me, I will just procrastinate forever! Or if I am working on the assignment, I will just keep working on it, and working on it and never ever feel as though it is perfect enough to hand in. So, in my opinion, that deadline is essential to keep me moving forward and actually finishing my work or it will never get “done”.  It helps me to stay focused and remain on track.

To make up my schedule, I have to break down the project into very small pieces and try to assign a time to each task. Sometimes, finding that great idea happens very fast, and other times, it can take what feels like days upon days and countless hours of sketching and searching different venues for inspiration and hoping and praying something will hit us over the head soon with an “out of this world” type of idea or concept!  But, after all of that being said, we as artists, still have to assign a reasonable amount of time to each of our tasks in order to keep those deadlines. Lose a deadline, lose a client, lose a job. Not a good thing!

Ok, here it goes…Scheduling 101 for Artists.

Our pretend assignment will be to figure out a schedule for an illustration assignment. The assignment is to paint a full color illustration, 8” x 10” – for a story in a magazine

After each of the following steps marked with a ‘Q’, write down the number of hours to complete each task. Warning, it does look a little complicated…

Here are questions I would ask myself:

1.) After reading the story, my first task will be to start doing preliminary sketches for the illustration.  Drawing lots of thumbnail sketches works best for me as I develop my ideas for a good concept and layout for my illustrations. 

Q) How long will it take to develop my rough ideas for the illustration? Two, four, six, eight hours?  Think back to your other assignments and try to realistically figure out a time for this first task.

2.) Now that my very rough sketch is finished, next, I must gather my reference material.

Q.)  How long will it take me to pull all of the information I need to complete the illustration assignment? Do I have reference material on hand, will I need to do research, or a road trip to gather the information I need. Include all of this time into your schedule.

3.)  Next, draw the finished pencil illustration.

Q)  How long will this take? I already have my rough sketch finished and have an idea of where I am going with the finished drawing. Theoretically, it shouldn’t take too long, but I do like to include an extra two hours or so to incorporate enough time for changes I may want to make along the way from my original rough sketch.

4.) Final sketch is complete.

Q) Scan it into the computer, and make any modifications to the sketch before I send it off to the art director for approval. How long will this take?  Include this on your calendar.

5.) Follow –up with art director.

Q.) Include time for your meeting – whether it is in person or a phone meeting-it all takes time and must be accounted for in your schedule.

Q.) Hopefully sketch is approved immediately, as is, but I like to leave a little extra time in my schedule just in case there are any changes that need to be made to the sketch.

6.) Sketch approved.

Q.)  How long will it take to paint the illustration.  I try to break it down into smaller pieces.

Q.) Is there a lot of watercolor washes in the background?  That probably won’t take too much time to complete.

 Q.) Are there a lot of details in the main subject.  For example: If I were painting a cat-I would paint the fur – one little piece of fur at a time with my 000 paint brush. So yes, these details will take time. So, I try to think thru some of my previous jobs. Did it take half a day, two days, etc. to complete something that detailed.

7.) Painting completed.

Q.) How do you have to deliver the art?

Q.) By mail? Include the extra time to attach the protective overlay sheets to the art and the packaging materials to ship it. Driving to the post office? Include that time as well.

Q.) Sending the art digitally.  Include the time it takes to scan it and to format it to email it off to your art director.

8.) Job Completed.

Q.) Follow – up with the art director to make sure he liked your illustration and hopefully you will be able to work with him again on his next assignment.

After each step, (depending on the project you will have more or less steps), you should have written how much time to complete each task. Now it is time to pull out a calendar, and assign a task to each hour during your work day. For example, if you are working an 8 hour day, assign each day and each hour with a task. After you’ve written out your calendar, hour by hour, think through each step of your project again. When I see each step actually written down on my calendar, by the hour, it is easier for me to think through the whole entire project and the whole creative process again.  It looks more logical to me and it is much easier for me to tell whether or not my times actually make sense. Sometimes, I may feel I need to make adjustments to my schedule.

Having a detailed calendar helps me stay on track day to day. At the end of each day, I can very quickly see what I should have completed to stay on track. If I start to fall behind schedule, I need to make adjustments. Perhaps working on the weekend, or putting in extra time one of the evenings. But, this way, I can avoid that last minute panic and having to work 16 hour days to finish a project. Being a visual person, the detailed schedule all makes perfect sense and will definitely help me to work “regular” hours so that I won’t have to stress when that deadline is quickly approaching.  This way, I know I am on track and it will be very easy to manage.

As I continue to use these detailed scheduling techniques, it will be easier for me to schedule my time more accurately on my future projects.  Referring back to these previous jobs, reviewing the assigned times on my calendars of my previous jobs, and keeping accurate records is going to help me schedule my future assignments.

Hopefully, by incorporating some of my scheduling tips and ideas into your plans you will be able to more accurately answer the frequently asked question, “How long will it take?” with a bit more accuracy.  No more long hours and sleepless nights because you underestimated the time it will take you to complete your next project!

Let me know if the scheduling tips have helped you.  Do you have a favorite scheduling tip?

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