As usual, I’ve been juggling things I need to do, things I want to do, and things I end up doing that are neither, and feeling like there isn’t enough time for all of it.
You might think that the “answer” to this “problem” would be to increase my efficiency (maybe using the Pareto principle, or David Allen’s GTD system). Or, I could reduce the number of commitments and activities in my life. I’m a dad, husband, database developer, blogger, music producer, label runner, event promoter, radio show host, and aspiring novelist — mostly by choice. Nobody is making me pack my dance card that full.
An alternate solution — one that occurred to me after reading Elizabeth Dunn’s essay “Why We Feel Pressed For Time” — is to instead consider and evaluate the conditions and assumptions that lead me to feel pressed for time in the first place.
One of these conditions in affluence.
Dunn hypothesizes that we feel pressed for time because of our high hourly rates (and/or high salaries). People who don’t make as much money feel less pressed for time, because they actually don’t perceive their time as “precious” like high earners do. They’re a bit more casual in the way they spend their time, and they don’t worry about “wasting it” so much.
In Western culture, the more affluent you are, the busier you get. This is a self-imposed psychological trap. Quoting Dunn, “simply perceiving oneself as affluent might be sufficient to generate feelings of time pressure.” (Dunn cites research by DeVoe and Pfeffer that backs up this claim — it’s worth reading her essay).
So why is this bad for art, as my title asserts?
Art takes time. Time where you walk in circles, explore blind alleys, and spend entire mornings working hard only to throw your results into a literal or digital wastebasket.
In my own experience, making art only feels productive about one session in three. In fact you are usually making progress (exploring blind alleys counts), but it doesn’t feel like it.
This feeling was easier to tolerate when I was young and broke. My time didn’t feel as valuable. What else would I be doing? Delivering pizzas? In college, when my part time work earned me about $12/hour at most, I would often spend six to ten hour stretches studying synthesizer manuals and plugging MIDI notes into the sequencer on my MacPlus computer. Now, as a professional freelance consultant and business owner, I find it much harder to dedicate large chunks of time to meandering creative work.
The way to escape this trap is to define my purpose in life explicitly. My chosen life purpose centers around creating artistic works, and I remind myself of this daily. It’s always “worth it” to pursue my life’s work, even if my efforts don’t lead to any kind of obvious gains (piles of gold coins, fancy cheese and wine, the respect and admiration of my peers, and beautiful women wanting me).
If you don’t define your life purpose, mainstream cultural values will seep in and define “value” for you. In today’s environment that means money. Valuing your time only in terms of money will paralyze you as an artist.