Illustrator's Diary - Daily Batching for Productivity, Mindfulness and Health

Have you ever tracked your time?

The practice of noting down exactly when you did what, and for how long, during any given day, can give valuable insight into your own habits. It shows where, often unexpectedly, a lot of time is 'lost'. While I hate the expression of 'wasted time' (personal care, or just spacing out, can be just as or even more valuable as constantly running about), as a self-employed artist working from home, it's very important for me to know my own productivity pitfalls and habits. Knowing how much time I usually need to actually complete any given task, from the very first sketches to the very last layout adjustments, helps in determining my monthly schedule, the commissions I accept and my freelancing rates. 

I use a cheap plain notebook (the flower pattern one) to do my daily sketches. 

I use a cheap plain notebook (the flower pattern one) to do my daily sketches. 

Diary Drawings: Daily Schedule

But since just plain tracking got boring after a while (I did that a lot in the beginning of my freelancing career) I recently switched to doing occasional diary drawings that summarize my entire day. This is a great way to reflect upon a day, looking at what I actually got done and what I'm thankful for. I also use these diary drawings as a helpful way to track my meals. When I'm busy, I often forget to eat or just live on cereal, so actually having to draw that down keeps me accountable.

Freelance illustration work is quite unpredictable. Tasks change depending on clients, if they need layout/digital work or actual watercolor illustrations; if I have time to focus on my own projects and Etsy store; if I have to help out at the cafe a lot (mostly shifts on late afternoons/evenings) or pressing deadlines to throw everything upside-down. 

So to stay sane and organized while working from home, I do this one simple thing:

Batching | Organizing my daily routine in themed portions. 

How does 'Time Batching' or 'Task Batching' work?

To use 'Batching' (or 'Block Scheduling') in a daily routine and schedule, similar tasks are grouped together. This can mean tasks that require similar materials or similar mindsets. Once (especially small!) tasks are part of a group, it's easier from one to the next since all necessary materials or references, or the necessary peace of mind, are already in place. 

It also makes it easier to schedule out individual days, especially for self-employment or when working from home. Instead of being overwhelmed by the flurry of small to big tasks that need to be scheduled, they simply fall into one of the established 'batches' and those batches have their fixed place in any given day (or week, though this blog post uses daily batching).

No matter what projects I'm currently working on, this allows my days to have a regular schedule: 

  • Morning: Organisation, Client Contact, Etsy / Packaging, Social Media, Digital Work / Layout and design work. Anything requiring my laptop and internet, I get done before lunch. This helps me getting started - I'm way too restless in the morning to just start on one single, long task. Getting all the tiny to middling tasks done first thing lets me cross off a huge portion of my to-do list. 
    The time difference from Korea to most of my clients (Europe, United States) also requires for me to reply to emails and messages first thing in the morning. Especially the storyboard company in the States I'm working for will just finish their day when I get up, so it's always a good idea to check in for any pressing matters. 
    I also update my social media in the morning most day, and get housework done (meal-prep, cleaning, washing...). 
  • Lunch: Most of the time we eat something small at home. If I have orders to ship that day, I'll get my trip to the post office done before mid-day. This marks the end of my 'Organization' batch.
  • Afternoon: Painting. No matter what kind of client I'm currently working for, there's always something that needs to get painted or drawn. While I'd focus on layout sketches, drafts and style tests in the morning, afternoons are reserved for just the craft itself. 
    Thanks to doing all my organization work in the morning and having lunch as this 'official' shift in my day, I can completely switch off the part of my brain that's normally occupied with future projects, finances or the internet in general. 

    Sometimes I'll need reference images for certain pictures, which I'll transfer onto my phone so that my laptop can remain closed. This really helps in staying focused! I also mostly ignore social media during the afternoon, and often just switch my phone's wifi off for emphasis.

    This is the time I listen to audiobooks! 

    On rare occasions, I'll have too much digital work piled up (some of my storyboard commissions are 100% digitally drawn, for example) and I'll use the afternoon to paint in Photoshop, but apply the same rules of not going online and not focusing on anything but drawing, anyway.
  • Evening
    This is when I switch back to digital work, scan any finished paintings or sketches from that afternoon's work, adjust them in Photoshop and send out the result to commissioners. 
    The cafe I help out at also is at its busiest in the evening, so I'll be jumping back and forth between service and short tasks like Etsy listings updates, mails, blog posts and editing. 
    There's not any specific point when I 'get off work', but the cafe closes around 9 pm, so I take a break to eat dinner.

    After dinner, I mostly focus on digital paintings that need more concentration (harder to do when you're interrupted during the earlier hours) and sketching for my own projects. Late evening is also a good time to post on my blog or social media, or add new Etsy listings. If I feel tired, I'll just work on some easier drawings while watching my favorite TV shows.

    On most days, I go to sleep after 1 am or 2 am. Whenever I manage to change my rhythm into something healthier, you can be sure that a pressing deadline in a different time zone will keep me up until 4 am and mess up everything anyway. 

My eating habits are really terrible, though, now that I look at the sketches. When I have time, I love cooking and also tend to eat HUGE portions... only to then forget eating when I'm busy. Hopefully, I'll find some sort of balance there!

As you can see from the sketches, I combine traditional Korean meals (rice with side-dishes) that I adapted to be vegan with fresh produce, lentils, beans, falafel and the occasional smoothie. Though smoothies are definitely a luxury! Berries tend to be very expensive here on Jeju island, and in general, prices are a bit skewed here. What might be a cheap option (bananas) anywhere else doesn't even get sold at the supermarket in my neighborhood. I mostly rely on the traditional market that takes place every five days to get fresh fruit and vegetables at low prices, and then my eating habits deteriorate until the next market comes around. ;)

I hope to continue with diary drawings like these! Even just scanning them now, a month later, these are a nice way to look back at small things like delicious meals and drawing projects. 

Do you work from home? How do you build your daily routines?