organization

Tools & Resources for Organization and Resilience

I’m doing an Instagram Live studio tour/artist’s talk/Q&A with the San Francisco Center for the Book today at 3pm Pacific/6pm Eastern. Some question’s I’ve received in advance are:

  • How do you keep motivated?
  • Please share admin/organization/project management skills.

I’m posting some notes with links here.

Resilience

Journaling helps me be resilient.

There can be a perception that journaling is for self-obsessed, angst-ridden teens. I do not only write in my journal when I feel shitty. In fact, I limit how much I write when I’m distressed, because venting or “processing” can actually be rumination, which decreases mood and prolongs pain (Guy Winch, Emotional First Aid).

Journaling provides space for self-reflection—space for me to listen to myself. When I listen to myself, I can celebrate my wins, so I can need less external validation. I can be grateful by recognizing the good in my life and in other people. I name my feelings (which itself can bring relief) and sort out my needs, priorities, goals, and action steps. When I properly reframe an event, and when I find meaning, it makes me feel energized and purposeful.

Gratitude Journal

There are many ways to keep a gratitude journal. A great introduction to a simple practice can be found at “The Science of Happiness, Episode 1: Three Good Things.” This podcast is produced by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, so it is a legit, science-backed, positive psychology podcast.

I have been using a “what went well and why” method described by Martin E.P. Seligman. It’s easy: just write about what went well in your day, and why you think it happened. Sometimes I’ll keep asking “why,” drilling down deeper, or expanding wider. This has helped me recognize my own agency in situations, or the kindness of others, or the conditions or privileges broader than my immediate reality. I’ve also used this practice on great days, and it’s helped me identify particularities and savor them, multiplying my joy. A caveat: I’m careful not to mindlessly re-list my day’s to-do items.

Goal-setting, Habit Tracking, & Purpose

It’s easier to stay motivated when your actions and goals feel aligned with your values and life’s purpose.

Goals

Informed by Creative Capital’s Professional Development workshops, I set three professional goals, each with three action steps, for myself as an artist every year. I schedule weekly and quarterly check-ins.

I sometimes set intentions at the beginning of each month. These can be related to personal, mental, or physical health. I only do this as the spirit moves me.

I also set physical goals. Exercise is my most reliable mood-booster. I exercise as much for my mental health as physical health. I’ve learned so much about myself and gained  much community from martial arts and running. Sheltering in the pandemic has made me grateful for knowledge I have gained and can implement on my own.

Habit Trackers

I have an app to log my physical therapy and cardio. This is helpful for reinforcing good habits and holding myself accountable. It helps me see the connections with how my body feels. You can use a plain notebook or a habit-tracking notebook, too—whatever works.

If you’re dealing with an injury or health side effects, tracking the frequency and intensity of different dimensions of your experiences can help you can recognize the process you’re making over time. It can give you reasons to celebrate, instead of only seeing loss. Not to mention that it can give you more data to discuss with your doctor.

Purpose

No one can give you a sense of life purpose. In Grit by Angela Duckworth, you can learn exercises to identify what your life purpose might be, and how your small and medium goals relate to your purpose. When you are able to see your short-term actions in concordance with your values and your purpose, it feels integrated, which is very powerful.

Reframing

I loved this episode of On Being with Krista Tippett, interview with Pauline Boss, “Navigating Loss Without Closure.” Here are some of my key take-aways:

    • Closure is a myth. Americans are too focused on problem-solving negative emotions.
    • Expectations or time limits on sadness, grief, or loss can be harmful. Humans can and do live with sadness, oscillating over time. That’s OK!

 

  • Find meaning. When nonsensical events happen, and you can’t make sense of that event, you can find “good enough” meaning in another area of your life.

While I’ve been very fortunate to have not been directly affected by coronavirus, the pandemic has entailed coping with fear, loss, grief, uncertainty, and stress in a drawn-out, fatiguing way (I liked my friend KQB’s phrase: “low-key horrified”). It found it helpful to recognize that Americans and the media love predictable narrative arcs (beginning, middle, end) and that’s cognitively dissonant from the realities of the pandemic (no end in sight). It’s good practices to let go of perfectionism and the urge to fix everything now, to get more comfortable with holding opposing ideas, and to find meaning where you can.

Grounding

This episode is also really great: On Being with Krista Tippett, interview with Resmaa Menakem, “‘Notice the Rage; Notice the Silence.’” I especially loved this:

“..all adults need to learn how to soothe and anchor themselves rather than expect or demand that others soothe them. And all adults need to heal and grow up.”

Resmaa Menakem

A great way to self-soothe is through grounding practices—being in your body, focusing on your breath, or your feet’s connection to the ground, or visually on the room around you. The idea is to practice this, even on your good days, until it becomes second nature, so that it’s easy to implement on your bad days. Often, emotional distress is tied up with physiological stress reactions, and grounding helps regulate those physiological reactions, which can shorten the duration and decrease the pain of emotional distress.

I think this idea of practice is helpful across all these resilience strategies. I think these practices are how you incrementally increase your subjective wellbeing over years, so that your happiness set-point gets a little higher, and your ability to bounce back becomes stronger.


Admin/Digital Organization

This is going to be super nerdy and ‘brass tacks.’ Well, artists wear a lot of hats outside of making art—administrators, bookkeepers, registrars, archivists, art handlers, fund raisers, marketers and PR people, etc. Administration is legit labor. It could be a time-suck or you can try to be more effective where you can. Since the pandemic started, I’ve spent a lot more time on the computer, and I realized that there are some basic things we do everyday—such as email and managing files—which everyone sort of figures out on their own. These are some best practices I’ve found.

Email 

I like to use Mac Mail, and I try to reserve my inbox for items that require follow-up. I try to keep folders to a minimum with a hybrid system:

  • project-specific folders (for important art projects, exhibitions, and freelance gigs, etc.)
  • time-delimited folders (the time stamp indicates when it’s safe to delete emails. It’s like the principle of cleaning out your closet—if you haven’t worn it in a year, get rid of it):
    • Deep storage (this is for stuff like taxes)
    • 1-year keep
    • 3-month keep
    • hold/1-month keep (for temporary things like shipping notifications)

Receipts for deductible expenses get saved as PDFs to a folder in my sidebar. Then I delete the email.

File management

I like to keep two Finder windows in Mac’s column view, stacked one on top of each other. This allows me to find a file and file it in its destination folder more quickly. This is super helpful when resizing images for my website, for example.

Three navigational shortcuts:

  • For switching between studio, professional practices, and day-job work: I keep multiple tabs in each Finder window open. This helps me switch quickly and pick up where I left off. It’s a little like the beauty of having a studio (or a dedicated studio table) where you can leave your messy work-in-progress, as opposed to clearing the table for dinner and then setting up your art project again.
  • For quickly accessing active projects: I also put folders for active projects in the sidebar. For example, when I’m working on an application for an art competition, I’ll put the folder there, even if it’s just for a few days.
  • For quickly accessing current projects: Alternatively, I make aliases of current project folders, and put them in a folder called “_Current Projects.” (I use an underscore at the start of names for folders I want to keep at the top of a list.)

Naming conventions for files and folders

I use multiple strategies to make sense of all my files:

  • Project code. I try to assign every project a name or code, and then start the file name of every digital art file with that. This makes it much easier when searching for files.
  • Iteration number-letter system. When I work on digital art files, I iterate a lot. Saving lots of versions forces me to save often, keep earlier options, and have recent back-ups in case a file gets corrupted (especially true when working on large PSDs!). To make sense of all of these, I use a number followed by a letter, (“1a,” “1b,” “2a,” etc.) The number usually refers to the design round, the letter usually refers to a variation, like the same design in different colors.
    • I never name anything “final.” When you use that system, if you have to change that file, and then have to name it “final-final,” or “final-2,” and then what’s the point?
    • I just keep every previous version in a “_Drafts” folder, and the one most recent file outside of that drafts folder. That, plus the iteration code, means it’s always clear what’s the most recent file.
  • Pixel dimensions. For any file saved for the web, I append the pixel dimensions, width x height (example: ACB8j-AnnieYee-p3-01a-889×1080) to the end of the file name. This is much more descriptive and useful than “-web” or “-small.” In web design, dimensions are always width first, then height (though it’s reversed in art handling).
  • YYYYMMDD. Starting names with the date in an 8-digit code keeps files or folders chronological and easier to search. I use this for folders for exhibitions, for example, for receipt PDFs, Google Drive folders, etc.
  • 01, 02, 03. Another way to keep folders tidy is to start the name of sub-folders with numbers, so they stay in the order of a process. For example, if you have different files from different stages in a process, you might have folders named “01 Text content,” “02 Image references,” “03 Digital mock-ups,” “04 Scans,” “05 Composite PSDs,” “06 JPGs.”

Image management

For my photo documentation, I keep the source/raw files in a projects folder. Then after I make my selections, I copy and rename them, and place them in nesting folders that looks basically like this:

Documentation > Projects > YYYY Project name > Artwork Name--[pixel-dimensions].[file extension]

The code can indicate different shots of the same artwork. I've found this is a nice way to manage lots of installation views (as opposed to "detail of X" and "detail of Y"). After these are renamed consistently, then I'll do the resizing.

Image sizing

I generally keep three to four resolutions of files:

  • high-res (source res at 300 dpi)
  • medium-res files for screen display for competitions (these files are usually 1-2 MB JPGs, I'd say 1920x1080 is a good new standard nowadays)
  • two sizes of web-res (which is specific to my own website, but obviously at 72 DPI).

I use Photoshop actions to batch process resizing. I've set up different destination folders for different sized images. I use the Finder renaming tool to update the file names as needed.

Artist's Inventory Software & Estate Planning

It's important to manage your inventory: to track inventory numbers, framed and unframed dimensions, prices, where the actual artwork is (whether on loan or in storage), etc.

There are lots of options for inventory software. I don't know what's good out there as I don't have time to test and review them. Many of the options now are cloud-based. I don't love the software I currently use, so I'm not going to name it here. The reason I use it is because it's a desktop version, and I like the permanence of that for reasons I'll explain below.

Artist's inventory software is for your own studio management, but more importantly, it's also part of your estate planning. Each of us will die. Making plans and putting systems into place are act of care for our loved ones, to make it easier for them to deal with our stuff after we're gone.

If you need to start or improve your digital or physical artist's inventory, I recommend the Joan Mitchell Foundation's Creating Artist's Living Legacy "Career Documentation for the Visual Artist: An Archive Planning Workbook and Resource Guide." It's free.

While we're on the subject, I also recommend:

  • Everyone should write a will. I found Nolo Press' Online Will to be an easy and cheap way to draft one. Note: Print it out and take it to a notary public to make it legally binding.
  • It's a good idea to discuss your end-of-life wishes with your loved ones, and to fill out an advanced health care directive. Kaiser Permanente offers info and forms in multiple languages—you don't have to be a patient to access them. You'll also need to print this out and take it to a notary public to make it legally binding.
  • CALL also has an Estate Planning Workbook. This is a next step for me.

Bookkeeping

I use Quickbooks Desktop. It's a little bit of labor to manage it, but it's less painful than doing a year's worth of bookkeeping in the spring before taxes are due. More than just tracking your receipts, though, bookkeeping software helps track when art institutions and universities have (or haven't) paid your invoices.

How did I learn this admin stuff?

  • From working at no- or low-paid office positions in non-profit art organizations.
  • From working as a freelance graphic designer/sole proprietor.
  • From co-workers, partners, colleagues, mentors.
  • From trying different things and evolving over time.
Standard
organization

Organization: Tools for Teams

How to Collaborate: Try MoSCoW or the RACI matrix.

I like learning productivity strategies. I don’t mind if they’re borrowed from business. Some artists are allergic to productivity. It reminds them of work.

There’s a time to be creative—to experiment, play, brainstorm. Then, after you’ve chosen a direction, there’s a time to make tangible progress towards the shared goal.

I love clear communication around goals, roles, tasks, and timelines. I think this helps people have appropriate expectations and minimize the unpleasant surprises that lead to bad feelings. Here are some strategies I’ve learned.


MoSCoW

Simply put, this just means prioritizing aspects of your project by:

  • Must have
  • Should have
  • Could have
  • Won’t have (this time)

Which parts are the heart of your project, that you must do?
Which parts are non-critical but important, that you should do?
Which parts are optional, that you could do?
Which parts can you let go of now?

In collaborations, MoSCOW could identify shared priorities so you can shed lower-priority tasks. For example, sometimes I’m afraid to ask a partner about eliminating one of their contributions, because I don’t want them to take it personally. But asking them to rate it on the MoSCow scale gives more nuance than choosing between doing or not doing it.

MoSCow could also help you manage your time on your own projects. If you have limited time, start with your must-do’s, then do your should-do’s. Don’t worry about could-do’s unless there’s time leftover.

This could help people avoid procrastinating on more difficult must-do items.

 


RACI Chart

In 2015, I did a survey project at Harvester Arts about creative collaborations. Many respondents expressed frustration around lack of clear roles and responsibilities.

Spread from Co-laboration zine about the most successful or most challenging creative collaborations you've participated in, and what made them that way, and why,

Spread from my 2015 CO-LABORATION zine. Download it at http://christinewongyap.com/work/2015/allthesteps.html.

I’ve also recently reflected on how, when criticism feels arbitrary—chaotic in its target or timing—it’s frustrating. Does everyone need to be consulted about every task? Can collaborators (including myself) be informed of something, withholding criticism for other areas?

M told me to look this matrix up. It’s typically presented in a different format, but for  newbs like me this version seems easiest to digest:

For each task in a project, the RACI Matrix ensures you assign individuals who:

  • are Responsible
  • are Accountable
  • need to be Consulted
  • need to be Informed

I haven’t used it yet, but the RACI Chart looks like a great tool for larger teams with hierarchies.

For example, if you’re making a publication, different people are contributing art, photographs, or text. Who’s copyediting? Art directing? Designing? Is there an organizational partner that wants to have input? At what stage do you involve them? Too early and you don’t have anything to show them. Too late and you’ll risk wasting time and having to ask people to re-do things they thought were approved.

For collaborating artists or non-hierarchical collectives, it can be hard to differentiate who should be consulted and who should be informed. For example, I once tried making decisions with 10+ collective members. Everyone consulted on everything. Individuals largely held themselves responsible or accountable. Only people who felt confident taking on complicated tasks did. It might have helped if there were smaller work-groups, where non-work-group members were informed, not consulted.

Another nice thing about RACI is it makes transparent who’s doing what. This could help make the distributions of labor and criticism more equal.


How Long to Spend on this? Is it a 1 or a 10?

BB, a chief preparator (basically a foreman {fore-person?} for art handlers), once explained a neat communication method for conveying how long to spend on a task.

Explain the level of finish of a task on a scale of 1–10.

10 means, “Take your time, and do the best possible job.”

1 means, “Just get it done, don’t sweat the details.”

In an ideal world, everyone does their tasks to a 10. But if you’re short on time, this helps you quickly express which tasks are worth a higher level of finish.

For example, if you’re patching a seam that falls under the artwork, where visitors will be looking closely, you would want a 10. Or, before someone puts three coats of paint on the underside of a shelf no one’s going to see, sanding in between coats, you could explain that it’s a 2.

 

Standard
organization

Organization: Nerd Game Strong

How I organize my projects is itself a constant project-in-progress.

Sometimes I surprise myself with the levels of nerdiness I reach.

Since I wrote my one-year goals two weeks ago, I’ve been thinking a lot about organization, especially:

  • Useful past strategies.
    • Like hand-drawn tables of studio production phases in my sketchbook.
  • Strategies for collaborations.
    • Should I try Asana, Trello, or Google Sheets for collaborative task management? I experimented and I still don’t know. (Sometimes apps are too much, with the upgrades, gamifying, notifications.)
  • The simplest way to decide what to do next.
    • My one-year goals and weekly checklists are in Evernote, but every few days I hand-write a simplified checklist on a scratchpad. It’s great. Better than an app.
    • I try to use the urgent/important matrix, and the bias for the urgent but not important rings true for me: “Why Your Brain Tricks You Into Doing Less Important Tasks” by Tim Herrera (NY Times, July 9, 2018).
  • How to maximize your focus.
    • If you can, reserve your most productive hours in the day for your creativity- and focus-intensive art tasks (thanks Creative Capital and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi).
    • I’m still struggling with how to minimize distractions (and how not to get slot-machine-addiction on mobile devices).
    • I’m also trying to get better at resetting when my focus nosedives.
  • How to strategize longterm, ambitious projects with lots of contingencies.

I’ll share photos and screen shots of these periodically, in a new blog category, Organization.

 


 

Today’s Organization Moment: A Custom 13-month Calendar

weekly-cal

Sometimes you just need a 13-month calendar that shows the months flowing into each other.

Doing graphic design is sometimes a curse, because it makes me more intolerant about how information is presented. Calendars that break months into discrete chunks don’t make any sense to me. Time doesn’t work that way.

For project management, I like to think in terms of weeks. For example, it helps me to plan if I know an exhibition opens in 10 weeks, but I’ll be traveling three weeks, leaving seven weeks to production. So I prefer to see months as a continuous flow.

Standard