Tracking, Tweaking

I’ve been taking a few weeks off, to finish out the year. While it’s really been hard NOT to do art, and I’m taking that as a good sign, I do think it’s important to allow more open time for contemplation. And sure enough, I found myself able to see my art process from a bigger-picture view. It’s a good time to see if anything needs adjusting before I call the year done.

For a few years now, I’ve been working on what I do on a daily basis: habits, of any amount, lead to a larger effort — a set of sketches, a body of work — as many folks have advised. I’m thinking of James Clear’s Atomic Habits, or Seth Godin’s blog, or Austin Kleon’s books. You may have similar resources — let me know of other good ones.

What I Tracked

  • Make something new/fun/interesting
  • Schedule art time
  • Reach out to a connection
  • Check in with online art groups

I’m particularly pleased with the wording on that first point, as it frees me from making capital-A Art, the kind that is perfect in one try and worthy of posting. Nope, this is my permission to try anything that comes to mind, with no requirement to show it to anyone. This year, I made sure to put that experimental time on the calendar, rather than just hope for the best.

The last two points were ways to check in en masse, or individually, with my scattered community. Just that little nudge helped me dash off emails or reply to posts, when I might normally hesitate. It felt important to do, especially this year, as we were still isolating more than not.

How I Tracked It

Calendar: In my online calendar (I use Outlook), I booked art time for myself during the week, with a reminder task each week to get something recorded. This would work with a paper system too. The benefit, I’m realizing, is the commitment, but also the visual reminder & record. However, there’s no record of what happened.

To-Do List: In my paper bullet journal (a Decomposition notebook, JUST enough lines for 31 days), I always added “Make art”. The exact method or result was left open! A great starting point, but again, it leaves no record of what I did get done.

Habit Tracker: I picked up new software for the year ( and here, I made heavy use of their Habits section, things I’d like to do more, but not be graded on, so to speak. (For that, they have dailies, like flossing my teeth, and I get dinged if I miss a day. It works!)

Online Communities: I’ve amassed several of these, many on a platform I really like, Mighty Networks. Though one group I started might have reached an end point, luckily, others have gathered steam: Melinda Tidwell’s Yum City for her students, the Uppercase Circle for subscribers to Uppercase Magazine, and a few of my smaller, local art groups. Any time that I would I visit a group, through a web browser or an app, I could get inspiration, add my two cents, and check off an item in my habit tracker.

Tweaks for Next Year

After a year of using Habitica, the online habit tracker, I’d like a few changes. It’s not visual enough: I don’t see a span of results. And after several years of bullet journals, I don’t have an electronic record that I can search. I find myself going through the year’s pages with a red pen, highlighting anything art-related. For this geek girl, that’s kinda lame!

I was converted to a search-based note-taking method when I picked up Evernote almost 10 years ago. Being able to find any note with just a quick search term is fantastic! But that too has reached a limit, as sometimes I want a to-do list, a calendar, or a spreadsheet. Enter: Notion. Now, here’s a place where my notes can take on any structure, to match the information, AND they have some great habit-tracking templates to borrow.

I also want to keep a better record of my art process: what I tried, why, and how. And while I’m tempted to keep writing notes on paper, I think Notion is the right tool (available from both home and on the road, for example) to jot down ideas as I go. Your mileage may vary, of course! I can see paper versions of all of this working just fine for anyone who prefers it.

So, I’ll be adding a habit (journal my art process) to my list, to take better notes over the year, and taking those notes, so I can check off the habit. What about you? What worked for you this year, or didn’t, and what are you thinking of tweaking?

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Sarah Short says:

    I have also started the year rethinking how I organize my ideas and goals and daily to-do lists. I’m very impressed with how much you track. Do you ever find that you spend more time making lists then actually doing the things on them? That’s where I am now, and I’m trying to figure out how to get out of that habit. I love my bullet journal and use Google Keep for more long-term plans, as I find that I usually forget to check my lists in G. Keep.

  2. Liz Ruest says:

    I can see where it could head in that direction! Right now, if I can find a structure that works, it just feels right. What do I want to do? Write it down, do it, check it off. So far, the doing is much longer than writing up or checking on the lists. Otherwise, back to tweaking, right? :)

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