Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Hacking Your Own Timeline

For everyone out there who found this because they thought they were going to hack their facebook timeline, many apologies. Today, what we want to talk about is hacking your own personal know, as in your actual life outside of the digital madness that is facebook.

You see, many of us, artists especially, have this imaginary timeline in our heads. Lots of it are socialized stuff that we grew up or had put in place by our parents or relatives. These are things like "getting married by 30," or "retired exactly at 65," or "graduate college by 22." Stuff like that. By indirect (and sometimes direct) messages, we've trained our brain to have these specific landmarks in time where certain things need to be achieved. However, we never stop to ask ourselves if these markers are really valid or even realistic.

While Monkey + Seal always encourages people living their dreams, dreams also need to be tempered by reality. If your dream is to be a world-class photographer, chances are you won't have the opportunity to really develop your skills if you're a freshman in art school. Now this is not to say that schooling is necessary, because it isn't, but the point is that if you are just starting off in pursuing your dream, your dream isn't going to come true on day 1, or even day 600.

When we set goals with timelines, we have to make sure that we temper our sometimes crazy-high expectations of ourselves with what is humanly possible. Going back to the 10,000 hour rule - if you want to be an amazing painter, you seriously need to log in thousands and thousands of hours painting. Assume that you have just started painting and your goal is to be a famous fantasy book cover illustrator, do you really think it's realistic that you can achieve your goal in a single year? It is possible (as we think anything is possible), but is it realistic? Say that you only need maybe 5000 hours to get your first illustration gig - that's still about two and a half years, assuming that you're painting 40 hours a week. Bump that up to an amazing 80 hours of painting a week, for 52 weeks out of the year, and then you're still at over a year. Is painting 80 hours a week - more than 11 hours a day - realistic for you? For more than a year?

We live in an age where we want everything now. With downloadable music and movies and TV, we don't need to wait to drive to the video store or to wait for shipping. We're conditioned to want everything now. We want to be millionaires today, to be successful today, to be famous today. We want our business to be profitable yesterday, to be scheduled for talk shows a week ago, and to be invited to conferences as a special guest a month ago. These things take time, and in order for us to be successfully sustainable, we need to set realistic timelines for ourselves.

So how do we do this?

Step 1: Figure out how much work, on average, you'll need to put in to your goal.
Take the time to write out your goal. How far away from it are you? This first step is extremely, extremely important. How many hours do you need to put in per week? Be honest with yourself. If you want that novel on the bestseller's list, how many hours does it take you to write 500 words? Multiply that by 80 and you'll have the amount of time you'll need to produce a 40,000 word novel. Now, how much time will it take you to edit that much writing? How many revisions do you think you'll need? Research publishing companies. What's the average time between an acceptance of a novel and the books hitting the shelves? Add all this together, and you will figure out how much time you'll need.

Step 2: Double that number.
We told you to be honest, and our bet is that you probably underestimated the time needed. Even if you don't factor in procrastination time, artist's block, and life emergencies or events, you also need to take into account sustainability. You're probably betting on some crazy, over-productive work schedule along with what it takes you to produce a small amount of work. However, as your probably know, larger scale projects usually just take way longer than you could imagine. Writing 10,000 words or painting 5 new portfolio pieces is very, very different from writing 40,000 words or painting 20 new portfolio pieces. If you thought it was four times as hard to do the larger product, you're probably mistake. It's more like 10 times as hard.

Step 3: Divide those hours by the number of hours you think you can manage to work on your goal per week. Keep in mind your day job (if you have one), vacations, weddings, sleep, your friends, family, and dates, your soccer team, etc.

Step 4: Divide that number by 50. Give yourself two weeks of a break. If not for sustainability, then for emergencies.

BAM. That's your realistic timeframe (in years) that it'll take you to achieve your goal assuming you're putting in the work and prioritizing your goal over most other things. We don't want to discourage you from following your dream, but we just want to let you know that your timeline in your head is probably unrealistic, and we don't want you to be disappointed when those deadlines come due and you haven't hit your mark there.

Since Monkey is very deadline oriented, he likes to set his crazy goal, then go back and set another "backup" deadline that is more realistic. He wants to be a Magic:the Gathering illustrator by January of 2013, but realistically? It's more like January of 2015. He's going to bust his little tail to make the first deadline happen, but after doing some research, art directors (specifically those at Wizards of the Coast) say that it usually takes about 2.5 years from when you start trying to go pro to make it to that caliber of an illustrator. Work like you'll do it in half the time, expect longer, and hopefully you'll end up ahead of the curve.

Set your goals today, whether it's looking for a new job, a specific achievement, or your end-all dream. Just make sure that they're realistic and true to you.