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  • AUP Students' Union

How to balance Art, Life and Work (Part One)

Beth Evans, Student Union President

8th March, 2024

University can be a lot! There's a lot of work, a lot of fun stuff stuff to try out in the city and a lot of really cool people to interact with. This can feel overwhelming and whilst management is not such an exciting prospect it is still an important area to consider.

The advice we're given to manage time usually look something like this: "set aside an hour a day to focus on your studies when you get home from a day full of focusing on your studies" or "wake up an hour earlier and get your chores done straight away and then the whole rest of the day is yours!". There is absolutely nothing wrong with managing your time like that. if it works for you. But for me, it never seems to stick. I need a more abstract set of rules to maintain a routine that doesn't feel like a rigid structure I'm stuck inside of but instead, a series of choices that all end up connecting, like a dot to dot or, maybe a menu, complimentary pieces of a three course meal!

If you're a bit like this too, then you're in luck (hopefully) because I've compiled a list of my top tips for managing different workloads, responsibilities and social engagements without feeling tied up by it...

1. Find ways that they can all overlap

Drawing is important to me but I don't always have time to dedicate filling sketchbook pages after work. What I can do, though, is embed drawing in other activities I have to do. Sometimes I doodle on my shopping lists, drawing apples instead of writing the word. when my friends birthdays come up, I don't buy them cards, I make them. Sometimes, I can even fit this into my job! I often get to make posters for events so when i can, I like to draw them by hand. That way I get to tick off tick off 'drawing' as well as 'working'.

Another good tip for sneaking some art into your life is to keep a small notebook in your bag or your coat pocket. Every now and then, pull this out instead of your phone! Draw whilst you wait for your friends to arrive at the cinema, jot down a storyboard or scene idea on your bus ride home. Empty your head whilst you wait for your class to return from a break. Build in a new habit of practicing your craft in the most low maintenance way possible and you'll be more likely to stick to it.

2. Sometimes 'balance' can look imbalanced and still be balanced

A seesaw makes no sense if it's always perfectly balanced. The point of it is to constantly be teetering. That's where the fun comes in and, that's when it's purpose is fulfilled!

There are lots of ways to make a day add up to 100% and you only ever have 100% of a day to use. Sometimes your life will demand more from you than it usually does and you'll have to lessen what you give to your work. That is okay. The time you give yourself to rest will help you to launch into the next project or the next scary thing that you're brave enough to do even if other people don't think that thing is scary.

Also, you don't always have to give 100%!

To chuck in another analogy, when you're juggling three balls, there are only ever two in your hand a time. In order to juggle, you have to let one ball go, and then you catch it and you let another ball go. Now swap out 'juggling ball' with 'chore' or 'responsibility'. In order to hold more things than you have hands and to have all of them move at the same time, you need to learn when you can let something be in a free-fall position. Then you need to learn how to use the pedals and how to use the brakes to control that. Yes, I did fall into an a third analogy about bicycles there, sorry! Moving on...

3. Being unproductive can be productive

When your phone is lying on the side, doing nothing because it's plugged into a charger, it's not 'doing nothing', it's charging. When you are spending a whole Saturday in your pajamas, watching TV and eating beige food, you're not doing nothing, you're re-charging. You just made it though a whole week of doing stuff all of the time. All of the stuff that you did required all sorts of energy. Some of it will have drained you physically, some of it a more mental strain and your social battery is probably pretty low now too.

Your phone can need charging anytime of any day in any location and you are the exact same. Just because you got 11 hours of sleep or because it's only Tuesday or because you're only twenty one, doesn't mean that you can't have used a lot of your energy already and that you can't need a little bit of a break. You would charge your phone to keep yourself safe, to make sure you could use it later and get directions or catch up with friends or research for a project or whatever it is that you need to do. You and your mind and your body; re-charging them keeps you safe! Don't feel guilty for it; know that it has purpose.

4. Talking is an art form

A lot of things that you do to re-charge are actually very brain-boosting. Watching TV or listening to an audio-book, reading in a park or in your room. All of those things are generative. They will make you think or help you tune out of one thing and into another. All of those ideas you consume will somehow end up becoming ideas that are individual to you and you'll end up thinking and talking and drawing and writing about them. You'll share those ideas with your friends, your tutors, your family, some random person you meet on a bus, and you'll learn from them even if you weren't really trying to.

My whole degree show installation was based around a thought I had whilst walking to meet my friend for coffee: If the grass is green, then it is more yellow or blue? If I hadn't walked the long way, or decided to get coffee (instead of staring at blank page at my desk) then I never would have followed the train of thought that lead me to that question and I never would have talked about the idea with my friend and I never would have made any of that work! Giving your life value, is never a bad thing. Having a nutrient-rich life leads to good produce, in all areas; your social life, your conversation topics your work-work and your art-work.

5. Let the pressure out

A balloon will burst if you push too much helium into it. A pan will boil over if the heat is too high and the lid is too tight. Your brain is like that too. The other night I had so many ideas in my head that I couldn't go to sleep. Ideas about art, about work and about life and they were hurting my brain. So, instead of trying to manually solve all all of them, and shrink them down into something less overwhelming, I just turned the valve a let some of them out. So, I opened my notes app and I wrote. Nothing good, nothing on purpose. I just wrote.

As soon as something is out of your head, it becomes a tangible string of words or shapes that you can re-word and re-shape. That's a much clearer set of obstacles to walk through. It's like drawing a super complicated scene but having a reference photo or giving an actor a script rather than having than having them improvise the whole thing. No matter how terrible the structure that your half-awake brain comes up with, there is now a structure. You can fix it in the morning, if it still matters. But now, it is there and it is not shifting. Hopefully now you will be able to sleep and sometimes to sleep is the most valuable thing you can do.


I have loads more of these tips - tricks - cheat codes? I'm not sure what they are, ideas I guess. I will make a part two but for now, I hope that these help!

Regardless of how many things you're doing or how close you are to finishing any of them, you are doing a good job and you are worthy of good food, good sleep, being hydrated and having fun. Don't forget that!

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