Sunday Mailbag

December 13th, 2009 | Posted in Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: A bunch of us were at a live caricature gig lately, complaining about how hard it is to juggle all of our different freelance projects. How do YOU do it? I know there is no “typical” day in the life of a freelance cartoonist,¬¨‚Ć but how do you juggle your administrative duties with your caricature venues (and all the traveling involved), with your freelance career? All this, in addition to all¬¨‚Ć the public appearances you make, in addition to making blog posts everyday!

A: I get this question a lot whenever I do any kind of speaking engagement or meet up with other artists who frequent my blog and/or are familiar with my work. They are various forms of the same basic question?

“How do you find the time to do everything?”

The answer is pretty simple. I don’t have a life.

I’m kidding. That’s far from the truth. Actually there are a lot of things that contribute to making my schedule and workload manageable.

First and foremost, I am given a lot more credit for being productive than I deserve. If you’ve ever burst into my studio to see me playing solitaire or surfing websites while a half inked illustration is gathering dust on my board, you’d be a little less inclined to think I am a workaholic. I get behind. I procrastinate. I get distracted… just like most people.

That said, here are the things I try and do to keep my productivity as high as possible:

  1. I break up my deadlines into several little deadlines- It’s easier to break up a job into incremental goals rather than saying “I’m going to have this whole thing done in three days!”.¬¨‚Ć If your only goal is the final result, then the deadline for that result will be too far away and it will be easy to say “I’ll take this afternoon off and then catch up tomorrow”. Setting short goals for stages of a job keeps you focused, and will maintain a general sense of urgency that I find I need to keep on task.
  2. I set reasonable short term goals- Along the same line of thought as breaking up your jobs into stages, it’s important to set up these stages and goals to be realistically attainable. I map out in my head what I need to accomplish for a given day, and then I try hard not to allow myself to stop for the day until I have accomplished them. The trick is to make them realistic… It’s easy to say “I’m going to completely color four MAD pages today” but when it’s an almost superhuman feat to get two colored, expecting to get four colored is not realistic. If you set realistic goals you don’t get that overwhelmed feeling half way through the day that might cause you to say “this is hopeless, I’m going to the movies”. You also feel a sense of accomplishment when you hit that goal, which feeds into more enthusiasm for the next day instead of starting out the next day feeling like you have already failed.
  3. I remember to reward myself- Promise yourself some kind of reward for hitting your goal for the day. Maybe it’s watching that movie that just came in the mail from Netflix. Maybe it’s a big glass of wine and the next chapter in the book you’re reading. Whatever. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but it should be something you only get to do if you hit your goal.
  4. I keep my priorities straight- Work is not everything. Don’t miss kid’s plays and shows, family night out, etc. because you fell behind on your job. Do those things and then deal with it back in the studio. Jobs come and go but some moments in your life only happen once. Don’t miss them.
  5. I try and minimize distractions- If it’s crunch time on a job I will turn off my computer (or unplug my internet connection if I am using it for the job), unplug the telephone… whatever. If I am at a certain stage of a job where I do not have to be tethered to the studio, like when I am doing conceptual sketches, leaving the studio and going to some remote place like a quiet coffeeshop or such is a great way to keep on task. I have gotten many a sketch done while sitting at one of my caricature locations on a very slow day.

Those are the principal things I do to try and stay as productive as possible.

The original question was how do I find the time to post on this blog everyday, do the administrative things with the business, travel, etc? Those are just other tasks that need time to do, so I work them in to my daily goals and schedule. If I know I am going to be going on a trip, I step up my schedule to get things done before leaving or figure out how I can accomplish things on the trip.

As far as finding the time, that isn’t really too hard for me. I don’t watch TV. I don’t play sports. I don’t have any time consuming hobbies or go out to the bars on weekends. My free time is spend with my family doing what families do, watching my kids perform in their shows, listening to their choir concerts, taking The Lovely Anna out on date night… that kind of thing. Not watching TV is probably the biggest timesaver. The only show I watch is LOST and since it’s two or three years in between #@&^%! seasons that’s not an issue.

The bottom line is I love to do the things I do, and that makes it easy to “find the time” to do them.

Thanks to Bill White for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. Q says:

    Good advice. TV is evil. I like the new mailbag logo.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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