(Looking for some background on the Creative Heroes series? Check out my intro post HERE!)
When I decided to reach out to some of my favorite artists and creative entrepreneurs about time management and productivity, I knew I wanted to talk with Pat Sloan! She is so full of energy and amazingly busy. I was sure she had some really great thoughts on balancing creativity, a business, and the miscellaneous stuff of life. I wasn’t disappointed!
If you are unfamiliar with Pat, she is often referred to as the “Voice of Quilting.” She has a weekly podcast, has written over 30 books, published tons of patterns, designed fabric for Moda, been featured in all the major quilting magazines, teaches workshops nationally, maintains partnerships with major brands like Aurifil, publishes a busy blog, AND runs several BOM/quilt-alongs simultaneously. She’ll also be a keynote speaker at Sew Pro in September.
So yeah. I think it’s safe to say that she’s a pretty busy lady!
In our first conversation, Pat turned me on to Shonda Rhimes’ book, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person. (It’s a great book, by the way! I recommend reading it, if you haven’t already had a chance.) The drive and dedication that Shonda talks about in relation to her own career gave me some insight into Pat’s diehard focus on her own business and quilting in general.
Over the course of talking with Pat, I realized that – while she has some great advice about productivity for creative peeps (which you can read below!) – her attitude and mindset seem to be at the heart of how she accomplishes so much.
She has set her dial to “this is going to be fun!” and she looks at challenges as an opportunity to persevere and figure things out. Most importantly, she loves what she does. She has worked hard and built her life around what matters most to her, so getting all the “stuff” done is gravy!
Pat prefaced our interview with this:
A lot of what I do is just how my personality is. I don’t have self doubt, or hangups about what I do or how I create. I don’t get stalled… but I’m not perfect and have had to overcome a lot of things to make it to this point. I had to totally figure it all out as I went as my background is NOT in business. But I wanted to figure it out; it’s fun to figure it out!
C+M: In a recent newsletter message you made the distinction between not yet making time [to tidy up your studio] versus not having time. I think this is something a lot of creative people struggle with! And I think your mindset about it is an awesome lesson for all of us: there is always time for the things we really want to do. Is this a mindset you’ve always had, or is it a lesson you learned along the way?
Pat: It is something I’ve always thought and done. I’m a maker and a doer. I have always sewn: from elementary school age, into high school, during college, and at all my jobs corporate jobs. Plus I did many other hobbies, including gardening and cooking, along with sewing.
I always made time to feed my soul with making as that is very important to me.
But I didn’t articulate this to others until maybe 15 years ago when I started to build and run online communities. That is when I realized not everyone thought like I did!
I was often the only person I knew making things, but that never mattered and actually I never thought about it. My family does not make things, so I was used to being the only person making things. Recently a person told me she often felt like the oddball since she would stitch in public or be making things. I never ever felt that, so I guess it was just my personality!
C+M: One thing that creative entrepreneurs commonly struggle with is balancing the routine business-running stuff with time to actually make stuff. Do you have any advice or best practices for running a successful business and still making time to actually design and quilt?
Pat: That is an interesting problem creative people have. Some hire office managers, accountants and business staff to run their companies so they can focus their time on doing the creative work.
Others find joy in actually “making” a business. Meaning what they are “creating” – the product they are making – is a successfully-run business.
I fall into the 2nd group. I find it very exciting and thrilling to “make a business run.” Much of my early computer career was spent “making” code for computers; that was my creative outlet.
So now I find it similar to make my business by building and nurturing it.
Many times I get stuck in the business side of things and have to stop and carve out time to be creative. I know how I work, and if my brain is doing math and writing it actually can’t switch to a creative mode.
My advice is to learn yourself and your work habits and shift your schedule so you have time to create. If you create best when you wake up then do it! Don’t let the other stuff come first. Set a time limit and do the creative work in your best creative time slot.
So like the thought earlier, you “make time for the making.”
Everything I make for my business is creative. I see it as a mind set. Once you realize you DO have time and make adjustments, your creative side will thank you.
C+M: Many new and mid-career creative entrepreneurs find themselves stuck in their business and unsure where to put their focus. What advice would you give to them?
Pat: What’s interesting to me, is that after 16 years of doing this full time, the job is always changing. The industry changes, and that means there is always a conversation about where to put your focus. It is a question that will repeat itself often, it is a never ending part of running your own business.
What do you do when that happens?
First realize it’s normal. You change over time. Your customers might change too. The industry might have shifted. It’s normal. I believe many people feel that things just won’t change so when our interests change it freaks us out a bit.
Second when the “where should I focus” question pops up, figure out WHY it is. Did you become interested in something different? Why did you? Or did you notice your followers all shifted to a new social media platform, so now you have to decide if you need to shift too? Maybe the industry has left one technology and moved to another… paper to digital is a good example. What will YOU do about it?
Once you understand WHY when the question of focus pops up, then you can make a plan for handling it. Maybe you just explore a new interest and see where it takes you. Or maybe you see the writing on the wall and have to move to a new platform to keep up with your customers.
I think once you understand why this thought happens, you can be the boss of what you do about it.
C+M: Do you have a particular way you manage your schedule? Are you an online calendar girl, or do you go old school with a planner/paper calendar?
Pat: I have always been an organized and structured planner. I like to say I was “born organized” but I’m not obsessed with it. I use it when it does the most good, and if it’s not necessary, I don’t get all wound up in being organized.
My schedule is key. I spent over 20 years as a software developer, troubleshooter, and then a project manager. In those jobs I had many projects to track, most took 6 months to 2 years in duration, with teams of people involved. I have a lot of practice scheduling and tracking projects.
I would never be able to do this by paper; I have too many things going on. With a degree in computer science, I sure wish portable online project management had been available when I worked in the corporate world! We did our schedules online, but back then didn’t have a way to take that digital schedule to meetings like we do now.
I use online scheduling that I can get to from my phone, and it’s my own tracking sheets that I developed that work specifically for how I process my projects. I don’t use any commercial tools.
C+M: Is there a typical day or week for you? If so, what does it look like?
Pat: This is a fun question, because I really can’t imagine a structured ‘average’ day. Even when I worked corporate jobs, some things happened each week, but I have always had to be on my toes for change, and that is what makes working fun!
As you might guess, running a design business means the projects change all the time, a few are constant, but there are always new things going on. My weekly talk show (that is recorded for podcast) has lots of tasks each week from scheduling new guests, to researching what we’ll talk about, to actually doing the show and publishing it. I do all the parts.
Then on many weeks of each year I am on the road to teach at [quilt] guilds, quilt shops and shows.
So I have lots of different types of work that needs to be done each week and month with time frames in which to complete it.
I work from my schedule and lists on a daily basis.
C+M: Does your schedule or your commitments ever stress you out? Either way, do you have any favorite methods of destressing, unwinding or relaxing (other than quilting/sewing, of course!)?
Pat: Of course! There is never enough time to do all I want to do. To execute all my ideas I’d need a staff of 20, and then I’d think up more things… haha! Projects always take longer than expected. Deadlines rush in faster than the speed of sound. I don’t think you can run a business without having some amount of scheduling issues come up, which leads to getting stressed out as most of us do not want to miss a deadline.
To break out of my own head, I like to walk outside, get out of my element, that shifts me off the crazy train so I can come back and get to work.
C+M: Do you have any rituals for starting your day or ending your day, whether you’re home or on the road?
Pat: I’ve never been a ritual person, maybe that’s my analytical, structured, and practical computer side. I have work, I know what needs done, and I do it. To be successful at running so many projects, I must always be aware of my deadlines. Be it a weekly show deadline, or a fabric line release with all its designs and marketing material.
One thing I try to do is sew every day for even a few minutes.
I advocate Sew 10 Minutes a Day to keep centered on what I love, and you can get a lot done in 10 minutes!
C+M: Anything else you would like to share with Creative + Mindful readers about time management, productivity, mindfulness, or creativity?
Pat: I’d like to add one thing on feeling and being creative…
Some people are truly born into it. They do lovely amazing work that speaks to a large, wide audience. Then some people are pretty darn good at the creative part and with some practice, some skill building, they improve quickly. Then others people are fine at being creative, but over time see that they have other skills too, maybe skills they are better at, and then they embrace the other thing and build those good and strong.
So, give yourself time if you need to practice and get stronger at your craft. And give yourself permission to shift if you discover you’re actually really good at something else.
Pat also shared a great Ira Glass quote, that really speaks to her:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
She urges creative people to check out Glass’ 4-part video series. While he focuses on the art of storytelling in the videos, Pat said that she felt his message can apply to any creative or business block we might face.
I hope you have enjoyed this first installment in my Creative Heroes interviews. Many thanks to Pat for her willingness to talk with me and her enthusiasm for MY passion!
Want more Pat Sloan? Check her out online, on Instagram, or at Sew Pro! Join my favorite quilt-along with her (The Splendid Sampler) HERE!
Like this series? Be sure to share it with your fellow creative peeps!
Looking forward to more advice from my Creative Heroes? Stay tuned for my next interview! (I’ll give you a hint… he’s an a very cool illustrator and author!)