Pro Prac Symposium – Time and Project Management

Time and Project Management

Pro Prac Symposium

Instagram handle @jamesnguyens
Instagram handle @torika_B
Instagram handle @communityreadingroom
Instagram handle @kanushak

Auspicous arts grant list
Next Wave mailing list
National Art School mailing list
Wave Accounting (Wave Accounting is no longer supporting Australian customers but comparable accounting software which has a free tier is Zoho Books)


Kiera Brew Kurec 00:00
Hi everyone and welcome to Pro Prac Symposium. Pro Prac Symposium is a professional practice webinar where others share their knowledge on topics which were identified as issues in season one and two of our podcasts. Pro Prac Symposium has been generously supported by the City of Melbourne, and would also like thank Site Works in the Center For Dramaturgy and Curation for hosting us today.

We respectfully acknowledge the traditional owners of the land the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation and pay our respects to their elders past, present and emerging, and the elders of the land in which this podcast and symposium reaches you on today. We extend this respect to all First Nations people listening today and acknowledge that sovereignty has never been ceded.

Nick is going to be taking this session with a lineup of total wizards. So, enjoy. And thank you all for being here.

Nick Breedon 00:57
All right, so this session is called Time and Project Management. I’m joined by arts writer and lawyer Anusha Kenny , artist and lecturer Torika Bolatagici and artist James Nguyen , where we will be discussing how each of us approach time and project management and how we’ve developed these systems throughout our careers.

Torika’s creative practice occurs around her parenting of three children aged four to 12, and works full time as a lecturer in art and performance at Deakin University, research and development for her projects is done primarily for her home workspace, and production and presentation takes place on location, in creative studios and public art spaces. Welcome Torika

Torika Bolatagici 01:40
Thank you. Thanks Nick Thanks Kiera.

Nick Breedon 01:43
Anusha is currently on parental leave but works primarily as a manager of legal policy at the Sentencing Advisory Council. This work involves conducting sentencing research and developing policy proposals for government on sentencing issues, as well as overseeing the work of a team of policy advisors. Outside of this Anusha is the Vice Chair of Un projects is completing her Master’s thesis in law and writes about art on an ad hoc basis. Welcome, Anusha.

Anusha Kenny 02:13
Thank you

Nick Breedon 02:14
James has a primarily collaborative practice, often working with video performance and writing he supplements this work with casual teaching and locum Pharmacy. Welcome, James.

James Nguyen 02:24

Nick Breedon 02:27

So how we’re going do today is everyone’s going to give a short presentation on the methods that we’ve developed for time and project management throughout our careers, and how we’ve come at those, come up with those tools. So I’ll begin and then we’ll hear from Torika, James and Anusha, and then we’ll have the q&a at the end.

A lot of my sort of journey coming towards my time management has come from, I have difficulties with my short term memory. So a lot of it for me has been about finding ways of keeping track of vast amounts of information. When I was at uni and studying, I started out with a moleskine diary, which was kind of I guess, all the rage, I think there was about 2006, pre iPhone, and everybody would have a sort of a moleskine diary pocket size that they would have like a, you know, a week to a page, or whatever. But I very frequently would forget, I would look at it in the morning before I started the day, I would forget what appointments I had on during that day. And then I would forget to bring it with me to uni in the first place. So it wasn’t a very effective kind of management tool for me. It kind of changed when I got my first phone, which was a really terrible Nokia blackberry knockoff with the full integrated keyboard, which you know, had kind of limitations on their calendar function. But at least I had it with me all the time. But I got I got my first iPhone as a hand me down from, from someone at some point right before I had one of my kind of first like really big solo exhibitions. And that was like a real game changer for me because I had this ability all of a sudden to be able to kind of cross reference, you know, to do lists and reminders on my laptop and then be able to kind of take that with me in my pocket as well. So that was like a really, really big important thing for me. That was a really important tool.

Aside from this podcast, most of the projects I have done generally have been like gallery based exhibitions or more like larger scale public realm spaces, which have had a lot of steps involved. So for me, you know, when I when I begin with a project, I usually try and actually draw all the different elements like an exploded diagram of how I would kind of, I suppose engineer the work, I think my work is quite based in the kind of more sculptural paradigm so that would be like the basis of me trying to kind of begin thinking about like materials lists of things that I will need to buy from that I kind of start to extrapolate like a to do list of the steps involved in kind of your manufacturing each work. So I would start with that drawing, and then I would start making like a reminders list in my apple reminders app for each work.

So, you know, for a show that I had in 2004, it was at West Space called Feelings that had about 15 separate works in it. So I had 15, reminders lists, with probably got 20 to 30 kind of items in the to do list for each one. But for me, that was really pivotal to have actually each step kind of listed in there. And like, you know, going on sort of very regular trips to Bunnings, to get all the materials like if I forgot my phone, which happened a few times, I literally would not be able to remember anything that I went there for, it’s pretty devastating going to Bunnings, and then having no reason to be there and having to go home again.

I also ended up using the calendar app, you can tell him I’m an apple fan girl already, but having different calendars for each exhibitions or projects has been a really helpful thing for me and then putting in deadlines that are pretty obvious that I might may not have known when I first started practicing, but things that are kind of a given, you know, like writing a press release that you want to have that you want to release it three weeks before it opens, is putting, putting the date in there. And then you know, putting in a an alert sort of three weeks before two weeks before one week before to actually remind me to kind of get onto that. Yeah, but that’s been a really important thing to be able to see physically in each, each day each week and each month. And I think that was something that I found really challenging having like a physical diary. And I would agonize over at the start of every year like, you know, do you get week to a spread? Do you get day to a page, do you get month to spread one of those really big ones. That was that was like you know, what’s going to be the thing that actually makes the most sense seeing, you know, time kind of laid out spatially like that I found a real real challenge.

So being able to actually see that spatial arrangement of time in that way. And to be able to change it, I think it’s been really helpful for me, when I started doing more, like larger works, I experimented using some professional project management applications, like Omni planner, I think was the one that I had a look into. But I ended up like it looks really great. And I found it was a really great thing to be able to show the other stakeholders in your project because it makes you look really professional. But it was also the amount of time and the learning curve, I ended up spending so much time actually learning how to use the program and managing the program and you know, moving things around as they would change that it would actually eat into my working time too much. So I guess I sort of, you know, adapted my calendar app to work in that way that you can, you know, kind of change things on the fly a little bit more fluidly than that and now I sort of have adapted like an Excel spreadsheet instead to use as that gantt timeline, which, if you don’t know what a gantt chart is, it’s just you know, the kind of each, each sort of item has like a kind of horizontal line and you know, each kind of time is represented by a line on a chart. And I mean there is some good things about that, that approach as well that you don’t you don’t need to buy additional software. It’s amazing what we have available to us now if you’re if you already have some hardware and computer and then a phone that’s fairly recent, you probably have a lot of these tools already available to you, which is really great.

Last year I did actually make up a year, a year planner, which I designed in Illustrator and got printed on plan paper and actually put that up, you know, in my office space so that I could fill it in with pencils. So I think that’s the that’s probably the only thing that the calendar app on my computer doesn’t really show in very much detail a whole year. So I do I do still have that one physical, you know, manifestation of time in real space. Which is a shame because I feel a little bit conflicted about having you know, so much reliance on tech technology, but it really is it’s like the the stand in from for the missing part of my my memory.

So just going on as well. Throughout my career, I have worked outside of my art career I have worked full time, part time, and more recently as a freelance contractor, doing AV installs, on festivals and art projects, out of all of those kind of different ways of working. I feel that for me working on contract projects has been a really, it’s been a really helpful way to, for me to manage my time so that I can, you know, put all of my focus on working on a project that’s at hand, whether it’s my work or working for somebody else, I can give it all of my attention. And it’s quite an intense period, but then I can, I can kind of schedule my art commitments and exhibitions kind of around those projects, whether it’s, you know, the comedy festival or Fringe Festival or something like that they’re fairly regular throughout the year and smaller, kind of contract projects around that. So I found it, you know, it’s a little bit more work in terms of scheduling and planning, but it allows me to kind of focus on one project with with kind of a laser focus, you know, which is, it can be exhausting. But I’ve found that it can be a bit of a challenge working. But what I found it a bit of a challenge, sometimes working full time, being able to motivate myself, after getting home from work, to kind of drag myself into the studio and find focusing in making work, especially if I didn’t have an upcoming deadline that I really had to focus on, it was just really hard to have the energy to kind of keep going into the studio, you know, to keep developing my part of my practice, when I didn’t sort of need to be there was a little bit easier just to kind of be like, I’m not going to go in tomorrow.

The last little thing was, it’s a little too, that has really changed the way that I’ve managed, I suppose my time, but is that I’ve started using accounting software, online accounting software in about the last two years, I think it really assisted me in being able to kind of keep track of invoices, as I started working freelance being able to kind of send or having to send more invoices and knowing how long it’s been since somone paid me. And then keeping track of like, obviously, your tax at the end of the tax year was easy, because it was just the information was actually already there, instead of having to kind of compile all of my receipts. Yeah, it was it was it was kind of a bit of a learning curve. But I found that to be a real benefit in the long run. And I’ve been using a free program called wave, which is you know, the same is Myob, or Zero, but it makes its money through offering optional credit card payments, which is optional, so I don’t use that kind of feature. But all the other sort of functionality of the of the software is completely free, which has been really great to learn how to use.

That’s a bit of a quick overview of how I’ve done things, but I’ll hand it over to, Torika now and then, and then move on to the others. And then we will have a bit of a discussion at the end where we can compare and contrast.

Torika Bolatagici 12:50
Okay, Hi, thanks, Nick. I guess this being involved in this chat kind of made me stop and think about how I do actually organize myself or how well that’s working. And I think actually, I have to kind of talk about this in a, while I won’t, but um, you know, to kind of think about it in, like post pandemic, and and now, I mean, pre and yeah, and now because all of the kind of systems and things that I had in place are kind of out the window at the moment.

Nick Breedon 13:28
Yeah, absolutely.

Torika Bolatagici 13:30
But so I had to kind of like, scramble through like lots of piles of paper now that everybody’s working from home, and find all the little bits of things or the trails of the way I used to organize my life and my time. And I realized that it’s, it’s everywhere, it’s kind of it’s across digital platforms, but actually a lot of paper as well. So I can really relate to that Nick where you’re talking about how you like to list steps and things, because that’s really how I get things done is by just making lots and lots of lists. But, um, but I guess, when I think about how I kind of organize my time, it’s sort of comes under three sort of categories really, which is like family, work and then, you know, creative projects. And I guess in family, I also kind of, I would include, you know, like health and well being stuff as well. So I’m going to, that’s how I’m going to sort of break my presentation in a bit into those categories.

So to organize family stuff I used to have like a wall plan in my study, which would have sort of, you know, a whole year or six months and I kind of block out periods of time for my own project so I could get a sense of where everything was sitting. But that meant that only I was kind of aware of that. So as the kids have gotten older, and they’ve started to have busier time on their own as well, you know, for their own activities and things and their own deadlines for things, it’s become more and more important to kind of be more transparent about how we, as a family organize our time, so that it doesn’t become just my emotional energy, kind of make sure that everyone’s doing things around what I’m doing or, or otherwise. So we have this first item from my pile of papers is a calendar, which has, you know, a column for everyone. (Torika holds up a calendar to the screen)

Nick Breedon 15:36
oh, cool!

Torika Bolatagici 15:38
I used to kind of fill it all out with everything. But now, the children do their own, which is really good. And that’s just a really good way for us to kind of see what we’re doing across the month. And then we kind of update it regularly. And we do that together. And then on Sundays we have this looks like a really kind of stupid, stationery, doesn’t it. But this original thought process always starts with just scrap bits of paper. And then over the years, I find bits of like, stationery that actually work. And so this works for us. And so it’s called Sunday sessions, which is a bit daggy. But it actually is when we sit down and my husband and I look at our meetings for the week. So it’s got on this side, you can see it’s got like Monday through Sunday, and then it’s got like a little meal plan thing there. Other things that you know, you need to kind of schedule into your life like bills to pay, calls to make, acts of kindness, those kinds of things.

Nick Breedon 16:50
That is so great!

Torika Bolatagici 16:52
Yeah, it is kind of handy and then so we actually sit down and this like Monday to Friday thing is where John and I will work out, okay, who’s got a meeting at nine o’clock or whatever. And so we can, we actually put here you know, who’s doing school drop off, who can do pick up. And then we put all of the kids after school activities, if there are any, so we can kind of negotiate all of those things. And because it’s just sort of, there’s no, there’s generally no regularity to those kinds of things except for the kids activities. It’s really important to kind of keep updating that every week so that we because things are just chaotic, but at least that gives us something to kind of look at and it is helpful. Once that’s completed it goes on the fridge. And the meal plan thing, I’m not one of those people who can like cook and freeze, I’ve never worked out how to kind of do that whole meal planning thing probably like, I know, there are people who are amazing at that. But the least I can do is actually kind of think around what ingredients are needed. So and you know, the kids help with that. Because that makes it easier if they decide what they want to eat to they can help make it and having them home more means that we’re all contributing to you know, every aspect of that. So I find those kinds of things really helpful. I also, sorry I picked up my diary, which I haven’t used for ages, actually, the last time it was… I’ve been home for 46 days with the kids. And just last weekend, I was actually out of the house. And this is kind of I like the layout of this, this is what we say before, it’s like a week to a?

Nick Breedon 18:32
Week to spread

Torika Bolatagici 18:33
Yeah, this is a week to spread. So, but I like how it’s good on the left home, probably I don’t know if there’s like private stuff in there. But anyway, inside it’s got this side for and that’s where I put on my work stuff and that side, and then I put on my other things, so like gym classes, recipes, things, I need to do all that non work stuff. So that’s how my life kind of is. And then for my students, and when I’m in my real office. I have one of these work calendars so I can kind of plot where my students are at in there you know, they’re trimester week. So I don’t necessarily need that in my personal calendar, but it’s good to have that as well.

Nick Breedon 19:21
Is that is that one is that just like each of those columns a month? I couldn’t see very well.

Torika Bolatagici 19:26
They are yeah. And it’s got the weeks of the actual university. Yeah, The actual weeks and then were exams are and tri breaks and that kind of thing. So that’s kind of how things exist materially in my world. And then all of that, except like the family stuff I put into my from my work calendars. I just use Outlook. Because that’s what all my students and colleagues use to keep touch. So what I’ll probably do is like parts of that life will flow into my work calendar so that I know when I’ve got things that I need to kind of, you know, take leave for or whatever. And I can also in my work calendar, which is on my phone as well, I can kind of block out periods of time when I’ve got a project coming up. And I need to be kind of really concentrated, focused on that. But that said, I try and be really good about turning off my work email and my work calendar, if I’m on leave. So that I’m not getting alerts and things.

Nick Breedon 20:37
Do you find that you because you’re sort of doubling up doing that on paper, and then kind of entering into Outlook, that you’re finding kind of a lot of you spending a lot of time kind of like doubling that information? Or having to do that kind of process? Or is it fairly streamlined?

Torika Bolatagici 20:58
Yeah it’s okay, I find that it’s kind of helpful for me to sort through it all, as well, like that writing, look, cover, wright, check thing like you’re going through it and repeating it is actually sometimes quite helpful. And it also helps me kind of work out what I don’t need to do as well, and what sort of takes priority.

Yeah, but really, when I’ve got creative projects going, I usually have like lists all over boards and walls, and it sort of just had like, a particular project, and then a list of tasks that need to be completed for that. And I can add to that, and cross things off as they go. Um, and that’s usually just like an a4 piece of paper that stuck to the wall, or in my office. And, yeah, and then so what I do with that is I kind of plot, you know, important dates might you like you were saying before, so that I get, and then I can put them into my digital calendar as well. But that’s really helpful then for thinking about putting those key dates into the planner. So things like, you know, when a gallery needs a work, you know, in fact, things like factoring in time for transferring and testing digital files and shipping prints, if they’re going somewhere and you know, the length of time that they might be in customs and, and sort of, then you know, when you’ve got your end date, kind of working backwards from that. So that I tend to kind of do in a digital space with all my dates. And then it also helps me kind of block out with my production time can be when I can be most productive. And when I might need to kind of let the rest of the people in the house know that this is when I’m going to have to be really focused on that. So everyone’s going to have to kind of lift their game and that kind of thing. Yeah, so it’s just kind of, you know, and then each project kind of has its own requirements.

But for group projects, I’ve tried a couple of different things, I think it’s easier when I’m collaborating with people to kind of work out, obviously, with a team, what platform works well for them, because there’s no point kind of trying to impose a particular piece of software, if it’s not going tp work for everyone. So it’s that sort of best to have that kind of generating kind of quite organically, I think. So for, you know, a recent project, if we just sort of ended up on Google, not 10. But Google something, instead of using, you know, Google Sheets and word and that kind of thing. Where is at work, everyone hates Microsoft Teams. And then it goes over to this other thing called SharePoint. And at that point, everyone just gets really lost and disinterested and disengaged from it. So you know, people, it’s really hard thing to find a platform that everyone really, that everyone sort of agrees to. Um, but yeah, for that project, it was mostly sort of keeping things like project plans and contact details and contracts and insurance stuff, marketing material, and then documentation all in one place. So that was a sort of a Google thing that we did. With a project that I did a couple years ago, called Wantok, I was working with theatre makers in Sydney, a glass artist and animator who was at work with me, a community liaison person from the Australian Museum in Sydney, and computer programmers at Deakin as well, and then the curators in the gallery in Auckland. And I tried, I tried using that Asana software, which I had forgotten about until you mentioned it in your email, Nick, and so I just reopened that and I forgot how much I loved using it. Actually.

Nick Breedon 24:49
I’ve been curious about that I actually have I didn’t mention it in my little spiel their that it’s something I’ve been kind of curious about. I’d love to hear what you think about it. If you’ve got any feedback.

Torika Bolatagici 25:00
Yeah I found it was really particularly useful in the early stages of the project. And everyone was using it. And it seemed to be the closest bit of software that replicated sort of what I would do on sheets of paper. And probably the closest thing I’ve come across that brings everything together so that I can kind of you can do your Gantt chart. And you know, it’s got, actually, I’ve got it open here. You know, you’ve got your timeline, there’s a calendar, you can kind of use it like a pinboard, and upload pictures and links and videos. And it’s just, it’s, I find it really, really helpful well I did. I’m going to start using it again, actually, because I think I just got annoyed with all the notifications that they were sending me. So once I turned that off, it was probably just reminding me to do stuff on my list of things to do. So yeah, that’s pretty much it for me. I mean, it’s just lots and lots of pages of lists and things. And that’s kind of what I do. If I’m doing writing projects, too. It’s, you know, I might have like a chapter and then different things within that that I need. So it’s kind of just a way I, I’ve been organized a lot of my thinking. Yeah, I reckon that’s enough for me.

Nick Breedon 26:23
Yeah. Yeah, definitely appreciate that you have found the right stationery to make it work, because I just didn’t it didn’t. I never get there with that. And I think technology is kind of came in and saved the day. I do appreciate some good stationary, so I’m definitely going to check out Asana again. Right well James, do you want to give us a little run through of your tic tacs as I like to call them? and how you manage your time?

James Nguyen 26:59
Yeah, so um, compared to you both, I’m probably the most chaotic person in the world (Laughter). Like, um, but yeah, like I really do rely on kind of like, manual pieces of paper and jotting things down, because that’s how I exist. Yeah, because I remember a few years ago, when I was overseas, and we were doing some film projects together, and people were like on WhatsApp, and then on Slack, and then on all these apps, and it just completely overwhelmed me. And then on top of that, while you’re traveling, like sometimes your timelines change, and then some of these apps don’t catch up. And so like, I just basically just gave up on anything that was kind of digital.

But um, yeah, as you were saying before, like, the only problem with having something physical is to have it with you. And so I decided to frame it in a way where it was fashion. So the first thing that I did when I went to Melbourne was to buy like a bum bag. (James holds up his bum bag). It was, like, looks sparkly, and also to have a place for your phone and everything. So, but this is the one that I find most practical to me, because you know, like in the back, I’ve got like coins and keys and then I’ve got my vitamin E lip gloss, my wallet, a pen that’s really important. And also my mid year diary. And that’s the thing that works for me, because it’s really slim. Yeah. You know, like, you can’t put a chunky diary in a bum bag. But, um, but what’s really good is that like, yeah, so you’ve got a week to this kind of, like, long thing. So you could like jott in a whole bunch of stuff. And I find that really useful, like, and to me to have it in between, like, it’s kind of like more fun than going from like the start of the year to the end of the year. So like, yeah, so I actually really love this and without it, I pretty much die. Um, the other thing that I find that’s really useful is also to have one credit card for your art projects.

Nick Breedon 29:43

James Nguyen 29:43
Because I’m so bad at invoices, and also really terrible, but you know, like keeping sheets of little bits of receipts and stuff. So if you have just one credit card where you know, you pay for kind of like websites and you pay for all these things, and then when you go to Bunnings you have got it. And you know, you’ve got it in your little fanny pack. Yeah, like, it just makes it a lot easier.

And also, with my projects they are pretty much as chaotic as I am. So I pretty much work with producing lots of these little books for each project. And say, like, I think I’ve talked to you, before we’re on Dropbox, I have a list of ideas. And, you know, I go through it every once in a while, and then any idea that really sticks, I turn into a book. And then once it’s in a book, I start to like write down ideas and stick stuff together. You know, like, if I’ve made a phone call to some manufacturer or something, it’s in there. And the thing is that I could dump these books everywhere. And, you know, within, I reckon we’ve been one or two weeks, if I need to produce an artwork or get something done, it’s all there, you know, it’s all in in one place, I don’t need to start again, I don’t need to let go oh who did to get you know, that piece of plastic cut or whatever. So. So that’s how I kind of manage it.

Um, the other thing is also working with highly effective people makes you effective. And also slightly lazy as well. But um, even though I work mainly with like, these manual things, um, I think it’s really important to also be flexible and adaptive enough to work with other people in whatever format works best for them. And that’s what Torika was saying before how you can’t just impose like forklifts on everone especially when they’re overseas, right. And so I have to kind of like, work on Google Docs, and do all these things that I don’t like. And every time on Google Docs, I remind people that I don’t like it, but I still have to use it (Laughter).

Nick Breedon 32:13
I’m sure they appreciate that.

Anusha Kenny 32:17
Yeah, and also, like, I think it’s good that, um, you know, like, people have reminders and stuff on kind of like the Apple calendars and things, but I use that, but also, yeah, at the end of the day, I think I rely mostly on my little, you know, like, diary, that’s the thing that that is kind of like the crux of my life. And I think if I write down and organize everything to a tee, like, my life wouldn’t function because, like, I have to manage, like, my parents, and, you know, like, when they’re sick, like, I just drop everything, and then I just go, you know, like, everything’s like, irrelevant, right. Um, and kind of like, they would also just call me up and go, Ah, I need to fly to visit your cousin and it’s tomorrow. And, like, so because the people around me are chaotic, If I’m over structured, like I think, it wouldn’t work. I have to, you know, like, live with chaos and kind of, like, make that chaos, like, kind of adaptable to me otherwise, um, yeah, if I would get really frustrated at my parents or my relatives, if I had everything planned, because they would just go in there, and, you know, like, burn (Laughing), and they would not be writing and adding to kind of like a weekly plan. But yeah, that’s pretty much me I think.

Nick Breedon 33:55
Yeah. And so I’m interested because I think that’s the thing that I found with the physical diary so challenging is that, you know, once you write something in there with pen, you know, try pencil, but it always just using up all of the erasers always. That I find, I find that less flexible, because, because it’s you know, you’re actually physically writing on paper and you’re more flexible to be able to kind of remove something entirely and kind of move in that kind of digital space. So I’m interested to know, like, how you find that physical diary, more flexible.

Anusha Kenny 34:36
Um, I actually like the satisfaction of crossing things off. I like things where you’re like, I’m gonna miss that meeting. Oh, well, so. Yeah. And kind of like that physicality. You’re kind of like playing with time and space in a way that’s quite tangible. Whereas when you’re shifting meetings around You know, like, you know, invites and stuff that people send like, conceptually, for me, that’s still a little bit challenging. And sometimes it’s like always the first email or the first meeting that people send that I remember. And so I turn up and then it’s like, no, it’s in the zoom meeting (Laughter).

Nick Breedon 35:21
I think maybe it works for me, because I don’t remember anything. So yeah, that’s literally I only have to defer to the telephone. So

James Nguyen 35:32
yeah, you but it’s kind of like you go between spaces. And I guess there’s no perfect way. Yeah. Because you know, we’re all imperfect.

Nick Breedon 35:43
Ok well Anusha do you want to go?

Anusha Kenny 35:53
Yeah, this is so interesting. It’s so interesting hearing how everyone else approaches these things. My circumstances at the moment are that I have a very young baby. So that has completely changed my relationship with time and my access to it. So it’s been interesting. Thinking back on how I am, I organize my time when I had a bit more control. But so I work full time in law reform. And, and that is quite an involving sort of day job. But I also try to maintain a contribution to the arts through involvement with Un projects and doing some arts writing when I can. So I thought that what I can offer to this conversation is some kind of learnings I have about trying to maintain different kinds of outputs across, across the time.

And so the first thing that I think I’ve learned over time is that, for me, it’s more about managing my energy levels rather than an expenditure of energy rather than managing my expenditure of time. So I sort of feel like, to me 30 minutes, when I’m fresh, and I’m in a good headspace, is much more valuable than three hours at the end of the day.

And so I kind of I like to look at my time, usually over a week. So I’m just I’m a diary person as well. And I like of the moleskine range, the layout that has the week there and then like a free page. And so what I will try to do is think about some of the things I want to get done each week, and put them in the in the blank page, and then try and work them mean over the course of a week, knowing that some days, I’m going to have more energy than others. And the next thing that’s kind of related to that is that I try and save my like, what I think of as my best juice, like my brain juice on the things that are the most important to do. So one of the things I think, is a bit of a trap for me, and I still do it all the time, is when I have a little bit of time to sit down and say at the computer, and I want to really like get stuck into writing something. And I’ll go and do what I would call like the easy wins, which is paying bills or replying to emails, but then I’ve lost those best working hours. And I’ve fritted them away on things that I could do when I’m less fresh. So yeah, it’s, it’s, I think it’s a challenge to discipline me is to use that, that fresh time to do the things that are the hardest to do and the most, the things that I really want to avoid, which are really about like drafting, writing, which is basically what all of my work is about is really about research and writing. And it’s, I find that there’s only so many hours that I can do that properly a day. And and another kind of learning for myself, particularly having a day job that requires a lot of that good juice is that I don’t always have to spend my best energy in my day job. And so I think to myself, like, you know, I do really care about my work, but sometimes there are other things that I want to invest in. And I can think well I’ll put my, my best juice into doing something else, whatever that might be. It might just be like yeah, being with family or being present in a different way rather than always giving that energy to paid work.

Nick Breedon 39:47
Yeah. Your comment about, you know, putting, putting your energy into the hardest or you know, the things that are the best for you rather than the easiest things to just knock out of the park was, was spoken about in our episode with Sibyl Kempson in the last season of Pro Prac, where, where she said that that was that was a real shift for her to think about, you know, yeah, when you do have some time is like what, what is actually going to have the most profound impact in in how, you know, you feel about your work or what you’re working on, rather than, you know, something that’s just like an easy win. So I really too thank on board when she talked about that, so it’s like, yeah, it’s a good one.

James Nguyen 40:36
Yeah. And I think when you’re trying to do longer term things, like I’m trying to finish this thesis, and it’s like this huge thing, that I always want to do something else, rather than do it, it’s just, you know, it’s such a slow process, and, and takes so much effort. So I think if you’re always doing the easy wins, you’re never going to get those bigger tasks done. And, and another thing that I’ve sort of reflected on a bit is this idea of opportunity costs, which I think comes I think it’s like an economics term. But the idea is that when you choose to do something with your time, and you lose the benefit that you could have derived from doing something else with your time. So the way this would play out for me would be, say, if I’ve got a free evening, and, and someone asks me to edit something that would take three hours, I would say yes to it, which I may wish to do. And but I would lose the benefit of doing whatever else I might have wanted to do with that time, which could be just something fun, like watch a good show and cook dinner and, you know, do a yoga class or whatever, you lose the benefits that you would have derived from using that time otherwise. And so I think that’s made me a little bit more thoughtful about what I’m agreeing to. And I guess, like making sure that those things that can often get kicked aside, like having time basic things, like having time to cook food, rather than eating takeaway all the time, which is something that I pre Corona definitely was, had a tendency to get into that sort of a lifestyle, where, if you look after yourself, you actually have more time to be effective. And, and I don’t know, you can just kind of get more done if you’re feeling good. So yeah, that’s been a bit of a learning. For me. And, yeah, so then my main, my main thoughts.

Nick Breedon 42:47
Yeah, actually, you know, in our first session this morning, Arie said, to the, to that same effect, if you have a big project that you’ve got coming up is to write out everything you want to achieve, achieve, you know, from the most important down to the least important, you know, down to, like, you know, make sure that the edges are all sanded perfectly, or whatever is it could be anything quite, you know, particular and he said just cross off the last five things on the list and just sort of get them out of the way so that you don’t even think about them. And then you know, you’re never going to get them done anyway. So it’s like a little bit of a psychological hack to kind of give yourself a little bit more space. Yeah, I suppose I was going to start next with talking a little bit more about collaborating. But I guess we’ve all kind of talked about collaborating using different apps and emails. I was actually curious to hear a little bit more from you, James about what, specifically because you, I know that you work with collaboratively still with people in Sydney, how you’ve kind of got around that sort of tyranny of distance of working online. I think you said using Google, but um, do you kind of keep things mostly by email or have online kind of catch ups? You know, using zoom or whatever? Or how do you kind of manage your collaborative working?

Anusha Kenny 44:27
Yeah, so I’m the project that I’m working with so Victoria Pham, she’s actually moved to London. So like even more distance (Laughter). But um, because of the tyranny of distance, and you know, time It means that there’s so few windows when you can actually work together.

Nick Breedon 44:51
Yeah London’s hard

James Nguyen 44:52
Yeah. And so we deliberately make time so once a week on Wednesday nights That’s our time together. Well, that’s for my time zone but whatever. But I find that I still work, it’s really important to be in the presence of people to get stuff done. Because you know, those little decisions that have to be made those quick yes or no answers. Like, if you’re just exchanging it over email. It takes another extra day. So you’re, you’re doing this whole thing over the course of a week. And as you said, before Anusha its about energy, right? Like, if you’re distributing those kind of like deferred decision making, by email or whatever, that’s not that direct, then things get stretched out. But when you’re sitting there with your collaborator, and you know, and she’s working on kind of like a writing component, and you’re doing some editing thing, and then you’re answering some emails for a bunch of other people, and she’s writing some other stuff, you’re there together, and then you’re like, hey, Victoria, how about this for? And she’s like, Yep, sure, done. And within, you know, like that those one or two hours that you carve out in that week, things get done. And for the rest of the week, your mind is free, and then you come back. And so it’s kind of like, how do you actually spend time together, whereas, whereas, like, my collaborator with Kieran Begley who’s just down the street, you know, we can’t really work together anymore (Laughter). But, but the thing is, you know, like, the idea that someone’s just down the street, we can just catch up anytime and have a discussion we need to. And still, it’s that sense of being conceptually and mindfully in the same space at the same time, and that’s when you can actually get stuff done. I find otherwise, yeah, like, it doesn’t really work.

Nick Breedon 47:00
Yeah, yeah. Well, I mean, even speaking about Kiera and I collaborating on Pro Prac, you know, we do have this amazing benefit of always being very close in proximity to each other to be able to talk about it, but we actually sort of, you know, almost the other side is that we need to not talk about Pro Prac all the time. So yeah, we tend to, you know, book, actual meetings, where we will sit down and discuss, you know, for the symposium, for example. And, yeah, we, we have work towards sort of streamlining all of our processes, you know, using Google Forms to help with our onboarding for our guests, and, you know, sharing documents on Google Drive, instead of just air dropping them or emailing them back and forth, which we do quite a lot still, but, um, you know, actually putting all the documents onto Google Drive, so that everybody, you know, needs to access something, and I’m not right, there it is somewhere that we can both access.

Kiera Brew Kurec 48:04
I just want to say kind of, with what you’ve already said, James, about when you’re collaborating with someone, if someone has a particular skill set that you might not have in a certain area, make them do it. And there’s always going to be an area that you’re probably better at than someone else. And you should do that. Because Yeah, like a Anusha said, like, if you can conserve a huge amount of stress, and like to not have to be in a stressful situation, doing something that you don’t particularly excel at, or, you know, find really taxing and someone else is really able to make phone calls, or is really good at negotiating or whatever that is. It’s great to outsource where you can, especially when you’re working collaboratively. But even if you are working on your own, see who is around you that you can have those relationships with, like if you are working with a gallery, are you taking on something that you actually don’t need to and the gallery should be doing? And just look at, like having an overview and seeing what is actually important. I know we have a question coming up in the q&a that will kind of addresses this but I just think it’s really great if you can like get someone who’s really good to do it.

Nick Breedon 49:30
Yeah, maybe just a last question for everybody before we take Q and A’s but I think one of the hardest things for me when I had you know first finished university was actually that, you know, when I talked about before, like having a having an event in my diary that was, you know, to do a press release three weeks out for an exhibition. I didn’t know that you was supposed to do a press release three weeks out from the exhibition, there are a lot of things that I didn’t actually know about how you know how putting an exhibition together works. But um, you know, if you had a piece of advice for somebody who was just kind of starting with or kind of developing a system of managing their time, or project management, what, what advice would you give them.

Anusha Kenny 50:29
Maybe one thing that I would say is, don’t over engineer your project management. So you don’t want the tool to be so complicated, that it’s more, it’s another task, in addition to what you actually need to get done. I’d say to someone just keep it really simple. Lists, I prefer, like paper diaries and things like that. But whatever works for you, I’d say, to keep it really simple, because I think, you know, you can have project management so that you need for building a bridge. And you can have project management for writing a catalogue essay, and the two would be looked very different. That would be my thought,

Torika Bolatagici 51:13
I have to read lists. And just that stuff that we’ve talked about, about sort of putting in like really important dates, but also just making sure that you still prioritize time to, you know, take your vitamins, and look after yourself. Because I think has everyone said here that, you know, no project can really happen, or you can’t be productive, if that’s what you want to be If, if you’re unwell. So, yeah.

James Nguyen 51:47
My thing would be to engineer your procrastination. So yeah, so kind of like, everything can be unproductive, and everything can be productive. So while you’re watching master chef, you can still like, you know, start to put, you know, like, start to look through kind of, like, grant applications or something. Yeah, so And also, kind of like, how Anusha was saying, sometimes when you’re low energy, and you don’t want to do that writing, it’s okay to make like a dumb video and post it up. And then that’s the thing that gives you energy when people say Ha ha, ha, lol funny video. And so it’s okay to reach out to to people who kind of like the useless stuff that you do like, a lot of unproductive, useless things, actually, other things that keep you going and keeping you afloat. And then, you know, you’re staying afloat because your friends, you know, like, egging you on. And then you wake up the next day, and you’re like, okay, right, I’m going to do some writing. I guess the other thing that has really helped me throughout this time is actually to build like a really tight playlist for writing. And so like, really, it’s taken me kind of like, it took me probably about two to three weeks to really get the right playlist. And it’s like Pavlov’s dog, like, you know, like, for me, when I turn on this one song, it’s like, oh, it’s time to write. And so my brain just automatically goes into that mode. And then I can write and so you can use your wasted time in a way to trick yourself into doing work because we’re all creatures of habit. And often bad habits, but like, what is bad and what’s good nowadays, right? Like, bad habits are actually sometimes really fun. And you kind of need to make some dumb playlists.

Nick Breedon 53:57
Can I ask if you would mind sharing what the what your Pavlov’s dog writing song is.

James Nguyen 54:08
Okay, so it’s Massive Attack Future proof

Nick Breedon 54:13
I recently wrote a really very large application and I have been into that ambient album of Aphex Twin, which is kind of in very much in that same vein, but it is literally like when I put it on with the headphones, it is like, it overcomes me. So yeah, that’s a really great tip. I might also add to that, that, um, you know, in that same vein of kind of using your down to time, but you know, I think it’s pretty common advice that you’re just getting the ball rolling on a project can be really helpful that you don’t have to do it all in one big chunk. But for me, I got into this habit, quite early on when I was applying for grants Is that I would, if there was a grant that I knew that I wanted to apply for, even if it was massive new work grant whatever Aus Co, I would just sign in and start, like, just open and open the application because and not even, you know, maybe just putting your name and your address or whatever kind of like very basic information you have to put in. And quite often, that was enough for me to just know that I had put my toe in the water enough to kind of like, compel me to kind of just start writing. Yeah, so I think, you know, that’s a tip that I would say is that if you’ve got a big application is actually just to kind of begin, you know, just applying, opening the application and just looking at it. And that’s, and that’s kind of enough, like, you know, that might be the only thing I do on it that day. But I feel that’s one of those ones that I get to cross off my to do list and I am chuffed with myself, because I did something.

Kiera Brew Kurec 56:02
I would also say on that is if you have some projects that you’re working towards, but you don’t have either funding yet go places to show them, it’s a great thing to do at the start of the year is like write out the list of all the things that you want to apply for. And start checking when the dates for submissions and put reminders in your diary when they are due and like when to apply for or when they’re going to be open. And like maybe note down the phone number of who to call for that grant round or whatever, just so that you are kind of on top and you’re not like oh shit it’s like due in two weeks and you know I haven’t got a letter of support or anything like that. It’s always a good thing to do.

Nick Breedon 56:46
I always get my calendar to give me up to five different alerts a month before And then two weeks before and in two days?

Anusha Kenny 57:01
So that the National Art School email list, like the bottom of it, like they give you kind of like a monthly reminder of like things that are coming up, so you don’t even need that. So just like go to the National Art School email list and then that they’ve done it for you.

Kiera Brew Kurec 57:23
And I think Auspicious arts maybe have like a grant spot on their page.

Nick Breedon 57:29
Next Wave has one as well.

Kiera Brew Kurec 57:31
and it will have like all the different state and federal grants that are coming up, but then also ones, ones that you might not have heard about.

Nick Breedon 57:39
Yeah Auspicious arts are like get it! Okay, well, maybe we’ll wrap it up there. And we’ll take some questions. So if you have a question and you haven’t written it in already, just pop it in the q&a section.

We have a question from A.B that just says how do you prioritize when you have too much to do?

James Nguyen 58:01
I’ll have a crack. I think what I do when I have too much to do. I mean, firstly, I would try to have a little bit of a long view to avoid getting into these circumstances, but it inevitably happens. There’s always like a crunch time of things. And so I think prioritization is just it’s just triaging what can’t be pulled off what can’t be delegated? Maybe what can’t What can’t you maybe compromise on? And so, yeah, I think often those decisions kind of make themselves because the most pressing things that need to get done, and you just do them or you know, you don’t, and life goes on as well, if it doesn’t work out. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s tricky.

Torika Bolatagici 58:57
I agree. I, I tend to triage in the sense that I think about what’s the worst impact of me not doing that right now. And then working back from that, and then and then being okay with the fact that that might throw out my whole schedule and just being fluid and flexible with that.

Nick Breedon 59:19
Yeah, I think for me, I mean, going back to what we were saying about like, you know, healthy mind and body is really helpful, I think, always having a, having a little backup of, you know, things that can keep me going like you were saying Torika you’re not the kind of person who does the batch cooking or something. But quite often if I know I have a really busy period coming up, I do cook a little bit of extra food and put it in the freezer. That’s something that I think Kiera has also shared that on the Podcast that when she was in, you know, kind of undergrad or uni or you know, doing an install or something like that where it’s a really busy time and you are You know, you know that you’re likely going to, you know, fall back on maybe getting taken away or whatever is having a stash of good food that you can take with you. But you’re also making sure that you do I mean, you know, time when you’ve got too much on, but to still make sure that you prioritize your health, and you know if that’s doing some exercise, or whatever it is, because it will just make you actually more productive in the long run.

Kiera Brew Kurec 1:00:26
And also ask for help if you need it.

James Nguyen 1:00:30
yeah, yeah, but also, times when I’m, like, super stressed, I go look at art, you know, like, it’s really good to be seeing other people’s work. You know, and, and, you know, like, we’re artists, we’re comfortable with art spaces, you know, like, we have that privilege of knowing and having a community and knowing kind of like the language that’s embedded in these kind of, like infrastructures. So when I’m really stressed, like, and I need to get my own work done, like, sometimes the best thing to do is to go to NGV, or Art Gallery of New South Wales, or whatever, like, and then you feel kind of like this normalizing space. And sometimes when you switch your brain into thinking in a way that’s out of your head, like you could resolve so many things so, so much quickly, and also knowing that you’re part of that whole space, like, yeah, makes you like, really easy, quick decisions. But you’re like, Oh, I actually don’t need to make that additional five channel sound work (Laughter).

Kiera Brew Kurec 1:01:39
Yeah, and all that if you are working on a project, this has happened to me multiple times you like over doing project it’s really great to get feedback from your colleagues that might be like, you put too much in the show, or like, you don’t need to make this much work. This is enough. Or you don’t need to write this much like scale it back. Sometimes that’s really important.

James Nguyen 1:02:08
Yeah, watch a movie. Like, See some music? Like it actually throws your head out of yourself which really helps.

Nick Breedon 1:02:19
Yeah. And we have another question here from anonymous. Could anyone share an example of when your time management for a project has gone terribly awry? How did you manage expectations of yourself and your work?

Maybe I’ll jump in and answer that one, I did a project, my first really large scale project was really massive. And had a lot of, it kind of goes back to the session that we had earlier this morning about working outside of the gallery, it was my first major exhibition, I’d never worked with a producer before, I didn’t really know what they were for, I didn’t really know how to ask for help, I was very much in that kind of paradigm of being very self reliant, and just thinking that I could just do everything myself. It sort of ended up in a situation where the, the contractors that I was working with, were used to working with huge Council, you know, huge businesses, rather, and councils and things like that. So they really weren’t used to working with one 23 year old woman trying to boss them around, I spent two weeks trying to get them on the phone, to confirm that they would have gotten to basically turn up and do what I had paid them to do. And it did become, it became really challenging, I ended up having to sort of like pull someone in. And it was really hard for me as well to kind of admit that I didn’t really know what I was doing and how to get these people on board with me. But I sort of had to, you know, approach the people that were essentially hosting my artwork as part of the project and just say, I can’t get them, I can’t get on to them, they won’t talk to me, they weren’t really telling me what’s happening. And I really need some help to kind of go and boss them around. So I think I think that was a really, I mean, he was kind of like extraneous factors that, you know, maybe I was sort of not given enough support in that kind of part of the project to kind of get it happening initially, but I think Yeah, that was one and I think if I was gonna do it again, I guess yeah not been sort of proud to ask for help. Like what Kiera just said, that is that Yeah, asking for help. And going to people who know more than you and i think you know, if you approach people who you know Might have more experience in these areas and just ask them and say like, oh, come in a bit of a pickle do you know how to approach this. You know, that’s probably one of the advice that I would have given to myself. And that’s, I think, basically, the advice that I got when I, when I sort of approach someone else and said, I don’t know what to do, he just said, you need to ask for help. And so that’s probably what I would say, to do.

But I don’t know if anybody else has a fun story of shit hitting the fan that they want to share.

James Nguyen 1:05:32
I could do it. Yes. So I’d like to out my very good friend Salote Tawale (Laughter) Yeah, like Salote and I, when we were doing our masters together, we’re like, yeah, let’s collaborate. And so we started this thing called Bad Mother. And then somehow we got into Underbelly Arts. And we were so ambitious that in this project, we squeezed in like making like, a series of three radio plays a bicycle ballet, these additional costumes, like, like, what do they call it? confetti guns, like, we had like emoji cutouts, like, we built these trailers, and we had like a soundscape. It was nuts! Because the best thing was that neither of us were able to say no to anything. Like we’re like, Yeah, that’s a great idea. Let’s do it. And kind of like, what was really great out of that was that somehow it came together. Because of the people around us. And, you know, I some parts, you know, didn’t go exactly well, but actually, it started making me think that you shouldn’t be so precious about work. Like, it’s, it’s just this thing, where potentially the work that you’re presenting and putting up, it’s just an idea, right? And so that idea, you know, Salote and I can come back in 10 years and then, you know, like, work on it again, you know, like, it’s not like, because you put it out in public, it had to be perfect, it has to be good. And, and actually, that’s just like, your own anxieties that you expectations that you put upon yourself, at the end of the day, or you just think it through as a process of learning and that your art career does not hinge on this, you know, like, it’s not the last dish that you’ve presented to the judges, you know, like, but, yeah, but that’s the thing, like, you have this career that potentially could span, you know, like, 20 – 50 years. And so whatever you put up, it’s just a little step, you know, and it’s okay to fluff it, you know, it’s okay to say yes to everything and just go nuts, right? Because at the end of the day, you’ve got your best friend to, to kind of, like, have a beer with and you know, like, talk over it. Like it’s Yeah, that Yeah, so my thing is like not to take any exhibition or public presentation too seriously.

Nick Breedon 1:08:38
I think sometimes it’s also it’s good to fail. I mean, it’s, it’s hard. And I think people find that really challenging. But, yeah, sometimes it really is, it’s the best way of learning is to fail. Yeah.

Kiera Brew Kurec 1:08:48
But I think it’s going to probably sound a little bit airy, but like, I think just have faith in your work as well. And your work will normally do something, but just like, let it be what it is, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. And don’t identify yourself so much with the work so that he can just exist for what it is at that time in space.

James Nguyen 1:09:13
Also, what what you think the work should be? Probably it’s not the best because, you know, especially if you’re starting you actually don’t know the context or the you know, like the kind of like the meaning of the value of the work so yeah, kind of like your perspective on the work it’s actually a shit perspective. Because it found in someone else so that work someone else could kind of like learn from it or, or use that idea and actually, you know, like, take that idea to somewhere else, you know, and, and so it’s it’s okay that your ideas are shit.

Nick Breedon 1:09:53
Great. So maybe on that beautiful note, we might wrap it up. Really big thank you to all of our panelists Anusha, Torika and James, thank you for being here today. We encourage everybody to go to their websites and obviously follow them on Instagram. Thanks to Site Works and City of Melbourne for their support, and, of course, to all of the people who have tuned in today. Yeah. Thanks again, guys for joining us today.

Kiera Brew Kurec 1:10:25
Thank you so much.

Anusha Kenny 1:10:27
Thank you,

Torika Bolatagici 1:10:27
thank you.

James Nguyen 1:10:28
Thank you.

Nick Breedon 1:10:33
We respectfully acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation and pay respect to their elders past, present and emerging and the elders of the lands that this podcast reaches you on today. We extend that respect to all First Nations people listening today and acknowledge that sovereignty has never been ceded.

Kiera Brew Kurec 1:10:51
Follow us at @propracpodcast on Instagram or email us at If you haven’t already, please subscribe and whatever you listen to podcast,

Nick Breedon 1:11:01
Please stay in touch. We’d love to hear what you’re up to as well.

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Pro Prac acknowledges City of Melbourne’s generous contribution to Pro Prac Symposium through their annual arts grants program