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Why Ghost Hours Hurt the Art Industry

Why Ghost Hours Hurt the Art Industry

Ghost hours. It sounds like the name of a late-night bar or an alternative-indie band where they wear colorful button-ups and cuff their grey denim jeans just a little too high. And as bad as that sounds, the true meaning behind ‘ghost hours’ is much worse.

Ghost hours are the hours that artists, freelance or in-house, work overtime without charging. And they do this. On purpose. Now, why would anyone work for free by choice?? Glad you asked, rhetorical audience.

Concept Designer/Illustrator Johanna Rupprecht

Reasons People Work Ghost Hours

There are many reasons you might stop the clock and continue working late into the night. One, you’re a vampire detective and you have to keep your identity a secret to protect your loved ones. Two, you’re an artist.

Concept Artist/Illustrator Eren Arik

Let’s say you start a project and halfway through, you realize you will not meet your deadline. The reason being you made a mistake, didn’t budget your time correctly, or just had one of those weeks where you stare at the wall for hours at a time (it happens to everyone, don’t worry). No matter the reason, you’re screwed. Many artists experience the following reactions:

  • Guilt. The whole project is behind schedule and it’s YOUR FAULT.
  • Inadequacy. You should have known enough to avoid this pitfall.
  • Responsibility. Even if it’s a team effort, it’s up to YOU to fix this.

These feelings can push you to work insane hours to catch up. And once the cuckoo clock strikes 3:00 am (does anyone even have a cuckoo clock anymore?) you think, why not let these couple of hours go, just this once? Thanks again, rhetorical audience.

Reasons You Should Not Let These Couple of Hours Go, Just This Once

First of all, it’s never just once. When you say that a project took you 8 hours, your supervisor or client will believe you (unless they’re a group of vampires and are suspicious of your secret identity). Even if you worked 12 hours, they will continue to expect it in 8 hours. Then you’re stuck in a cycle of rushing and working MORE ghost hours until you come clean.

Character 3D Artist Elina Karimova

Also just an FYI- putting in more hours does NOT mean you’ll get more work done. Studies suggest that productivity drops 25% if you work 60 hours or more a week. Plus, overworking yourself negatively affects your sleep, eating habits, relationships, and mental health (Inc.com). How are you supposed to fight off a legion of vampires when you’re sleep-deprived?!

So you’re sleep-deprived, not working efficiently, and YOU’RE NOT EVEN GETTING PAID? Did Lil Wayne and T-Pain teach you nothing with their 2008 bop “Got Money”?? Many employers WANT to pay you fairly, as it reflects well on them and facilitates goodwill. A good supervisor or client will recognize that ghost hours hurt them too. Anyone who cares about their final product would prefer spending money on a couple of extra hours as opposed to receiving something they can’t work with.

How to Resist the Urge of Ghost Hours

Rhetorical audience, I know you’re dying to hear the solutions to ghost hours. That, or you thought this article would help you defeat your nemesis vampire (just call Buffy, you’re out of your league). The truth is, ending the cycle of ghost hours requires some grit and confidence. But at the end of the day, it’s worth it for everyone.

Concept Artist Tooth Wu
1. Value Time Over Projects

While there are endless amazing and challenging projects you can work on, you only have a finite number of hours each day. Sorry if it’s condescending to explain there are 24 hours in one day, but some of you really need to hear it. Not to mention, you need 7-8 of those for sleep. Throw in some exercise, food, time for friends and family, not to mention something to relax you.

Your time, as a professional and as a human, is the most valuable thing you have. So when you’re making professional choices about projects or negotiating deadlines, think of your time first, and then how the project fits in. Not the other way around.

2. Communicate With Your Team

You have to be upfront with your team, whether it’s someone else working on the project or a client who doesn’t know the intricacies of the workflow. For one, a colleague might be able to help you or show you a workaround that saves you a couple of hours. Seriously, it’s always one stupid button that makes the difference.

At the very least, communicating allows everyone to adjust to a new timeline. Things happen, and it might suck to postpone a project in the short term, but long term it’s far better. The people around you very likely want you to succeed. Work with them, not against them.

3. Prioritize Quality

You’re an artist and you deserve to take pride in your work. By prioritizing the quality over the pace, you’ll find it easier to ask for help instead of pulling an all-nighter and turning in something a kindergartener would be embarrassed of.

Of course, there are some positions that require fast turnarounds. And you shouldn’t make a habit of asking for extensions. But you should keep this in mind when you agree to deadlines or take on new projects.

There will always be times that you need to work overtime. It’s just a reality of being an artist. But this doesn’t mean sacrificing your money, time, quality of work, and health. So stop doubting yourself, defeat Nosferatu, watch this amazing video of affirmations, and get back to work (and charge for it).

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