Starving Artist No More Blog

020: Getting More Done

Mar 14, 2023
Starving Artist No More | Jennifer Jill Araya
020: Getting More Done

 How do you use your time? During your work days, are you efficient and focused with your time? Time is one of our most precious and most finite resources. As artist business owners who sell our time and creativity energy, time is incredibly valuable to us. So how can you use your time effectively? Are there strategies that can help you get more done, without adding stress and overwhelm to your creative work? Today, we’re going to figure that out. We’re going to dive into strategies you can use to get more done.


Hello, thriving artists, and welcome to Episode 20 of the Starving Artist No More podcast. I’m your host, Jennifer Jill Araya, and I too am a creative entrepreneur working to build an artistic business that fulfills me personally, creatively, and financially. I love working with my fellow creatives to help them shape their business strategy and mold their mindsets around those strategies. I’m so excited for today’s discussion about artistic productivity.

Before we get to that important conversation, though, I do want to mention that I have a resource available on my website that is directly related to today’s topic. If you visit my website,, you can fill out the contact form to receive a copy of my free guide, “Say Goodbye to Feast or Famine: Three Financial Must-Haves for Creative Entrepreneurs.” This guide is all about how to get your finances in order so that you can have some freedom with your time and have some peace about your work schedule. If you struggle with the financial side of your business, this guide is for you. I hope you’ll head on over to my website,, and fill out the contact form so that you can stop being afraid of your business finances and instead live into your role as creative CEO of your business. Finances and productivity are so interconnected for creative entrepreneurs. It might not seem like working on your business finances will help you get more done creatively, but it really will, I promise! And my free guide can help.

Now let’s pivot and get to the main topic of today’s episode: productivity. How can you get more done in your artistic work? Today’s episode was prompted by an email I received just over a week ago from one of my business coaching students. This creative entrepreneur was looking at her colleagues and friends in her specific creative industry, and at least from her perspective, it seemed like her peers were able to get more projects done each year than she was. She literally asked me, “How do they do it? What systems are these other entrepreneurs using to be more productive, and how can I implement those same systems?”

As I work with creative entrepreneurs, I repeatedly encounter variations of these questions. “How can I get more done? How can I complete more of the projects I love?” When this artist came to me with her questions about productivity and task management, I decided that I needed to make this a podcast topic. If so many of the creative entrepreneurs I know have similar questions, then probably you have those same questions as well.

So, let’s get practical. Let’s talk strategies that you can use to be more efficient and focused in your creative work time.

If you want to get more done, you have to start by knowing what you’re currently doing. If you don’t know what systems and habits you already have around your work, you won’t have any way of evaluating what needs to be updated and changed, and what is ok as-is.

The easiest and most straightforward way to determine what you’re currently doing is to track your activities. Pick a work day, or if you’re really motivated to make change, pick a full work week, when you will track your activities for every hour of your workday. You want to pick a day or week that is relatively “normal” for you, meaning you don’t have lots of unusual meetings or events going on. It’s just an average day or week for you. Then, set an alarm to go off once an hour, every hour, during your work time. When the alarm goes off, write down everything you’ve done in the past hour.

This isn’t something you need to do on an on-going basis, all the time. Rather, tracking your activities is something you can use to determine your starting point any time you decide that you need to make some changes to your working process. And I guarantee that you’ll have some surprising insights as you do this exercise. You’ll realize that you’re spending a lot more on Activity A than you realized you were, but you are barely spending any time on Activity B, even though it’s actually higher priority for you. When you go through this process of detailing your activities, patterns and tendencies that you hadn’t previously recognized will pop to the surface. You can’t get where you’re going unless you know where you’re starting, and tracking your activities for a day or a week lets you determine where you’re starting.  

I do have a caution for you as you’re tracking your activities, though. Keep in mind as you’re going through this process that you want to be a curious observer of your current practices, not a judgmental or critical evaluator. Think of approaching this process with curiosity, wanting to be a detective as you look into the existing processes in your creative work. You want to observe, not critique, criticize, judge, or evaluate.

As artists, we are constantly evaluating our creative work with a critical mindset, continuously striving toward that elusive ideal of "perfection" in our work. And in our artistic work, that's a good thing! That's what allows our skills to be constantly evolving and growing and improving. But it's not a good thing when we're thinking about the "business" side of our business. Let that judgment go when you're working through the activity tracking exercise. Allow yourself to be curious, and if you feel judgment entering into your mindset as you're looking at your activities, set that judgment aside and come back later when you're able to approach it with honesty and curiosity, not with judgment. 

If you suspect that your daily work processes are at fault for not getting more work done, the act of tracking your activities will help you to understand where your processes are working and where they really need to be tweaked.

Once you know what you’re currently doing in terms of your creative productivity habits, it’s time to figure out what strategies for change will work for you. I have four strategies for you to consider. Some of these strategies might not be applicable for you. I don’t know the results of your activity tracking exercise, so I can’t tell you which of these four strategies will work best for you. For some artists I work with, all four of these strategies are helpful and make a big difference. For other artists, only one of these strategies is really impactful.

Keep an open mind as you’re hearing these four strategy options, and even if they’re not all right for you, I’ll bet at least one will be spot on for your needs, and they’ll all hopefully help you think about your work process in a new and fresh way. And who knows, maybe you’re going to be one of the artists that finds all four strategies helpful!

Strategy #1: Do your creative work during your "best" hours.

Are you doing your deep creative work during your most focused and productive hours each day? We all have a natural time of day when we're most able to focus and be "on" with ease and excitement. For me, those hours are the early morning hours. I don't actually like getting up early, but every time I manage to get out of bed by 5am and get into my recording booth by 6am (6:30 at the latest), I know my recording for that day will be AMAZING, both in quality (how good my narration is from a performance perspective) and in quantity (number of finished hours recorded as compared to number of hours worked). This also has the lovely side effect of allowing me to finish my work for the day by early afternoon (or sometimes I'm even at my page goal before lunch!), so I feel like I have the afternoons off. For me, those early morning hours are GOLD when it comes to being both efficient and effective in my recording. 

When are you most effective and efficient in your creative work? When are you able to sink into your creative process most easefully and most completely? For some people, it's 10am-2pm; for others, 4-10pm, for others still, a different time range altogether.

Figuring this out just comes from observing your own daily patterns. When are you most awake and focused most days? That's when you should be doing your deep creative work. When do you tend to get sleepy or scattered? Don't try to be creative during those hours. Run some experiments. Try out different times of day for your artistic work. Notice when you are most reliably able to get into that "flow" state with your work. If your best hours are 6am-12pm (which are my best hours) but you're constantly trying to make yourself work from 1-7pm every day (or vice versa), you're setting yourself up for frustrating hours in your work with constant mistakes and difficulty getting into flow with your work. 

The short answer to "how can I get more done?" is to make sure that you are working during your best hours as often possible. 

All that said, I want to acknowledge that, for some artists, working during their best hours isn’t possible. If you’re a parent with children who need to be transported to and from school every day, then that will of course be your priority. If your best hours are smack in the middle of your wait in the school carpool line, that school carpool line is still more important. In this case, your personal “best” hours are the hours that you have available to work, even if that’s not when you’re naturally most able to focus and be creative. It’s the time you’ve got, so by default, it becomes the best time for you! Sure, achieving that ideal of working during the hours that match your natural circadian rhythm would be nice, but that’s not always how life works out.

I’m going to be a bit vulnerable right now and share something that I haven’t shared widely to this point. But this is just between you and me, right? (ha!) I have a chronic pain condition that has a significant impact on my daily life. It’s a condition I’ve had my entire life, and I have lots of strategies to mitigate that impact, but there are still days when working a regular work day just isn’t possible for me. If I’m having a bad pain day, my desire to record from 6am-noon goes right out the window, and my “best” hours become any hours during which I’m able to focus through the pain. On those days, I don’t actually have any good hours for working, but I do have hours that are better than the others, and during those “better than other” hours, my priority is to do what I can with my creative work, even if it’s not that much.

As you think about your best hours for being creative, be kind to yourself. Do what you can, but if you’re not able to make all the changes you want because of schedule limitations or other mitigating factors, that’s ok. Just do what you can. As I say so often in these podcast episodes, change is a direction, not a destination. Any steps you can take to work during your more productive hours will pay dividends to the quality and quantity of the artistic work you’re able to create.

Now on to strategy #2: Eat your "frog" every day

This one might sound silly, but it comes from Mark Twain: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” And the follow-up quote (also from Mark Twain): "If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first." In other words, whatever your biggest task for each day is, make that your priority. That task is your frog, and eating that frog – completing that task – must be forefront in your mind. Nothing else matters if you don't eat your frog for the day. Don't let yourself get distracted, and don't procrastinate on it. As Nike likes to say, just do it! 

For artists and creative entrepreneurs, our frog every day is almost always our creative work. We need to be regularly, daily, diving into our artistic practice and doing the deep work that drives our creative endeavor. Doing our creative work is our frog.

Your #1 priority every single day should be doing your artistic work, and specifically doing that work at whatever time is your "best" time (listen back to strategy #1). Don't ever let anything get in the way of your creative time. If your best hours are later in the day (so you're not doing your creative work first thing in the morning, meaning you're not actually eating your frog first), do whatever you need to do to make sure you're not getting sidetracked by emails or admin tasks or prep work or marketing or ... or ... or ... or anything else other than your creative tasks during those best hours. Set an alarm for yourself, or set an accountability buddy who will text you each day at the time you need to dive into your creative work, or do something so that you eat your frog (get creative) every workday during whatever time is your best time. Eat that frog every day.

Strategy #3: Batch your non-creative tasks.

We are artists, but we are also small business owners, meaning there are LOTS of tasks we need to take care of on a regular basis for the "business" side of things. Stuff like: emails, scheduling, marketing, networking activities, financial and legal things, etc etc etc. If we're not careful, those tasks will seep into our “best” hours and cut into our deep creative time. Or they could swamp our attention and keep us from settling into flow when we're actually doing our creative work.  As much as you can, group those non-creative tasks together and do them all at once. 

As much as we like to think we're great multitaskers, multitasking is actually impossible on the neurological level. Rather, we do what neurologists call "task switching," switching very quickly from focusing on one task to focusing on another, rapidly switching back and forth, and not giving true focused attention to either. Every time we switch between tasks, we're losing efficiency and effectiveness at both of the tasks we're attempting. The one exception to this is tasks we can do by rote/habit: folding laundry, washing dishes, to some extent driving, etc. Things that can be done by habit allow us to focus on a second activity simultaneously: participating in a conversation, listening to an audiobook or podcast, etc. But for the most part, none of those "habit" activities can be done while we’re deep in the flow of the creative process, so you can't multitask while you're doing your creative work; you can only task switch. And task-switching will reduce the quality of your work and will also slow you down, meaning you don't get as much done. When you're doing your creative work, that needs to be the only thing you're doing. 

In short, multitasking doesn't work. What does work is focusing on one task at a time and following that task through to completion, or at least to a stopping point. Single-tasking makes the work you do on that task better (in other words, more effective) and takes less time than it would otherwise (in other words, more efficient). And the more you can group like-with-like as you're working on your tasks, the more efficient and effective you can become. Do all your email tasks for the day together in one batch. Do all your marketing tasks for the week or month at one time. Set a time for your financial work (invoicing, balancing accounts, budgeting) and do all those tasks at the same time. The more you can (1) avoid multitasking and (2) batch your tasks, the more effective and efficient you will be at all of your tasks.

As I’ve mentioned several times before, I spend every other Friday afternoon taking care of my big business things, the stuff that only needs to be done every week / every other week / every month. I do the more frequent, smaller business tasks after I'm done recording for the day, but the big, time-consuming stuff all waits till my next "Business Friday." I do it all at once in a batch so that it's not keeping me from recording, or keeping me from focusing on recording. 

One good resource for how to think about your creative work vs your non-creative work is to use Paul Graham's Maker vs. Manager Time framework. It’s a pretty short article, so you can read it in not very much time, and the article definitely is very helpful for shaping our mindset around the balance between our manager tasks (the admin tasks in our businesses) and our maker tasks (the deep creative work we do). As small business owners, we are both makers AND managers in our businesses, but it can be very helpful to separate the two types of tasks so that manager tasks do not interfere with maker tasks.

How can you batch your non-creative tasks? How can you keep all those tasks together so that they get done more quickly and so worrying about them doesn't creep into your creative work?

And finally, strategy #4: Give yourself less time

This might sound counterintuitive, and I do want to say that this strategy definitely does not apply to everyone, so listen carefully to this one to see if it applies to you. But despite that caveat, this is actually one of the best suggestions I can give.

Parkinson's law (from a naval historian in the 1950s, based on an observation he made studying -- you guessed it -- naval history) states that "work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion." However much time you have to complete a project, that's how much time it will take. This is why assigning time-specific deadlines for our goals is so important! If we don't have a deadline, it just won't get done. 

If you're wanting to complete more projects in a given period of time, reduce the amount of time allotted for each project. Make yourself get through them faster. Now, this definitely has its limits as a practice – there’s a certain amount of time that is required to do what we do! – but as a general mindset, this can be helpful. I have found Parkinson's law to be so true in my own work. When I have lulls in my schedule, meaning I've got plenty of time to get my current project completed and don't have another project immediately lined up after it, somehow that project will go on ... and on ... and on ... and I'll feel like I'm never going to get to the end of it! I'm not as focused or as driven, and instead of taking 3 work days, it takes 6! 

Your work will expand to fill the work time you've allotted for it, so sometimes, we just need to give ourselves less work time to get the project done.

Now that we’ve talked about four strategies you can use to be more effective and efficient in your creative work, let’s take a step back. If you’ve listened to this podcast for any length of time, you know that I encourage artists to think about their work within a 3-part framework of mindset, strategy, and action. Today’s episode so far has been all about strategy and action. I’ve been encouraging you to think critically about how you do your work, about the actions you take, and then encouraging you to modify those actions strategically so that you’re able to produce the quality and the quantity of work you’re aiming for. But we can’t just leave it there. Strategy and action are only two parts of the 3-part equation, and what’s more, they don’t really mean anything if you don’t put a positive mindset behind them.

Before you dive into these four productivity strategies I’ve talk about, I really encourage you to ask yourself, why do you want to increase your output? What problem are you hoping to solve by increasing the number of projects you complete each year? And don't accept your first, instinctive answer to this question. Do a little bit of introspective digging. Are you wanting to make more money, and you are looking at completing more projects as one way to increase your income? Are you wanting to work on a different type of project? Maybe you want to work within a different sub-genre within your creative industry, or develop relationships with a different type of client, or use a different style within your creative work – there are lots of options here for how you might want to change the type of project you’re working on, and maybe, for whatever reason, you feel that, if you are able to complete more projects total, you will then be able to add more of those kinds of projects to your schedule. Do you feel like you just should do more projects each year? Do you have some other reason I'm not thinking of?

There are a lot of different possible "why"'s behind your desire to be able to get more done, to complete more projects. While the productivity strategies I discussed earlier will help you with the surface problem of "I want to get more projects done," none of them will address the deeper problem that you're actually trying to solve with the solution of working more.

Really dig into your own motivations for wanting to be more productive. Make sure that the strategies you choose to get more done are strategies that will actually address the deeper problem you’re experiencing.

Next thing to think about: are you comparing like with like? When you look at your colleagues who are apparently getting more done than you are, are you comparing like with like? Let’s take the audiobook industry as an example. Let’s say Audiobook Narrator A completed 23 books last year, and Audiobook Narrator B completed 42. On the surface, it seems like Audiobook Narrator B was way more productive; they completed 19 more books! But that’s not necessarily the case. Audiobooks come in all different lengths and difficulty levels, and multicast books – books that involve more than one narrator – usually (but not always) don't take as long as solo-narrated books of the same finished length. If Narrator A, the one with 23 finished audiobooks for a year, is narrating mostly solo books, and Narrator B is narrating mostly multicast titles, then Narrator A’s books most likely are going to take a lot more work time than Narrator B’s books, and Narrator A simply won’t be able to narrate as many titles as Narrator B. That's not to, in any way, throw shade on narrators who do a lot of multi-cast work – multicast and dual cast books still TOTALLY count! -- but it's just a reminder that different books take different work hours. A multicast title in which I narrated 45 finished minutes of audio shows up in my Audible listing just the same as the 20 hour solo book I narrated. And those two books did not take the same amount of work. 

To take this example further, even with a solo narration project, or with projects that are the same finished length, different books require different work hours! Let’s look at two books, one a cozy mystery, and one a nonfiction title. Let’s say that the cozy mystery is written by an author I’ve worked with numerous times, and this particular book is book 8 in a series I’m narrating, meaning I know the characters well and the author’s style is familiar to me. And let’s say the nonfiction title is for trauma therapists who are interested in learning about psychological first aid, or the psychological care provided to people who experience a disaster of some sort. This project is full of industry-specific jargon, almost all of which is unfamiliar to me because I am not a therapist. If we’re comparing these two books, it’s not going to take me as much time in the recording booth to complete an hour of audio on the cozy mystery as compared to the nonfiction project. Even if they work out the same length, the amount of work time required of me is not the same.

These examples are very specific to audiobooks, but the principal applies regardless of the specific creative industry in which you work. Your projects are not equal. There is no "average" amount of time a creative project will take you, because it depends on so many different factors. When you're looking at someone else's output from the outside, you can't know those granular details.

When you look at others' output or careers or business decisions, as much as you are able, avoid comparing yourself unless you're sure that you're comparing like with like. And you can almost never be sure you're comparing like with like unless you're in a long term business accountability relationship with the person you're comparing yourself to, because that's the only way you can know enough details about someone else's business to know that you're comparing like to like. The moral here is to try to avoid comparing. I know it's hard to do -- the comparison bug is a persistent one! -- but it's definitely a mindset shift worth pursuing. 

When you’re looking at the work of your creative peers and comparing it to your work, make sure you’re comparing like with like. And if you can’t do that, or aren’t sure if you’re able to do that, then don’t compare yourself to them at all.

Thank you so much for joining me today for this discussion of how to get more done as a creative entrepreneur. I hope you’re leaving this episode with some practical productivity strategies that you can try out in your creative work, plus some mindset-focused questions and thoughts you can ponder as you go about your work this week. Being efficient and effective in our work is important, and improving in both of those areas is an ideal worth pursuing. But it’s also important that we know why we’re pursuing those goals, that our mindset is shaping those efforts in a positive and supportive way. If you have any questions about how you can improve your systems and processes within your business, I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me on my website,

As always, I would very much appreciate any ratings, comments, and reviews you’d like to leave for me, and if you found today’s episode helpful, I encourage you to share with the creatives you know so that they can benefit from it as well. I’d also like to send a huge thank you to my husband and audio engineer extraordinaire, Arturo Araya, who produces and edits every episode of this podcast. I encourage you to evaluate your current activities, try out strategies to improve your effectiveness and efficiency within your work hours, and check in with your mindset to make sure you’re thinking about your process in a helpful way. If you do those things, I have no doubt that you will be able to get more done. I can’t wait to see what you create.


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