Plenty of myths persist when it comes to inspiration: that it’s a fickle friend, coming and going as it pleases; that makers rely solely on random flashes of innovation; that you can’t plan artistic breakthroughs. But the truth is that every creative can benefit from establishing systems, setting a schedule, or operating with a more professional mindset. Anyone can form small habits that foster big ideas, and the latest Skillshare Original from productivity expert Thomas Frank is a great place to start.
In Productivity for Creatives: Build a System That Brings Out Your Best, Frank shares actionable advice, with exercises to optimize your workspace and questions to ask in order to increase your bandwidth. Read on for some of Frank’s top productivity hacks for creatives, and be sure to check out his course to reap the full benefits of his expertise.
About Thomas Frank
Thomas Frank has always been a creator. As a teen, he taught himself coding and web design, eventually producing websites for local businesses. And just after his freshman year at Iowa State, Frank combined those skills with his growing passion for writing by founding College Info Geek, a website about working smarter as a student.
A decade-plus later, what began as an outlet for Frank to share tips on more efficient study habits has evolved into a resource for users of all ages. Today, Frank’s podcast, blog, and YouTube channel reaches millions, and his approachable tips have established him as an expert on productivity. Through Skillshare classes like Productivity Masterclass: Create a Custom System That Works, Real Productivity: How to Build Habits That Last, and the just-released Productivity for Creatives, Frank continues to share hacks with broader audiences—and chart new territory as a working artist himself.
What is Productivity?
“I think the biggest misunderstanding about productivity is that it’s about getting more work done, or putting in more hours,” Frank says. That’s not necessarily true. “It’s about what you want to do with your life and how well you can do it.” Productivity looks different for everyone, but generally speaking, it means producing our best work in the most efficient way possible—whether that means delegating tasks, managing a calendar, or creating habits that enable better focus.
What is a Professional Mindset?
Amateurs may insist that they need to wait around for a lightning bolt of inspiration, but successful creators make the muse come to them. “A professional mindset is simply not relying on inspiration to strike in order for you to do your creative work,” says Frank. “Professionals work on a schedule. They are disciplined.”
Adhering to time constraints can actually drive creativity rather than hinder it. “Professionals realize that when their craft is something they take seriously—when they adhere to a strict schedule and they work with discipline—inspiration tends to strike more often,” Frank explains. “You almost prime your mind for it.” After all, work is work, even in a creative pursuit. Consistency and effort pay off just as they would in any other field.
Productivity and Creativity
For artists and makers, productivity may not mean increasing your output—rather, it could be about establishing habits that promote original thinking, or allowing you to do your best work as efficiently as possible. “When I think about productivity on a personal basis, I’m really a systems builder,” says Frank. While his advice can help users in any field increase their effectiveness, creatives can especially benefit from his tips on task management, workspace organization, and avoiding chaos.
“I don’t like to be a machine, just cranking out the same thing and trying to be faster and faster and faster,” says Frank of his own practices. “I love thinking about the internal systems that actually help me do what I need to do.”
Productivity and Inspiration
With the right prompts and habits, anyone can create optimal conditions for creative work. “Self-discipline is like a muscle,” Frank says. “When you work it out by exercising your ability to avoid doing things that you want to do, or to accept uncomfortable circumstances, you become more capable of doing that over time.” Finding inspiration is no different.
Frank starts by recommending that you set small, attainable goals, with zero expectations for how good your results will be—for example, writing 500 words (however “bad” they seem in the moment) per day, a technique that helped him write his 2015 book, 10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades. Other tips include setting productive limitations for yourself, like capping the length of a video project at seven minutes; imitating a master of your craft to learn alternate techniques; or integrating a new tool into your process.
“I think about this in terms of a miner digging in the ground,” Frank says. “You’re not immediately going to find diamonds at the surface level. You have to shovel a lot of dirt up before you get to the good stuff.” Look at exercises like the ones from Frank as creative excavation—warm-ups that can help you strike gold.
Productivity and Your Workspace
Your environment is a key part of maximizing your productivity. Frank recommends considering the power of “activation energy,” or the amount of effort it takes for you to begin a task. Approach your workspace with the Twenty Second Rule in mind: In order to encourage you to get started on a task, it should take less than 20 seconds to get started on it. Boot up your computer, open your notebook, or set out the art supplies for a big project you’re working on in advance. Or take the opposite approach by making distractions more difficult to access—keeping video games in another room, or logging out of social media apps that detract from your focus.
If you have more space, you might also want to try moving between multiple workstations, each optimized for a different task—Frank, for example, maintains separate spaces for writing and for audio/video editing. “These two areas are physically separate, so it’s easier to physically separate these tasks in my mind as well,” he says. This limits distractions (even if those distractions are productive), and you can reap the same benefits in tighter quarters. “Make it part of your routine to set up the workstation for the task intended when you start working,” suggests Frank, “and then during breaks, reset the workspace.”
Collaboration and Delegation
It’s not unusual for artists to feel like they need to handle every part of the work themselves, but that impulse can come at the expense of new opportunities. “If you’re creative who runs your own business or you find your operation growing over time, you are inevitably going to find yourself at a point where you cannot do everything you need to do,” Frank says. “That is where delegation comes in.”
Frank says he himself spent far too long handling every aspect of video production alone Eventually, he didn’t have the bandwidth to accept new opportunities, and a friend suggested he consider a simple question: “What is my art?” The answer led Frank to delegate parts of the production process that could be done just as well by outside help, like video editing, in order to focus more on speaking engagements, research, and other new ideas that fulfill him creatively. He refers to the decision as “art versus ego,” and it’s something every successful maker will encounter at some point.
But working well with others isn’t just about moving tasks off your to-do list—it also extends to the way you interact with your contemporaries. While it’s common to feel intimidated or competitive around others in your industry, try embracing them rather than keeping them at arm’s length. “When you collaborate with your peers, it’s almost always a win-win scenario,” says Frank. Whether you’re sharing a conversation on a podcast, offering feedback on unfinished work, or working together on a new project, you’ll always benefit from building relationships with others on your same journey. “Find ways where you can interact and build something that neither of you could make on your own,” Frank suggests. “Your audiences are going to love you for it.”
Discover Creative Productivity Tools Today
Whether you’re looking to turn a profit from your art or just hoping to find more time to express yourself, you’re always in complete control of your output. Strengthening your creative muscles will only benefit your career in the long run. Take the next step by enrolling in Frank’s class, Productivity for Creatives—along the way, you can share your productivity progress with a community of like-minded students, and even seek feedback from Frank himself. Keep an eye out for more from Frank soon, too: In the coming weeks, he’ll be rolling out additional interviews and exercises to help creatives continue to work smarter.
Increase Your Creative Productivity
Join Thomas Frank as he shares productivity hacks for artists, makers, writers, and more in his new Skillshare Original.