Getting Art Done
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Getting Art Done

Make your masterpiece by dividing your creative energy into “front-burner” & “back-burner”

When you’re a creative entrepreneur, you need simple ways to make the most of your creative energy. You want to focus your creativity, and you don’t want juggling your priorities to weaken your creative energy.

If you think of your projects in terms of “front-burner” projects and “back-burner” projects, you can get everything done while doing your best work ever.

Front-burner and back-burner of course refers to cooking on a stove.

  • You may have a pot of sauce that needs to simmer. You put it on the back burner, and stir it once in awhile.
  • Meanwhile, you’re stir frying vegetables on the front burner. You have to keep stirring them to evenly cook them all around.

Front burner and back burner can also refer to your projects:

  • Front-burner projects are projects that demand your best creative energy. They take several sessions to complete, and require solving new problems.
  • Back-burner projects are projects that demand creative energy, but not your best creative energy. They’re projects you’ve done before, and that don’t take as long.

My front-burner project right now is my next book, working title Getting Art Done. I’m still working through lots of unknowns. For example, by writing on this Medium publication. It will be many months before I’m finished.

One back-burner project is my podcast. I release an episode a week, and I have processes in place to save my creative energy.

Front-burner projects often involve more slow creativity than they do fast creativity. For example, I’m doing lots of high-level brainstorming for the book in my notebook or on my portable word processor. But, writing this post first thing in the morning is fast creativity for me. I’m writing it in one pass. I’m writing about concepts that I’ve exercised in separate slow-creativity sessions.

Front-burner projects often transition to back-burner projects. At one point, my podcast was my front-burner project. I had a lot to learn before I could put it on the back burner. I had to do lots of slow creativity, such as learning how best to communicate in audio. I still do a little slow creativity in planning my interviews, but it’s mostly fast creativity.

Front-burner and back-burner designations help you arrange your work according to your energy levels. For example, here’s how my level of discipline changes during the week.

And here’s how my level of discipline changes during the day.

Front-burner projects take more discipline. There are more unknowns and they take longer, so it’s easier to get distracted or to burn out. So, I focus more on front-burner projects early in the week.

Counterintuitively, I also focus on front-burner projects in the mornings. My lack of discipline in the morning correlates with more creative thinking, so the high level of creativity trumps my low level of discipline. I make up for the lack of discipline through habits and rules.

Here’s how I divide up my work according to front-burner and back-burner projects:

Notice some things here:

  • I have a rule not to work on back-burner projects on Mondays. This focuses my creative energy even more intensely on my front-burner project.
  • I make a habit out of working on my front-burner project for at least the first hour of each day. This helps make up for my lack of discipline in the morning, while taking advantage of my high level of creativity.
  • I have less energy for front-burner projects on afternoons late in the week. My discipline has waned, so I can do more routine projects such as my podcast.

Try it yourself: What is your front-burner project right now? What are your back-burner projects? How can you make sure your front-burner projects get your freshest creative energy? If you think of your projects in terms of front-burner and back-burner, you can dish out a feast of great creative work.

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David Kadavy

Author, ‘Mind Management, Not Time Management’ Former design & productivity advisor to Timeful (Google acq’d).