We see a lot of creatives online but do we really know what goes on outside and beyond the world of Instagram and content creation? We have an exclusive behind the scenes discussion with Lauren Leyva aka The Starving Student, the sustainable, low-waste student and recipe developer. As a young professional, Lauren lets us know how we can find balance while pursuing our dreams.
Behind the Brand of The Starving Student
As with many brands, mine started back at university. After my first-year Architecture deadlines were over, I discovered it was too late to secure work experience, and wondered how else to make my summer holiday productive. I have always loved cooking my own food and wanted to share my ideas with friends. What started as a hobby sharing photos has now become a big part of my life.
Some of my friends asked for the recipe sources but as they were largely my own inventions, I started posting them on Instagram. What I didn’t realise back then was how useful and inspiring people found the recipes and one day it just clicked… I decided to create a platform for a larger audience, sharing my meat, fish, vegetarian and vegan recipes.
The start of content creation
‘The Starving Student’ was a name I chose before I set up the Instagram account, making a light-hearted joke of students who have either no time or no inspiration to cook. It’s a name that I now overhear students mention when I’m out and about, and knowing it’s my own brand is exciting.
A year later I set up a basic website which pretty much started as a gallery of photos with simple recipes such as scrambled eggs, pancakes and chicken wraps. It dawned on me that I personally didn’t have a ‘go-to’ student recipe website, and this motivated me to make mine a more noticeable presence online that students could rely on.
Studying Architecture gave me some design and tech skills including Photoshop and InDesign, making the website set up and general content editing easier. The website gave my brand a ‘grounding’ and a place accessible to anyone with or without social media.
Balancing studies, life, and a brand
“How on earth do you have time to do everything?” – The question I am asked over and over again.
The truth is that I don’t really, there is always more I want to squeeze into the day and some things just don’t get done.
There is no secret to balancing everything, it is simply being organised, thinking ahead and as I say to “know when to stop”. I have always worked incredibly hard, and I look up to those that do, but working smart, not hard is the key which I will explain.
Organisation always wins
Once I am given any task to complete, the first thing I do is write down the deadline and how much time I have to do it. I then write down two or three mini-goals to achieve within that task. You can keep this physical reminder on your desk to keep you working productively and efficiently.
Giving yourself short-term mini-goals splits the overall task into manageable chunks and makes completing the entire task less overwhelming. For example, I had 13 days to complete the blog you are reading now, but I had to fit it in around a full-time job, my other personal hobbies and of course creating new recipe content for you!
Prioritising is one of the best tips I could give anyone. At uni, I studied Architecture and I am currently on a placement year, now working from home. I’ve had to juggle my recipe-creating, website-editing, branding and general wellbeing. None of this would be possible without prioritising the tasks at hand.
Thinking ahead can help speed up the task at hand. For example, on a typical Saturday morning, I’ll wake up at 8am. I’ll make a coffee, check what food is in the fridge and plan what recipe I want to make that weekend. By 10am I’ll have sent some emails and started the task of the highest priority.
I would recommend reading Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracey, which explains how tackling the ‘worst’ task first is the best thing to do. Another good read is Focus published by The Harvard Business Review, which provides some good techniques to remove distractions.
Of course, there are some days when I’m not productive and I do end up feeling tired and drained. This is HUMAN. But the key is to not fall into the cycle of feeling low and continuing to be unproductive. I like to set my alarm for 7am the next day, wake up bright and early, whack BBC Radio 1 on and write a list of manageable tasks to complete.
Put your mental wellbeing at the top of your priority list
No matter how many deadlines you have, at the top of your list write the words TAKE A DEEP BREATH. These are the words written on my colleague’s post-it note back in the office where I started my placement and sum up perfectly what I am about to explain.
When I have a deadline fast approaching, I become stressed like anyone else, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Heard of a stress performance curve? The basic idea is that you perform better when under some stress. Stressing about work shows you care, but recognising stress helps to manage it. Better wellbeing produces better work!
A motto my dad taught me is “know when to stop” and I have always stuck to it.
When you get too stressed, your productivity flies out the window. Recognise when you are not working effectively, and do one of two things. Option one is to move onto a different task. Option two is to have a short break. Both will make you focus on something else and refresh your mind.
Sunbathing, watching films and cocktail-making… At the moment these are the things I do to completely step away from work. I put my computer and phone away. The aim is simply to do something that requires no concentration whatsoever. It doesn’t need to be productive.
We live in a fast-paced world and while working hard is important, you should not compromise your own well-being.
The brand in lockdown
During the Coronavirus lockdown, The Starving Student Instagram account has grown much more than I expected, with over 10k new followers. I have managed to secure a weekly spot on BBC Radio Nottingham on Tuesday evenings called ‘Tasty Tuesdays’ talking about all things food as well as writing blog pieces for great organisations including NCS and of course Creative Impact Co!
Whilst growth and followers are important for an online brand, true satisfaction comes from my followers’ comments and messages. They show I am making a difference and inspiring people to cook. But in my eyes it’s not just cooking, it improves your confidence and independence.
Put simply, I love my Architecture work AND I love The Starving Student. What was a simple photo gallery has now become my own brand which I’m excited to grow even further.