At the time of writing this, I am currently on day 6 of a week off from work. Before I finished up at work, I made a plan to do some music-related activities at home that I didn’t have ‘time’ to do when I was working. I made a plan to write songs, mix a few songs, write a few posts, research music supervisors in Australia, go to the gym, have a few jam sessions…It’s day 6, how much have I done?
Precisely…None of it!
What did I do instead?
I watched a lot of television, drank beers, walked around the house aimlessly and checked the fridge every five minutes to see if any of the food inside the fridge had moved since I last checked it. These items weren’t on my to-do list when I finished work. Why didn’t I do the things I WANTED to get done? After walking around the house a few more times and sitting on the couch, I asked myself a question…
“What was it about ‘work’ that made me so much more productive than I am now?”
An abundance of free time is not the answer.
I believe there are a few things that a day job offers that make us very productive. These things are remarkably simple and easy to implement into your life, outside of work, so you can become a productivity ninja.
I’ve given these principles a super cheesy easy -to -remember name. I call it, ‘The SAD Principles for Productivity’. I call them SAD because of how sad it is that I haven’t implemented these principles before now. Let the SAD principles get you off the couch and doing the things you want to do in your music practice.
S is for Structure
Structure can be broken down into a couple of elements. Space and Schedule are the elements that structure is built upon. Here’s how I’ve implemented them to be more productive.
To be productive at work, you need to have structure. Structure starts with having space. The majority of people go to work. It’s a physical space removed from all other spaces in our lives. Unless you’ve got ninja-like discipline, I think its best to set up a space that is removed from life’s other activities. The kitchen table may not be the best option for working, nor the bedroom (albeit the term bedroom musician).
A lot of successful people who ‘work from home’ go to a café to work. Most of us are noisy though, and an abundance of space is a rare thing. So here are some possible spaces to take advantage of, some that I may or may not have used for more productive periods of my life.
When I lived on campus during university, I lived in a 6-bedroom apartment with 5 other noise sensitive human beings. They didn’t like the late night scales; the repetitive nature was like a form of aural torture. So instead of not practising, I, like a truly weird 17-year-old musician in the making, went into my cupboard to practice. Lucky, my cupboard was sizeable enough to fit a sitting human, and I had a chest of drawers that stood at the perfect height to fit my computer. The best part of the closet is that it doubled as a great guitar/vocal booth. The only problem with the cupboard, it was not very comfortable over the long term.
I upgraded from the cupboard though. Another bedroom related space trick that allowed me to be productive in my early days was dedicating a whole corner of my room to my “office/studio.” I didn’t go into that corner of my room unless I was studying or making music. Space also means you are free from distraction, there is no point setting up a practice space if you go on social media every other minute you are practising. The idea is that space is dedicated to the single activity and nothing else.
The second thing to help form structure is Schedule. A schedule at work helps quantify your productivity. Lets say you are at work for 8 hours and need to complete task A, B, C, D. If you get to work at 9, by 11 you should have completed task A and be moving on to task B. This is an example of how a timeline and deadline allows you to be productive at work.
Nothing motivates me more than my boss telling me I got to get that thing in by the end of the week. I’m a productivity machine knowing that I have a deadline. A timeline also lets me measure my progress of that project against time. For example, if a project goes for 10 weeks, that’s a 10-week deadline to get the job done. That also means I can break down the timeline into 10 weeks. In 5 weeks I’ll be halfway to the goal, if the project is not half done, I have to hurry up.
If you want to achieve anything in your music business, I advise setting a due date for your projects and keeping track of the timeline to make sure your project is on track. But as you’ll see next, a deadline is not enough.
A is for Accountability
As humans, we’re geared towards survival. We have an amazing ability to survive and adapt to the world. One particularly interesting way in which we’ve done this is by having an aversion to loss. We’ll spend MORE energy trying to hold on to the $100 dollars we have in our wallet than we would to get another $100. This is great because we can use this behaviour to our advantage to be productive.
The reason I’m so good at getting things done at work is that I’m afraid I’ll lose my job if I didn’t my job if I didn’t. I wouldn’t do nearly half the things I currently do, and to certain deadlines, if I knew that I could keep my job if I didn’t do them. This is why deadlines alone are not enough for productivity. You need to have something on the line, something worth losing at stake if you don’t complete what you want to do in your music practice. To be productive, you need to set up a system where you are motivated towards action, this means not losing something you care about. StickK.com is a great tool to use to help you increase your productivity.
Being accountable isn’t a solitary activity; you need allies to help you. Having an accountability partner (ally) keeps you honest. You can lie to yourself and extend project deadlines to adjust for unexpected Netflix binges. But if you say to an ally, I am doing this by this date; you need to show the goods come deadline time. Allies also help take out the loneliness of work if you do it by yourself.
My boss at work is my accountability partner, my boss holds me accountable for the things that I need to get done at work. An ally could also be a mentor or a friend to help you reach your deadlines for your goals. Social media groups can useful communities for accountability. Coach.me facilitates a community of accountability and habit formation.
A gig can also be a resource for accountability. When you book a gig, you are making yourself accountable to show up and play a show. Booking a gig is the best way to ensure you practice and get things done.
I hope to find and/or create, a social media for independent musicians and producers to find an accountability ally/peer mentor to mutually check in and hold each other accountable to their goals. Kind of like an AA mentor would do, except both parties are checking in with each other. If you’re reading this article, and know of a group that already exists or would be interested in joining a group like this, please leave a comment at the bottom of this article.
D is for Discipline
Discipline is broken down into definition and deconstruction.
Having a clear understanding and definition of the trajectory of the work that needs to be completed, gives me the discipline to undertake it. It creates a stronger reason to take action than the excuses for not taking action. Defining why and creating a vision allows for the discipline to be productive at home instead of goofing off and watching family guy. Begin with the end in mind and you will gain the discipline to get there.
The last action that helps me stay productive at home is deconstructing projects into smaller tasks. Using the timelines from the schedule section, a big project over 10 weeks becomes 10 smaller segments of the project. The separation of the project into smaller chunks is the deconstruction. An album may consist of 10 songs and each song consists of an intro, verse, chorus and outro. A musician won’t sit down to write an album, but instead, write the parts that contribute to the album. Deconstruction is about taking bite-sized chunks instead of trying to eat the entire buffet at once.
Taking on board the SAD principles has stopped me from walking around the house and instead take action towards the goals I want to achieve. I hope it helps you achieve what you have been putting off.