How to change your mindset to maximize productivity as a musician
Al musicians have their artistic blocks, so here are a few ways to get out of a funk and get the creative wheels turning again.
What’s really important for you? How can you decide what is? Are you too busy to even think? Are you dissatisfied with your work, but working bloody hard at it – those crappy gigs, with musicians who don’t pull their weight, playing songs that don’t quite nail it, trying to get somewhere, wherever that is.
Thing is, I actually like being busy when it’s a happy hum, but I hate being busy for the sake of it. Busy because I haven’t set boundaries, properly scheduled my time, or I’ve underestimated the consequences of a decision and wound up with lots of little sub tasks.
Sure – sometimes there’s project or personal ‘scope creep.’ But, it can build up until I’m wading through quicksand to get to the day’s end. Sometimes, something has to give.
Dr. Rachel Morris says we use busy as a term of validation or an excuse when we haven’t sorted what our real priorities are. She suggests reframing your language. It’s a bit more than just saying no.
Instead of saying ‘I’m SO busy,’ telling the truth might literally be the wake up call you need. Reframe your response and say ‘I have a really tight deadline and didn’t plan properly,’ or ‘I can’t stop mindlessly scrolling on my phone, so I haven’t finished,’ or even just ‘I couldn’t get my act together in time.’
This forces you to stop and take stock. Does what you’re doing match with what you want to be doing?
Investment guru Warren Buffet famously recommended making a list of 25 priorities, circling the top 5 and throwing the rest out of the window.
Sounds straightforward – right? Make a list, ditch the non-essentials, and keep the non-negotiables. But there’s a deeper issue to probe. If you clear your calendar, switch off distractions and empty your inbox, then what?
Suddenly you’d actually have time, but can you focus on the things you want, like you really, really want?
This becomes a more internal battle of having to follow through on your passions, dreams and goals. Yikes! That thought can be intimidating because if you try, you might not be as good as you want to be. You might even fail. Fear of failure makes being ‘busy for busy’s sake’ look way easier!
So the challenge is to dig really deep when you’re writing that all-important short list of priorities. Note I said what’s important – not urgent! Urgent is an event post. Important is writing an album’s worth of songs.
Getting clarity might be really frightening – but sort the list honestly. You might want something that’s extremely difficult to achieve, or you might fail trying to do it. But it’s your life here, and you owe it to yourself to find clarity BEFORE any action. Then, your actions can propel you towards where you want to go. You’re not going into motion for its own sake. You’re heading towards actual progress.
Clarity is the lens through which you can focus. Focus your time, your money, your creativity, and your energy on the things on that list.
This releases you. Less ‘I’ve got to,’ and more ‘I want to’ yields a more positive mindset and ultimately, more results. Because you’ve removed obstacles and you can see where you’re going – gaining clarity.
Then you can protect your priorities with buffers and boundaries, with some slack in the system for inevitable stuff ups, plus time and space to renew and regenerate. We operate our bodies and lives like we’re inorganic. But biology reasserts itself in tiredness, illness and psychological disruption. You’re not a perpetual motion machine. Remember to reconstitute and fill your cup.
Document your progress regularly as calculated by you. Some recommend doing this daily. It helps you focus. When you write songs, you risk creating something no one likes or wants.
There’s inherent failure in music making – half-finished songs or collaborations that don’t quite work out. It’s all part and parcel of the creative process. There’s also wealth there. During the writing or recording process, you’ve probably learned to run your studio better, found your favourite vocal chain and connected with a bunch of new players online. Maybe you’ve found out what you actually need to learn next, or practiced your guitar once a day for the first time in ages.
That’s your progress – not what the rest of the world thinks you ought to be doing. The metaphor is doing the reps.
It’s the difference between being busy, and being productive. Not all decisions are equal and not all tasks are mission critical. You can drop stuff in the name of deliberate neglect: if it’s not a priority, if it’s not on your list.
Productive songwriters write and rewrite songs, learn, connect and collaborate with uplifting people. They stuff up and start again but they let their results speak (or sing!)
Busy people talk about what they’re going to do and why they can’t do it, because they’re too busy.
Any time spent on excuses is time not spent on creation. If you allow yourself to practice excuses, you will get better at excuses. Busy folks measure hours of activity while productive folks measure output. Busy people want to be valued for their effort, not for their results. Ain’t how it works!
Remember, songwriting has no hourly rate. No one cares about how many hours you practice or how far you drove to get there. They want a great show with beautiful songs well played. They want to lose themselves in your music.
Spend less time talking about what you will do and dedicate that time to taking the first step – make an honest, short list of priorities. And whatever you can let go of right now – do that.
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Charlotte Yates is an independent New Zealand singer-songwriter with a growing catalogue of seven solo releases and fourteen collaborative projects. She also provides a songwriting coaching service, Songdoctor.