Productivity is the deliberate, strategic investment of your time, talent, intelligence, energy, resources, and opportunities in a manner calculated to move you measurably closer to meaningful goals. – Dan S. Kennedy

What follows is five productivity essentials every musician should know. That does not mean they are commonly taught. So, observe well – if any of this seems strange, it might be because only the most uncommon and successful people utilize these methods in their work.

Let’s remember, though, that success is uncommon, and you can’t do what everyone else is doing and hope to achieve a greater level of success than them. As you read, be in discovery of what you could be doing differently.

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To-Do Lists

There are teachers out there urging us to throw away our to-do lists and to start doing business intuitively. Now, I don’t disagree – I half disagree.

I encourage my students to follow their intuition and make to-do lists.

Now, for to-do lists to be effective, you must be conscious of the items you’re adding (are they important, and do they need to be done?), and be diligent in prioritizing as well.

Otherwise, you get caught up in the vacuous momentum of checking off easy to do items and not engaging in the challenging work that will move your music career forward.

But if you don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s as simple as that. To-do lists offer clarity around what you’re doing.

If you’re wondering whether you’re doing the right things, though, I cover that in the next section.

Takeaway: Your to-do lists make it clear what you’re working on and what must be done.

Documented Goals

A goal, however, is something distinctly different from a wish. It is clear, written, and specific. It can be quickly and easily described to another person. You can measure it, and you know when you have achieved it or not. – Brian Tracy

For as long as I can remember, I have been encouraging musicians to a) set goals, and b) document said goals using pen and paper. I continue to prescribe this regimen even today.

When our goals are unclear, when we’re unsure of the actions we’re taking and whether they’re in alignment with our goals, it’s because we don’t have clear, documented goals that are always visible in the environments we operate in.

Now, it’s okay to do away with SMART goals. I don’t have SMART goals myself. My life is organized in 90-day capsules. That means I take on four main initiatives each year.

I still make my goals as specific and measurable as possible, and I even put a deadline on them, but I’m less concerned with meeting the deadline than I am with being in action.

To reach your goals, What’s required is an environment conducive to commitment and accountability. Without that you will not put my best effort forward.

Whether it’s a coach, a mastermind group, a leadership program, or some other avenue, you will only be effective in reaching your goals (or coming close) to the extent that you have rigorous accountability.

Takeaway: Documented goals make it possible for your to align your actions with your intentions.

Templates

There exists an opportunity to create templates in a variety of domains – lyric sheet templates, email templates, Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) templates, and more.

What are templates for? They are time-saving devices for repetitive tasks. Whether it’s outreach (for booking a gig), or writing a blog post, you can have pre-crafted structures that prevent you from reinventing the wheel and empower you to be more efficient overall.

We’re creatives, so we vastly underestimate the value in increased efficiency, and far overvalue creating from scratch.

Here’s the harsh reality – time is all we have, and efficiencies return to us the precious time we need to rest, sleep, connect with family, meditate, work out, and do all the other things we say we don’t have time for.

Creativity can begin with a template, however uncreative that may sound.

Takeaway: Templates help you get started faster and finish earlier.

Checklists

Like templates, checklists are vital time-saving devices.

Think of things you do repetitively – writing a new song, posting to social media, unloading your gear at a show… what else? Brainstorm. Every one of these things represents a void for a checklist to fill.

It would be accurate to say there are certain conventions you follow every time you engage in certain activities, wouldn’t it? This is “protocol,” where protocol is a fancy term to describe a “certain way of doing things.”

That’s what a checklist is for. It outlines (and sometimes describes) the exact steps involved in completing a specific task with pinpoint precision (such that anyone could follow the same steps and create the same outcomes).

In business, this falls under the category of “operations.” Operations makes the everyday activity of a business streamlined and more efficient – organizing meetings, technology, processes, and more.

Operations often occurs in the background, and people don’t always notice when it’s happening, but they definitely notice when it’s not happening because things start falling through the cracks.

Takeaway: Checklists stop you from having to think about every step involved in a process, increase efficiency, and help reduce unnecessary mistakes.

Swipe Files

… keep messy file folders stuffed with 3×5 notecards and napkins and torn matchbook covers where you’ve scrawled your thoughts. When it comes to nurturing creativity, neatness works against you. – John Carlton

Do you ever come across brilliant chord progressions, awesome song lyrics, or even killer email subject lines? Of course, you do, right?

And does it ever occur to you to capture this inspiration somewhere?

Sure, creating a playlist of your favorite music is not a bad place to start. But whatever we keep in constant view has a way of blending in with the background, never to shine as brightly as the first time we discovered it.

Your swipe file is the perfect place to capture all inspiration as it manifests. Understand well – I am not saying to copy or plagiarize. You don’t want to rip off a lyric and put it in your song.

But for all those times you feel uninspired, wouldn’t it be nice to have a place to turn to for some needed inspiration?

A swipe file is also a great place to store sales messages, stage banter, social media posts, and anything else that worked. Whenever you come across something that works, save it for later and take inspiration from it for new projects.

Takeaway: Capture all your inspiration in swipe files – handwritten scrawls on napkins, compelling sentences from magazine clippings, notes on the back of business cards, all of it. This forms the foundation of everything you create – songs, blog posts, emails, and more.

Conclusion

If you’re an ambitious musician, then you’ve surely had thoughts of being as prolific as artists like Frank Zappa, Tangerine Dream, or Miles Davis at times, haven’t you? I know I have.

So, what’s the pathway? How do you go about getting to where you want to go?

It’s not by sacrificing quality. You should learn to identify “good enough” in your efforts, sure, but the pathway is in setting up productivity processes that support and guide your activity every step of the way. Use the above as inspiration.

P.S. Thanks again for dropping by. I’m currently working on a brand-new book called the Productivity, Performance & Profits Blackbook. This new resource encompasses everything I’ve ever learned about getting more done, plus some amazing insights from the hundreds of entrepreneurs, executives, and artists I’ve interviewed over the years.

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