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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
… 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.
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.
As I was getting started in personal development, one of the audio programs that made the biggest difference for me was Brian Tracy’s The Science of Self-Confidence.
In it, Tracy talks about how we always make a to-do list the night before leaving on vacation, and how we’re diligent in ticking off every task, ensuring all loose ends are tied up before we leave.
And then he asks, why don’t we do this in our daily lives? If it’s so effective in helping us identify and complete tasks we need to do before a trip, why don’t we make a list of everything we need to do in work and life the night before? If we treated it with the same importance that we treated our pre-vacation to-do list with, wouldn’t we be just as effective in completing errands, in our creativity, in work, and in life?
In his research, Tracy found that we accomplish 80% of what we write down. And in my own experience, this has proven true repeatedly.
This is the Pareto Principle (80/20) at work. I’ve talked about how it applies to your overall effectiveness many times, but if we look closely in other areas of life, we’ll see it at work everywhere.
Now, if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of only 80% of your to-do items getting done, here’s what you need to know:
At times, you will achieve more than 80%. But you will often find that 20% of your tasks are unimportant, inconsequential, or simply don’t need to be done. Sometimes your big domino makes smaller ones irrelevant.
One more thing you should know about writing things down:
A few years ago, I read David Allen’s Getting Things Done. There are several productivity practices I’ve applied from that book that have stuck with me to this day.
One thing author Allen explains is that our brains are not great storage devices. With all the information we consume on a daily basis (texts, instant messages, emails, blog articles, podcasts, videos, and more), it’s a wonder our brains aren’t over-full already.
And while I understand that you’ve got a high IQ, good memory, and a rich inner life, you are prone to forgetting as much as anyone else. So, whether it’s goals, errands, or song ideas, I would encourage you to write everything down.
For a proven, step-by-step framework in cracking the code to independent music career success, and additional in-depth insights into making your passion sustainable and profitable, be sure to pick up my best-selling guide, The Music Entrepreneur Code.
What if you begin your music career thinking you love music so much; you don’t care whether you get paid…
Only to realize one day you want to start making money from your passion…?
Or, what if you think you’re getting paid great money to do the work you love to do…
Only to realize you’ve got a long way to go to create the career and life of your dreams?
Dreaming Too Small
If there’s any doubt that the scenarios laid out above are made up, let me tell you…
This stuff happens all the time.
Now, don’t get me wrong.
Some musicians are perfectly content being able to make music and play the local bar. I’ve performed with some of those musicians once or twice myself.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. At all!
But there are also many musicians that one day wake up to see that they aren’t where they want to be.
Drummer Matt Starr was one of those musicians and I had a great conversation with him last year on episode 135 of my podcast. You can have a listen here (I DARE you to listen all the way through – it’s powerful):
Again, you can aspire to whatever level makes the most sense to you.
But I can tell you from experience it SUCKS to wake up one day to discover you’ve been dreaming much too small, because now you have less time to accomplish the things you now know you want to accomplish.
Now, say what you will about Trudeau. I’m not one of his disciples, but I have learned a thing or two from the man. That’s undeniable.
Anyway, as I began learning about the law of attraction, I had a bit of an “aha” moment.
Virtually everyone tells you to set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, Timely).
I’m not saying the system is flawed, but it never resonated with me, nor did it lead to desired results.
Trudeau says there are certain questions that let the air right out of your goal balloon. They are:
“How?” and “when?”
When we set big goals, our human tendency is to go to the negative.
“I don’t know how I’m going to do this.”
That’s because we’re focused on the how. If we had faith in ourselves and the universe, we would know that abundance is everywhere, and all we need to do is focus on the “what” and the “why”.
As for when, as it turns out, we’re not that smart. Goals can be accomplished in a multitude of ways, and we never know what opportunities might cross our path. Goals might take longer or they might not take as long as you think. Rarely do they happen in the exact time frame we set for them.
Key point: How and when are goal killers.
Okay, so it’s Magic?
This is logically where our human brain leads us next.
“Okay, so the process works as if by magic. That means I don’t need to do anything!”
Again, nothing could be further from the truth.
Remember what I said: “your responsibility is the why.”
When you know why you want a certain thing, the motivation to get it naturally increases.
You think about it all the time. You can almost feel it.
You can’t have it go from the head to the heart, or more accurately, from the heart to the head (I’ll talk more about this another time), without it impacting your actions.
Your thoughts affect your feelings. Your feelings turn into actions. Your actions become habits. Your habits produce your reality.