Slow down and remember this: Most things make no difference. Being busy is a form of laziness – lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. – Tim Ferriss
In the world of performance, action is all that matters. But not all actions are weighted equally. Different actions lead to different outcomes. Therein lies the challenge of the modern creative, creator, or entrepreneur.
It doesn’t require specialized knowledge, skill, or talent to be a hard worker. Anyone can have a work ethic. In culture, work ethic is worn like a badge of honor. But with so many competing on work ethic, it’s fast becoming the mass transit to burnout and disappointment as opposed to the golden ticket to success.
The adage, “if you see everyone going the same way, turn and run the other way” applies here, even among the population that consider themselves counterculture already.
To be highly effective today, you’ve got to start thinking slow.
Most Things Make No Difference
Your to-do list may be a mile long. But if you were to 80/20 your list, you’d discover that just 20% of your work accounts for 80% of the results. If you apply 80/20 to itself, it becomes 64/4. Which means just 4% of your activity accounts for 64% of the results.
Let that sink in. Ferriss’ assertion that most things make no difference is devastatingly accurate as applied to the life of an independent creator or entrepreneur.
What does that mean in concrete, real-world terms? Let’s have a look.
You may be sharing your message across 18 marketing channels. The Pareto Principle (80/20) suggests only three and a half channels are producing any kind of results for your business. But if you were to apply the rule to itself (64/4), you’d find that barely one (if one) channel is responsible for the results you’re generating.
Author, podcaster, marketing speaker and entrepreneur Joe Pulizzi frequently says you can only do one or two things with excellence. Examine what you’re doing, and you will find that of the many items that line your to-do lists, you’re only doing a few of them at a high level. Everything else is noise.
Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason why so few engage in it. – Henry Ford
Thinking is hard work. But if you’re chasing true productivity, you must identify the few things that are going to make a difference.
Busyness is a Form of Laziness
To me, “busy” implies that the person is out of control of their life. – Derek Sivers
Why are we so busy? What exactly are we doing with our time? Where is it all going?
I’ve shared about the horrifying realities of busywork before. Engaging in busywork is a lot like pulling your smartphone out of your pocket to alleviate boredom and anxiety. It may give you temporary relief, but all it does is reinforce your addiction and deplete your time deposit.
But that doesn’t negate the importance of thinking. Thinking offers access to the specific actions that hold the keys to your greatest goals and desires.
If you’re busy doing the right things, it’s planned. If you’re busy taking indiscriminate actions, you’re in an insanity cycle and have delusions of grandeur.
A Fresh Access
We’ve all heard about working smarter not harder. But it’s like pouring salt on an open wound, because we’ve all felt guilty for not knowing what to do or even what working smarter is supposed to look like. Then we begin to assume we’re too dumb or untalented to figure it out!
Thinking slowly gives you the much-needed access you’ve been searching for. But thinking must be scheduled, just as you would put anything else into your calendar – meetings, grocery shopping, working out, or otherwise.
Thinking slowly is giving me a fresh access to productivity. Here are just some of the ways it could play out:
If you’re blogging daily (as I do), you would actively look for ways to repurpose and monetize the content you’re working so hard to create.
If you wanted to maximize the value of the content you’re creating, you would spend more time researching and identifying viable keyword opportunities.
If you wanted to increase response rate for your email pitches, you would invest heavily into upgrading your communication skills.
If you have five book ideas, you would home in on the single one that represents the greatest commercial opportunity.
If you have an established business, you would home in on the two or three things you do well and allocate more time and resources to them.
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.
Have you ever felt like you were getting nowhere with a project?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt that way!
I suppose it’s only fair that I lay out an example…
Back in the early days of my band, I organized a postal mail campaign.
I spent hours digging up addresses of potential venues, writing a form letter and printing it up, stuffing and stamping envelopes, etc. I even enrolled my sister in stuffing and addressing hundreds or envelopes.
When we finally sent out the first batch of letters to Canadian venues, we got three responses, only one of which even had the potential of becoming a real opportunity (unfortunately, we lost touch with our one enthusiastic contact in Hope, BC).
Clearly, the postal mail campaign wasn’t working out. I still wanted to send out the 1,500 envelopes we’d prepared for U.S. venues, until I realized just how much that was going to cost.
Nowadays, for Canadians, postage rates for mail addressed to the U.S. starts at $1.30.
1,500 letters x $1.30 per letter = $1,950!
It might have been a little cheaper back when we were thinking about sending out those letters, but not by much. This is what happens when you don’t think everything through…
So, not only was I experiencing the frustration of not getting anywhere with booking a tour (let alone a few shows), I even had hard evidence to suggest our campaign was going to be a dismal failure.
Who knows what would have happened if we had sent out those U.S. letters. Maybe we would have booked a few shows. But $2,000 would have been a big risk to take on when the initial response to our campaign was so underwhelming.
Knowing what I know today about postal mail, direct mail, and direct response marketing, this campaign would have gone very differently. But sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know.
Finding your path as an artist may feel like navigating a minefield, but it’s critical to realize that outcomes are out of your control.
What is in your control is being in action. Doing something.
Copywriting legend Gary Halbert’s favorite saying was:
Motion beats meditation.
Marketing expert Dan S. Kennedy says:
… a bad decision or wrong decision is better than no decision, because if the decision leads to action, it is easier to correct the course of someone or something already in motion than it is to get someone or something into motion from inertia.
We obsess over right actions and right strategy, when really, the trick to getting going is – surprise! – getting going. A body in motion tends to stay in motion, and that’s the point we want to get to as artists.
If you really want 2023 to be a breakthrough year in your artistic career, this is what you must focus on – getting into action. Producing as you have never produced before.
If you can’t control the outcome anyway, focusing on work ethic is word to the wise. And now is the time to find your stride.
If you want to produce as you never have before, both in terms of quality and quantity, then you need a copy of my Productivity, Performance & Profits Blackbook, which features an articles anthology along with everything I’ve ever published in a book on the topic of productivity.
Normally, the book costs $57 USD, but you can pre-order it until February 28, 2023 for just $10 USD.
2022 is probably the first year in a while that I’ve taken to reading in a more intentional way. Besides articles and books, I also dove into print newsletters, which I found quite addicting.
Having completed the first year of my leadership program in June, I also wanted to continue learning and growing, and the most accessible way to do this – especially as I was traveling about – was with Kindle eBooks.
So, here are the top books that made a difference for me in 2022 and what I got out of them.
Profit First by Mike Michalowicz
Mike Michalowicz’ Profit First presents a new way of thinking about profit. Most of us have been taught this formula:
Revenue – Expenses = Profit
But Mike urges us to look through the lens of this formula instead:
Revenue – Profit = Expenses
Throughout the book, Mike makes some excellent points about how the traditional formula is flawed, how 80% of businesses fail (despite them being run by smart, driven people), and how adopting a new approach to managing our finances allows our businesses to generate profit from day one.
As Mike himself points out, the method is very straightforward. He even touched on it briefly in a former book.
Something often gets lost in translation when a small idea is expanded upon to the extent it is in Profit First, though. It’s nice that there are plenty of valuable insights, examples, and case studies to draw from, but I find something always gets muddled when there is so much preamble and port-mortem wrapped around it. The Power of Habit was a lot like that, and I still don’t know why people like it so much.
To make the most of this reading, you’d need to distill the core concepts down into a simple, digestible process, checklist, or flowchart.
But one of the things I immediately applied was taking 1% of my revenue (profit) and shoveling it into a separate account. Every month, that account has been slowly but surely growing. And that’s the tangible way in which this book made a difference for me.
Official Get Rich Guide to Information Marketing by Robert Skrob
All the gurus talk about testing and validating an offer (e.g., by taking pre-orders before even making the product), but rarely explain the process.
Robert Skrob’s Official Get Rich Guide to Information Marketing lays out the formula in crystallized detail. This book will take you through the paces of launching an offer that converts (with several methods documented) and leveraging it into growing a profitable business in short order, all while laying out a process that feels simple and manageable.
The resources mentioned in the book are largely outdated or deprecated, but the general principles laid out still hold true. A business can be built on the back of a single teleseminar.
I had, of course, listened to The Strangest Secret multiple times before ever reading it.
This summer, though, as I was scrolling through my Kindle library, I identified The Strangest Secret as a “quick read” I wanted to brush up on. After all, depending on where you’re at in life, books can hit you a little differently.
The main thing I took away, that I soon found reflected in plenty of present-day personal development and business books is this:
Only one in 100 people will ever be wealthy, and only four in 100 people will ever be financially independent.
Basically, 95% of people don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to their finances.
I’ve recalled this stat in some of my recent writing efforts (including a forthcoming book) as well.
With a bold promise like One Million Followers, I found this book hard to resist.
The book opens by telling the story of other people’s successes instead of delivering on its promise (of helping you grow a following of a million followers), which I found off-putting. Brendan also starts selling his coaching services before giving the reader a good reason to, which I found tacky.
I’m all for books being long-form sales letters, so long as they contain useful information, but the way it’s done here is more akin to asking for one’s hand in marriage before dating.
Eventually, though, Brendan does reveal his process for growing large followings. It’s not long before you realize that it’s going to take some money, probably some hired help, a lot of hard work, and perseverance.
One Million Followers will work for you if you put in the work. But from my perspective, you would basically need to make social media your full-time job.
Where this book made a difference for me was in showing me how a large social media following could be leveraged to create revenue. This was a code many seemed unable to crack, but Brendan demonstrates real strategy in an ocean of fleeting and ineffectual tactics.
The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Getting Your Shit Together by John Carlton
Having read John Carlton’s Simple Success Secrets No One Told You About, I didn’t exactly have high expectations for The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Getting Your Shit Together. Which could be one of the reasons I was ultimately blown away by it.
The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Getting Your Shit Together won’t necessarily teach you practical know-how and step by step processes you can apply to your business and life. It goes deeper than that, impacting you at a foundational mindset level. It’s like street smarts for the lonely and isolated entrepreneur (which is most of us).
The book is a joy to read, and you feel smarter just holding it in your hands.
No B.S. Wealth Attraction in the New Economy by Dan Kennedy
I have read 11 Dan Kennedy books so far, and most if not all have proven brilliant. But only now do I feel as though I’ve finally hit gold.
And, no surprise, No B.S. Wealth Attraction in the New Economy is sublime. This book sets out to dismantle our mistaken understanding of money, as well as why and how money moves to the people it ultimately does. Then, it shows you how to apply the many “Wealth Magnets” described within.
If you feel like you’re working long and hard and getting nowhere in your entrepreneurial or even artistic career, you need this book.
Ernest S. Holmes is another proponent of New Thought, and one that shouldn’t be ignored if the Law of Attraction and subconscious reprogramming are of interest to you.
Creative Mind and Success features both spiritual insights and practical wisdom that, if melded together, can produce real results in the real world.
I especially liked what he said about always demonstrating activity. If you’re in business, says Earnest, you should be constantly rearranging shelves, creating new promotions, starting new projects, and so on. He says perception of activity alone will draw in new customers.
While he is talking primarily about offline business, the principles work in online business too. If you’re regularly adding new content to your site, redesigning it at frequent intervals, adding products every quarter, and so on, it will appear to customers there is always something going on, which will stimulate sales.
I am applying this principle to my new podcast as well.