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.
Polymaths are bound to have a mix of projects on the go at any given time.
Some of this is by design. Inspiration hits and you find yourself unable to resist compelling possibilities. So, you initiate new ventures, knowing it will require personal expansion, even as you hurry to cause completion with projects already started.
And, of course, some projects serve a more practical function of creating cashflow. And this means maintaining a healthy inflow of leads and stable of clients.
So, how do you keep all your plates spinning? Here are several practical tips to help you maintain order amid chaos.
1. Batch Process & Optimize Weekflow to Boost Productivity
Batch processing will prove essential to getting things done. When you’ve got many projects to tend to, you can’t afford to lose time. And task switching is a known productivity killer.
That said, if you don’t optimize weekflow, I’m going to posit that your batching efforts aren’t going to be as effective as they could be. If you don’t have a good sense of the big picture that’s forming, you’ll be plowing away at a certain task, only to be interrupted by a client call, meeting, deadline, or some other fire you didn’t see coming because you were too busy working.
In my experience, a desktop calendar pad can go a long way towards achieving better big picture clarity around forthcoming meetings, deadlines, calls, and so forth. Some people like to use their phone, but I find notifications annoying, and they break concentration besides. Paper-based systems like Getting Things Done (affiliate link) by David Allen force you to rely more on your organizational skills (and putting things into existence) than on unreliable tech.
2. Leverage Themed Days to Maximize Results
Don’t just group your tasks. Group your days.
I’ve talked to multiple entrepreneurs who keep multiple plates spinning, and the main way they do this is by setting aside certain days for specific projects.
I use Mondays to outline the content I will be developing for the week. I divide my time between my various Music Industry How To and Music Entrepreneur HQ duties between Tuesday and Thursday. Friday is The Indie YYC day, though realistically, it doesn’t require more than a couple hours per week.
The point is that I’m not trying to advance all projects simultaneously on a given day. I give each my full attention on their designated days, so that my mind space is only occupied by pertinent tasks and conversations. As you can imagine, this helps you generate better ideas and think better overall.
3. Get into Communication to Grow Your Team & Maintain Client Relationships
First, admit to yourself that being a lone wolf polymath is unworkable. Because it is.
Second, recognize that there are people around you just waiting to engage in meaningful projects. Their jobs are boring. Their home life is humdrum. They’re just waiting for you to pick up the phone and invite them to be a part of something, even if there’s no financial incentive!
Build a personal relationship with everyone in your team to keep engagement levels high. It might seem a little unreasonable at first, because it’s going to take a lot of time out of your day. But you will soon see your workload minimize as others pick up the slack.
Keep your clients informed of project progress as well. You don’t need to type out 1,000-word essays to get the point across. Clear, succinct communication helps decrease misunderstandings and sets proper expectations.
When a promise is not going to be met, communicate. Everything is about communication. Don’t try to manage people. Manage promises instead.
Internalize the fact that promises are empowering. Many people avoid making promises because they don’t want to be on the hook for anything. But promises tends to elevate the importance of tasks or projects, maximizing your overall effectiveness. And that leads to better results.
4. Minimize the Amount of Time You’re Available to the Public to Make More Time for Focused Work
Unless self-initiated, I’m only available to the public on Wednesdays and Thursdays, between the hours of 11 AM and 5 PM for ad hoc calls and meetings.
This may appear self-serving, but when I leave my calendar open for anyone to book at any time, I may not be in the best position to serve them (because of energy levels, distractions, other tasks I need to get to, social events, or otherwise). I might even miss their booking requests. So, it’s in everyone’s best interest that I take calls only when I’m best equipped to handle them and give the matter the attention it deserves.
5. Prioritize Self-Care & Wellbeing to Keep Energy Levels High
I understand that your days will be booked to the brim with various forms of work. After all, you’re a go-getter.
But if you’re not taking care of yourself, you will burn out, and if you burn out, you will need to spend time in recovery. This can cost you severely in terms of productive time, medical bills, supplements, rehabilitation, and more.
So, it’s best to work a little self-care into your routine, even if it’s just five minutes here, 15 minutes there. Do five minutes of yoga. Meditate for 10 minutes. Take inspiration from some of my burnout reversal strategies.
Something is always better than nothing. And you honestly might be surprised by how much a difference walking for a few minutes daily can make.
6. Test Alignment & Prune the Stinkers to Manage Energy
Pay attention to how every project and client makes you feel.
There are ebbs and flows with every task or job, no matter how aligned you are. But ultimately, some projects will boost your energies and fulfillment level, while others will take away and steal your lifeforce.
Book Yourself Solid(affiliate link) author Michael Port suggests cutting clients that drain your energy, because inevitably they will consume the most time and energy, making any financial reward almost irrelevant. The 4-Hour Workweek(affiliate link) author Tim Ferriss has made similar assertions.
You need a “red rope policy,” as it were, meticulously defining the type of customer you want to work with, while pricing your services out of reach for those who are sure to be lesser quality clients.
The same goes for personal or collaborative projects. It might hurt to cut some off, but if you’re not acting on them today, and you didn’t last week, and you didn’t the month before, can you honesty say you’re ever going to get around to them?
As former CD Baby founder Derek Sivers says, goals shape the present, not the future. If the goal has no impact on current actions, then there’s a good chance it’s misaligned.
We want to examine our relationship to everything we do, as personal development guru Steve Pavlina suggests. And we can shift our relationship to our projects at any time. But inevitably, you’re going to bump up against work that’s not in alignment.
Consider eliminating the projects and clients that take up too much mind space, time, energy, and resources. They are robbing you of fulfillment in every dimension.
7. Track & Review Your Progress to Ensure Momentum
Take some time to review your progress each week. If you’re not advancing in certain areas, remember – goals that aren’t shaping the present are bad goals. They aren’t in personal alignment.
Each week, take some time to review:
What is getting done
How much progress was made
Your overall performance relative to each project, on a scale of one to 10
What is not getting done
Where progress wasn’t made and why
Areas you need to improve in
Tasks others are working on
Tasks you need to delegate
Projects you need to revise or prune
Your overall fulfillment level
If you aren’t tracking and reviewing your progress, you can’t make an honest assessment of how a given project is going. And that stifles your ability to adjust, or course correct.
Clarity is key. You can easily forget or lose track of specific tasks, projects, or people if you aren’t aware of how your projects are going, and that is unworkable.
You’re busy, and you’re up to something. And you won’t do everything perfectly. You will drop balls, and you will make mistakes. Which is why communication matters so much. But as much as possible, you want to create workability in every facet of your endeavors, and your weekly review is a good time to think and reflect on that.
Taking on many projects isn’t for everyone. But where there’s a will, there’s a way.
I would still advise chipping away at projects that don’t serve or fulfill you, as they are bound to consume more time and energy than they are worth. That said, I’m not one to stop anyone from running three businesses simultaneously. I know people that do. And it’s possible because of the practical tips discussed here.
So, find the things that keep you up into the wee hours of the night, and have you jumping out of bed early in the morning. These are the things that will inspire you to be, do, and have more.
In the digital age, our reliance on digital tools grows.
But there can still be tremendous value in paper-based tools like notebooks, yellow legal pads, index cards, and of course, desktop calendar pads.
I have been using a desktop calendar pad to organize my life since 2016, and when I don’t have it, I almost feel naked.
The calendar pad gives me a bird’s eye view of what’s to come this month (as well as the months ahead). I have used this function to plan meetings, gigs, social gatherings, vacations, and even social media posts.
Although most digital calendars do have monthly views, they are often cluttered and harder to make out. I like the immediacy of the calendar pad.
Step #1 – Log All Upcoming Events
You won’t necessarily be using your calendar pad to plan your routine or what you’ll be doing hour to hour. This is something digital calendars do better.
But all calls, meetings, interviews, social events, and other activities and commitments should go in your calendar, along with the times at which they are to occur.
Don’t forget to keep adding to your calendar as new events are booked.
This is the most obvious use of the calendar pad, but the benefits that come from planning out in this manner might be unexpected.
For instance, twice per month, I have an early call on Wednesdays. But on Wednesdays when I don’t have these calls, I can work on something else. Or maybe even sleep in.
When you have a bird’s eye view of your month, you can easily make snap decisions about your day. Although I have a high degree of flexibility in my life already, I have always found this freedom exhilarating.
Pro tip: Plan your vacations well in advance and put them in your calendar. Otherwise, something will always come up and you’ll never be able to get away. You’ve got to prioritize yourself.
Step #2 – Log Income Sources
This is optional. In saying that, anything beyond the first step is optional.
On my calendar pad, there is a substantial “memo” section on the right side. Sometimes, I use this for ideas. But most of the time, I just log my income sources.
And that’s my system for creating an income ledger. I may transfer the data to a spreadsheet later (for income tax purposes), but I like to keep things simple, and this works for me.
I have all my calendar pads saved from 2016 onward.
Step #3 – Log What Matters to You
It’s possible to use your desktop calendar pad in a variety of other ways.
Earlier, I mentioned that you could use it to track your social media posts. Well, that’s where I got the idea to use a calendar pad in the first place. I’d read about someone who was using theirs to track their digital marketing activity.
Obviously, I use mine in a different way, but it still ended up becoming an invaluable tool.
Anyway, there’s nothing saying your calendar pad can’t be multi-purpose, and I will sometimes use it to track my scheduled posts (for my blog, Instagram, etc.).
It’s always nice to be able to work ahead and knowing when something is scheduled saves me the guesswork of having to log into WordPress or Instagram Creator Studio to try to figure out when my last post was scheduled.
Whatever you need to track, you can put it in your calendar to make your life easier.
The desktop calendar pad is most useful when used in connection with other tools (like a yellow legal pad for notes and to-do lists).
The best book on setting up a paper-based productivity system is David Allen’s Getting Things Done (affiliate link). Although I do not subscribe to the entire methodology, I have applied it piecemeal to my processes, and the habits have stuck with me ever since.
There may not be anything especially enticing about a desktop calendar pad, but as I’ve found, it can be a useful tool in helping you organize your life and boost your productivity.
I don’t know whether you do more meetings now than you did pre-lockdown. Personally, I have had far fewer commitments overall.
I still feel naked without my desktop calendar, so I keep one around regardless.
But the more you have to keep track of, the more you will likely benefit from incorporating a desktop calendar into your productivity routine.