So, you want a successful music career. Or you want to build a business. Or you want to earn your financial freedom.
These are worthy and commendable goals and there’s a reason why we want them.
But it’s easy to make bad assumptions about what things will be like when you finally attain your goals.
Your assumption might be that things will get a lot easier when you finally reach your goals. You might think that income will be generated on autopilot, dog trainers will look after your dogs, and maids will ensure your house is always clean and pristine.
You may even get all those things.
But will it be easier when you get there?
If you have a larger bank account, you’ve got to learn to be more responsible with your financial resources, not less. Otherwise, your elevated lifestyle will catch up with you.
If you build a successful business, even if you manage to make yourself mostly irrelevant in the operations, you will still have executives, managers, and employees to oversee. You will need to keep an eye on your team to ensure things are done to specification and with integrity, for the company to maintain and grow (if that’s the goal).
If you have investments, you will need to check in with them periodically. If you have a successful artistic career, you will need to release new material and tour it. No matter the success, you will likely need to operate with increased vigilance and discipline, and on balance, you won’t be much happier than you are today, if at all.
A safer assumption, then, is that things won’t be any easier than they are today. If anything, you will have greater responsibility. You probably won’t be much happier. And you will still be busy, just with other things.
If you’re going to start with the end in mind, then become the kind of person that can take on and handle more today. Because there is a version of you that accomplished all the loftiest goals. That version of you, though, is an expanded version of you, not a diminished version.
Inevitably, this is what’s getting in the way of you being more prolific, publishing, and shipping – perfectionism.
Honestly, even though I blog daily and create a tremendous amount of content every week, I still have my filters.
“This is for later.”
“I will come back to this when I have time.”
“I can’t put this out there as is.”
But you can’t think like that if you want to be prolific.
It is worth building toward a masterpiece. I’m not negating editing, polishing, and perfecting your work. But if it’s not something you’re working on daily, can you honestly say it’s a priority for you? Will you ever be getting around to it again? Goals shape the present, not the future.
Some things are meant to be published. Now. There is no later.
Turn the perfectionism filter off. See how it changes the way you think about your work. See if it changes the frequency and velocity at which you publish.
For the multi-passionate, variety truly is the spice of life. We thrive on taking on many tasks and projects, and there’s simply nothing as exhilarating as closing a new contract.
But like me, you’ve probably run into a few problems.
The first is that you end up taking on too much, even things you realize you ultimately had no interest in taking on. And then you’re either forced to finish the project, begrudgingly, or hurriedly find someone else to handle it on your behalf.
It’s a good recipe for burnout.
The second is you end up filling your time with tasks that pay but don’t necessarily offer fulfillment. I recently heard the reason Chris Tucker hasn’t always been in the public eye is because he’s looking to have a long career, not just make a ton of money. If the right project came along, he would jump on it, but otherwise, he’d rather not work.
Thirdly, and finally, you end up making shallow progress in most areas, never reaching your goals. Another year disappears into the dust, and you end up feeling like you didn’t accomplish much (even though you were probably busy as all get-out).
This year, I’m trying something new on. I’m interested in making massive progress in one or two areas, not a bit of progress in many areas. And the main thing I’m interested in going deeper into for the next year is podcasting.
And the thing that I’ve started saying to myself is:
“Let’s try it for a year and see what happens.”
In the grand scheme of things, a year is a relatively short amount of time. If you’re not happy with how things turn out in a year, you can always go back to the way things were. Plus, a year is long enough to see results from what you’re doing. You won’t always see much progress in 90 or even 180 days.
Because I’m facing some big decisions this year, thinking this way has been relieving me of some pressure. Because I can try things for a year and see how they turn out. If things don’t work out, I can go back to the way things were.
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.
You can also gain access to unprecedented productivity through my Productivity, Performance & Profits Blackbook.
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.