If you’re going to develop any skill as an independent artist, entrepreneur, creative, or anything, make it problem-solving.
Problem-solving isn’t taught in school. The only place I ever received any training in it was in network marketing (and it was worth it).
Why does it matter?
Well, the difference problem-solving skills can make for you, your life, and your career is nearly incalculable.
Things always come up in life. Flat tires. Unexpected bills. Relationships going sideways. Breakdowns of various shades and colors.
Most of us, at best, have thought of one or two ways of solving a problem, and if we were honest with ourselves, we’d see that the few solutions we’ve devised aren’t very effective.
For the most part, we should reserve the word “problem” for our competition, and stick to “challenges” for ourselves, but for the intents and purposes of this post, we’ll let “problem” stand.
Anyway, can you see how having one or two poorly crafted solutions to any problem is a position of compromise?
For instance, if you’re one unexpected bill away from declaring bankruptcy, you’re in a much direr situation than you even realize.
At the risk of triggering you, I need to point out that spending no time thinking about all possible solutions is intellectual laziness.
The reason it’s intellectual laziness is that it’s an indication you haven’t spent much time practicing realistic thinking in your thinking, reflection, and journaling time. That is, of course, if you’re spending any time thinking, reflecting, or journaling at all.
It’s good to adopt a positive mindset. After all, positive thinking improves your overall performance.
But if you’re not also looking at everything that could possibly go wrong with your plans, you’re being unreasonably sanguine about life and the situations it can present you with.
I’ve had flat tires (naturally), fridges and furnaces break down, people ghost me for seemingly innocuous reasons, and much, much more. It’s surprising the disruption and headaches these seemingly simple “problems” can cause in life.
But suffering is always optional. Because there’s something you can do about the situation.
Several years ago, I remember having a car window that went off the track. I knew that I could bring my car to a mechanic. But a little bit of research quickly revealed that the repair could be costly. The car was already 10 years old. I didn’t think the repair was going to be worth the cost. So, I bought a roll of duct tape and taped the window shut.
My business coach, at the time, said to me “That’s super entrepreneurial.”
This turned out to be the ideal solution because, as I recall, three out of four windows eventually all went off track. Then, the car engine took a turn for the worse and the poor Volkswagen broke down completely.
I’m not advocating doing what I did, taping car windows, especially given that authorities might not always look your way with a forgiving eye.
But I could have wasted a ton of money maintaining and repairing a car that was clearly on its last legs. Instead, I chose to handle the challenges with simplicity and ease, putting out a fire and moving on with my priorities.
To summarize, unfortunately, I must use a phrase that’s both a cliché and a rather ambiguous expression – think outside the box.
In every problem or challenge, look for every opportunity for resolution, not just one. It sounds intellectually exhausting, but to the contrary, I have found identifying and implementing unconventional solutions exhilarating.
The alternative is submitting to the “at the first sign of things going wrong, rob a bank” mentality glorified by films like Fun with Dick and Jane, and to me, that’s intellectual laziness of the tallest order. Not to mention, there’s a very good chance such an act would land you in jail.
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It’s no one’s business how you get stuff done.
People may notice your constant posting to social media and assume you must you have a lot of extra time on your hands.
When accurate thinking dictates that it’s far more likely you:
- Prioritize the activities that bring in business
- Have a plan and an editorial calendar
- Batch process the creation, editing, and scheduling of your content
Being prolific requires at least one of two things if not both – 1) a plan and 2) discipline. You can get by on a plan, you can get by on discipline. But the two together are near unshakable when it comes to producing brilliant work at a moment’s notice.
People may wonder how you’re able to do everything you do in a day.
Your clients may wonder why you’re not in communication. They may ask you when their projects are going to be completed when it seems like you’re only prioritizing your own (when it’s far more likely that you’ve scheduled out a month’s worth of posts in advance).
So long as you’re in integrity with the deadline that’s been created with your client, there are no issues, no matter how much they whine about you being halfway across the world, spending time on other projects, or enjoying your life as you see fit.
Anyone who watches you that closely doesn’t have a life, and they may even be obsessive to an unhealthy extent. Sure, you may be enjoying life “on their dime,” but if you’re turning in good work, it should not matter.
Which is why, I repeat, it’s no one’s business how you get stuff done. That includes the velocity at which you work, the volume of work you produce, and any processes you use to boost your productivity and efficiency (your own processes, by the way, are your own intellectual property).
If a promise has been broken, then do everything in your power to make it right.
But others should not be permitted to question your methodology, approach, or processes, when you’re fully delivering on the promises you’ve made.
I thought this parable was something every personal development fiend or ambitious person had heard of.
But today, I talked to two people who had never even heard of it. So, clearly, not everyone has been exposed to it.
As I begin to rethink my schedule again, this is the parable that has been running through my mind.
So, what is it? And what can it teach us about prioritization and productivity? Read on.
Rocks, Pebble, Sand, and Water
A University professor wanted to illustrate how each of us can better prioritize and manage our time.
He brought several items with him to class – a jar, rocks, pebbles, sand, and a glass of water.
The professor filled the jar with the rocks and asked the students whether the jar was full? They answered “yes, it’s full.”
But he then proceeded to fill the jar with the pebbles. He shook the jar until the pebbles neatly arranged themselves in between the crevices left by the larger rocks.
“Is it full now?”
This time, his students were sure the jar was full.
The professor then filled the jar with sand, which filled the remaining space left by the rocks and the pebbles.
Without skipping a beat, he also poured the glass of water into the jar as everything neatly settled inside.
The class was astonished.
“Try to fill the jar with the sand first,” said the professor, “and there would be no room left for everything else.”
The Moral of the Story
There are different variations on this parable. But the message is the same:
The rocks represent your greatest priorities.
The pebbles represent important priorities.
The sand represents minor priorities.
And the water represents everything else.
When prioritizing what matters to you, you must put the rocks in the jar first. They will not fit later. And so it is with the pebbles, sand, and water. They only work in that specific order.
For an entrepreneur, that means putting revenue generating activity first thing in your day. If you put it off until later, you will not get around to it. But if you start with it, you’ll either have plenty of time left over for everything else you need to do, or the act of completing a “rock” project will make all other activity irrelevant.
See what else I’m up to.
Prioritize. Make a list, and only do the things you need to do and focus on them.
Upon entering the yearlong leadership program I’m now nine months into, I felt tired and exhausted. And I felt like I had far too much to do to be able to keep up with all the calls and meetings I was adding to my schedule.
When I shared this with one of my coaches, he said the above.
There are times when it’s necessary to pull back. As I was just getting started in the leadership program, my head was spinning, and I needed to pull back a little. Capture a bird’s eye view of tasks that were the key difference makers.
Right now, I need to pull back again, at least for a bit. I’ve been sprinting for too long for this to be a marathon, and marathons are not won sprinting.
I’m glad this lesson stuck with me. Because it helps me identify the key tasks that need to be done without taking on all the extra work that could overwhelm my life.
Chances are, even if I am missed on Instagram, Tealfeed, or BitClout, anyone missing me will be that much happier when I’m back.
Priority wise, my health and well-being are far more important. Keeping up with clients is next. Then comes all the other projects I’m working on.
Time away from some of this activity can only help me. It gives me space to think and reflect and to return to my work better. I can strategize and streamline. And this feels like the right time to do exactly that.
Knowing what to prioritize isn’t always easy. Much of the time, it requires rigorous forethought and planning. But that’s no excuse not to do the work.
In any business, the big question is not whether you can design a beautiful logo, create eye-catching business cards, or set up a stellar website. The question is whether you can get to your first dollar. You can do this without creating a damn thing these days, because you can take pre-orders to test the demand for a product, you’re thinking about making.
If you want to get a visual on an entrepreneurial endeavor that’s not moving because of busywork and obsessing over details, go and watch season 4, episode 20 of How I Met Your Mother, titled Mosbius Designs.
I understand that this is a “business” example, but I would argue it’s totally applicable to artists. Now, I understand that music is a passion. And you want to create something you love. The point is – if you want to build a profitable career, you want to make sure there are other people out there whose hearts also beat over the same thing!
This will largely determine whether the next 10 years of your career will be spent playing every dive bar you can find, growing your audience one member at a time…
Coming out of the gate with strong wave of momentum that will quickly carry you onto the shores of the next phase of your music career.
I remember coaching a business owner who wanted to build a locally sourced, eco-friendly, humanitarian, customer-pleasing, employee-conscious business. I’m not exaggerating, I’m summarizing.
You can’t help but admire the heart of someone who wants to do that much good in the world. Someone who even questions whether they should be using the internet because of the strain it puts on the power grid and what that means for the planet.
But in the context of entrepreneurship, this was, for a lack of a more eloquent term, utterly and completely stupid.
What we encouraged her to do was look at how she could sell her first product. Get to her first dollar. Validate a market. If she could sell her product and build a profitable business, in due course, she’d be able to do more in the world.
As a giving, agreeable, listening person, I’ve often had to remind myself that you can’t contribute out of scarcity. You can only contribute out of overflow. My recent charitable efforts were intentional and deliberate, and they were created through initiatives that didn’t cost me.
But no, she insisted on doing things her way. Not only did she not make an income from her business – the people she’d partnered with, hired, or contracted to work with never stuck around for more than a few weeks.
When you have a new idea about what you’re out to accomplish every other week, it signals a red flag to everyone around you who might have bought into your initial burst of passion and enthusiasm.
I know from having talked to a friend of mine that the stars don’t always align out the gate. One of his band projects was initially thinking about becoming a cover band. But it never worked. It wasn’t until they decided to work on originals that things finally clicked for them. Had they simply jumped from idea to idea without thinking, though, they would have missed out on creating their life work.
As for my coaching client, the story doesn’t end there. I helped her set up her website, and she had the audacity to accuse me of having insufficient systems in my business while I was on vacation recovering from burnout. I was halfway across the world without a computer offering customer support from my smartphone. I should have charged a hefty sum for that. It was a low moment for me, but I had to acknowledge that everything wasn’t hunky dory on my end either.
What we learned from that experience was to never put client websites on our servers. Let them buy their own hosting, so if they run into any problems, they can contact customer support and give them a tongue lashing on their own time.
And that’s a whole other lesson – learning from your mistakes!
But to conclude, let’s put this in terms any artist can understand. Before you go out and spend $40,000 on your indie dubstep breakbeat banjo jungle reggae funk, make sure someone gives a crap.
There is absolutely no virtue or value in creating a micro-niche there’s no demand for! I’m calling B.S. on this strategy. I’d much rather see you enter a generic market like “rock” and differentiate using your marketing and branding than spend countless hours and thousands of dollars testing your violin Celtic metal punk junk country fusion just for the hell of it.