There are three frames that have shaped and transformed the way I now think about prioritization.
The first is the parable of the rocks, pebbles, sand, and water. What the parable demonstrates is that if you put the right things in your day in the right order, there is always time enough to do all the things you need to do. Conversations with my former roommates further helped me see that paid work was always to be prioritized above personal projects I was excited about.
The second is Covey’s 4 Quadrants. Author Stephen Covey proposed that everything you need to do in life falls under one of four categories – 1) urgent and important, 2) not urgent but important, 3) urgent but not important, and 4) not urgent and not important. Most of your time should be spent in 1 and 2, but everything you truly want to accomplish in life – writing a book, recording an album, meeting your significant other – falls under quadrant 2. I’ve found that large chunks of my day are occupied by quadrant 1 activity. It’s a good day when I’m able to squeeze one to two hours of quadrant 2 activity.
The third is The 4-Hour Workweek. From author Tim Ferriss I learned that most communication is not urgent. If it were truly urgent, you would be getting phone calls around the clock, people pounding at your door, literal fires to put out… you get the idea. Choosing what to ignore or to review at a time that suits you is essential if you don’t want to become a victim of your inboxes.
An earlier post on this topic struck a chord with readers. So, following it up with a more in-depth look at making your artistic ambitions a reality is necessary.
I am a champion of artistic success, and as such, you can think of me as your cheerleader, though you will never see me in tantalizing short skirts. It simply isn’t my style. Which isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with that.
Before I commit to digital ink anything else I might privately chuckle at and publicly regret, let’s move right into the key steps that will have you effective in reaching your 2022 objectives.
1. Create Your Unfolding Plan
No, not a plan. An unfolding plan.
And while some might argue that’s little more than semantics, I have personally experienced and observed the difference an unfolding plan can make, especially compared to the usual rigmarole of setting New Years Resolutions and hoping and praying they will manifest all on their own. If you’re a proponent of laziness and sloth, this article is not for you, and you would be better served with mainstream spiritual shlock.
One of the all-time best-selling authors said:
Begin with the end in mind.
Who was it? Author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey. You would not be any worse off reading his volume, paying careful attention to Covey’s quadrants, which are the definitive pillars of personal productivity.
The unfolding plan, as you’ve surely inferred already, begins with the end in mind and is unfolded from there.
How to Set Up Your Unfolding Plan
The basic framework is as follows:
- Look three months ahead. What will you have accomplished? Envision it in rich detail, including the celebration party that follows, and write it all down as a done deal (e.g., “we have launched a New York Times best-selling book”).
- What will you have accomplished in month one (first milestone) to have gotten the outcome defined in the final step? Write that down.
- What will you have accomplished in month two (second milestone) to have gotten the outcome defined in the final step? Write that down.
- What are the weekly actions that will support you in reaching your milestones and outcome? Create these actions as promises, requests (of others), and conversations to be had.
- Create a space to document your accomplishments, update as you go, and review them often. You will be surprised and amazed at what ultimately gets done.
2. Build Your Team
We’re all lone wolves. Only some are willing to admit it.
You will get better results in your endeavors if you allow others to contribute to you and your projects.
Though I’m harping on a point I’ve raised many times already, fundamentally your team can take any form. Not everyone on your team needs to be a paid employee, but ideally, they are personally incentivized.
Today, you have access to:
Hold weekly meetings and ask plenty of questions. Listen to the answers. The ideas you generate together will far surpass anything you can conceivably come up on your own.
Never micromanage. It’s a waste of your time, and it just annoys others when you don’t give them the space and time to fulfill on their promises. Don’t manage people – instead, manage promises and commitments.
And at the risk of sounding trendy, regularly ask “who?” not “how?”
How to Build Your Team
Place a phone call. Be direct in sharing why you’re calling and what the conversation is going to be about. Share your idea and invite them to contribute. Whether you get a “yes” or “no,” accept the answer graciously. The outcome isn’t as important as the action taken. Keep making calls until you have a team of six.
Always take the time to get into their world and ask what’s important to them. There’s a way to help them get what they want through their participation in your project, and it’s your job to identify how that’s going to work.
3. Move Projects Forward with Urgent Concurrency
I’m an adventurer, looking for answers to the questions of creatives in a variety of niches, fields, and industries. This answer must be credited to author Dan Kennedy, and if you can still get in, a subscription to Magnetic Marketing will stimulate viable actions and enrich your creativity prolifically.
“Successful people don’t do one thing, step by step, as we are taught in school,” says Kennedy. “They move multiple projects forward with great urgency.” This discovery was also mentioned in my holiday reflections, and it has been my modus operandi from the moment I heard it.
I run multiple businesses, write daily blog posts, participate in community projects, hold down multiple staff writing and ghostwriting contracts, make music, engage in personal development (I’m currently in a yearlong leadership program), and still have time enough to work out three times per week, keep a social life, and wind down for a couple of hours at the end of each day.
How to Move Projects Forward with Urgency Concurrency
Perfectionism will not serve you. Learn when something is “good enough” and get used to publishing. The only way to get used to publishing is to publish regularly.
Have a start and end time for every activity in your life. Say, “X project must be done by Y time” and be unreasonable with yourself.
Minimize calls, meetings, and other distractions that might take you away from actioning your plan. Commit to weekly progress with every project.
Also see: How to Move Multiple Projects Forward Powerfully
We often assume complete freedom and crystal clarity in moving forward with next steps in our artistic career when we haven’t done the hard work of reflecting on the year past and identifying where and why we’re constrained.
If this describes you, you will profit from a read of my Start Your Year the Right Way, in which targeted prompts will guide you through exercises to complete years past so you are free and clear to act now in the present.
If you are looking for further guidance on the topic, a perusal of my products and services will serve you. I am always adding new solutions to help creatives just like you, and while I’m not affordable, I am worthwhile. Set yourself up to reach your 2022 objectives with flying colors.
What have you taken on in 2022? What do you intend to accomplish? What structures and systems have you implemented?
Our heads fill with ideas that actively excite us. If we could, we’d dive right into working on them today.
Then reality sets in. And we’re cast into our daily responsibilities, chores, errands, and of course, work.
The life of a creative or creator isn’t all that glamorous once you realize that creativity often happens in the margin of life, if at all.
But if we can distinguish productivity from priority, we can unleash the idea machine in a more organized manner.
The Anatomy of a “Productive” Day
Tell me if you’ve had days that have gone something like this:
You wake up, make your bed, and get a few minutes of exercise in before meditating.
You’ve got a few urgent emails to answer, so after breakfast, you process your messages. You also check your phone, answer voicemails, respond to texts, and do your usual rounds on social media.
Afterwards, you’ve got a little bit of work to do, so you hop on your computer, put in your remote hours, have lunch, and finish up for the day.
Now it’s time for a little bit of creative work. Finally. So, you work on a song. Or write a poem. Or read a few Photoshop tips online.
After about an hour of that, you have supper, write a blog post, do another round on social media, update your website, answer emails, and wrap up the day by reaching out to your collaborators.
This all sounds very productive. But is it?
Getting Many Things Done isn’t Productivity
If any part of this sounds judgmental, know that I have had many days that have gone exactly as described.
I did this, that, and the other. I got a lot done. To-do items got checked off. Tasks got completed. Emails got answered.
But I’d still finish the day hyper aware of the projects I’d never gotten around to. The things I’d identified as being closest to my identity. The creative pursuits that would bring the greatest results, joy, or fulfillment.
Somehow, those things just weren’t getting done. They were always relegated to tomorrow.
I’d have the odd day where I’d make big progress on things that mattered to me, but I wasn’t consistent.
And we know from Jerry Seinfeld’s example that if you want to achieve something meaningful in your creative pursuits, you don’t want to break the chain.
Changing How We Think About Productivity
The way most people approach productivity is to see how much they can accomplish on a given day, week, month, or year.
And I promise you, it’s possible to get a lot done in a year. I feel like I’ve lived that year over and over since discovering Steve Pavlina’s article, Do It Now – the same post I suggest everyone read if they want a crash course in productivity.
I’ve written 365 songs in a year. I’ve launched two books in a year. And I’m smack dab in the middle of publishing daily blog posts for a full year (today is day 142).
But this is where quotes like the following are thoroughly unhelpful:
Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years. – Bill Gates
Do you even have a 10-year vision for what’s possible? I would venture to guess you’re in the top 2 to 3% of the population if you do.
Most of us are in the moment. Worried about whatever we’re worried about. Thinking about how the money is going to come in. And so forth.
It’s okay if you’re not seeing 10 years ahead. Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (affiliate link) even says we shouldn’t obsess over the extraordinary or try to become like them.
What I’m saying is this:
If getting a lot done is the point, then there’s nothing wrong with this approach. But if the point is to get the right things done, then it’s critical we revise our method.
How to Prioritize Your Priorities
It’s okay if you can’t see 10 years ahead. What you need to identify are the projects that are important but not urgent.
If you aren’t familiar with author Stephen Covey’s four quadrants, then take some time to acquaint yourself with them.
For us creatives, for the most part, it’s going to fall under the category of a book, a series of paintings, an album’s worth of music. Basically, a product.
You don’t know why, but you just never seem to get around to it, am I right?
I mean, sure, you might mess around with graphics in Canva or make an outline for your book, but are you getting any of the real work done?
One of the key reasons we end up putting off the important, non-urgent work is because it’s not urgent. We easily get swallowed up in the world of urgent instead.
And it’s not bad that we deal with the urgent. But it has a way of stealing from our productive working hours. After all, there’s only so much time in the day.
So, What’s the Solution?
The solution is relatively simple, and it can be found in a classic analogy that has been passed down through the years. It has been credited to many people, suggesting that its source is unknown.
Either way, here it is in simplified form:
You have a jar. Sitting beside it are rocks, pebbles, sand, and water.
The question is – how do you fit the rocks, pebbles, sand, and water in the jar?
If you put it in in the wrong order, the jar will certainly overflow.
But if you put it in as follows, it all works out:
Rocks, pebbles, sand, and finally, water.
Rocks are your big projects. Pebbles are your important tasks. The sand represents your smaller to-do items. Water is everything else.
So, if you do everything in the right order, there is more than enough time and energy in the day to accomplish what matters most to you.
If you do it out of order, and don’t prioritize, you will struggle to get the most important things done.
And always remember – tackling the most important things in your schedule has a way of making the less important things irrelevant.
Productivity without prioritization is just getting things done.
Productivity with prioritization is effectiveness. Effectiveness is what most people really want.
And we are most effective when we focus on the few things that matter instead of the many things that need to get done.
If you focus on the few things that matter, you will be able to end more days feeling accomplished. And if you keep doing that, you will hold a product in your hand before long.
What is your strategy for productivity? How do you manage your priorities?
Let me know in the comments.
Shh… Don’t tell anyone. Only the cool kids are talking about it.
Get your copy of The Music Entrepreneur Code.