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. This means maintaining a healthy inflow of leads and stable of clients.
But 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, 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 more. 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, for one, publish daily, write for Music Industry How To and MIDINation, maintain Music Entrepreneur HQ, and create content for The Indie YYC.
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.
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 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 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.
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 elevate the importance of tasks or projects, maximizing your overall effectiveness. 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 life force.
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
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 with the practical tips discussed here.
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.
I’ve conducted many experiments in my adult life since learning from personal development blogger Steve Pavlina’s example. His blog is filled to the brim with all kinds of experiments – manifesting $1 million dollars, raw food diet, juice fasting, and more.
I think my first experiment was learning mandolin for 30 days. I’ve since done all kinds of things, whether it’s learning Joomla, walking 8,000 steps per day, writing 365 songs in a year, or otherwise.
The most significant experiment I recently completed was publishing daily for a full year. In a way, I’m still on that journey. It’s just that it’s taken a different form.
And you can bet that the results of these experiments factor into how I approach my work and life. I have actionable data and insights I can learn from to better my future endeavors.
You need to leave some time in you life for experimentation – in music, in business, and even in your personal life.
Ever notice how time seems to fly when you’re doing the same things day in day out without much change?
But how it seems to slow down when you’re constantly exposed to new things? And how much more exciting that experience is?
I’ve been living in Abbotsford, BC now for two years, and I love it here. Long-term, I could see myself moving to a nearby city, mind you (Abbotsford is fine, it’s just a little far from the action for my tastes – Langley or Coquitlam would be more to my liking).
I’ve explored quite a bit, but there is still a lot that’s new and novel about the area I’m living in. And it feels good.
My adventures have been a far cry from traveling the world, which is what I originally had in mind, but life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.
Establishing a framework for experimentation (novelty), can’t hurt. How much time will you spend trying something new? What rules will you put into place? What actions will you take?
Dedicating about 20% of your time to the new is a good place to start. You just never know what you might discover in the process.
Online personal development guru Steve Pavlina is famous for having conducted a variety of 30-day experiments, be it learning the guitar, intermittent fasting, or sustaining a raw diet. To this day, he still engages in these types of experiments and blogs about them.
I discovered Pavlina’s work in 2007, and soon began the process of starting my own 30-day experiments – things like learning the mandolin or Joomla – and blogging about the experience.
Earlier that same year, though, I had already started what I called Project 365, and my aim was to write a song, every single day, for a full year.
Although I hadn’t given much thought to it until recently, since then, I’ve engaged in several 365-day experiments, each of which have brought untold blessings into my life.
These challenges are incredibly helpful in developing discipline and making massive progress in a chosen area.
But I’ll talk more about the benefits as we go. I’d like to start by sharing with you an overview of the experiments I’ve completed, and the results derived from each.
365-Day Experiments I’ve Completed
Here are the 365-day experiments I’ve completed so far:
- 2007: Wrote 365 songs in a year (and succeeded)
- 2008: Practiced guitar for three hours per day (and failed)
- 2009: Practiced guitar for three hours per day (and succeeded)
- 2015: Read 52 books in a year (and succeeded)
- 2016: Read 52 books in a year (and succeeded a second time)
- 2020 – 2021: Published daily for a full year (in progress)
Now for some of the results these experiments produced:
- In 2007, I ended up writing two fan favorite originals: “Wonderfully Dysfunctional” and “Too Late.”
- In 2008, after a brief stint as a solo artist, I joined a band again, and it went onto become one of the most successful acts I’ve been a part of to date.
- In 2015, I wrote a book review for Dr. Joseph Murphy’s The Power of Your Subconscious Mind, and to this day, it’s my highest trafficked blog post by a huge margin.
- It remains to be seen exactly all that will come out of publishing daily, but so far, I’ve gained about 1,100 Medium followers. I’ve also been invited to write for several new publications, started earning money writing on News Break, landed a five-figure ghostwriting contract, and more.
Fascinatingly and coincidentally, Pavlina also published daily in 2020, and his post on the topic is insightful.
Why Start a 365-Day Challenge?
A full year of dedicated hard work might not transform a flabby body into a ripped and cut one. It might not turn a mediocre guitarist into a phenomenal instrumentalist, or convert a lazy, broke entrepreneur into a productive, high income earner.
But you can leapfrog in a chosen area if you’re committed to the task. And whatever progress you make can act as a springboard onto greater progress and improvement.
I certainly don’t think I would be half the guitarist I am today without the effort I put into my instrument in the early days, especially in 2008 and 2009. Trying to figure out how to fit three hours of practice into my day now would be like trying to navigate uncharted waters without a compass (these days, 30 minutes per day is more than enough for ongoing maintenance and improvement).
Similarly, I wouldn’t have momentum in my book reading discipline if I hadn’t chosen to adopt the CEO habit of reading 52 books per year in 2015 and 2016. And that would not have come about without the core disciplines I picked up in network marketing from 2011 to 2015.
So, the best way to think about a 365-day challenge is as foundation-setting. Working on a specific discipline or area of life where you want to create expanded results. You can’t expect to make quantum leaps, but you can create momentum as you never have before.
Despite the benefits, a 365-day experiment will prove a challenge if:
- You’ve never done it before
- You’ve never kept a discipline for longer than a month or two
- You aren’t self-motivated
- You aren’t clear on your motivation for starting an experiment
- You overestimate what you can accomplish in a year
- You set unrealistic expectations
- You already feel overwhelmed with various commitments
These aren’t reasons not to take on the challenge. If anything, they might be good reasons to take it on. But you can’t assume or take success for granted. You will need to orient your life around the experiment and make it a priority, or there’s a good chance you’ll lose momentum and fail.
Benefits of Engaging in a Yearlong Experiment
The benefits you can gain from engaging in a yearlong experiment are many and varied and will depend a lot on the type of challenge you take on.
But in my experience, here are some of the greatest benefits you can expect to glean from a 365-day challenge:
You Can Create Breakthroughs in Your Life
Want to get more people listening to your music? Instead of relying on fancy tactics and whiz-bang funnels, what if you committed to the hard work of promoting your music daily for a full year? What difference would that make in your career? Could you create a breakthrough result?
Whether you want to get in better shape, improve as a blogger, or grow your YouTube channel, if you were fully present and dedicated to the cause for a full year, I can almost promise you that you could have a breakthrough.
Just look at some of the results I was able to create – writing some great music, publishing my most read blog post, landing a five-figure ghostwriting contract, and more.
You Can Build Confidence & Belief in Yourself
When you start a 365-day challenge, it will begin to dominate your thoughts, behavior, and conversations. Your family and friends will start asking you, “how’s that 365-day thing going?”
If, at the end of the experiment, you can say with pride, “I completed the experiment and fulfilled on all the deliverables,” it will build massive confidence and belief in yourself.
So, you start thinking to yourself, “if I could stick with a single discipline for a full year, what more could I accomplish?” And what’s waiting on the other side of that question might be well beyond your wildest imagination.
You Can Have Your Best Year Ever
Looking back, I can see that some of the best years of my life also overlap with years I was engaged in 365-day experiments. This might be obvious from some of the results I shared earlier.
One must still ask “at what cost?” Especially given that the best part of your day is probably going to be going towards fulfilling on the promises you’ve made to yourself. This is creative energy that could be dedicated to other areas of life you deem important (more on this later).
The point being – you’ve got to ensure you’re spending time on something that matters to you, or it may seem as though valuable time is being eroded away.
What Specific Challenges Can I Expect to Face During a Yearlong Experiment?
Naturally, 365-day challenges aren’t all unicorns farting rainbows. You will have your ups and downs, and if you’re engaged in creative work, you will have your good days and bad days.
Take my Project 365 experiment example from earlier. Out of 365 songs, only two were even worth committing to memory and repeating in front of an audience. That’s kind of crazy.
Here are some of the challenges I’ve encountered during yearlong experiments:
You Will Want to Compromise
You’ll need to find your footing with your challenges, so compromising isn’t necessarily good or bad. But you must accept that challenges may not go exactly as imagined or planned, which means that you’ll need to let go of any sense of perfectionism you might have around completing your challenge.
When I engaged in Project 365, even though I finished the experiment early, I ended up having to bulk write songs after longer stretches of not writing anything.
The first time I read 52 books in a year, I had to finish the year with several shorter books, some of which I’d already read in a previous year.
While publishing daily, not all my posts have been of the utmost quality.
And so on.
Again, compromise isn’t necessarily bad. But your experiment probably won’t progress exactly as you expect it to.
You’ll Need to Orient Your Life Around the Challenge
I alluded to this earlier, but as the days pass, you’ll find that you become consumed by the challenge. Even if the experiment only requires an hour or so out of your day, you may find that engaging in the activity takes everything you’ve got, becomes less pleasurable, and even turns into a source of concern or stress (especially if you’re trying to balance it with other commitments like work).
I’m nearing the completion of my daily publishing experiment, and for the most part, it has been a rewarding, fulfilling experience. I would be lying if I said there weren’t days I didn’t feel like writing or publishing anything though.
You Will Need to Sacrifice
If you make your challenge a priority, you will need to sacrifice. While you’re busy obsessing over one thing, you’ll find yourself unable to tend to others. Inevitably, you will end up having to sacrifice lesser priorities to keep up with the challenge.
Publishing daily has been great. But if I were to say that publishing daily, on average, took an hour, that’s 365 hours I could have spent doing something else (writing a book, working on music, developing a product, building a membership, pursuing other writing contracts, etc.). Looking at it that way can be sobering.
When you say “yes” to one thing, you are always saying “no” to something else.
I will not look back on publishing daily in regret. But as with Pavlina, I have no intention of repeating that experience. I would like to take those creative energies and channel them elsewhere.
If any aspect of your creative career seems stagnant, a 365-day experiment can reinvigorate your passion and produce massive results in an area that matters to you.
But we can’t forget that it’s going to take discipline and work. You may need to carry out tasks on days when you don’t feel like doing anything. And even if you’re working on something you love and care about, some days it will just feel like work.
A 365-day experiment is a tool. And like any other tool, it’s meant to be applied in specific situations. It’s a hammer, if you will, and hammers are best used for pounding nails – not for sawing wood or tightening screws.
There are times to take on a challenge, and there are times to remain steady and consistent, doing exactly what you’re already doing.
Is it time for you to take on a new challenge? What area of your career or life would you work on? Are you committed to following through on your goals? What are you willing to sacrifice to get to your chosen destination? Do you know anyone that can keep you accountable? Would they be willing or interested in joining you in their own 365-day journey? What’s one thing you will take away from this post?
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Part 1: Surprise, Uplift
Part 2: Art
Part 3: Sports
Part 4: Writing
Part 5: Music
I was rushed to the hospital.
I chewed on two tablets of aspirin, believing that I must be having a heart attack. My anxiety shot through the roof.
I told my roommates what was going on, and we all piled in a car and started heading to emergency.
On the way there, my heart started beating out of its chest. “This must be it,” I thought. Eventually, the beating stopped, and I started calming down.
When I finally made it to emergency, hospital care wasn’t eager to take me in for examination or anything. Which I thought odd. And they just kept asking me if I had taken any drugs.
Having released my first solo album, Shipwrecked… My Sentiments, I began looking for opportunities to promote my music. Even before releasing, I had some vague notions of submitting it to independent filmmakers and the like.
I would soon discover that while opportunities weren’t exactly rare, they also weren’t available in abundance. Having played in Lightly Toasted Touché for a year and a half, I was at least acquainted with a local venue or two, and I had a few connections. I would also scan the local classifieds in an entertainment magazine every week.
But one day, my roommate told me about CD Baby. I think I had heard about them at that point but had no idea what they did.
My roommate explained that they were a distribution service. They could get my music up for sale and streaming on all the popular online stores and streaming platforms, be it iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, or otherwise.
I got excited and promptly signed up with CD Baby, certain that this was the next step I needed to take on my musical journey.
At the time, former founder Derek Sivers was still working at CD Baby, and when I signed up with them, I received his emails, which detailed his best advice for musicians. I was blown away by what I was reading.
In that moment, I was introduced to something new. Something I had never encountered before.
It wasn’t just how-to advice or tactics and tips. I had already found plenty of that in video game and fishing guidebooks. It was something more. Kind of like a challenge. It made me present to opportunities I never knew existed.
What I discovered, for the first time in my life, was personal development.
I went to Video Games Live with some friends and came away inspired.
The music was great. I loved hearing many of my favorite video game themes being played by an orchestra, choir, and band.
But more than that, I felt led to interview Tommy Tallarico.
The moment he hit the stage, he struck me as familiar. Then I remembered that I had seen him on TV (Electric Playground).
Intuitively, I knew that there was more to him than met the eye. He wasn’t just a TV host or the creator of Video Games Live.
And I was right. I soon found out he was the most prolific video game music composer in North America. He had composed music for the likes of Prince of Persia, Batman: Revenge of The Joker, Earthworm Jim, and many others.
When I reached out to him, he was gracious enough to be interviewed for my small website. That was the second in a series of early interviews I got to do with many of my heroes.
One source of inspiration led to another.
Somewhere amid engaging in Derek Sivers’ advice and interviewing Tommy Tallarico, I discovered personal development god Steve Pavlina’s articles online. I think I may have originally found his site through Sivers, but I can’t confirm or deny that.
Having gone through everything that I had gone through, I honestly believed that life amounted to little more than what happened to you. You had no control over anything – especially over things you would consider important.
That’s the way I lived in my early 20s, and I didn’t even know it.
But here was Pavlina telling me that you could make conscious decisions in life. I spent a lot of time in his material, but my number one takeaway, to this day, is this idea of living consciously.
I began to understand that there were things I could control and things I couldn’t. But regarding anything I could control, I could become present to the decision being made. And by becoming present to it, I could choose the path I most wanted to go down.
When I learned that Pavlina got up at ungodly hours to engage in his passion of writing all day, I decided that I wanted to start doing the same.
So, at the dawn of 2008, I started getting up every day at 6 AM to read, write, and work on my music.
I had no idea that I was quickly burning myself out in the process.
I didn’t have a heart attack. I had an anxiety attack.
As others will testify, one can certainly mimic the other. But neither are pleasant, and both can have lasting consequences.
My wrestle with anxiety was just beginning, and over the course of the next five or six months, I had to spend time in recovery.
I could have given up on personal development. Blamed it for all my problems. Perhaps, by living consciously, I would only invite more harm upon myself.
But I didn’t.
And recovery was the opposite of sitting still and doing nothing. I got into a routine of learning about anxiety, watching inspiring TV, walking, meditating, and participating in weekly rehearsals and gigs with my band. This was just as much personal development as anything else.
Amid this, I met someone wonderful at a guitar workshop. I sometimes call her my “first girlfriend”, but really, she was just the first young woman I fell head over heels for.
She asked for a hug, and when I stood up to embrace her, I felt something I had never felt before. I had balked at the idea of marrying in college, but holding her in my arms changed my mind.
This relationship brought some healing into my life. Unfortunately, she stopped talking to me only three months later, and I’ve never heard from her since.
At the time, I’d been struggling to write material for my next album, but heartbreak brought all the inspiration I needed.
And I think it was somewhere amid writing a seemingly endless stream of songs that I found healing. Anxiety wouldn’t completely go away, but it would never hit me as hard as it had that one day as I was being rushed to the hospital.
Shh… Don’t tell anyone. Only the cool kids are talking about it.
The Music Entrepreneur Code is my latest best-selling book, and it’s available here as well as on Amazon.