How do you decide what to work on?
It’s been my experience that artists generally fly by the seat of their pants.
Sure, we prioritize to lesser or greater extents, but most of the time, we just do what we’re excited about. To-do lists be damned. Let inspiration lead the way.
And this is a good thing. You should spend time doing what gets you fired up. Otherwise, everything has a way of becoming a means to an end. And what kind of life is that?
But we also need to look closely at the things we’re dreading. Oftentimes, the reason we’re avoiding certain tasks – like making calls, booking shows, or networking – is because they’re just a little outside of our comfort zone. It’s not that any of these tasks will ultimately take a Herculean effort. You can make a phone call in what, five minutes? But these tasks can be confronting.
What I’ve discovered on my own path is that the results generally aren’t forthcoming when I stay in my comfort zone. It’s in the activity that’s just a little outside what I would consider comfortable that good things happen. And miracles can literally happen in a moment if I just do what I know to do but haven’t done yet.
So, make an honest assessment of what you’re working on, and whether it’s going to get you the results you’re looking for. At times, we all need to engage in activity we don’t really want to do to get to the next level. If progress is important to you, don’t step over this. You don’t need to spend all your time in your discomfort zone. But if you’re stuck in your career, consider that you haven’t been in that zone for a while.
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.
So, you’re looking to accomplish more as a creative or creator.
But you wake up late, check your phone first thing in the morning, and end up watching videos on YouTube before even getting your day started.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
But motivation is an inside job, and unless you have a reason to get up and do what you know you should be – and want to be – doing, you either won’t do it or won’t give it the attention it deserves.
One productivity hack that has worked for me, and that goes against conventional wisdom, is addition.
Doing More is Doing More
I’ve shared much about focus and doing less, but the ugly truth is, the main reason I get so much done is because I have deadlines to meet, and because I keep adding new to-do items to my list.
What!? How does that work?
Look, I’m not saying I don’t cull my list periodically. Whether it’s things that don’t bring me joy, don’t help me create an income, or simply aren’t effective, I actively eliminate, automate, or delegate what shouldn’t be on my docket anymore.
But before I ever reach that point, I just keep adding new items to my to-do list. Currently, my weekly list is up to 18 items (with some representing three to five tasks each). I’m due for a serious culling.
But if I’m looking to get things done, this is the way to do it.
As they say, if you want something done, ask someone who’s busy.
And I’m busy (although not in the sense that I’m out of control).
Both Positive & Negative Motivation Produce Results
There are plenty of pieces on Medium about writing a certain number of blog posts per week, or how to set up your writing processes to support the creation of new content regularly.
Look, I’m all for maintaining a library of swipe files, templates, and references. Processes are great to have.
But here’s the thing – you’re not going to do the work unless you have a reason to. It doesn’t matter how nice your keyboard is unless you start putting those fingers to work!
A deadline, however unsexy, is highly motivating (even if it’s what some would call “negative” motivation).
Towards the end of March, I decided I wanted to replace my digital magazine with an eBook, and there weren’t many days left in March.
So, in four days, I wrote 8,000+ words, edited, and formatted a brand-new eBook. Just in time for April 1.
I was clear on what I needed to do, and when it needed to be done by. I got to work, and any creative challenges I encountered, I solved along the way (instead of planning for millennia before even beginning).
Can You Handle Organized Chaos?
If you’ve been at this for a while, then you might know what organized chaos looks like.
In fall 2014, I started ghostwriting blog posts from home, teaching guitar at nights, and working at the University as a theater tech on the weekends. I even tech hosted community gatherings, played gigs, recorded music, and maintained my own websites and blogs. I kept up that pace until summer 2016, when I started working completely from home.
But if you haven’t been to that point yet, then I’m sorry (not sorry), you still have no idea how much you can accomplish in a day or week.
If you’ve been through organized chaos, I would give you a pat on the back and congratulate you on emerging victorious through the smoke of battle.
Otherwise, you’ve got to keep stretching. You will not write or create more just because. You will write or create more if you have non-negotiable deadlines to meet and clients you’re accountable to.
People on Medium often talk about earning $1,000, $4,000, or $6,000 per month writing. Trust me, it’s easy to earn at that level when you’re disciplined and have a solid work ethic.
Don’t Forget to Cull
I couldn’t handle organized chaos forever. Unless your name is Gary Vee, I suspect you won’t be able to either.
It’s all well and good to push yourself, at least within the limits of what’s healthy. But that line can get mighty blurry when you start waking up in a fog every morning (could be an early warning sign).
So, if you’re going to increase productivity through addition, please remember to purge from time to time. Discard tasks and projects that no longer serve you. Replace them with better ones. Or begin to cultivate more discipline and focus for the projects that matter to you.
Use addition as a tool to get things done, not as a strategy for freelancing, business, or life.
You could achieve more if you were in a position where you had no other choice.
If you get too comfortable, and have no reason to stretch, you’re not going to do more.
It’s as simple as that.
If you have a lot of free time in your day to stop and think, it might be time to start adding more to your to-do list.
Because you will begin to see just how much you can accomplish in a day or week.
There’s a lot more time than you think.
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If you’re looking to increase your productivity, you should try batch processing.
It can help you focus on similar tasks for longer without the need to constantly switch tasks and lose productivity.
But in my experience, batch processing can be a little shortsighted if you aren’t doing things the right way. It can even leave you scrambling at the last minute if you aren’t looking ahead.
Here’s how to use Weekflow to improve your batch processing.
What is Batch Processing?
Batch processing is where you group similar tasks together to reduce the productivity loss resulting from task switching.
Let’s say your week looks a little like mine. Most of your time is spent on writing, but aside from that, you also format and schedule posts in WordPress, record podcast content, schedule social media posts, syndicate and distribute content, edit images and videos, and so on.
So, as much as possible, you’d try to group similar tasks on the same day. This is a crude example, but since I do a lot of writing, I’d probably want to batch my writing on Monday through Wednesday. I could make Thursday social media day. And I could make Friday multimedia day (graphics, audio, and video). Finally, I would work on my all my newsletters on Saturday (which is what I already do).
But why would you do things this way?
Jory MacKay, editor of the RescueTime blog found that context switching can affect your overall productivity by 20 to 80%, depending on how many tasks you’re switching between. The more context switching you’re doing, the less productive you are!
If you’ve ever wondered whether there’s a trick to getting more done in your day, it’s this – batch processing.
What is Weekflow?
It’s a concept I came up with a while back (no relation to the app of the same name).
I like batch processing a lot. The main issue I often ran into was accounting for days where task switching was inevitable unless I planned for it far in advance.
Blog posts would sometimes need to be written and scheduled the same day. Which meant I would need to spend time inside Microsoft Word writing the piece, in Photoshop designing a header graphic, and in WordPress formatting and scheduling the post.
I’m used to having to do things that way, but it sort of defeats the purpose of batch processing, because you find yourself having to task switch regardless.
Basically, it’s not enough to think in terms of tasks. You must match up your tasks with your schedule and deadlines to be effective.
That’s why I came up with Weekflow. It’s the process of thinking about what needs to be done by when, and ensuring minimal task switching while engaging in batch processing.
Getting Started with Weekflow – Task & Deadline Breakdown
First, we need to think about the tasks we’re engaged in as well as their respective deadlines.
I’m going to use myself as an example here. Here’s what’s usually on my calendar each week:
- I publish a new blog post daily on DavidAndrewWiebe.com and syndicate it to Medium.
- I record a new podcast episode every week and publish on Thursday. I usually send out an email letting my audience know about the new episode as well.
- I publish at least one new post per week on News Break (usually on Friday).
- I write and schedule three to four posts per week for Music Industry How To.
- I publish an installment of Creative Entrepreneur for The Indie YYC on Fridays.
- I send out newsletters on Saturday.
- I schedule a week’s worth of tweets, usually on a Sunday or Monday.
So, altogether, that looks something like this:
Although I’ve left out other client work and product development, this isn’t always a constant, so I didn’t include it.
Now, it’s time to break everything down into its components.
Blog posts always have the following in common:
- Ideation (all my ideas are stored in my LifeSheet)
- Header graphic
- Additional images
- Formatting (headers, bullets, links, bold and italicized text, click to tweets, etc.)
- Social media posts
- Distribution and syndication
Regardless of whether I’m publishing on one of my own blogs, Medium, News Break, Music Industry How To, or otherwise, publishing usually involves all or most of the above.
Recording a podcast has a lot in common with blog posts, except that there are a few additional steps. They are as follows:
- Audio editing
- Upload audio to Amazon S3
- Header graphic
- Additional images
- Social media posts
With the Creative Entrepreneur series, I’m basically repurposing podcast content, so the process is a little different than just recording another podcast or making a video. Here’s what’s involved:
- Create podcast clip in Repurpose
- Edit video in iMovie
- Process audio through Auphonic
- Write intro text
- Schedule video for publishing in Creator Studio (Facebook and Instagram)
My weekly digests get repurposed as weekly newsletters (though I do some minor editing). Here’s what’s involved.
- Copy and paste content into Mailchimp
- Edit (based on audience)
- Rinse and repeat
Social Media Posts
Although I’m experimenting with a variety of social networks, my focus this year is Twitter. So, here’s what I need to do to ensure I’m on top of it:
- Make a list of tweets to model
- Rewrite tweets and put them into my own voice
- Schedule tweets
Batch Processing + Weekflow = Effectiveness
Looking at the above, you may feel as I do, that trying to avoid task switching would be a near impossibility.
So, is batch processing even worth the effort? What benefits am I tapping into if I can’t possibly get away from task switching?
Now you’re starting to see the essence of why Weekflow is necessary.
It’s not enough to batch, or even to make the commitment to batch. You must think about how you can effectively set yourself up, each day, for the next. That’s Weekflow.
So, it’s not just a matter of saying I will write on Monday through Wednesday. Each day is about teeing yourself up for the next. It’s about looking ahead and being sure you’re not scrambling on Tuesday because you didn’t spend enough time preparing for it on Monday.
If you do this well, your batching efforts will begin to pay off in droves.
Okay, so now you understand how to get started with Weekflow, as well as why it’s necessary.
Now we need to talk about how you can optimize your schedule with Weekflow.
This process isn’t difficult. But it can take some time.
For me, it typically begins on Sunday with my #StrategySunday planning sessions.
By the way, if you don’t have a weekly planning session, good luck trying to optimize your Weekflow. It’s just not going to happen.
But let’s say, for instance, that I wanted to batch my header graphics for the week. Monday would be a relatively good time to do this, as I typically try to ease into my week on Monday and start to wind down on Friday.
During my #StrategySunday session, I would have thought about the content I want to publish throughout the week. It’s entirely possible I’ve brainstormed titles already.
I would take a moment to review these titles and spend some time revising. After all, titles are kind of everything when it comes to getting clicks.
After committing to a set of titles, I would go into Photoshop and make all my header graphics for the week. I would do the same for all my other publishing efforts, identifying in advance what graphics I need to edit and ready for my posts.
It sounds easy, but I’m also publishing on Monday. So, I would have had to thought of that in advance too.
But now you see the problem.
Altogether, it may seem daunting, but Weekflow is simply a process of gradual improvement – Kaizen.
You can only act on the information available. And if you haven’t been batch processing or optimizing your Weekflow yet, then you have no experience to derive from. You need to gain some experience, and when you find something to that doesn’t work, return to the drawing board.
Your Weekflow may never be perfect, and that’s okay. Keep thinking strategically and you will get better at it.
It’s not enough to identify the enemy of productivity, which in this case is task switching. You must also come up with an elegant solution.
Batch processing isn’t the solution. It’s just the starting point.
You must execute and know what it feels like. Then you must commit to the process.
Then comes optimization, which in my view, requires Weekflow. I don’t know how else you’re going to make the most of batch processing.
You must have a clear view of what’s coming and be able to tee yourself up, each day, for the next thing, and then the next.
Did you find this helpful? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
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