Some of my early heroes as a guitarist were Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, and Nuno Bettencourt, and I learned a great deal from each.
But there always seems to come a point when drawing from the same wells of inspiration doesn’t yield new results anymore.
You can go and find new heroes, of course, which is what most us do. But these new heroes often end up being extensions of well-traveled paths. So, there’s a limit to how much more we can learn from them.
Legendary British jazz fusion and progressive rock guitarist Allan Holdsworth was known as the most technically adept guitarist to ever live (he passed just four years ago in 2017).
The irony? He hated guitar. He always sought to imitate the saxophone.
I’m not sure whether his secret was that he took inspiration from an unusual source, that he worked hard at is craft, or ultimately, both. I think we can agree, though, that all these factors were important.
Here’s another example that makes the point:
You can hear bits of Chet Atkins, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, West Montgomery, and others in virtuoso guitarist Eric Johnson’s playing.
What is fascinating about his playing, though, is that his style was also influenced by the piano. Which is why you rarely see him just strumming chords, as many rhythm guitarists are known to do.
This might seem restrictive to some, but it’s clear to see how it would fundamentally shift how you think about your instrument.
These are key lessons as applied to developing your creative projects and businesses too.
It’s fine to take inspiration from your peers and competitors. It might even be prudent, given that imitating another’s brand can sometimes give you instant trust and recognition.
But let’s be real here. As author Todd Henry often says, “cover bands don’t change the world – you’ve got to find your unique voice.”
There’s a great deal of inspiration that can be found in completely unrelated industries, niches, practices, and disciplines too.
My main niche is music, but I’ve started taking inspiration from:
Japanese variety shows
Political and geopolitical podcasts
Online drum lesson memberships (this one obviously has a closer connection)
Internet marketing and online business sites
Now, if we want our projects and businesses to be successful, we can never ignore who we’re talking to or the language they’re using to describe their problems. That’s the main way we’re going to ensure our mission is sustainable.
But there may be opportunities to create better products and services by taking inspiration from unrelated niches.
The key is to approach all that you consume with open loops. When you do, you’ll find answers to questions in unexpected places.
“Productivity” feels like such a technical term… Especially when we’re talking about something as creative as music.
We could just as easily say “getting more done in less time” or “making the best use of our time.”
But that still feels a little aimless to me.
If the goal is to “get a lot done” then the above is more than adequate. And I can tell you from my own experience that if you’re determined to get a lot done, you will.
Getting the right things done is what matters, and the sooner you can admit that Facebook isn’t going to increase the quality of your life (nor are you going to regret not spending more time on social media on your deathbed), the better.
Why Productivity in Music?
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that productivity isn’t important. Quite the opposite.
Imagine being able to write, record, and release more music.
If you did that, could you create more opportunities for yourself (such as licensing opportunities), increase your fan base, and generate more revenue?
Imagine having a greater impact on your fans, lifting broken spirits, helping people out of depression, saving lives…
Do you feel like that would be a life well lived?
Imagine dying with the best song out of you.
If you could “die empty” as author Todd Henry so eloquently said, do you think greater joy and fulfillment would be available?
That’s what’s possible when we focus on the right things rather than just doing a lot of things. There is a difference, and it does matter.
What Everybody Really Wants is Effectiveness
As a recovering productivity fiend, I can tell you honestly, productivity isn’t what you want.
Maybe you want to achieve the things I just talked about (releasing more music, changing the lives of your fans, leaving this world having squeezed every bit of creativity out of yourself…).
Or maybe like me you want to travel/tour the world, grow into the best version of yourself, inspire and serve people everywhere you go with everything you do.
Consider for yourself what you would think of as your goal (your ultimate goal – the thing you don’t want to leave this world without having achieved), and more importantly, what you would consider your “why”.
Well, unless you prioritize, I guarantee you’re never going to get there.
It’s heartbreaking. It’s sad. It’s frustrating. But it’s true.
So, productivity isn’t going to get you there. It’s only going to overload your system with adrenaline, leading to bouts with anxiety and depression, something us artistic types are already prone to.
What you want is effectiveness. And effectiveness is working smart, not merely hard.
I recently published a podcast episode titled A Level Above Productivity & Time Management.
You can listen to it here:
It’s basically a rant, but the point is that it’s not about the hustle and grind.
Sometimes you might need to sacrifice sleep, work long hours, or take a red eye flight. When I’m in “launch” mode, I always make some sacrifices.
But the way to get your best work done is…
To be 100% clear on what you want to achieve before leaving this world (this is your why)
Working only on those things (knocking over the big domino means knocking over all the small dominoes)
Being mindful of your energy (just admit it – you suck at what you do when you’re exhausted, tired, anxious, depressed, overwhelmed, etc.)
And work at your peak hours (hint: it’s not all day long!)
Between 10 AM and 2 PM are my absolute best hours. I guard them with my life. I don’t allow anyone, or anything to snatch my dreams out of my hands.
You’ve probably heard of Warren Buffet. He’s one of the wealthiest investors alive.
Mike Flint was Buffet’s personal airplane pilot. He did this for 10 years, so as you can imagine, they got to know each other.
Flint wanted absolute clarity on how he could achieve more. Buffet gave him an exercise.
The first step was to write down his top 25 career goals.
The next step was to find and circle his top five goals.
The top five goals became the A list, while the remaining 20 goals became the B list.
As you can imagine, all 25 goals were incredibly important to Flint. He even told Buffet he would spend most of his time on his top five goals while working on the other 20 goals here and there when openings were available.
But this is where Buffet told Flint to focus all his time, energy, and resources on his top five goals and to ignore the other 20. Buffet added emphasis by saying the B list was to be avoided at all costs until he had achieved his top five!
What do You Want to Achieve?
I recently completed a personal development course.
On day one, I was asked a series of questions to help me gain clarity on my purpose. This question helped me identify my priorities with exacting precision:
If I died today, what dreams would I have left unfulfilled?
These were my answers:
Back on Solid Ground (it was supposed to be my second solo album and it still isn’t done)