12 ways to triple your productivity & make more music
Whether you are gearing up for a new year & reflecting on the accomplishments of last year or your catching yourself in the middle of the calendar year with less productivity than you would like, I want to share some techniques that should really help to step up your game.
In all honesty, I’m naturally a pretty lazy guy. At times I sleep too much, fill up my time with nonsense and completely close off to creative endeavors. All that I have accomplished has been in the face of heavy motivational challenges. Believe me when I say that if you are running into motivations issues, I’ve certainly been there.
These tips below are discoveries I have made to battle my own laziness, fatigue & creative anxiety. I have found that when I follow these guidelines & resist bad habits, I’m not only far more productive, but I have a much greater sense of peace & relaxation overall. Give it a shot!
1. Warm up – Just like you would with a workout, it’s really difficult to dive right in to creative work from whatever you were doing previously. You’ll likely resist because it will just feel wrong to you. You’ll feel that there is something else important that needs to be done even if you can’t pinpoint what that is. When you already have non-productive momentum, it’s hard to turn that boat around.
Take a break first. Take a 15 minutes walk or do some light exercise. You want to create a gap between what you were doing before & what you are attempting to do creatively. You need a bit of time to clean the slate, so your head isn’t filled up with a bunch of crap.
2. Don’t check email or social sites – This one is a tough habit to break but it’s one you are really going to need to commit to if you are planning to be more productive. Social sites & email make it far too easy to convince yourself that you need to stay unproductive just incase something happens. Maybe someone will “like” your post, comment or picture or maybe you’ve started a debate with some idiot on YouTube & need to set him straight.
Face it, it’s all bullshit & if you keep at it, you’re life is going to waste away. The thing that is really sad about this is that the brain gets a rush of adrenaline every time you get a notification, even if it’s something stupid & this is how you get a feeling of accomplishment for doing nothing. Then when it comes to doing “real” work you feel like your plate has already been filled & you have no room for any more “productivity”. Days turn into months…then years. Stop it!
If you really want to get WAY more done, cut your social network checking to 2-3 times a day and only after you’ve put in some real creative work.
3. Identify your creative blind spots – We all have them. They are the things that stop us from completing songs. It’s those things we naturally aren’t good at. For me, it’s been sound design & song arrangement. I can make 32 bar loops for days but after that I start itching to check my email & then all is lost. We’ll solve this issue with my next tip.
4. Steal then replace – If you are running into a similar issue to what was just mentioned, my suggestion is to just nick that sound, or song structure from something you already know works. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Steal it first & move on. You can always replace it later, but the goal is to not get stuck & slow down (or worse, stop). I nick sounds or song structures all the time. It really helps me with my confidence knowing that what I am “borrowing” is already something that works. I don’t have to second guess. Often, for me, my own voice will eventually peek through & I’ll abandon my borrowed templates or sounds & go it alone once again. Keep practicing this habit & you’ll find it gets easier & easier. Soon you’ll have the confidence to push through without getting stuck or needing to snag a sound or template. (By the way, if sampling is your style, carry on. I’m a big fan of those who do it well)
5. Set a timer – This tip alone has been a saving grace for me. I typically start with setting a 15 minute timer to warm up for the task ahead. I try to avoid doing anything that can suck me in to further mindless activity. I make sure what I am doing is relaxing and isn’t actually going to take longer than I’ve set the timer for.
Once the timer goes off, it’s time to commit to making music (or writing this blog) & set the timer once again. This time I set it to 30 minutes & make a commitment to stay off the internet, not responding to texts or phone calls & making sure people in my house don’t interrupt me.
The reason this works so well is because even if you really don’t want to create, you can tell yourself “It’s only 30 minutes, then I can choose to do something else if I want”. Once the timer goes off I can decide if I want to recommit to another 30 minutes, take a 15 minute break & come back, or call it a day. I typically will recommit, however, if I get stuck, I give myself 15 minutes to search for inspiration.
Sometimes I’ll break songwriting down to different tasks. This way I can actually see progress happening every time I recommit. For the most recent project I did as of writing this, I was creating a song from a bunch of random loops sent to me by my lovely readers. It was tricky to get my head around how I was going to construct a song out of all the pieces so I started committing to small tasks:
*Edit & effect each loop for my own purpuses
*Create scenes (in Ableton) of different possible sections or “movements” for this song.
*Find a song structure to “borrow” and map it out using locator tags.
*Construct a 32 bar intro
*Record scenes into different sections of my song template
*Bridge the gap between each section for a transparent sound that also makes sense.
*Create an Outro
*Final mixing tweaks & rendering a Mixdown
Some tasks took longer than others, but when I noticed progress in any of the songwriting stages I usually had enough momentum built up to continue for another 30 minutes, and then another.
Also, make sure if you’re looking for inspiration, to get over the next hurdle, that you set a timer for that, otherwise you’re likely to completely derail. Knowing that you’ve only got 15 minutes to figure something out will keep you more focused on things you’ll be able to put to use right away.
6. 1 task at a time – This simple tip gets overlooked far too often, especially in this age of A.d.d. & multitasking. I can say however, with very few exceptions that taking on 1 thing at a time until its completed is really the fastest & most productive way.
The alternative will leave you with several unfinished tasks that you worked on up to the point where things got difficult. Then you’ll find yourself completely unmotivated to finish any of these tasks because you haven’t built up the discipline to work through the tough parts. Had you committed to 1 task at a time you would have worked through the roadblocks that sets you apart from your peers & competitors. You will also have built the momentum to take on your next task.
Lets take this blog for example. If I didn’t commit myself, I’d have nothing but unfinished posts in my drafts. Same with music. I know this because I used to have a serious habit of leaving songs unfinished and going long periods without sharing any new music. Lately I have been remedying this & you can definitely expect to hear more out of me in the future.
At times I might be in the middle of one song when another song idea jumps in my head. When that happens I’ll usually set aside a small amount of time to document the idea so it’s not forgotten but I’ll set a timer so I don’t get off track from my main focus.
Give this a serious try & I dare you to tell me you aren’t far more productive.
7. Write down your creative tasks the night before – This really helps your brain prepare to for the tasks of the following day & do some problem solving while you sleep. You may have the issue that I’ve often had where making music just doesn’t seem like what you should be doing when you haven’t been in the habit for a while. Its really similar to trying to motivate yourself to start exercising when you’re out of shape. Writing down a few tasks to complete the night before helps to solve this as well as making the process go more smoothly.
8. Pretend you know how – There is no issue with learning techniques from experts. I can definitely say I have learned some things I probably would have never come across myself, but had I not explored things on my own, I would have never become more than an imitator. Instead of spending hours upon hours scouring the internet, books & magazines to solve all of your challenges, try believing in your own abilities & resourcefulness. The more you do this, the better you get at it. Soon you’ll find that you aren’t simply an expert at imitating but you’ll be coming up with innovative ideas & further refining your own sound. You’ll be surprised how much you actually do know.
9. Blueprint first, details later – Don’t get caught up for hours trying to perfect that snare drum when you don’t even have a song structure yet. You’ll likely need to further tweak it later anyway. Instead focus on the broad strokes. Work on the essential musical elements & then a basic song structure before agonizing over whether something sounds better 1/2 a db louder or quieter. Havening a basic sketch complete makes it much easier to see the big picture while dialing in the little details.
10. Start creating before setting other tasks – If your goal is to make (and finish) music you can be proud of instead of going another year with very little creative output, making music should be on your “essential” list. If you prioritize other tasks during your free time, you have little chance of your music taking center stage. If you simply can’t do this most of the time, at least make music a top priority 1 day out of the week. If you can’t make time now, when do you expect your schedule will open up? trust me, it won’t!
11. Take breaks often – If you are on a roll, go with it. Being in the flow is a very enjoyable experience & there is no reason to disrupt that. It’s more common, however, to lose steam on a project within 90 minutes than it is to find yourself in marathon mode. Make sure to give yourself a short break every 1.5-2 hours. This is supposed to be pleasant after all. Plus your ears need a break too or they won’t be reliable. A break is a small reward for a job well done. Knowing you’ll get a break soon will push you to work harder & stay focused. Those of you who’ve read The Shining should know that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. Don’t be Jack.
12. Commit publicly – There is not much better motivation than having your peers expecting something you have promised to deliver. If you aren’t willing to make this promise publicly, then maybe you don’t have enough belief in yourself to get past the roadblocks that make most people quit.
I personally use this technique to take on challenges that scare me because I know that otherwise, the likelihood of me accomplishing these tasks is pretty slim. I used this technique to create my 30 Day Ableton Music Production Journal as well as my Collective Loop Project. I allowed myself to be embarrassed publicly to make certain fear does’t rule my life.
I hope you find a way to put some or all of these tips to use & that you enjoy a far more creative & productive future.
Next I’ll show you how to take a minimalist approach to songwriting.
Happy music making,