At the end of December I decided to challenge myself. I wanted to make January the most productive month of my life so far. To give myself a push I announced it publicly here on the blog, and many of you guys decided to join in. I was (and am) so happy to see that so many of you were willing to put yourself to the test too.
Now that a month has passed it’s time to look at how it all panned out.
Although my superproductive month was far from smooth sailing, and things didn’t always go as I had envisioned, I am happy to say that I made my goals:
- I finished the writing process of my mixing ebook.
- I also finished 3 tracks that will be get getting a release soon.
I also worked on many other music and writing duties on the side. Besides that I started working on my live set (this was not included in the original plan, but I felt so inspired to get to it so I let myself drift a little).
So I did get a good amount of stuff done, but the really important thing here is the question… What did I learn from this?
Here are a few thoughts that stand out for me as I think back of the past month.
The Importance of Planning and Prioritizing
Planning time is a cornerstone thing for me these days. I can’t stress how important this is for reaching goals. Making notes of your goals and all of the individual tasks that you need to do to get closer to them has many benefits.
- It relieves stress as you are not relying on your brain to remember everything (which then makes you able to use your thinking capacity to work on the tasks at hand better).
- It keeps you on the right track toward your goals. You will still drift, but if you have created a roadmap then it’s easy to steer back.
- Breaking up goals into single tasks makes things much more manageable and removes mental barriers. You don’t need to take big leaps. It’s all about small steps – every little thing you do takes you closer to the goal. And to realize that is a very comforting feeling, which helps you keep going.
- Most of us have a lot of things going in life and managing things in this way allows you to prioritize and work on what’s most important at any given moment.
I have been working on my planning habit for a while now, falling off the wagon periodially and trying different things. But I think I am finally coming up with a system that isn’t too much hassle and seems to work for me. It’s loosely based on the famous GTD system by David Allen and inspired by ZTD by Leo Babauta (as a side note, I like these systems because the guys who created them really seem to understand how our mind works and where it needs help). Now that would be a topic of a different post altogether (and I do think everyone just needs to figure out what works for them), but here is a quick nutshell version of my planning method for those who may want to know:
- Every sunday (or at least once a week) I aim to plan my most important activities for the upcoming week and map them out on my calendar. I look at all the action items (tasks) I have collected and pick the things I really need to get done that week.
- Every day when I get a moment (often in the evening) I review my progress, change what I have to and plan the next day accordingly.
- All the time I keep collecting action items (or tasks) as they keep popping in my head. I use my phone to make a note of them.
What’s important I think is to keep reviewing and editing daily. Unexpected things always happen and it’s impossible to make perfect plans. Thus the system has to be flexible and live in the moment. Otherwise you’re guaranteed to fall of the wagon – happened to me loads of times. The good thing is with a system like this it’s easy to hop back on anytime.
I also just have to reiterate that I am far from perfect in planning and prioritizing. I mess up and there are times I just feel like doing something completely different to what I had planned, and I will. So yeah – things fall apart at times but just the fact of having a system and trying to keep up with it has made a huge difference to me.
Life Will Interrupt Your Plans
Like I said, it is impossible to make perfect plans. Life brings unexpected things and you have to be able to adjust.
My january started pretty bad as on the 2nd day I got into a life threatening accident and ended up in the emergency room. Shook me up properly for a bit but I’m fine now – anyway that just goes to show that making perfect plans is impossible. Life tends to intervene, sometimes in a big way, sometimes small. How do you cope with that when planning?
It’s important to leave some “wiggle room” in your schedule. Plenty of it, in my case at least. Finishing a task often tends to take more time than what is estimated originally. And then there are all kinds of other things that get in the way. And that’s fine! Just take that into account – don’t make your schedules too tight and keep your system flexible by reviewing it daily, so that when you wake up in the morning you are always on top of what you really need to do today.
Find Your Productive Time
This was probably the biggest lesson for me and a huge reason that contributed in meeting my goals – especially finishing the writing of my mixing ebook. And it’s such a simple thing.
I started thinking about what would be the best time of the day for me to do my work. I decided that every morning I would just sit down and start writing. I would close the web browser and all other programs, with nothing but my text editor in full screen mode. This was my productive time of the day, and I made it my little holy ritual.
There were times I would write in the evenings or whenever I could, but the morning session was where the bulk of all my work got done.
I even put my phone in silent mode so there are as few distractions as possible. My two hyperactive attention-seeking cats are always doing their best to ruin things though, but nothing ever is perfect is it!
So find a time that works for you. Dedicate that time for advancing your goals and make it a habit. Look for a time in your day with least distractions. I suggest trying the morning if you can (even if that means waking up earlier), because that is when we are still fresh and able to focus well. As the day progresses, all kinds of things start to eat up our mental and physical reserves. For a long time I used to think I was an evening/night person but turns out I perform far better in the mornings. I get more done and the quality is better – try it out.
Let Yourself Drift and Relax Too
To drift is not always a bad thing. Especially when making music. You need to relax and let things flow too and see where that takes you. There is a time for everything. It’s all about learning to listen to yourself and finding a good balance. There are times you feel like doing something completely different than what you had planned, and if it serves your cause then maybe you need to change the plan for a bit. As long as you have a foundation that works, you can always steer back later if needed. Ultimately I am trying to aim for a position where I can smoothly flow from being methodical to a state of “freestyle” and back.
How Was Your Month? What Did You Learn?
A lot of you guys joined in on the challenge. I would love to hear about your experiences – even (and especially) if things went wrong. How did it go for you? What are some of the lessons you learned?