A Month of Supercharged Doing: Aftermath

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:

  1. I finished the writing process of my mixing ebook.
  2. 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?

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  • Nicolas Camargo (nCamargo)

    Total progress mate! its really all about focus and proactiveness.
    The results:
    My album > 20 tracks done. Now im working on the final versions!
    An massive remix done for a competition, with a huge potential.
    Loads os incredible musical ideas to work with.
    Read 3 books, learned alot about lots of important things.
    And other really great things that happened in such a little amount of time.
    Its all in our mindsets. The moment you think: “i cant do this!”, your brain going to find things that make this afirmative an real one. But if you ask: “How i can do this?”, its going to search the proof for that too!
    This aftermath must be for this month, the next, the year, and the next ones!
    Thanks again for all the ideas and tips, its people like you that are real leaders:
    they dont create followers, they create more leaders. Respect!

    • Wow. That’s huge. It’s great you got so much done, but even better that you have come to some big realizations. What you have said about affirmations is absolutely true. We become good at what we do repeatedly. If we give up repeatedly, or make up excuses, well, we can become really really good at doing that! Luckily, like you said, it works exactly the same the other way around. Thanks for the insights and feedback and yes – let’s continue being proactive – this should only be the beginning.

  • lukas

    hello ilpo. i sort of quietly joined your call. although most of the work had been pre-commissioned, and there was logistically a slim chance i could get out of any of it, i sort of thought back at this at times, and accepted some extra work that had been offered to me during the month, to pull through what turned out to be a simultaneous culmination of three projects’ deadlines. at one point i’d been up for 36 hours trying to meet the deadlines, but i reckon it was worth it. scored 6 songs for a major car manufacturer’s campaign, one other tv commercial, and finished, with my colleagues, a rather large audio-related project which is now installed at an international airport. challenge us again soon mate. 🙂

    • Great to hear that Lukas! Sounds like some great things were achieved. And it sounds like it’s now time to get some well deserved rest 😉 Big up

  • Rich Raw Wyatt

    Hi Ilpo,
    I had a great month. I finished my synth programming book and got my tax return sorted and sorted out my finances for the label for next year too. And with the release schedule I worked out what tunes to finish and what to put out from the other artists on the label. I also programmed in time to work on label “admin” every day when i get home from my day job so that I’m always thinking of what to do next. One of the things that i did as a result of that was to download and listen to the first interview in the electronic musicians recipe box – and as a result have been working hard to set up my label youtube channel.

    Thanks again for this challenge – time for a new one for February!!

    • Good job Rich, happy to hear that!

      Programming time to methodically work on your label is definitely the way forward. And using a trigger (=when I come home from work, I work on the label) to launch that habit is a very clever strategy which makes it much easier to make your new habit stick.

      Yes – here’s to February!

  • Steve

    my month was pretty good. I over estimated how much I can do in month so didn’t get everything done that I wanted to.

    But I kicked my internet forum addiction, made new track from scratch and feel and learned enough about my workflow to keep on finishing tracks every month (hopefully).

    I also raised productivity in y day job, which is cool in some seances but left me a bit burned out for doing lots of music when I got home. I found I needed an hour of rest every evening and i felt guilty over this, but it couldn’t be helped my brain turned off.

    but yeah still a positive start to the year so, i hope to carry on in that vain. 🙂

    • Hey Steve,

      Great – thanks for sharing also some things that you may have been a bit disappointed with. It’s not always smooth sailing for sure and it’s important to bring these things up too in the discussion.

      I overestimate what I can do all the time too (almost on a daily basis). It is difficult to get it right, but luckily that’s not what it’s about. As long as you’re doing stuff and making progress, that is all that matters. Your plans and goals are just there to give you a direction.

      And no reason to feel guilty for being tired when you get home!! Not at all. But maybe there are strategies you could think of/try to make you feel more energetic.

      For example – I’ve noticed what I eat has a huge effect on my energy levels at the end of the day. I can eat (or not eat) anything until like 2pm and perform OK, but the later it gets the more tired I start to feel if I’ve been eating crap. But if I’ve been eating food that gives me the right kind of kick (for me a paleo type diet works really well – I am not pretending to be a nutritionist here just pointing out what works for me), I can keep going much longer without getting tired. Or maybe you could try to go to bed earlier and get an extra hour or two of sleep, in order to keep going after work? I often take a little nap, that helps restore my energy levels.

      I just wanted to point out that there may be some areas in life – whatever they may be for you – to look at that would help you get that extra kick you want. Does that make any sense?

  • Cal

    My month was great, after from January 3rd to the 14th, I made 14 songs (in 11 days). Completely letting go of my impulse for close referencing, and being much more immediate with my production helped, also using influences from outside the genres I was working with.

    Finally, I feel the use of hardware has really helped my work flow. Now we are in to February and several of those tunes are signed. Back to my studies now though, so things have quietened down a bit. I am working on trying to get an even balance between my university work, exercise and healthy eating, socialising and leisure, and making music. I should probably see my girlfriend more haha.

    All in all I made and mixed 16 songs in January. Thank you for the inspiration, I feel a lot was learned over the time too.

    • Cal,
      Wow – 16 songs in a single month is pretty impressive.

      You mentioned use of hardware helped your workflow. It’s definitely something that a lot of people are missing out on these days. What kind of setup are you working on?

      For me a lot has changed since I started using Maschine for sketching out music.

  • Andy

    Hey Ilpo,

    my month was okay. My goal was to finish those two songs I’ve been writing since July or so. They are long since it’s Post-Rock. Like 7 to 10 Minutes long. I almost finished one of them, but I have to admit that i didn’t have a fix time when I write my stuff so I often forced myself to write and wasn’t really satisfied in the end or couldn’t write anything good at all. So I almost convinced myself that this wasn’t the kind of music I wanted to compose at all. But after reading this post it seems like I was just a bit stressed and needed a short break.

    So since I have a lot of influences I will have a try at multiple different genres. Nothing wrong with that, right?

    So even though I didn’t accomplish my goals I’ve also learned a few things:
    – Jamming on the guitar is always better than blind progamming since you kind of feel the song by doing it this way
    – Don’t force the song to run in a specific direction. It will lose its naturalness. So sometimes combining two parts that are really good might not be the best way. Sometimes you just have to let go of that idea and try something totally different. I deleted like 3 minutes of content because it just didn’t sound right.
    – The only person who defines what you sound like is you.

    Yeah, so with those things in mind and after writing that I can actually say my month was pretty successfull as well 😀 thanks for the inspiration. Andy <3

    • Hey Andy,
      Nothing wrong with experimenting and seeing where that takes you! That’s the way!

      What comes to stress – there is good stress and bad stress (in science they refer to them as eustress and distress). So up to a certain point stress is there to give you a push – it can be good, depending on how you perceive it. But you should definitely develop tactics for avoiding distress. I know first hand how being too stressed can cause physical health problems, and obviously it’s not a very productive state to be in either!

      Anyway great to hear you’re happy with your progress in january, keep up with it!

  • Charlie

    Hi Ilpo,

    I was putting myself in the position of having goals this month coincidently with your posts so this has been the best possible resource to keep my head in check with it, many thanks. I had my first month where I can say I was happy with the amount that I achieved production wise, and also know I have it in me to do more. My main goal was to completely finish two tracks from scratch, considering in the entirety of last year I had very few finished projects, probably 4 or 5 in reality, this is a huge increase for me.

    I finished both tracks from start to finish, and even did a remix of the second track I made. At the end of the month I did start to stray a bit from the amount I was doing in the first few weeks, like you’ve said things in life crop up and the time just goes, however I was still doing more than I usually would and this lasted about a week. I’m now back on track for Febuary and am aiming to finish 2 more, then for March I might bump it up to 3 if I see fit.

    I’m very pleased I achieved this, and this was all without any goal planning or time management, so I’m now going to start making guidelines for the week like you’ve suggested in this post which I’m sure will make everything flow better.

    Thanks for the inspiration and insight, these posts are invaluable. Congrats on achieving what you set to within music and your e-book and all the best for future goals!

    • Charlie,
      Great stuff. Sounds like you’ve got a good momentum going so keep doing what you’re doing. And if you start introducing new pieces to the puzzle (like time management), start very simple, keep going and don’t make big changes. When you have one new thing locked in and under control, you can expand on that.

      Time management especially has been hard for me to learn, and I realize now it’s been because I’ve been trying to tacle too much at once, or try systems that are too complicated.

      Good to hear you made progress, let’s keep it up!