On productivity


There’s been some notes for a blog post on my notepad for a while, but I just haven’t found the right time to do it. Today, I was so inspired by some tweets as well as blog posts by friends Andrew Apanov and Resound (who always have some grrrreat stuff to say regarding productivity, productions, promotion, and all that sort biz and keeping it all zen and stuff) that I felt it’s time to get busy with a bit of bloggery.

These are thoughts relating to productivity. In my case it’s mostly about music, but this could be useful no matter what you do. And, even though I spend a lot of my time working on music, I do other stuff, too, and oftentimes, even though I am a freelancer and I can arrange my own working hours, it does take quite a bit of planning and focus (or not, but in that case I just end up lying on my sofa – which actually can be productive, and I’ll talk about that, too). A lot of this is something I’ve really been thinking of as well as putting to practice this year (to my best ability) and I have definitely noticed an increase in what I can achieve as well as how I feel about what I do.
I’d be interested to hear how you tackle these matters!

1) Keep moving!
I repeat, to myself: keep moving! I have been making music since 1992 as far as I can remember, and I’ve tried to do it somewhat professionally (even by loose definitions) since 2003, and I admit, oh yes, there have been times when I have finished a bigger project and stopped and waited for good things to come to me. Why? I suppose I felt that I created something great (often an album, which usually takes 8–12 months in a way) because its importance was big to me and I thought it would be oh-so-important to others, too, and lead in great things such as lots of bookings, interest, gigs, virgins coming down from the sky to pour me the finest sake…wait, what?
This is where it’s good to have a reality check. First, a break may well be in order. You run a marathon and you need time to recover, sure. A clean break where you take your mind off your stuff for a while can and does work wonders. Second, “do good things but do not expect for good things to happen to you in return” is a motto we should live by. As when/if the good things do not happen (and they often don’t when you expect them to the most), it’ll make you bitter (I swear Resound blogged and/or tweeted about this a while ago).
Keep moving – keep on doing it!

2) Take some distance from your workspace.
This relates to the previous point (and the taking-a-break part, in a way).
It’s finally been this year that I have fully realized this. There are days when I rrrreally want to make music but it’s not happening. Often it’s because I have been spending so much time in my working space and/or around my music gear during the past few days. It’s not uncommon for me to not leave the house for three–four days if I’m really deep in the creation zone. But you’ll hit a wall, eventually, and this is where taking distance comes in. I only have to go and take a nice, long walk in the fresh air and I can almost literally feel the ideas come back into my mind – and this is especially true if you’re stuck in a rut with a song and don’t know where to go with it. They say that your unconscious is working on the “problem”, and I do believe in this myself. It’s been so many times that I’ve gone out – feeling a little frustrated with a song that started so nicely but which comes to a halt – and not thought about the song as, all of a sudden, an idea comes: “Oh, now THAT is what I have to do!” and often it’s a really simple idea, and the song will kind of finish itself once you’re past the writer’s block.

3) Embrace new things and ideas – don’t hold too dearly on the good, old, safe ones.
It was earlier in the year that I finally started working on my instrumental hiphop stuff, which has been on my list of things to start for years. But I never started it until early 2013. This was mostly because I was usually really busy with drum and bass and jungle and related styles. However, when I started working on hiphop, that really opened doors for me. Things and ideas were being born every single day, and it was a total fest in terms of new ideas and exploring parts of my musical creativity and ideas that I had never looked at.
I have always worked on a variety of styles, even though the main focus (in terms of what’s been recognized in media and played in mixes) has been on drum and bass, but this year, finally, I’ve been opening myself way more to all of it, and music-wise, it’s been the best move in a loooong time. The idea of just making music fascinates me, and I’ve already opened up and expanded so much. Being too stuck with a genre is like only watching horror movies while there might be the dopest stuff waiting in other genres, too.
I only had to let it happen, and the rest seems to be taking care of itself, and I’m already reaching new people and experiencing new things, and 2014 is looking great in every aspect. I won’t be going deeper with this for now, but I’ll say 2014 will witness me reach way beyond the usual dnb/jungle/170bpm stuff. It’ll be a great year. If you expect me to be a 170 bpm dude for the rest of my days – be prepared to be disappointed!
If you never leave home, you will never experience new things, and this applies to your creativity, too.

4) Plan things.
First off, I admit I still have a lot to learn in this regard, sometimes I ignore this rule, and there often are quite a few things in the air and in the back of my mind, which is often the case for a freelancer who doesn’t just have a 9-to-5 warehouse job (absolutely no offense to warehouse dudes: I’ve been one myself! The reason why I often mention that is that, imho, it’s the perfect example of a job where you don’t have to plan ahead too much and juggle with many areas of your job etc).
As I’ve tried to become more professional and have become busier in the process, planning things has become a must. If you’re working on two albums, you have to work on your lecture that’s in a month, you have to be ready for next month’s workshop, you have some translations to finish, and oh yeah, you’re going to be babysitting once a week (love it!) and also have time to exercise three times a week, you’re going to have to plan things instead of just playing by ear after waking up in the morning – because if you don’t, you’ll get sloppy, and the stress devil will be whispering, “Man, you’ve got soooo much on your plate!” in your ear, and you’ll only wanna go lie down and sleep.
What I’ve found good is not working on all of the things at once because that just really messes up my focus. It’s easier for me to dedicate the next three days on working this song as much as I can and then start working on the translation on the following days. I can do both on the same day but only if it feels natural. My point is, going for “work on the tune for three hours and then start working on the translation” can be crap if you’d really want to work on your song but have to force yourself to work on the translation. You’ll be grumpy, and your work efficiency will take a plunge. If I’m really busy with other things, these days I won’t even try to work on music. One thing at a time is the key for me.

5) Simplify.
Resound’s last blog post hits the nail in the head here. Simplify.
I have definitely known people who have too much going on in their lives, and when you’re doing too many things at once (not this minute, but in general, as in your life right now), it may happen that none of them are going anywhere and you’re not progressing. You have a busy social life and you like to go clubbing because your friends do, you’re busy “looking for” a girl/boyfriend (don’t!), you’re trying to get that MA thesis done, maybe you’re writing a book, you want to learn a new language, going to that cooking class twice a week is intriguing, and that new EP of yours has been “in the works” for five months now…but are you really progressing with any of them? Sure, I went overboard with my examples, but I want you to see your situation, hopefully, if there’s too much happening and there’s no progress happening with X or Y.
Sure, you can’t “progress” in clubbing or going to bars actively (feel free to add your jokes relating to these…I’d love to hear!), but some things in which you want to progress ask that you focus on them and are ready to put in the work, the hours, and often it asks that you are ready to sacrifice some of the things that are not that important to you (maybe the sushi class…but definitely not the monthly fine-beer-tasting club, though!).
Recently I finally admitted it – aloud – that, again, I need to put my beloved skateboarding on the backburner. I really do love it, but it’s like I’ve always said, to me, there’s this invisible “fader” in the air, at one end of which there’s music, and at the other there’s skateboarding. The more I move the fader towards one end, the less I am able to focus on the other. Go figure? Maybe it’s the technical aspect. But skating has to be on the backburner till it’s outdoor season again, and I’ll be spending most of the winter just working on as much music as I can. Skateboarding is a helluva lot of fun, but where my passion of “getting somewhere” lies is music.
I’d say you can do many things at once, but you can not progress with many things at once.

6) Lie on the sofa.
For me, this is serious! I promised to mention the lying-on-the-sofa part: no joke, I lie on my sofa at least one hour a day. I used to have a TV, I used to have a personal Facebook page, I used to have AIM on all the time, etc. These days, I do none of that. I hardly follow anything that’s happening outside of my own daily life. Should I? I haven’t felt that I’ve missed out on anything since dropping the aforementioned things. On the contrary: reducing useless noise has improved my mental focus.
To me, lying on my sofa is great as it distances me from everything. Often, when I do it, I’m trying to not think of anything. We are constantly pre-occupied by our minds, which are telling us to “do this, do that, and oh, that one thing you really have to do, and damn, you really shouldn’t be resting now!” Some people “fight” this or numb their minds by watching TV, browsing the constantly-updating Facebook news feed (don’t!!), but what works for me is to not think of anything. Taking a walk or going running also works for me in this regard. Sometimes you just have to be in the moment. Distance all yourself from all the everyday stuff as well as all the drama that may be happening out there. Just be in this moment. Don’t think. Ignore the noise.
Also, I do a lot of my planning when I’m just lying on the sofa. I find it quite hard sometimes to come up with really great ideas when I’m looking at my computer because then, my mind will not be resting. I think it was Einstein, for one, who said that many of the greatest ideas happen when your mind is at complete rest. There will be no good ideas popping up when you’re trying to squeeze them out. Thinking hard won’t always result in anything.

7) Accept failures.
And hey, “failures” aren’t always failures when you really look at them and accept them.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve accepted that failing – as in “not succeeding in a task as I initially planned” – is an inevitable part of life. But that doesn’t mean failures would be complete failures.
I recently came across a quote somewhere on social media (sorry for not remembering the actual source) that said something like “The difference between a professional and an amateur is that the professional has often failed more times than the amateur has even tried”. This really struck a chord in me. How true is that! “Failing” –> learning.
You will never be a failure as long as you keep going. There is no chance, ever, that we could keep on succeeding every single time, no matter what we do, be it running a record label, running a business, being an athlete, a performer, a nice person – you name it. “Failing” is human, and most of the time, we can learn a lot from our failures: why didn’t it work out the way it was supposed? Take heed! I think it was Eckhart Tolle said something that life will keep giving us lessons on different things until we finally learn from them (not a direct quote).
Also, on a related note: if you’re a performer/artist, you will encounter negativity and criticism sooner or later – it’s inevitable, and shouldn’t be taken as a failure when someone tries to stomp on you. It should be accepted, as it’s all part of the puzzle. It’s like Desto, a fine bass music producer from Finland, said to me today, when I told him about some not-so-positive stuff that was recently thrown my way in a not-so-justified fashion: “Let it all drop off you like water flows off the back of a goose.” I hear you on that one, brother, I hear you!

What are your tips regarding productivity and keeping it all going? I’d love to hear them.
You can comment below the post or on facebook or twitter.

If you liked this blog post, you might want to peep my earlier, relevant blog posts, “On Getting That Work Done” and “On Patience, Hard Work, and Being an Artist” as well.

Keep it going and stay productive in 2014!