No music career is successful or even existent without productivity. A regular 9 to 5 job may last for a while without your consistent input, at least up until a point you get fired. But for anyone self-employed, including artists, musicians, and producers, productivity is everything. It’s not only a question of income – your status in the industry and the opportunities you get, all rely on how focused and productive you are.
On top of that, independent artists have to take care of their marketing, connecting with promoters, venues and blogs, as well as regularly putting out not only music but also engaging content on multiple social media platforms. With the ever-shortening attention span of the audience, it’s getting progressively harder to stay active. The pressure is real, and if you’re stretching yourself thin it’s natural to burn out and stuck in writer’s block sooner or later.
Fortunately, several ways and tools can help musicians reduce distractions, get things done, and keep mental clarity. Below we listed the best productivity tips that proved to be helpful for us and many other creatives.
1. Distraction Reduction
Focus is an integral part of productivity. Mastering attention significantly (and quickly!) improves both the quality and quantity of work produced. But with a plethora of distractions surrounding us all day every day, it’s hard to concentrate and give our all to a task at hand. Every time we are distracted, even by something as small as a text notification, we lose focus and it takes nearly 30 minutes to regain the same level of concentration.
What adds to the problem is that we get distracted by texts, calls, emails, social media notifications, and by other people far more often than every 30 minutes. We are in a constant state of distraction and at that, we can only do shallow work which may be enough for some activities but not for our best creative output. The solution is to dramatically reduce outside stimuli during the periods we are in the studio, writing songs, producing music, etc.
Here are some tips you can follow to improve focus and progress toward your musical goals faster:
🟡 Turn off your phone and keep it out of reach when you are working on music, whether it’s at home or in the studio. If you’re working with other musicians, propose a no-phones policy so that everyone can make the most of the time working together.
🟡 Disable automatic pop-up notifications on your computer to remove all visual and sound distractions. To do this on Windows, go to Settings > System > Notifications & Actions. On Mac, go to Apple menu > System Preferences > Notifications & Focus.
🟡 Unplug your modem or router to avoid the temptation to check social media or go online for other purposes until your work, for the time being, is done.
🟡 Ask people who are not part of your creative process (roommates, family members, etc.) to not disturb you by chatting and making noise when you work on your music.
🟡 Treat the way you work as habit-building. If you often break your focus in the studio to check social media, you are building the habit of shallow work, thus becoming unproductive, scattered, and unfocused on a regular basis. The more you refuse to give in to distractions, the easier it will be to stay focused.
🟡 Batch small tasks into one time period. Of course, you have to answer emails, make phone calls and use social media to promote your music and connect with fans. But instead of doing them every 15 minutes throughout the day, batch all these tasks into a couple of hours. Spend this time on the shallow work and be done with it. None of these things will be on your mind or to-do list for the rest of the day, so you can focus deeply during a creative session.
2. Mind Training
It’s no secret that devices and applications have been carefully designed to hook our attention for as long as possible. Whether we want to admit it or not, most of us are addicted to checking our phones every few minutes. Resisting this urge is extremely difficult without some form of mind training.
One of the most effective and accessible forms of mind training is meditation. You may scoff at this because meditation now seems like a buzzword; a cure-all for everything from physical ailments to mental illnesses. But the truth is, meditation is actually a powerful tool that proved useful for numerous successful musicians, actors, directors and other creatives.
Meditation is an exercise for the brain, it builds strength in your mind to stay on task and resist the temptation to distract yourself. Just like going to the gym for the first time, the initial meditation session is rather frustrating because you’ve never trained this part of your mind before. You will find yourself trying your best to stay focused on your breath but your mind will easily wander off to thoughts about some unpaid bill, plans for the next week, and other things.
No matter how weak you feel at first, don’t give up. Bringing your focus back when the mind wanders is like lifting weights – the more you do it, the easier it becomes over time, and the stronger your mind/body is. Practice meditation every day for at least 5 to 10 minutes; it won’t take a lot of your time regardless of how busy your schedule is, and it will help you become more disciplined, focused, and productive overall and with any particular task.
3. Planning & Prioritizing
Having a plan is absolutely essential to being productive and focused. Spend time on setting goals, breaking them down into smaller tasks and then placing them in order of priority. Diving into work with one general objective in your mind like ‘creating a song’ is not good because there are so many things that go into creating a full-fledged song. More likely than not, you will soon get frustrated and start procrastinating.
To avoid this outcome, you should instead divide the big goal into micro-tasks that can be realistically done one by one over a time period. Don’t try to bite off more than you can chew; getting a few crumbs a day every day is better than getting overwhelmed by a big portion and burning out after trying to process it.
Say loud and resounding ‘NO’ to multitasking. Taking on several things at a time is a straight road to losing focus. As you’re switching from one task to another, a residue of your attention stays on the previous task. Because of that you can’t concentrate on a new task with due intensity and become progressively less productive every time you switch tasks.
4. Timing & Taking Breaks
There is nothing like a time limit to drive you to get more done. Setting time limits for each task, then timing yourself while doing them, helps create a sense of urgency and feeling out how much time you need to complete specific kinds of tasks on average. Even when there is no actual deadline, it’s good to set it yourself as a way to do more and spend less time.
Don’t forget to take breaks. Incorporating short periods of rest into working time reportedly increases focus and productivity. One of the most popular time management methods is the Pomodoro Technique – dividing a workday into 25-minute chunks of concentrated worktime separated by 5-minute breaks. Play around with different timings and see which ones suit you best.
5. Using Productivity Apps
None of the applications mentioned below are affiliated with LALAL.AI. They are simply effective and easy-to-use tools utilized by many creatives for work and life purposes.
🟡 Todoist is a to-do list in the form of an application with a sleek minimalistic UI design. It allows you to create folders for separate projects, for example, you can sort different kinds of works into designated folders for writing, recording, mixing, mastering, producing, personal, etc. Tasks and folders can also be marked with flags of different colors to signify different priority levels (red flags for the tasks with the highest priority, gray flags for the lowest priority tasks, and so on).
🟡 Toggl Track is a time-tracking software that helps you understand how you really spend your time. If you haven’t started tracking yet, now is the time. Expect to be surprised by how much you actually work and how many hours are wasted on tasks that hardly bring any bread to the table. Musicians, producers and engineers often get paid only when they work and don’t have a fixed salary, so it’s important to know for a fact what gigs and tasks they spend more time on, for which to request bigger pay and which aren’t worth the time and effort.
🟡 Flow is a productivity application that uses the Pomodoro method, helping you structure work time and breaks for maximum efficiency and minimum stress. It also allows you to block applications and even websites to prevent distractions like push notifications sounding off and popping up on the screen while you work. Just like Toggl, Flow divides your workflow into sections with defined breaks using the Pomodoro technique. What’s more, it provides an overview of your completed sessions, so you can get a good grasp of your progress and achievements.