I took some time off in order to focus on preparing to apply for graduate school in the upcoming months. The first half of the semester will be intense. I must get the fundamentals done before school starts.
Between the days and nights, I have been working on music, and learning a bit more of mixing, a skill I am currently developing.
I would like to share what I have been doing lately to keep myself on track academically and musically.
Due to the amount of free time I have available, which is two weeks, instead of making a rigid schedule, I decided to test a more flexible one. The reason I decided to approach it like this, was because I needed to decompress from life for a few days. Having an elaborated schedule seemed to remove the decompression aspect of it. In short, I needed a break. This recovery, however, was intended to read, research schools, study, and write music as well. It was more of an unstructured vacation time where I was going to be productive, without a burnout.
Perhaps doing the above seemed a counter intuitive way of accomplishing more with no specific plan. However, since I only had three things to focus on, the intention was to see if the unstructured time, plus a simple to-do list was going to produce an effect. Below, are three things I am doing that have been good to keep myself on track.
1. Write a main task on a flash card and the steps required.
The way I have been avoiding the anxious feeling of having too many things to do–or none at all–is to write a simple to-do list. It does not have to be elaborated, but I find that writing my tasks on paper or electronically helps me reduce the mental chaos.
As seen on the image, I keep a card for each song I am working on with basic notes on what it needs to get accomplished. Sometimes, the tasks are not in order, but the important part is to write them down. It is better for me to have what I need to do at some point eventually, than to forget a step. I keep these cards on my main computer for recording, as they help me visualize what I need to do. The latter helps me stay focused and being less anxious when I feel that I have not accomplish anything or that I do not know what to do next. At my current level as a musician, this strategy helps me stay objective.
2. Once the tasks have been set, decide which one would provide the most output and set an approximate time of execution.
This step can vary depending on what stage of the production process one is. For instance, I spend about twice as much time recording than mixing. This means that if I am going to record for two hours, I am going to be mixing for about an hour until I obtain results. This is a personal time ratio, but I am sure that this ratio will vary depending on experience and technique. In order to keep myself from reaching cognitive fatigue, especially after recording several takes, a timer is necessary. I use a free timer app from the App Store, which is called Be Focused; it has been with me for some time now and works well.
3. Work for a set amount of time, take a break or call it a day.
Again, this step varies depending on how much state of flow one is in. There are instances when I cannot stop creating or rebuilding an idea. This state can last extended periods of time, therefore, break times might be different compared to other sessions. What I tend to do is to sit down and record or search for ideas with a goal of one hour. If everything goes well, it is time for a break: 10 to 15 minutes are enough for me, but it will vary depending on my energy levels. This approach is based on the techniques from Cal Newport’s book Deep Work, which works great when one tends to get distracted. I use it as a guideline, but I do make adjustments based on my energy levels. On the case that I didn’t get much for an hour, I write those pending things or recurring thoughts down, and take an extended break. By this I mean doing something else that inspires me, or helps me get unstuck. Listening to music on shuffle mode, read books, write, or watching artists perform on YouTube or live gets me inspired. If any of that does not work, I take a break from creating: I focus on school work or other non-musical tasks instead.
In sum, these are the three things I have been doing to keep myself objective and accountable during this two-week vacation period. I hope, that this might help someone, or at least now you know what I do when it is time to focus on music. I like learning from others and apply their techniques or ideas in a way that work for me. I understand that this might not work for some, but maybe could work for you.
What are things you do to keep yourself on track? Any books, tips, or advice that has yielded results for you? Let me know in the comments.