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Angela Myles Beeching | Beyond Talent Consulting
The Professional Musician's Roadmap
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Beyond Talent:
Creating a Successful Career in Music
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Getting More Done

MONDAY BYTES — May 2, 2016

This week I worked with several musicians on the issue of handling distractions and getting work done. We were focusing on how to get to the career project work needed to reach their goals. Here are my:

 

Productivity

 

1. Face the fear. We all delay doing the work that activates our fears — of failure, of the unknown, or of loss of stature. We worry we’re not talented enough — or not smart, connected, young, attractive, thin, or accomplished enough to succeed in our goals.

So we avoid getting started and tell ourselves we’re too busy. And by staying busy, we avoid making the time to do what it takes to take our career to the next level. We default on our dreams.

Think about the specific action step you’ve been avoiding. Identify the specific fear connected with it.

Do a reality check. Is that fear based in reality?

For instance, let’s say it’s a career-related phone call or email you’re procrastinating on and you’re “catastrophizing” (imagining that your whole career is on the line if you don’t handle this one communication well). Ask yourself: would your career actually be over?  What’s the worse thing that could happen?

 

2. Prioritize: be super clear about what you need to get done this week for your career. Make a career project list with next action steps you can achieve.  These should be 3-5 small but strategic tasks.

Note: if you feel that you can’t tackle the career project until you have finished all the other items you need to take care of for your day job, and your family needs, etc. you will never get the career work done.

 

3. Set goals for the week with the implementation plan embedded. 

Let’s say your goal this week is to apply for a specific teaching job. And let’s say you dread revising your CV and hate writing cover letters because the competition is so steep that you start doubting your abilities and getting overwhelmed.

Don’t make the mistake of trying to do it all at once at the last minute before the deadline.

Instead, break the goal into smaller pieces and schedule exactly when, where, and how you’ll complete each task. Something like:

A. Research the job and institution (30 minutes Tues. 7 pm)

B. Revise your CV, bringing it up to date and tailoring it to highlight your most relevant experience for the job. (60 minutes Wed. 4 pm)

C. Revise your cover letter, also tailoring it to the position. (60 minutes Thurs. 11 am)

D. Call a trusted mentor to ask for feedback on your CV and cover letter (60 minutes Fri. 7 pm).

E. Revise based on the feedback (90 minutes Sat. 3 pm).

And maybe bribe yourself with a treat after completing each (a half hour of your latest binge-worthy show).

The logistics of any ambitious project involve a series of tasks requiring perseverance and consistent work. Some tasks are just necessary time-consuming grunt work while others challenge us to learn new skills and step beyond our comfort zones.

Are you willing to do what it takes? Willing to confront your discomfort and fear?

 

4. Schedule in time blocks. I’ve written before about the Pomodoro Technique — it’s about using a timer for 25 minutes of focused work on a particular task. This is great for use in the practice room and beyond.

Time blocking builds on this principle. It’s about mapping your weekly schedule using time blocks for intentional focused work by type. Time blocks are usually 30-120 minutes (and you can use the Pomodoro technique within any time block).

Use a blank weekly schedule form and first write in the non-discretionary time blocks: all of your regularly recurring rehearsals, meetings, lessons, classes, etc.

Next add in your practice time blocks. When do you do your best work? The point is to be smart about when and how you can use the time you have.

Then schedule in time blocks for future planning. This is time for brainstorming next steps, researching opportunities you’ve heard or read about, and reading up on people you want to network with (think 2-4 hours a week).

This is the kind of work most people either don’t get to or else find that they engage in as a way of avoiding doing the work on current projects. Instead, be intentional so you can schedule in and take care of both your immediate projects and future planning.

Now schedule in the “clerical” time blocks for taking care of work-related emails, phone calls, contracts, promotion, etc. This is the immediate project work.

With this kind of work it’s extremely easy to get side tracked by social media and web surfing. So for this work, tackle priority items first.

For example, if you know you need to draft emails for booking concerts today, start with that. Give yourself a time limit so you’re forced to take care of the important, not just the urgent. If you then still have time in your scheduled block to get at the lower priority items, go for it.

Last, make sure your weekly schedule allows time for being human. If you can’t find time for socializing, exercising, taking care of laundry and groceries, then figure out what other lower priority activities you can either minimize or eliminate. Note: people typically need transition time between time blocks to regroup, so schedule in buffers.

 

5. Defang your distractions. In order to do your work you need to focus: to get centered and quiet your mind. Focus is a scarce asset essential for working at your best, whether you’re performing, rehearsing, teaching, working on a career project, or in your next meeting.

If your focus is constantly interrupted by instant messages, texts, emails, or social media, research shows your productivity is suffering.  If you’re imagining multi-tasking is working for you, guess again.

A study done at the University of California, Irvine, found that it can take workers 23 minutes to regain focus once their workflow has been disrupted.

And perhaps even more alarming is that the same study found that typical workers spend only 11 minutes on a task before getting interrupted or abandoning it for another project.

What does this mean for musicians?

If you want more creativity & a better quality of life, unplug and practice being fully present.

Turn off your phone, tablet, laptop and put these away during practice, classes, rehearsals, meetings, and meals. Create a clutter and distraction free zone for your work. (See 9 Apps to Shut Up the Internet.)

If you use particular apps for practicing or rehearsals, you need to be disciplined enough to make sure you aren’t checking emails, texts, or social media in the midst of other work.

 

I love author Anne LaMott‘s take on writing and distractions, from her terrific book Bird By Bird:

“I used to not be able to work if there were dishes in the sink. Then I had a child and now I can work if there is a corpse in the sink.”

Anne’s point is that after having a baby, she had very little time for her own work, and once her time became scarce and precious, she learned to focus.

To help you make the most of the scarce time you have, turn off your devices and disconnect so you can re-connect with yourself, get centered and focus.

Plan and protect your creative time so you can do your best work and be your best self, no matter what’s in your sink.

 

Want more help?

Check out this Forbes article by Yaacov Cohen, Coping with Distraction: 6 Ways You Can Boost Your Productivity.

And read Noa Kageyama’s excellent piece How to Get Those Distracting Thoughts Out of Your Head When You’re Trying to Practice.

For bespoke career advising and help to improve your productivity, find info on working with me HERE.

Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well

9 Tools to Transform Your Speaking

MONDAY BYTES — April 25

Have you ever had that nightmare of walking out on stage and being completely unprepared? I know I have!

(And I’m always relieved to wake up and realize it was simply an anxiety dream.)

Of course it’s absurd to think we’d ever walk into an actual performance unprepared.

And yet.

That’s exactly what many us have done with speaking from the stage. And with teaching demos, media interviews, or workshop presentations.

The results are predictably less than ideal.

The good news is that all it takes is a little attention, planning, and practice to become a more engaging and confident presenter. To take the nightmare out of speaking in public.

Here are the tools to

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1. Make a game plan. Don’t wing it. Have a clear theme and identify the 2 or 3 main points you want to make and illustrate these with examples. Make an outline, write out the specifics, and then practice it.

2. Get real. Tell stories, use anecdotes from your experience to illustrate your points. If you’re introducing a work in a concert, your audience wants to hear about your connection to it and they want to get a sense of you as a person.

3. Keep it simple. Don’t try to impress people with fancy words or jargon that will alienate some of your audience.  Stick to active verbs. Be direct and human. The power is in clarity.

4. Don’t equivocate. It dilutes your message and undermines the impact. Eliminate kind of, sort of, somewhat, perhaps, I just think, etc.

5. Get rid of the “filler”: say goodbye to actually, so, very, really, rather, quite frankly, as well as awesome, like, you know, stuff, ah and um. Don’t be afraid of silence: pauses are good.

6. Quit the “upspeak.” This is the annoying habit of ending declarative statement as though it’s a question. Upspeak makes us sound unsure of ourselves, as though we’re looking for validation.

7. Fix Your Mindset. Don’t be looking for approval. If you’re wanting to please, you aren’t focusing on your message. It’s more important to make your points with your own clear conviction. For perspective on this, check out comedian and journalist Faith Salie’s Approval Junkie.

8. Shoot & Review. Video tape your practice sessions. Review for any:
A. distracting body movement, and
B. make sure you sound energized and enthusiastic, that you
C. project your voice, and that you
D. make appropriate eye contact.

9. Power Pose. Use Amy Cuddy’s power poses regularly to build your confidence and to practice being fully present. This can have terrific benefits in all facets of life—not just the public speaking.

Want more help?
In my book Beyond Talent chapter 8 is all about connecting with audiences. It covers teaching artist and community engagement work: how to develop programs and the speaking skills needed for them, and how to get bookings for these opportunities.

As always, I welcome your feedback and would love to hear what other tools have helped your public speaking.

Info on working with me HERE.

Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well

Artistic Temperament?

MONDAY BYTES — April 17, 2016

What do you think: Is Artistic Temperament a myth?

Don Cheadle’s mesmerizing portrayal of the great Miles Davis in Miles Ahead got me worked up over this.

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 9.33.50 PM

Perhaps the idea of Artistic Temperament is really a question of mistaking an effect for a cause. Is the craziness of an artist’s lifestyle a contributor to her or his creativity, or simply a side effect of their behavior? After all early success mixed with drugs, sex, ego, violence—makes for an unhappy ending (for Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and many other artists).

I don’t buy that a turbulent lifestyle is necessary for great art. It’s similar to saying that mental illness is the required side dish with genius. Of course there are the Sylvia Plath and Van Gogh examples, but there are also plenty of centered and sane artists, think Peter Paul Reubens and Joan Tower.

Here’s my pet theory: extremely talented and accomplished people are typically granted leeway for poor social skills and erratic behavior. If they treat others badly it’s often excused or overlooked because they are “gifted” — as though this is a get out of jail free card.

In author David Ebenbach’s piece, “Being an Artist Doesn’t Mean You Get to be  Lousy Person” he describes how in his early years his writing heroes were often villains in their own lives — and how he found this romantic.

As a young man, Ebenbach excused his own at times erratic behavior as due to his “ink blood.” He writes, “It was a nice way to convince myself that (1) I couldn’t help myself, because of some artistic temperament, and (2) really it wasn’t that I was a jerk; I was just a charmingly rebellious artiste who did things his own way.”  He eventually grew up, and with therapy and medication, became not only a successful author, but a reasonably well-adjusted person with a family, a contributor to society.

The truth is, for many musicians, our art is a refuge from inner (or outer) turmoil. In the studio we can escape the realities of life’s difficulties.

But life’s realities always catch us up.

Every creative artist deals with the art vs. real life issue. The fact that in order to make art, we need to have a lifestyle that will support it. I think a lot of what passes for artistic temperament is individuals acting out in frustration over being distracted from their artistry by the necessities of real life and the needs of others.

The only way to have both an artistic career and a life that supports it is to find a balance between the competing demands of our artistic yearnings and the rational universe (the basics of paying rent, dealing with others, making a living).

The way we bargain between these two competing sides determines the quality of our day to day lives and our art. How well we sleep at night is a consequence of how well we managing the competing claims of our artistic yearnings and our everyday life needs. And this determines our ultimate ability to live with ourselves and with others.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my coaching work is helping musicians find the sweet spot that helps them manage their artistic goals and live a life that supports these goals.

The first step is to find out what you actually need: ask yourself:

What is the structure or support I need to create in order to do my best work?  Is it . . .

more time
a type of workspace
access to inspirational sources
colleagues and collaborators
specific performances to work towards
accountability: a trusted feedback loop
a solid financial threshold so I’m not panicking about money

Knowing what you are looking to change is the first step.

To have a conversation about the vision for the life you want to create and how we might work together on this, contact me HERE

And as always, I’d love to hear what you think about this topic!

Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well