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:
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 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