Author James Clear recently published an enlightening post about goals vs. systems. He proposes that one can find effectiveness in a project by focusing on systems and jettisoning goals.
The general idea is this: a goal to complete a novel in three months is intimidating, and this looming target often triggers anxiety and procrastination. Regardless, you should have a system planned out to reach that objective, such as ‘write five hundred words each day.’ Clear argues that you may find yourself more productive by not having the goal, but maintaining the system. Just simply write five hundred words a day without the pressure of an end goal. Soon enough you’ll have that novel.
But we do this to ourselves all the time. We place unnecessary stress on ourselves to lose weight or to succeed in business or to write a best-selling novel. Instead, you can keep things simple and reduce stress by focusing on the daily process and sticking to your schedule, rather than worrying about the big, life-changing goals. When you focus on the practice instead of the performance, you can enjoy the present moment and improve at the same time.
These sentiments echo the advice that I give to music producers who are stressed about ‘not enough time in a day’ to finish an album project. Take it from me, writing and recording an album is nerve-racking, especially when you’ve put the process in the context of resulting in an album statement.
A simple way to remove the stress and put the fun back into recording is to forget the album. Just record songs. Those songs may show up on an album, but don’t think about that now. Just make a point to write and record every day. Stay consistent, and keep up the practice, and you’ll end up with a bunch of songs. Whether you want to release them individually, as EPs, or as an album will be your choice, rather than a ‘goal’ choosing for you. As a bonus, this will become a habit. You’ll continue to write and record every day even after the ‘album’ is finished.
Not enough time in the day? Forgo watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt tonight and instead spend thirty minutes in your DAW. Not inspired? Play around with sounds and loops. Delve into that new soft synth you purchased last week. Waiting for inspiration is for producers who don’t deliver. Chances are once you start messing around inspiration will magically appear.
There’s also the Seinfeld method, which is another great tool for consistency and output. Jerry Seinfeld uses this to make sure he sits down to write every day. Via Lifehacker:
It’s more commonly known as “Don’t Break the Chain,” and the concept is simple: spend some amount of time doing a desired activity every day and, when you do, cross off that day on a calendar. This creates a chain of Xs showing your progress. If you don’t do your specified task on one day, you don’t get an X and that chain is broken. It seems almost too simple to work, but it’s allowed me to accomplish so much more than I ever thought possible.
I think a trick here is to get a big, bold calendar and hang it where you can’t miss it. Use a thick marker – maybe even bright neon ink – to X out the days. Working on music thirty minutes a day is a good starting point, and let the calendar’s visibility remind you of the task at hand.
Not every day has to be successful or produce the beginning of the next big hit song. The point is to be working at it consistently, and the long-term result (or goal, if you’d like) is that you’ll be so much better at what you do with a large body of work to show. And I’m certain there will be a potential hit in there somewhere.