Experiments in Productivity

On September 25, 2011, I had a good day.  Sure, I’ve had plenty since then, but this one stood out as particularly fun and productive.  In fact, here’s my Facebook post from that day:

Very fun day: Morning flea market with Katie and Ned, learned to play Dominion in the afternoon, played 20's jazz in the evening with Blackbird Society Orchestra, stopped by Triumph Open Mic afterwards to play the solo sousaphone version of Bad Romance.

After I got done at the open mic, I ran into a trumpet player busking on the street.  I was carrying my sousaphone, so he stopped me and we talked for a bit.  I brought up that I had been getting more gigs that year, and he told me to just keep booking them.  As I walked back to my car, I rekindled for the first time in many years the idea of making music my career instead of something I did on the side.

I’ve had a full-time job since 2004, before which I was living with my parents, touring occasionally, working temp jobs, and playing lots of gigs for free.  It had started to become such a dead-end burden, that I knew I needed to start supporting myself financially.  I took a job as a computer trainer and learned a ton about technology and education, leading me to the job I have today.  It has its ups and downs; it can be really boring, but it’s also fulfilling to reach out and help so many people.

I continued to play music for years after that on the side, but it wasn’t until 2011 that I really started getting more steady work as a musician; not enough to support myself, but some nice money on the side.  It was also beginning to conflict with my nine-to-five life, with late nights and early mornings. September 25, 2011 made me consider that this thing I was doing on the side was much more fun than what I did during the day, and might even be sustainable.

So I started the process of exploring life as a full-time musician.  I spoke to several musician friends for insight into how they make it work (which I chronicled here, along with more details about September 25, 2011), with mixed results.  I started planning out what my life would look like as a member of the self-employed.  I hired a consultant, Mike Ketner from Departure Consulting, to work on the marketing and entrepreneurial components of being a full-time musician.  All of these have been great strides in figuring out what my possibilities are, even though I still feel like I’m early in the process.

This week I took another great step in this process.  Currently I’m on winter break from my full-time job, and I have been since last week.  I scheduled off for the rest of this week as well, and rather than relaxing and doing nothing, my goal is to simulate the day-to-day existence of not having a full-time job: will I actually be productive when I don’t have the structure of a full-time job.

This has been a problem for me in the past, but it’s been a long time since I’ve actively tried it.  I tend to be very hard on myself when I don’t follow through with my plans, so rather than looking at this as a boot camp in accomplishment, I’m looking at it as an experiment in productivity.  When we experiment, we form hypotheses and work to prove or disprove them.  Ideally, we can remove the emotional baggage of the situation and just try to see what works.  If it doesn’t work, we change the methods and try again another time.

So far, I’ve had mixed results.  Each night I write down the things I want to accomplish for the next day.

To Do

To Do List on my private stationary

A couple of important things in here.  First of all, note that I’m planning “rest” in here.  This is partially because I am on vacation, and I do need to rest and recuperate from work, but also because I know that resting is an important part of my life, and something I at least need permission to do and at most need to plan into my day.  There will be plenty of times when rest is not an option; while it is, I need to make it happen, as I believe firmly it is vital to focused productivity.

The tuba practice is something I’m breaking into small pieces.  I need a 20-30 minute warmup to be in optimal shape to play.  When I was in college, I used to go straight from that into the material I was working on.  These days, I find that it is a mental drain to do that, so I want to give myself time away from the instrument to recover before coming back later to work on more specific material.  This has been working well so far.

Some of it might seem basic.  Shower and stretch?  Really?  I find that if I don’t plan to do that early, I put it off until later.  There’s a part of me that feels like I can’t start my day until I shower and do my 15 minute yoga routine.  So I’m putting them in early so that I can feel better about doing other things whenever I need to.

This particular day was ambitious.  I didn’t get to the songwriting planning, and I never made it to the open mic (partially because I have been struggling with a cough for about 2 weeks now).  I’m trying not to get too upset about this though.  After all, it is an experiment, and I’m looking forward to changing things up later this week to see if I can do things better when I approach them differently.

The new year looms, and with it come the slew of resolutions.  So if you’re looking to try to make changes in your life, I heartily recommend the experimental approach.  Don’t vow to make big striking changes.  Instead, vow to experiment and explore the different possibilities in your life.  When something doesn’t work (“damnit, I hate going to the gym!”), don’t look at it as your failure to keep to your resolution.  Instead, it’s just an indication of something that isn’t working for you at the moment.  Try a myriad of alternatives, think of new ways to accomplish what you’re desiring, and keep it light.  You may be in line for a Happy New Year after all.

Before I sign off, I want to list a few of this year’s achievements that I’m proud of:

69 gigs total
16 solo Neon and Shy shows
Released my debut CD
Recorded on 3 different albums
Played with about 5 new ensembles this year
Played my first Easter, NYE, and July 4 gigs in about 12 years
Featured in Philadelphia Inquirer
Began this here blog
Began the Sound Decisions Podcast

And what to expect for next year:

More Sound Decisions podcasts
Finding a venue that truly appreciate the magic that is Neon and Shy
Another big project (TBD)
The beginnings of my next album

Happy New Year, everyone!


6 thoughts on “Experiments in Productivity

  1. Andrea Wittchen says:

    Very interesting approach, Dan. I decided this year that I’m not going to make a long list of resolutions. Instead, I wrote down “what would make me happy this year”. I figure that if as long as what I’m doing falls under one of the items on that list or moves me along the road, I’m going to consider the year a success. But no long detailed resolutions. Of course, I’ll still make daily lists of things to do since I’m a compulsive list maker. But I’ll use the “happy” list as the yardstick. I guess that’s kind of a way of experimenting also. We’ll see. Good luck.

  2. […] week I announced the experiments in productivity that I was conducting during my time away from my full time job.  I learned a lot from the […]

  3. […] creating space to allow growth, however, does seem relevant, especially in light of how my recent experiments in productivity worked for me.  By giving myself the open space to be creative, I was able to let ideas stew and […]

  4. […] tend to get really hard on myself.  I look back at my experiment in structuring time earlier this year and feel like I’ve gone backwards.  I had set up a system of accomplishing […]

  5. […] When I experimented with not having a full-time job back in December, I made sure to incorporate rest and recreation into my schedule: […]

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