In his book “The War of Art” Stephen Pressfield talks about the struggle of the Artist against what he calls Resistance – the unseen but certainly experienced force that stops us from getting our work done. The Artist who overcomes Resistance is what he calls the Professional. In one chapter, “A Professional Seeks Order,” after reminiscing about a disorganized life he used to live he says:
“The professional cannot live like that. He is on a mission. He will not tolerate disorder. He eliminates chaos from his world in order to banish it from his mind. He wants the carpet vacuumed and the threshold swept, so the Muse may enter and not soil her gown.”
Over the last year I’ve been trying to find ways to make things in my life more orderly. I was the most productive I’ve ever been the last couple years of college. Some of that came from inherent aspects of college like a schedule of classes and expectations on a time table.
Others were personal choices. I had a definite practicing appointment every week day. I’d wake up at 5 and be at the school around 6, playing the drums by 6:10 if not earlier. I used a practice journal. I organized a binder with all of my materials. I came up with systems for practicing and organizing my ideas.
Now, almost two years into the professional musician career, disorder is the hallmark of my life. One day I’m teaching lessons, the next day I’m driving two hours to Ft. Myers for a gig. The day after that I teach a percussion class at the middle school, a jazz class at the high school and have a gig that night. The next day I have no appointments but a ton of office work to do.
Most days I enjoy that. It’s freedom, it’s liberating. But some days I’ll admit it’s maddening. The biggest problem was the reduction in productivity in 2015. I think I moved backward in a lot of areas where I had been growing. Last year (2016) saw an entirely different kind of growth and I think a big part of it was the intentional pursuit of order. Below I’d like to share some softwares and habits that have reduced complexity and increased order in my life. Ultimately allowing last year to be my most productive and creative yet.
Clean Environment, Clean Aesthetic
I began making a big effort to keep things neat. I’ve never been a dirty person or a super neat person. Always floating around acceptable. I also never bothered with decorations of any kind. I’ve been keeping everything neat and adding just a few small things to my room and my environment has become welcoming. I love walking into my room now. It’s beautiful to me. I’ve got a couple nice paintings a friend did for me. The bed is made, the desk is clear. Everything has a place and everything is in its place.
With an atmosphere that’s so well taken care of, I feel creative. I feel like there’s space in the room for me to brainstorm, to pace, to practice, to write, to compose. If the muse comes by, she won’t soil her gown.
A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place
The first solution for an organized space is having fewer things, of course. The more stuff you have, the more you’re responsible for and the more likely you are to have clutter. Clutter is unattractive so let’s get rid of it.
But after that, everything needs a place to go. I don’t have any loose papers. Instead I have a small file and an inbox on my desk. Papers of the desktop variety have only three destinations. If they require action, forms to fill out, business receipts or outgoing mail for instance, they go in the inbox and I take care of them on Mondays. If they need to be kept, they go in the file. If they’re not actionable and they don’t need to be kept, they’re trash. So they go in the trash.
Everything from the cord I use to record my electronic drums into my iPhone to my bag has a specific place. I also prefer hidden to out in the open. So for instance, my wallet, keys and watch all go inside a drawer instead of on top of my nightstand. I bought a few things so that the things I have could have places too. Like the inbox I mentioned earlier as well as the night stand with multiple drawers. And you’ve got to make your bed too. All of this creates an elegant and organized appearance. It’s pleasant to look at. Looking around is satisfying.
For the last two years I’ve used one bank account for my business and personal spending and separated them using Quickbooks Self-Employed. While the software worked nicely, it was ultimately an enormous hassle.
I recently separated my personal spending from my business spending with two bank accounts and I’m already seeing huge benefits. If you’re curious about this talk to an accountant and they can help you out. I just wanted to point out that it’s been helpful in reducing complexity. Unnecessary complexity is just as unattractive and counterproductive as disorder so this may be an area you consider making changes in.
I’m constantly driving, often long distances for my work. I’ve been using MileIQ recently for tracking my mileage and I’ve found it be very accurate. Letting a software track my mileage for me reduces complexity. I review everything on Mondays to make sure everything’s accurate.
To keep my money in order I use a budgeting software called YNAB. I would encourage you to check them out regardless of what you do for a living. Not only is the software excellent but their 4 Rules, free classes and podcast have changed the way I think about money for the better. I also do the budgeting for the week on Mondays.
I don’t enjoy email. It often feels like the ultimate waste of time. But I’ve figured out the best way to handle it for my purposes. I check email a couple times a day. I read the subjects and decide if I need to read it. If it needs reading immediately, I open it and read every word, take necessary actions and archive it. If based on the subject it doesn’t need immediate action and I’m 100% confident I can ignore it, I ignore it until Monday. If I’m only 99% that doesn’t cut it and I’ve got to go through my process reading every word. If it needs action but the action can wait until Monday I flag it and leave it in the inbox.
On Mondays I clear my inbox. Anything remaining that needs action gets handled and archived. Anything that’s junk gets unsubscribed from too.
Wunderlist is a free task management software that let’s you organize your individual projects into folders with specific tasks and check them off as they’re completed. I use it to organize my day and to brainstorm ideas. As projects become more solid I put concrete steps down. At the beginning of a day I can star individual tasks from projects, put them in a logical order and then check them off one by one.
This keeps my time organized and focused. There’s no flailing about during the day wondering what to do. I just make a plan and then work my plan.
My Music Staff
At first when I had just a couple private students I would organize everything in my head. Then I shifted to an Excel spreadsheet. Then I shifted to a Google spreadsheet. Then inside iCal. I would regularly mess up payment schedules and I’m lucky none of the parents ever gave me any hassle because I would have deserved it.
Finally a few months ago I happened upon My Music Staff and everything is much more organized now. I can access all my students’ information, send invoices, reference a calendar specifically for students and make schedule changes from any device any time. It has done a huge amount for me in reducing complexity. You can learn more about it here.
At some points in the year I’m practicing the drums less and composing, reading, learning theory etc. more. But during the periods when I’m practicing hard I use a practice schedule and a notebook. On Sundays I look at my calendar and based on what’s on it I schedule practice times and then I try to stick to those throughout the week. Inevitably there’s rescheduling but for the most part I stick to the plan well. I have a vlog about this that you can check out here.
I also try to commit to a particular practice regimen for a month at a time. This prevents aimless confused practice and also prevents being distracted by the next YouTube drumming sensation. I don’t need to work on that new lick. I need to work on what I’ve planned. If I remember that new lick by the end of the month then I can put it into the plan for the month.
I was beginning to get overwhelmed with handling so much business every day. While budgeting and tidying are nice and necessary they’re not creative. I was spending more time doing emails and dealing with receipts than I was brainstorming and practicing. That’s not going to work.
I finally had the idea last month to relegate all of the stale, business and home stuff to Mondays. I have an Evernote document called “Mondays” that lists all of my tasks to get done. I simply obey my list every Monday and it’s been great.
The business part looks like this:
- My Music Staff
- Clear physical inbox
- File receipts
- Take any necessary actions
- Clear email inbox
- Take any necessary actions
- Pay credit card bill (Yes, every Monday because debt is a trap)
I also do all of my cleaning, laundry and cut my hair on Mondays.
This could be any day for you, of course. I chose Mondays because they’re the most consistent part of my weekly schedule. I’ve been teaching lessons on Mondays at roughly the same time for 7 years. Every other day of my week is constantly changing but generally Sunday nights I get to bed at a reasonable hour and can wake up early and fresh on Monday to handle everything on the list before I leave to teach private lessons.
It makes for a long and tiring day but it leaves a clean, worry-free orderly atmosphere for creativity the remainder of the week.
Happy New Year folks! I hope what I’ve written here can be helpful if you’re looking to put some order in your life too. You may have some friends on social media who could benefit, as well. Would you consider using one of the buttons below to share? I’m hoping to reach more people with tools for Happy Drumming this year. May your year be full of success and fulfillment!