Why are you doing what you’re doing?
It can be so easy to find yourself so focused on what you’re doing, that you never stop to ask yourself the ‘why’ question. This can often be true of self-employed musicians. You’re trying to keep so many plates spinning in order to make a living, while also finding the time to make the art you want to make—where’s the space to ask such meta questions?
There’s an easy way to reinforce a sense of purpose and trajectory in your day-to-day tasks. All it takes is setting aside 15 minutes or so to sit down and follow a few simple steps to keep yourself on track. It may sound a bit Type A, but this has genuinely been a really good way for me personally to keep things in perspective and to stay motivated.
First, like any new device you introduce into your life, there’s a bit of setup to do.
The first thing to do is to take a moment to pause and be honest with yourself; what is it you ultimately want? Do you want to headline Glastonbury? Do you want to significantly grow your audience? Do you simply want to gain respect and a good reputation within the industry? Whatever it is, at this stage it doesn’t need to be too specific (that comes later), just jot something down. Just one goal is fine, or if there are multiple areas of your life you want to look at (maybe you play in several bands, maybe you also dabble in painting or poetry, maybe you just want to travel more) jot them all down and number them.
If you’re not familiar with the acronym SMART, it is widely used in project management to ensure the goals you are setting yourself are fit for purpose. Where the high-level goals we set earlier were fine to be quite vague and broad, you can’t get away with that here.
The acronym lays out five criteria for a successful goal, which are that it should be:
If you need some extra guidance for coming up with some really good SMART goals, you may want to try conducting what marketers call a ‘situational analysis’. We’ll come back to this next week as it requires a whole post of its own.
Now you have your list of SMART goals, you are ready to start thinking about your day-to-day to-do list. You don’t need to monitor your SMART goals every day, but I would recommend checking in with yourself weekly to see how you are doing on each goal, and to consider if anything new needs adding. Ideally, pick a day and time, and put it in your calendar.
To integrate your SMART goals into your day-to-day life, the first thing to do is to number them. If you picked more than one high-level goal, you may wish to use a dual-level numbering system (for SMART goals contributing to your first high level goal, number them 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 etc, then 2.1, 2.2, 2.3 for your second high-level goal, and so on).
When you create your daily to-do list, start by going through each low-level task one by one. Does it contribute to one of your SMART goals? If so, write the number of the goal next to it, so you can see immediately that you have a specifically defined reason for doing that task, however mundane it may be. If a low-level task does not contribute to any of your goals (eg change the light bulb in your bathroom), either leave it blank, or give it a bullet point or some other symbol.
Now you have a nice neat to-do list with some tasks attached to one of your goals, it’s time to turn your attention to those tasks that don’t contribute to your goals. Is there anything there that you don’t actually need to be doing? Inevitably there will be various boring admin tasks on there which, while not contributing to your goal of playing a gig in Antarctica, probably still need doing. Aside from those, is there anything you can either delegate to someone else, or lose all together? Getting rid of the junk tasks in your life can be great to keep you focused and motivated on what really matters.
It may seem like a bit of an arduous process at first, but pausing to take stock for a few minutes every day in itself can be really important. Have a go and see if it helps.