Many people across the globe are being told or asked to work from home right now. I personally have been working from home for the past three years.
Here are some tips for avoiding the common pitfalls and mistakes work-from-home noobs often make:
Separate your literal work space from your most valued leisure space
In other words, don’t work on your computer in your bed. Your bed is for sleeping. This will not only benefit your work life but even more so your home (off-work) life. You will also sleep better.
Train yourself to work in one area of your home. Have a physical space for your work. Do the best with what you have. Make it a habit. Habits = good.
Go on walks.
Your boss and coworkers can’t give you eyes or shame you for taking a break when you’re working from home. We are humans. Humans were not meant to be stationary for eight hours at a time. Get up. Go outside. Walk.
Avoid your phone like the plague.
Your phone is the single greatest source of distraction in your life. You are most likely programmed to want to whip it out and scroll your IG newsfeed when you are at your home. Don’t do it. Put it in a different room than the one you are working in. If you need your phone for work, then be very intentional about it’s use. Stay strong my friend.
Set boundaries with roommates.
Let your roommate know that your work time is not chat about the weather time. You initiate the conversation. Hey Roomie, “Now that we are both working from home I think it important we set some work boundaries. I need to be able to focus and get sh** done from 9am — noon. Would you refrain from playing drums or watching really loud TV, etc…”
Limit your screens (No TV).
Do not put Gilmore Girls on in the background while you work. No TV. This will not help you work. There is no such thing as being good at multi-tasking.
Use a calendar app, and/or checklists.
If something needs to be done, then put it in your calendar. Map out every hour of your work day in your calendar. 9am — 10am write for blog. 10am-11am respond to email and send proposals, etc…
Use checklists to keep track of everything that needs doing. I like to keep it analog with an actual pen and paper. This helps me avoid my phone.
Test everything and keep the good.
A positively biblical idea. Try different approaches to your work day. Put your ideas to the test. If something works, then keep it. If it doesn’t work, then don’t do it. You may find you are most productive with creative work in the morning. If that’s the case, then get the creative juices flowing fast and don’t do non-creative tasks such as checking email until the afternoon.
Reality for most aspiring artists is working several part-time gigs to make up for the low earnings of recorded music and touring. Piecing it all together month to month and barely scraping by.
In the chaos of multiple jobs it can be difficult to find large chunks of time to work on music. When will I have a spare hour to work on writing? Do I really have a weekend anymore? I must run to rehearsals in the evenings, skip meals, get into the studio at a reasonable hour to not upset my producer who also wants to have some simulacrum of work-life balance.
Creatives and makers need time to make. It’s imperative that we give ourselves the time to create. We need large blocks of uninterrupted time. Creative work is exceedingly difficult to fit into a spare hour here or there.
Paul Graham, writer of the now very popular essay, “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule”, explains:
“When you're operating on the maker's schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That's no problem for someone on the manager's schedule. There's always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker's schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.
For someone on the maker's schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn't merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.
I find one meeting can sometimes affect a whole day. A meeting commonly blows at least half a day, by breaking up a morning or afternoon. But in addition there's sometimes a cascading effect. If I know the afternoon is going to be broken up, I'm slightly less likely to start something ambitious in the morning. I know this may sound oversensitive, but if you're a maker, think of your own case. Don't your spirits rise at the thought of having an entire day free to work, with no appointments at all? Well, that means your spirits are correspondingly depressed when you don't. And ambitious projects are by definition close to the limits of your capacity. A small decrease in morale is enough to kill them off.”
Artists are makers.
I personally think of work time in units of days or half days. Paul Graham writes similarly using coders and writers as examples. I do not like booking recording sessions for one hour. Usually anyone who suggests we only need an hour in the studio is inexperienced and unaware of just how much time goes into recording.
As an artist I believe one of the best things you can do is structure your work week in a way that allows you to have at least one block of 4 or more hours to work on your music. All the better if you can create two days a week where you have this available.
If you are running around from one gig to the next, harried, and too “busy” to even consider sitting down for more than an hour to write a song, then it’s time to call a timeout.
Perhaps the part-time gig was only ever meant to be a means to end, but somehow now it’s the main dictator of how your time is spent. Perhaps you know in your heart of hearts that being a touring / recording artist is what you want to be and you’ve slipped under an enchantment of compliance with your part-time gig. Well, snap out of it. Wake up and look around. Are you working your “real job” for you and your dreams or are you a cog in a system helping the world more efficiently get lattes and smoothies?
I want to hear the kind of music you’ll make when you really give yourself time to work and be creative. It pumps me up just considering the beautiful art that might enter this world through you if you only just give your time to it.
What is compound interest?
In the money and finance world compound interest occurs when you reinvest the interest earned off an initial principle / investment. Then your principle plus the interest earns more interest which you can reinvest to earn more interest which you can reinvest to earn more interest and so on… The ‘ole logarithmic millionaire maker..
However, we can see the effects of compound interest in our lives in many other areas as well.
Let’s take exercise for example. Let’s say you pick up running as a hobby. You go from running zero times a week to running two miles three times a week. At first, the exercise is miserable and you’re grumpy and dang wouldn’t it be nice to get back inside and turn on Netflix and finish season two of Outlander.. Alas, you persist and after a month you start noticing you have more energy at work, you are sleeping better, and you’ve lost 5 lbs. Woah that’s cool. In month two it’s easier to get up and run then when you started. In month three you’re feeling real good and have come to enjoy running. You’re in better shape which makes running easier and now you can run faster and longer. The effect of running has compounded in your life and the longer you do it the more benefits you achieve.
Now let’s talk about your music career and the easiest way to blow up any potential of compound interest.
1) Quitting Too Early
So many things to quit. So many ways to blow it all up and kill the potential of compound interest. Here are a few example:
2) Making Bad Investments
Homework for the people who care:
Try writing down three ways you can utilize the effects of compound interest in your music career. This could be really investing in your relationship with a co-writer, choosing 10 cities to really really focus on and play shows in until you can fill 100+ rooms, reinvesting your earnings from one release into the marketing of the next released and so on…
How motivated are you today?
I mean it is the New Year. Time to get that gym membership, start Whole 30 or the Keto Diet, and stop eating sugar. The motivation meter is spiking right now.
But consider this...
Motivation can be great to get you going and started towards a goal, but it is a poor substitute for creating habits. It can be tempting to just make a blanket statement such as: I am a runner now! OR I am a person who practices guitar!
Maybe that will get you through February or March, but don't you want to keep going?
Consider making your New Year's resolutions more quantitative. Here's a goal of mine for 2020 for example:
My goal is to write and publish 100 blog articles on Medium (a blogging site).
I can easily measure this goal. I have either written and published 100 articles or I haven't.
If I had said, "I want to write more". Well, how much is more? For how long? How do you know when you have reached your goal?
Be SMART with your goals this year.
Happy New Years!
Hi, you must make art. If that’s the case, thank you. Making art is one of the most noble actions a human can take. You bring beauty into the world with no guarantee of reward. That’s awesome. I appreciate you. If you don’t make art, cool that’s fine you can keep reading, but you should go out there and thank somebody who does make art.
I’m here to help you make more and better art in 2020. Here are six actionable steps you can take in the New Year to do just that:
1. Determine What You Value
What is important to you? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What adds value too your life? What do you love to do?
This might be:
Consider how much time you spend doing the things you value.
2. Eliminate 10 Hours A Week Of Non-Value Adding Time
You get to choose what you do with your time. Unless you don’t choose, then someone or something else will choose for you.
There are about a million little gremlins fighting for your attention every day. You go for a drive and you get hit in the face by a billboard that reminds you of your receding hairline and now you’re distracted by the inevitability of not being young forever…
You open up Instagram and you're slapped with ads for a product that you were just talking about with your friends. Creepy… It's like they can hear you talking or something. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent to capture your attention and the companies that are spending the money are hiring very smart people to make sure that it happens.
Do you ever find yourself doing something and then you stop in the middle of doing it and think, “Wait why am I doing this?”
Why am I doing this? Why am I scrolling through Instagram right now? Why am I on TikTok right now? Why am I watching Netflix right now? Why do more and more weeks go by where we feel like we’re not inching any closer to the things that we actually want to accomplish in life?
Here are some activities that might be sucking your valuable time:
I'm not saying that the things I've listed are bad, but they can be huge distractions in life. They can keep us from doing the things that we value. Keeping us from getting any closer to the art we want to make.
I challenge you to eliminate 10 hours of activity every week of things that you do that aren't actually important. Then, and this is the most important part, use those 10 hours to either make art or do something else that supports your values from step one.
I believe that if you cut back doing these attention sucking activities and refocus that time towards things that you value, even if you're not making art, you will be happier. If you are a happier person, then you will probably make more and better art.
3. Start Using A Calendar And Schedule Large Chunks Of Time To Make Art
Do you want to know what arguably one of the best productivity tools that exists is? A calendar.
“But Zach, I'm a free spirit and I only believe in spontaneity and that'll just cramp the good vibes from the universe that I channel. My creativity comes when it comes broooo and I answer the call….”
You are bad at getting sh** done. You would be better at getting sh** done if you used a calendar.
Do you make less art than you think you’re capable of? Does time just “slip away” and you never quite finish the projects you start? Do you not even start the projects you dream of?
Well, when was the last time you set aside two to four hours of uninterrupted time to work on your art? Do you schedule that time? If not, you are destroying your own potential. If you want to make art then prove it. Be a big boy or girl and schedule four hours during which you only work on your art. Do that every week of 2020 and you will move freakin’ mountains.
Sorry if this is a kick in the a** to you but you need to hear it. I’m glad you’re here.
Very successful writer, programmer, investor Paul Graham wrote a now very popular essay titled, “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule”. Read that here.
He observes that people who make things need large chunks of time without interruption to work. One hour chunks are barely enough to get going.
Author Cal Newport, in his book, Deep Work, discusses a phenomena called “attention residue”.
Attention Residue = The lag of your brain (attention) trying to catch up when you transfer from one task to another.
-You sit down to write a song.
-Your phone lights up.
-You look at an Instagram DM notification.
-You open IG then get sucked into the newsfeed for 10 mins before shutting it down.
-You try to go back to writing and your brain is like “lyrics, words, rhyming, but wait was that a picture of a puppy wearing sunglasses…? No stop.. Writing, words, lyrics, melody… Yeeesh I wonder if Brad was drunk when he took that photo….”
-You realize: oh wait I didn’t even read the DM!!!!!!!!
Oh I know you know what I’m talking about. You need uninterrupted time. Put your phone away. Go some place quiet. Find a creative space that you can work in. Allow yourself to get “in the zone” and enter into a “flow state”. This is where all your creative juices are flowing and you are fully immersed in making your art. Do it.
4. Apply The 80/20 Rule
The wahhhh? Also known as Pareto’s Principle.. OK the idea is that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes OR 80% of the outputs come from 20% of the inputs. It’s worked for me. It can work for you. Find more background here.
Here are some examples of how you can apply the 80/20 Rule:
Starting to get it now?
This is the hard part. Now think very hard and seriously about what falls on either side of the 80/20 rule for you once you have applied it. Take my very first bullet point for example: What 20% of the art making process causes you 80% of the problems you commonly encounter?
Ask yourself: Can I automate, delegate, or eliminate that 20% and get rid of 80% of my problems?
Here’s an example from my own life as a music producer: I have produced, engineered, edited, comped, and arranged a song. I have spent dozens of hours working on this track. I have placed microphones, ran cables, and listened critically to different tones and parts. I may have even played some of the parts myself. Now it’s time to mix the song and I have lost all objectivity. I have heard the song 1000 times a certain way. Do I mix it myself? I could. I have before. I could also hire someone to do it instead of beating my head against a wall for 16 hours doing a task that would normally take four to six hours. I can delegate that work and save myself the headache.
You might also find that the 20% can be automated by some software or eliminated all together.
I challenge you to really zoom into your process for creating art and apply the 80/20 Rule however you see fit.
5. Build A Positive Feedback Loop
Hmmm. You’re a genius. You’re a lone wolf. You operate solo and get results.. Kinda….
Folks.. It is okay to ask for help. It is okay to ask for feedback. We need feedback. Otherwise we get stuck in our heads and lose sight of what is important.
Do you have people in your life that you trust? Are there any creatives who understand your art & process enough to critique you at certain strategic points along the way?
Have you ever spent hours implementing a creative choice unsure whether it was actually making your art any better? I have. A lot. Stop doing that Zach. You too. Stop it. Ask for feedback early and often so you don’t waste your time.
Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, in his book Creativity, Inc. discusses the importance of the “Braintrust” in the development of all your favorite Pixar movies. You know.. like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Up, Monsters, Inc.
The Braintrust was a group of people at the company, all with different perspectives, who got together to offer directors and writers feedback on their progress. The Braintrust was and is a crucial part of what made Pixar what it is today.
I challenge you to go out there and ask some friends or your mom at least to give you feedback on your art.
6. Finish It And Ship It.
“Hey, what are you up to today Zach?”
“Oh I’m actually working on a song. I’m on mix revision 117. I think I’m getting close to finishing.”
Are you bad at finishing? Do you find it hard to say your art is complete? Is it done? Is it ready to be shared?
I’m just over here trying to self actualize maaannnn…
I get it. I struggle with this too. I want what is in my head to get out and manifest itself in the form of my art. I make music. I want it to sound the way I want. At times I break my back with revisions and tweaks. I can get so zoomed in and micro with my adjustments. Sometimes I go too far.
There is a limit. There is a threshold. Once you cross it, you are no longer making your art any better. You are agonizing over minute details that are not improving anything. You might be making it worse.
Now you may have avoided this situation if you had a feedback group. But what now?
Let’s talk about fear. Is fear holding you back from sharing your art? From saying this is done and I did my best? My two cents: we are not meant to live our lives making fear based decisions. Do not let fear prevent you from making your valuable contribution to this world. You have a contribution to make and it is valuable. Make it. Finish. Let it go. Ship it. Release it. Post it. Share it.
Not every project has to be your best work. Best-selling author Malcom Gladwell popularized the idea that 10,000 hours of practice and experience makes you a master. Like Yoda.
You will never be a master of your art if you never finish your projects. Your 10th song probably won’t be as good as your 100th, but you’ll never get to 100 if you don’t finish and release your music.
If you got all the way to the bottom of this article, thank you. Thanks for reading these words. I hope this was helpful to you. Would you be up for sharing this with a friend who might also find it helpful heading into 2020?
How do you spend your time?
This phrase is interesting to me, especially the word spend.
When I hear the word spend I think of money. However, time was being spent well before any money was ever spent in this world.
Time = money. No it doesn't. Money is just what we get in exchange for our time in relation to however much value our work contributes to society.
Time is more valuable than money. An hour could be worth $15 or $1000. On the other hand $10 will always be $10 (not taking into account inflation).
A buddy of mine recently asked me what are in my experience some of the benefits of not checking my phone past a certain time at night. I had told him I limit my phone use after 6pm. I have a lot to say on the topic of limiting phone use. So here goes:
First thing, my life has changed drastically for the better since I’ve started being very serious about limiting my phone use.
One of the biggest moves I’ve made is that I DO NOT bring my phone into my bedroom.
Pretty much ever. Unless I’m listening to a podcast and just grabbing something real quick. Since I got my phone out of my room I have been sleeping better than I have at any other point in my life.
This will help you decide what to do next…
Some people are doers & starters. Some people are doers & finishers.
Some people are both and some people are great at all the stuff in-between starting and finishing a project. Some people struggle to start or finish or do anything.
Regardless of what we are trying to build, create, write, or dream up everyone struggles to some degree with deciding what to do next. What do I do next?
Often there are thousands of seemingly important things to do or decisions to make. So many priorities to take care of…
HOLD UP! STOP!
You were just going to go with me on that weren’t you? “So many priorities…”
No there actually aren’t sooooo many priorities. Here’s what I mean:
YOUR IDEAL WORK WEEK
I sat with a friend at a coffee shop and we discussed his growing freelance business. He was frustrated. He works a 50 hour a week job to pay the bills, but wants more time to work on his own business. Out of curiosity I asked, “Once you’re full-time with your business what do you want your week to look like?”
“You wake up on Monday. Then what?”
Founder of @lostharbormusic