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?