Do you want to create more but can’t seem to get stuff finished or make progress? Do you give up easily and have negative thoughts about yourself?
As musicians, we have tonnes of innate creative ability we could put to use creating projects, products, experiences or resources. But many of us are held back by some or all of these common problems:
- Perfectionism or procrastination
- Struggling to be productive with the time we have available to us
- Having too many ideas and not knowing which is best or where to start
I’ve personally struggled with all three of these problems and wasted a lot of time and energy over the years. And don’t get me wrong, I’m no master of productivity. But the one lesson I’ve learnt, which has made the most profound difference to my productivity, is to embrace imperfect action to create more, and in less time.
3 Way to Create More Through Imperfect Action
#1. Nurture a healthy relationship with imperfect action
Perfectionism is that persistent feeling that whatever you’re producing – a performance, a composition, a lesson plan, a website – could always be better. It’s the feeling that if it’s not perfect (whatever that means) then it’s not worth putting out there at all.
Really perfectionism is just another form of procrastination in that the results of indulging in either of these bad habits are often the same. Which is to produce no result at all.
If you’re wanting to create more in less time then the absolute first thing you could do is to start nurturing a healthy relationship with imperfection.
So how do you do that?
Lower your standards…slightly!
Creating more through imperfect action doesn’t mean being sloppy, or ill-considered, or producing with poor craftsmanship. It just means lowering your standards from producing faultlessly to good enough, or from excellence to simply satisfactory.
This can be REALLY hard for some of us. But trust me this simple mindset will blast away the roadblock and move you forward in a very big way.
Focus on value, not presentation.
What you offer doesn’t have to be immaculate to have value or to create an impression. If it’s ideas you’re producing, the TRUTH of what you’re saying will resonate, not how many typos you have.
Usefulness will create fans, not colour palette or font selection.
Avoid the Bells and Whistles
If it’s a service you’re trying to sell, just being seen at all will make impressions. Try not to get carried away with all the bells and whistles or the beauty of the thing you’re creating.
If you wait until you present a flawlessly polished front you could have missed countless opportunities.
It may not be pretty, and it may not appeal to everyone, but your message is the priority. You only need to reach one person to make an impression.
I learnt this the hard way. The first draft of my website took me almost a year. I spent months to decide on a theme I liked, and many more tweaking the layout and the images. I would get lost down the rabbit hole trying to decide on the best font and agonised endlessly over the perfect copy. Which I completely changed 3 times.
In the meantime, my website remained unpublished and there was ZERO chance of attracting any new students. Instead, I should have published a simple website right away with just the important information on it – I teach piano, this is my teaching philosophy, this is where I am, contact me – AT LEAST giving myself a chance to be seen.
Be seen as soon as you can because you’ll only make impressions if you show up.
I don’t know who said it first but you have to be in it to win it, right? So, focus on expressing the core ideas, clearly, and get it out there right away.
You can always refine it later, as you go.
Create systems to prevent limiting habits from taking over
Perfectionism prevents us from finishing what we start when we allow negative thoughts to take charge.
Spending too much time “perfecting” opens the door to these thoughts, deflating our motivation and crushing our confidence.
This is too hard, it’s a pile of crap anyway, it’s corny, this has been done a thousand times, what’s the point – It’s so hard to overcome these thoughts once it goes this far.
Instead, what’s worked for me is to create systems to avoid having to confront those thoughts altogether.
#2. Set up systems to manage your time
Try setting time limits
When composing I would often spend hours and hours going over the same thing. I’d endlessly make tiny little tweaks here and there believing I was refining it with every listen.
My “perfecting” was really time down the drain with minimal actual improvement. What’s worse, I would find more faults with every listen, inviting the negative thoughts to flood in.
The solution to this problem is simple. Set a time limit and finish up at that time, whatever stage you’re in. This can really help to prevent the negative thoughts and it definitely stops the time waste.
Setting limits does something very interesting to our brains. If you know you only have 2 hours to complete a task, somehow your brain knows to prioritise what really needs to be done in that time. If you give yourself 2 days to do the same thing, it will probably take you two days.
So be brutal. Give yourself small time limits of 1 or 2 hours to get things done. Maybe you’ll need to experiment a little with the time limits to complete specific tasks but try it a few times and you’ll work out how much time you really need.
Create sketches or outlines ahead of time
Set aside time specifically for brainstorming ideas, sketching or creating outlines, or doing a stream of consciousness exercise.
Keeping this stage separate from the bulky fleshing out stage keeps those niggling limiting thoughts at bay because there’s no pressure to perform, no need to perfect in any way.
The ideas can be both good and bad and it doesn’t matter. You get to decide later which ones are worth pursuing in-depth.
When the time comes to do the more substantial work you can hit the ground running because you’ll already have ideas mapped out to get you going.
Which is a massive time saver!
Sometimes you just feel unmotivated by a project.
Maybe you’re just not feeling it, and when this happens often what you produce is not the best work. Not a good place to be in. This leads you down the road of negative self-talk, producing doubts, problems in confidence, and feelings of wanting to quit.
So the solution to this particular problem is to have multiple projects going at the same time.
When you’re not feeling inspired by any given project, simply switch over to another one. Maybe you’ll feel more inspired by that one.
Nowadays I always work non-linearly this way. I never start a project and stay on that project until it’s finished before starting on another, in a linear fashion. I’ll regularly dip in and out of projects.
Time away from projects brings fresh ears, eyes, sparks ideas and renews perspective.
#3. What to do when you have too many project ideas
The quantity of ideas isn’t really the problem here. It’s usually a problem of overwhelm and not knowing where to start or what to prioritise. You can easily get stuck in the mud, unable to move forward. Perhaps you don’t know which project is best, or the most profitable, or has the most value.
It’s so easy to fixate on the value of the finished outcome, rather than the benefit of the process getting us there.
In a way, this is also a form of perfectionism because you want to make sure that WHAT you start has the potential to be a perfect example of your work as a creator. Your worthiness is at stake here.
At least, that’s the story we tell ourselves. No wonder we get stuck. Geez!
The way I see it there are 2 ways to get past this problem.
Pick just one idea and see it through
There has been much said about the benefits of focussing on one thing and pursuing that one thing with all you’ve got. You’re able to knuckle down on the one task, stay on track, stay in the zone, and get to the finish line faster.
To avoid the perfectionism beast set a time limit. 3 months is usually a good amount of time to make great progress and not over commit to something that may not be worthwhile.
I’m all for this approach. If you’re comfortable going all-in on one idea then definitely do that. It will get you results in the least amount of time.
Unfortunately for me, I’ve never been able to pick just one project. I’ve tried to stick it out with one before, but I get too easily distracted by new ideas. Truthfully this may well be my biggest flaw. There’s no use ignoring it though. So I’ve learnt to deal with it through management strategies that help me make progress on multiple project ideas, without drowning me in overwhelm.
Make regular Micro Actions on multiple ideas
If you’re in a position where you just don’t know which project to pursue then the simplest and most effective solution is to make a start on some or all of them, in very small, micro-steps.
Ask yourself what’s the smallest action I can take towards a specific goal that I can realistically maintain on a regular basis.
For example, if one of your projects is to create your website, could you realistically commit 30 mins a week to that task? If the answer is yes, then this will be the smallest action you can take for that goal.
The important factor here is that it needs to FEEL like it’s effortless to achieve this task. Meaning, it’s so easy a commitment that it feels much the same as not doing anything at all.
If you commit to this task for say 3 months, over that 3 months you’ll have accumulated 6 hours worth of work.
This may or may not be enough to complete the task. But crucially, after 3 months of committing to 30 mins a week, you’ve proven to yourself that you’re capable of following through on a commitment and in creating firm repeatable habits.
This knowledge creates confidence and a belief that maybe now you can increase that minimum effort to 60mins or 3 hours and maintain it without getting overwhelmed.
Now, if you do this for a few of your priority projects, you’ll be making genuine progress towards your goals, incrementally.
Micro Actions will always accumulate results given enough time
I struggled for years trying to figure out what I wanted to say and do with my skills and how to live my musical life. I’ve always known I wanted to create, but exactly what has not always been as clear. I’ve struggled to make significant progress in the past because of perfectionism and the fear and overwhelm that comes with it.
I read a quote somewhere that really changed things for me.
“You can only find your voice by using your voice”.
Such a simple message that had a BIG impact on me. I realised that just putting something out there, no matter the imperfections, will help you learn about yourself, help you to refine your voice and ultimately help you find your purpose.