Updated: Jun 2, 2020
In the recent weeks, we've seen a large increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, and government's across the globe have begun implementing lockdowns and quarantines, keeping the vast majority of us at home and in isolation.
From the surging stock markets, to mass business and industry closures internationally, everyone is feeling the pressure. Times are tough for everybody as this unfolds; from employment uncertainties to paying next month's rent and putting food on the table for your family. But through tough times, it's always important to look for the silver lining, regardless of how faint it might be.
Having free time and using free time effectively are two entirely different things.
If you're anything like me, finding a moment of free time in normal day to day life can be difficult. Even finding time to keep creative and to let myself feel inspired or encouraged to learn new things can be a challenge some days. Occasionally it can be really easy: a song idea may pop into your head out of nowhere, or your ideas seem to come naturally. Other days, it can seem like a struggle to get that creative energy flowing or to find the time, and your creative motivation might come second to your day-to-day responsibilities and duties. But when you actually do get some free time at home, are you using it constructively? How about now, now that we are expected to stay home and practice social distancing? Have you been more or less productive since COVID-19 hit the proverbial fan?
It's easy to complain about the time we don't have, until we actually take a look at how we spend our free time. I'm the first to admit that I don't always use my free time to the best of my ability. Sometimes, hobbies and other interests in life contribute to that very "lack of time" I often complain about. If the weather cooperates, I can be found flying my paramotor, somewhere in the bush on my mountain bike, or crossing the lagoons with my stand-up paddle board. These are hobbies and interest of mine that extend beyond music, recording and performing. In a way, they are just as important to me as the time I set aside to be creative, as they help me see the world from a different perspective, get in a bit of exercise and focus on other areas of self-development. But with all of these recent COVID-19 restrictions put in place, there's been a change to what we can actually do with our free time.
Going for a fly, or down to the beach for a relax is not an option at the moment and balancing hobbies and home-life has a new look these days. Also important to note is my love for sitting on the couch killing virtual zombies, streaming Netflix or YouTube and just chilling out at home in my PJs. Doing nothing is awesome. But it's now a bit more important to balance downtime with productivity and motivation, as there's no boss looking over my shoulder telling me to do my work or to get the ball rolling. Downtime is amazing (and totally necessary, too!), but also can be destructive to work ethic if you let it get out of control.
The one thing quarantines and isolation has likely provided you is a bit more free time at home, and there's no time like the present to start working on your music, familiarise yourself with recording from home and getting your creative energy flowing.
On one hand, quarantines have limited the reasons you can leave your home, and has changed what we can do in our free time. On the other hand, it has hopefully opened up the opportunity for self-development from home, such as building your home studio, focusing on your goals and plans, writing new music, creating new content, becoming a better artist, building your catalogue, planning a tour with your bandmates (via video call, obviously), putting a list together of potential venues you'd like to play at when this whole thing blows over, learn some new songs, record your demos, etc. etc. etc. The list goes on and on. There are hundreds upon hundreds of ways you can be productive and develop your skills without having to leave your house. The trick is to be conscious of how we are spending our time, and making sure we are balancing our downtime and productivity as best as we can.
Here are a few things to consider when it comes to your creativity and productivity during the quarantines:
1. Don't Miss the Forest for the Trees: Break down your larger goal into smaller, more manageable tasks.
You best strategy may be to break down your bigger long-term goals into smaller, more achievable goals and tasks. Lets say you wish to put together a whole new set of music for your live show during the quarantine. You may find it more manageable to break this task down into learning 2 new songs per week. Or, maybe you want to release a new album of original music. You may have a few ideas already, but you will need a coherent plan to develop these ideas. Your best approach might be to create brainstorm charts exploring different themes, chords and song parts you are working with and committing yourself to a deadline. All this to say you will be far better off breaking your larger goal down into smaller, more reasonable tasks that can be measured and monitored over the long run, instead of trying to tackle the whole thing at once.
One of my biggest regrets from my 3+ years of working at sea for various cruise lines is the fact that I didn't break down my long-term goals effectively. I was fortunate to have incredible amounts of free time while at sea, between my shows. I could always clearly see the end-result of where I wanted to be when it came to my music and music career: to build a new live show, tour my originals and to play new and exciting venues for appreciative audiences. While all of these goals I set for myself were attainable and achievable, I never properly broke them down into smaller, more measurable tasks, or allowed myself to actually start working towards these goals productively. I never set deadlines for myself and said "OK, I need to have a list of 25 new potential venues by Monday the 12th, and then by Monday the 19th, I need to have mapped out a rough blueprint of a tour around these venues." And before I knew it, three years had passed me by.
Don't get me wrong: I literally sailed around the globe and saw parts of the world I only dreamed I'd see. I performed regularly and felt on top of my game. I was able to make valuable industry connections, promote and sell my original music and grow in so many areas of life. But the big goals and dreams I set out for myself sat largely untouched.
I could clearly see the end goal and where I wanted to be, but failed to manage my free time effectively enough to see progressive results. At the end of the day, I learned that it's much better to see slow and steady growth towards your end goal, instead of keeping it categorised as one big dream that never gets set into motion.
This is true of any area of your creative life that you would like to develop, especially with the extra time spent at home most of us have with COVID-19 restrictions. Once you have that idea of what your goal is, (be it to build a home studio, become a better guitar player or singer, write your own music, etc.) it's imperative you break it down into steps, set deadlines, and keep track of each separate accomplishment as you go. This way, you will look back at your goal at the end of the tunnel and say "wow, I actually took some significant steps towards reaching my goal these past weeks" instead of feeling like you missed the forest for the trees.
If you have a minute, take a look at this outstanding TedTalk by Stephen Duneier which hammers this concept home.
2. Remember you don't have to have it all figured out.
It's okay to have a general idea of what you'd like to accomplish, without being 100% certain of what the end result will look like. Just because you know you'd like to put together a new album of original material doesn't mean you need to have every aspect mapped out. Sometimes, some of the most creative and inspiring moments will come from uncertainties or being open to new ideas. Being adaptive and open to this spontaneous creativity may encourage you to try something new, or to remain open-minded to new ideas and ways to do things. Having a concrete and definitive vision/plan for a project or goal can steer you towards where you want to end up, but it's not a prerequisite to getting started and getting the ball rolling. It's OK to start with a rough, general idea of where you'd like to end up, or of what you'd like to see yourself doing, but also important to be flexible and adaptive as you learn and grow.
3. Don't beat yourself up.
Taking on a new project or goal can be exhausting, time-consuming and it can leave you feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. It's at this point that creativity and free-flowing inspiration seems to grind to a stop, and you can be stuck feeling like you're wasting your time. There's nothing more frustrating than learning that new song, only to keep forgetting that same line or chord every single time. There's nothing more discouraging than trying to record that same track 100 times, only to mess up every single take. Important to remember is that these types of setbacks are normal, regardless of what level you're at. The key takeaway is to remain confident in yourself and to keep challenging yourself. If you're overwhelmed and discouraged, take a step back and take a break and come back to it with a clean slate.
You may also find it helpful to take a look at this article, for a few pointers on how to get the ball rolling again when you're at a creative standstill, or things aren't coming together the way you imagined.
As we navigate the current quarantines and restrictions, now is the time like none other to set your creativity into motion. Sit down with a pen and paper to break down your long-term goal or dream into weekly tasks. Make sure what you're aiming to accomplish each week is reasonable, and be sure to set deadlines for yourself. Remember that as you work through it, your end-goal may change and adapt as you go. Lastly, don't beat yourself up if you're not where you want to be just yet. If you're not seeing progress, or you're feeling overwhelmed and frustrated instead of proud of your accomplishments, then maybe you haven't broken your goal down into small enough steps.
All in all, there's no time like the present to focus on your creativity and get your goals underway. The sooner you get started, the closer you will be to releasing your next album, performing your newest set or recording your own music from home! I believe in you!