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Finish Your Mix – Tips for maximising productivity and creativity

In this day and age of flashy distraction after flashy distraction, its no wonder that the majority of us tend to suffer from a lack of productivity to some degree. We are barraged by short video clips, photo after photo, and irritating notifications throughout our working day – and if we aren’t careful they take our focus away, and for a lot longer than you would think.

As of recent I have been particularly harsh towards my productivity and output of work, scrutinizing every day and week in attempts to ensure that I complete enough work to satisfy the standard I try and uphold. While this may not be the right way to go about trying to improve your life – ruthless scrutiny – it has led me down a path of insights that I think would be beneficial to share, especially for any knowledge worker or creative.

A quick note of importance, I will be discussing both ways to improve productivity, AND creativity. These two things are not improved via the same methods, as creative output is a lot more nuanced and requires different kinds of output optimization. So, if you would like to take a few important steps towards a more fulfilling work life, read on…

Why is productivity important?

A good place to start would be with the above question, as why does it matter if you increase your productivity if you get results that you aren’t after? What is to gain? I am going to assume that you (the reader) are a work driven person (considering you are reading a blog about productivity). This would, I presume, mean that your work matters to you, and that you have certain goals relating to your work. Being that you have goals, you would feel a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment through their completion. If this is the case, increasing your output of meaningful work would provide you with a sense of fulfillment and overall satisfaction with your efforts.

Productivity doesn’t simply mean doing more work, my personal definition of productivity is doing more focused work, work that is of substance and provides value. Let’s take a student for example. You often hear certain students boasting about ‘studying 12 hours a day’ or similar lucrative hours of slaving over books and staring into blue light. Would you consider this productive? I wouldn’t. This student, by MY definition of productivity is not productive because there is a limit to the amount of focused work you can achieve each day, and thus the production of value is capped. This is believed to be at around 4 hours per day for very highly focused individuals who have been practicing various productivity and focus techniques for decades…, for the average joe you can expect between one and a half to three hours of focused productivity each day. If this is the case, increasing your focused productivity is also a means of reducing the amount that you work. Who doesn’t like the idea of working less and producing more? I feel like this idea is specifically useful for mixing, which I will get to.

The book to read in regard to this topic – and the one I have read and will be basing some discussion points on is Deep Work by Cal Newport. ‘Deep work’ is focused productivity, and what is considered ‘shallow work’ is work that does not require focus to complete, and does not typically equate to the production of real value. Placing an emphasis on focused productivity in your life is likely to lead to advances in career, more time to dedicate to other commitments, increased finances, and increased output of valuable work – which for those whose job it is to produce works such as songs or albums, this is very important.

Committing to a schedule

A crucial first step to increasing productivity and focus is through committing to a schedule or routine of some kind. For most who have commitments throughout their daily lives, this may be difficult, but I will propose solutions for those with the freedom to schedule their entire day around increasing their productivity, and those who have to work around other activities and duties.

Firstly, you should identify what group you fall under. Do you have every hour of your day under your control, or do you have to obey someone else’s schedule? If you have the freedom to control your day entirely, you now need to decide what kind of worker you are. Do you tend to work best in smaller blocks of time routinely, or do you prefer to lock yourself away and only return to society once a project is complete? (don’t confuse the later with not being productive, this is just a different optimization of time). In any case, you need to build the capacity to enter into states of focus, without distraction. Whether for days or weeks, or a few hours, this is the crucial skill.

Once you have decided on how you would like to work ‘deeply’, you need to find ways to transition easily into this state of focus. There are a few ways to ritualize entering into a state of focus, these are:

  • Have a dedicated location where you ONLY conduct focused work, such as a study,
  • know how you will work once you start your work – keep your efforts structured such as “write 2000 words per session of work etc”,
  • and finally, know how you will support your productivity – coffee, walking during structured breaks, and so on…

My ritual for productivity

I have the privilege to control my day down to the minute during the time that I am writing this. This allows me to follow a routine of ‘deep work’ each day that is split into 2 blocks of 2 hours where I attempt to be in a complete state of focus. Here is my exact procedure for getting into these states of focus (although, I have only just begun my journey so my skill of remaining focused is still developing): My workspace is disconnected from my place of residence, which is important for those who work from home as I do. But this goes deeper than that. You want to separate the place where you do ‘shallow work’ from the place that you do deep work, because this place of deep work needs to be optimized for focus. As such, when I enter my studio (which is an outbuilding on my property) I aim to keep it free of distraction – which in the digital age, and needing to produce work whilst using an internet connection, is difficult! So, when I am entering my workspace to do deep work, I make sure to keep all browsers closed, notifications off and phone left behind in the house (good luck reaching me). This lets me attack a task with my full focus until I have spent all of my concentration energy.

Setting up a dedicated space that assists in allowing you to enter into a state of focus makes it fairly easy to expend this concentration energy. Don’t be alarmed if you can’t concentrate deeply for too long, remember that this is likely a new skill and will take time to master. If you struggle with having too many commitments, and too many tasks at hand and just can’t seem to settle down and focus, I have a few tips. Keep track of what you intend to do each day, and each week. Write down what you need to do and when you will do it. Simple – but here’s the trick, have a cut off time, a time where you are either not allowed to think of work at all and allow yourself to recharge for the next session of focus, or a cutoff time where you have to set everything else aside and focus. To alleviate the mental strain of trying to set aside pressing matters, write down when you will next attack the task that is stressing you, exactly when, and exactly how you will go about it. Feel confident in what you write, and let it exit your mind.

The mind is a muscle, treat it like one

Time for some gym analogies. Say you do squats at the gym, a big taxing movement. Your body becomes drained of energy, and you need to rest momentarily before your next set of the exercise. After this session at the gym, you may need to take the next day off of the gym in order to restore your energy for the following day of training (i.e a rest day). This should make sense to anyone who is a gym goer, your muscles need rest to grow in strength and size. So why don’t we think this way for the mind? If you actually use your full ability of concentration, you feel really drained of energy! As I reach my limit of concentration for any particular session, I feel quite tired. So, take frequent breaks from focus and commit this time to certain activities that refill your energy.

You can think of and apply this in two ways. Inter ‘workout’ breaks, and after ‘workout’ breaks (workout being a session of concentration). Inter ‘workout’ breaks for my profession are extremely important. In mixing, you can become hyper-focused very easily. Or, after time, you may need to refresh and reset your hearing in order to extract the most out of a song. Taking quick breaks throughout sessions of mixing (or any other task that requires focus) helps clear your mind and recenters your attention. The best method of recharging your attention is some form of light exercise, and getting out into nature – so the best combination of the two is a walk in nature. For a quick inter ‘workout’ break, take a walk around your house, or around the block. Then, take this activity and translate it for the after ‘workout’ breaks. Go for a fairly long 1-2 hour walk, get in your 10,000 steps. Walking, especially in nature, is proven to clear the mind and provide you with greater mental clarity. As noted in Deep Work, walking in nature allows your brains ‘focused attention’ to replenish due to providing “inherently fascinating stimuli”. In more understanding terms, by walking in nature you are relaxing your brain and relieving it of concentration (so long as you aren’t walking a dangerous hiking trail or other alike outdoor activity). This activity doesn’t have to be walking, it can be any activity that “provides inherently fascinating stimuli and freedom from directed concentration” – as in you aren’t focusing your attention on one specific topic or objective.

The creativity argument

Fixed productivity can seem counter-intuitive for creativity. Creativity occurs to many in many strange and differing ways, and no particular method, routine or any other alike suggestion is going to 100% work for everyone. Creativity is different to everyone. For myself, my role as a sound engineer is a mix between technical and creative. I tend to not allow myself to fall too deeply into a creative trap – sinking in the hours trying to craft a very specific sound. Due to technical knowhow, I can usually bypass these long hours and get a result that I envisioned fairly quickly. Creativity arises in no usual manner, and typically includes rabbit holes of exploration, and the disregard of time. Being in a state of creative output is not what you should focus on. When you are in this state, let it be, and let the creative juices flow in any way that they choose to do so. What you should focus on is the ability to get into these creative states.

For those whose profession is reliant on their creative output, I do have a few suggestions that may open your mind up to new creative insights quicker for whatever method you have in place to maximise your current creative output.

If you don’t already have a ritual or schedule for putting yourself in the frame of mind for creative output, it may be wise to think of the times that you produce your best work, and then think of ways to try and replicate these times continuously. This may not be in the form of a specific ritual; it may be finding ways to get yourself in the position to be open to creative insights more frequently. This for you may be coffee shop visits, or long walks – whatever delivers you the results you want.

Removing distraction from your life is also important. In order to be able to think and work on new creative ideas, you do need to have the capacity to focus, just as you do in productivity practices. Removing distraction could be attempting what is known as a ‘dopamine detox’, an internet trend whose main premise is having you cut out technological distraction from your life (social media, video games, TV/Netflix etc). Drastic changes usually don’t stick, so I wouldn’t advise dropping all technological distraction from your life, but certainly some. Evaluate which forms of entertainment are most valuable to you, and drop the rest slowly.

Creativity isn’t something that can be forced, true creativity flows. The further you lean into distraction, the more this flow is restricted. A distracted mind, in any regard, is not enabling your full potential. Eliminating distraction and maximizing your ability to focus is the key to success. While easier said than done, there is no point in not trying.

Conclusion

Your attention is very valuable. Your ability to focus is what leads you to success in life, whether financial success, or career, building new hobbies and developing new skills – you need focus. Your capacity to focus is what will advance your position in life. If you believe this as I do, then you will agree with me that you shouldn’t just give away your attention so freely, especially to the new wave of short format content on social media. The adequately named “death scroll” (where you endlessly scroll on the infinitely generating social media feeds) is indeed deadly, it will kill your attention. Treat your attention like a currency, what will you invest it into? Social media, or your career? Having the capacity to focus in a world that is full of distractions and people who fall for said distractions will set you apart. The journey is difficult, so again, don’t feel discouraged with slow progress. Implementation of these habits doesn’t happen overnight – but for the reward, I am willing to put in the extra time and effort.

Let us know your thoughts through contacting us on any of our social media pages, or contact us directly. Your input is appreciated.