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Creating a SYSTEM THAT WORKS for you

I was listening to a podcast hosted by the renowned author Brené Brown recently and on that particular episode she was talking to James Clear, the author of the book "Atomic Habits" (next on my reading list!). One phrase James Clear said struck me and made me reflect on it: "You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems".


It inspired me to write this blog post. As musicians, we all have our goals which we want to achieve: play a certain amount of concerts per year, play in a particular venue, record and release an album, perform all of Mozart's piano Sonatas and so on. Some of these goals may seem ambitious and some less, but that's beside the point. What really matters is putting a system in place which gives you the chance and ease of mind to pursue them.


So how do we put such a system in place? Here are a few of my thoughts based on my experience, but feel free to comment below and add more ideas!


1. Having a CLEAR goal. Record and publish a CD, play 50 concerts per year, learn 10 new works, are excellent goals, but they are too vague. Do you know what kinds of concerts you want to play in during the year? Are they solo, chamber music, jazz, folk, improvisation, recitals, concerts with friends? Which 10 works do you want to learn? Era, style, composer, instrumentation? What repertoire will you record, where, with whom? The first step to creating a system is having a clear goal. If you need help on getting more clarity with your goals, consider booking a coaching session with me.


2. Timeline BEATS deadline. I find that focusing on a timeline rather than on a deadline is much more effective and relieves you of a lot of unneccesary stress. Instead of thinking "I need to learn the 10 new works by 30th of July", break down which of these works you will be focusing on each month, or each week, or every two weeks. That way you create a timeline which will lead you progressively to that goal. Plus, deadlines are only effective for immediately actionable tasks like replying to emails (and getting your composers to finish their pieces on time ;D)


3. Effective Planning. Once you have your timeline in place, you can start planning. An effective plan is the one that allows you to be in control of what is happening on your timeline. It also makes you avoid unpleasant surprises. If, for example, your goal is to record and publish a CD, your plan could look something like this: define a programme, contact studios, get prices for recording, book the recording session, practice, contact labels, get their prices, practice, record, editing and mastering, send masters to labels, get the contract(s), read and discuss it, adjust, sign, market the album. Position each of the stages of your plan on the timeline (months or weeks or even days).


4. Scheduling. Scheduling differs from planning in the way that it is a more precise time allocation for a certain action. Taking the above example, you will schedule the day and the time for sending the emails to the studios, when you made your choice you will schedule the call with the studio to book it, you will schedule all of your practicing and so on. Scheduling works best when done in bulk. You might want to send ALL your emails on Wednesday between 10 and 12 AM, instead of sending an email each day between 8 and 8:15 AM.


5. Keeping yourself accountable. You are the one who is responsible for reaching your goals. If you miss a practicing session for whatever reason, you must be able to say "hey, I know I skipped it because of X, but I will make sure to practice a couple extra hours on Y". By being responsible you will be able to control your plan of achieving your goal.


6. Do a regular progress check. Set up a day of the week or of the month to sit down and look at your plan and where you are with your progress. This will help with keeping yourself accountable.


7. Adjust on the way. Something unexpected can always happen and we need to take that into consideration. Perhaps the studio is taking a longer time to send you their price estimate. Perhaps you underestimated that particular Mozart Sonata and it requires more time. Perhaps the concert you scheduled at a venue got postponed because of a technical problem, etc. Don't throw yourself down and beat yourself up about it. Adjust your plan along the way so that it fits the timeline and the situation. Life is life and it happens.


8. Research and take advantage of online tools. There are a variety of online tools which can help you keep on track. I love using HubSpot to keep a track of what I am doing. For scheduling you can use Google calendar or a paper one (or any other online calendar you like). For my tasks I use an agenda and Microsoft To-Do (with reminders and alerts). I also use OneNote on my phone whenever I need a place to drop some of my ideas on the go.


If you need help or would like to talk about your doubts in becoming or continuing your career as a professional musician, you can book a virtual coffee with me or a one-to-one coaching session on my website.


If you like my content, support me by sharing this blog post with your friends and on social media and by becoming a patron on my Patreon page.


Comment below if you found this post useful :)

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