Less is more

The larger the setup the more options I have. Which I absolutely love. However this also has a time implication, more of my limited time and energy will go into setting up and learning how to use it. I have tried to use a limited set of tools before which quickly escalated into much larger setups.

I am not very good in keeping a small setup and focussing on just that setup. Which is a bit weird as my discipline is pretty good. I can keep to my planning. I suppose this is because I love my toys. I am like a little kid in a toy store which is allowed to play with anything. And this does not yield any result. Just a lot of unfinished sketches.

So this time I absolutely need to keep my setup small and learn it inside out. which will be my focus the coming month. I keep my timelines a bit wider as last time I got frustrated with not achieving my goals. In retrospect I had too many things I wanted to get done in too little time.

This time that has to change. There is a lot to do which will take time. That’s just how it is.

Slowly back at it.

It has been a while and I have been thinking about how to make this blog an interesting place again for people to visit and keep it fun for me to get some writing out there.

This has always been just a personal page, simply sharing whatever I wanted on the subjects I am interested in. Which are music, running (and other sports), finance and all sorts of other things.

I also shared some of my more personal things such as my brain damage. I mostly struggle with on a day to day basis. This also being the reason for my absence of late.

Been dabbling in music and keeping you updated om my progress or lack thereof has helped me greatly, It was a structured endeavor which really helps me.

Unfortunately I struggled with sound and processing sound in my brain a lot and my appetite for doing music and keeping up this blog faded rapidly.

I am slowly getting back to working on music again, and I will have a go at blogging as well. I might just write on lots of other subjects as well. Just to keep the blog momentum going. Let’s see how this all goes. For now I am, be it cautious, back.

Forced break from music & blogging

It has been a while, due to some unforeseen issues with my brain damage resulting in a intolerance for sound I had to step away from music, and blogging fell to the side as well. They’re just wasn’t enough I wanted to talk about or get out there.

Brain damage is a fickle partner to live with. No matter how hard you work at maintaining your balance, sometimes out of nowhere problems arise. And you never know when they end and how long the good streak lasts.

In order to maintain some rhythm of work going I read more and got my exercise up. Mostly this leads to improvements on the long run. I am currently on the way back and try and listen to music and went out to the cinema for some non action movies on downtimes.

I have also written down lots of ideas which I can incorporate into my music. Which will be soon I hope.

Embracing imperfection

Perfection is something we all strive for, yet a lot of beauty can be found in imperfection. Perfection is a never ending story, and in pursuing perfection you can get paralyzed and not finish anything.

Finishing and letting go is one of the most important things in life, whether it is in life, work and art. At some point things are finished, as close to perfect as it can be at that moment in time. It deserves to be out there.

What is perfection anyway? Isn’t there always something to strife for? Sharpening your skills and growing into a better artist, person , or professional ?

Imperfection is a beautiful thing, just like happy accidents, or random occurrences. It’s everyday life. Embracing imperfection is embracing life. Everything needs an end, a finish.

Letting go of perfection is letting go of parts of uncertainty, self-doubt and insecurities. It takes more than striving for perfection and never releasing things.
The finish line will be pushed further everyday anyway, and releasing your art into the world will contribute to your growth as an artist in pursuit of the ultimate piece of art. Your perception of perfection, and once it’s there, you will find new goals and pursue your newly minted definition of perfection.

Which does not mean I am there yet, this just hot me when reading and studying psychological reactions on uncertainty, self-doubt and setting high standards for oneself. So I got to work on how I can release my own music faster and with less discomfort about my own skills and my own fight with perfection. And as I am writing this I am still a bit on the fence about the whole thing, while I know I need to do it to get things out there.

Practically this means setting certain deadlines for myself. Limiting the amount of time spent on a piece of art, resources and ideas I incorporate.

For example, and I will take a framework for music as I know this area better than let’s say writing a novel. Take just a few instruments , or even just one. Give yourself a framework in which you will finish the track. Tempo, length, genre maybe and set a limit , let’s say 14 days. Divide this 14 days into a few blocks. A few days for Sound design, recording, arranging, mixing and administrative tasks. Then after you have done all those things, release it. And don’t look back.

See if this framework needs any updates in it’s parameters. Adjust and move onto the next project. In this way you will learn to embrace imperfections and letting go. And you will learn a lot about your creative process as well. Above all you will learn too see the beauty in imperfection. And thus see the beauty in life.

Focus your planning on building habits and routines

Last time I wrote about ways to get insight in how your time is really spent on a weekly basis and how you can get some breathing room into your week. However I did not go into the actual making of the planning itself. This week I will talk about building the planning and what should be the main focus when planning. And no it’s not (always) about efficiency.

Plan with consistency in mind.

We have 1 new goal in mind, something we want to do more and achieve a certain goal in. To get good at something we need consistency in the time we spent on it. So much so that it becomes a habit and is part of our weekly routine. Before it’s a habit , something we do almost automatically, it needs time to first become a consistent part of our planning. And we have to be able to execute a planning.

To make sure this is feasible our planning needs room to breath, not just in time but also purposefully with breaks, rest and recovery space. Only then will we be able to fully work trough our planning. So it’s not about doing as much as possible, but we need to plan for longevity. We need to be able to keep up with ourselves. Consistency is key. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

How do we achieve consistency in a planning ?

We know how much time we spent on things, we also made some changes. Dropped some activities from the list and limited time spent on certain activities. So how do we fit in our new goal ? We have some room, now we partly fill this in with activities towards our new goal. Make sure you choose 3 moments in the week. 3 is the minimum for making something a habit over the long run. Don’t overdo it in hours especially in the beginning. It’s hard work starting something new and will take a lot of energy. So start modest. Let’s say 2 sessions of 1 hour and 1 session of 1,5 hours. Take 5 to 10 minutes break between each 30 minutes. Plan those as well. So how does that look ?

Time ActivityDuration
8:00 - 8:45Meeting0:45
8:45 - 8:55Break0:10
9:00 - 9:30Focus work0:30
9:30 - 9:35Break0:05
9:35 - 10:05Focus work0:30
10:05 - 10:15Break 0:10
10:15 - 10:30 Emails 0:15

Why do we need breaks in our planning ?

We need breaks not just to take a rest and recover, but the most important thing, we need it to let our mind process and digest the things we learned. Rest gives our brain the ability to remember and preserve.

Everyone has a limited amount of energy for doing high cognitive tasks a day. Things like reading a difficult book (or manual), working on solutions to complicated problems and so on.

If you trained yourself very well in these tasks and your environment is at its best (more on this later) this is 4 hours a day. Really focussed work. That takes a lot of energy. To recuperate it means you can’t do this for 4 hours straight without breaks. you need breaks to maintain a high level of focus. And to get out of that chair. So to make those hours count, breaks are essential.

But I work 8 hours a day ?

Yes most people do, and not included time spent traveling. Luckily a lot of work related tasks are not high cognitive tasks. A lot of things are low cognitive tasks preceding the high cognitive tasks. Simply the hours it takes to get a job done.

Finding a solution to the problem is the high cognitive taks, getting the tools out and spending the hours is less cognitive demanding. Yet can still exhaust you without breaks. So when you work, maintain the breaks. Take less meetings. Make sure the meetings you take are to the point, and are not back to back. You need time to process what is said in that meeting and distill the work that comes out of it for you. It might be counter intuitive to say no to people more often. But it will free up your work calendar and it will improve the quality of your output. Thus making you more efficient. See, there is some efficiency to be gained as well.

So in order to save up some energy for your after work activities and your new goal, go and take the same approach for your work planning as well. Take the breaks, don’t overflow your calendar, make sure you focus on what’s important and block time for high cognitive tasks.

High cognitive tasks & their environment.

Things that take a lot of brain power, finding solutions to problems. Learning new skills. Doing the hard things basically, need a certain setting for your brain to be able to focus. the first one being, no distractions. So no phones, no interruptions and ideally no screens. Or no internet connected screens.

Make sure the desk is clean, with just the things you need, and a pen and some paper for taking notes. Yes paper notes, by writing your brain remembers things better. So take any preferred notebook, blank sheets of paper, and start writing. Draw things. Any way that helps you remember the things you want too learn or work out the solution to a problem. And be able to reproduce them.

Set a clock and take a break of 5 or 10 minutes every half hour. You need to practice this. We live in a world of distraction and its not easy staying focused. It takes time. First few attempts might exhaust you.

Weekly planning

Your weekly planning is an overview of important tasks and activities. More importantly plan your rest and preferable take one or two moments in your week doing nothing, making sure you have playtime or just hanging around. The most important thing is breathing room and consistency. Yielding results is far more about continuing working that it is about short periods of hard work on your passion project and then months of no work at all.

And last but not least, have fun !

Showing up – Plan your path towards your goals

Showing up?

Showing up is half the work, which is half true in itself. Because without a rhythm to your showing up, the act of showing up gets harder and harder.

Bit of a confusing sentence right ? Everything in life moves according to a rhythm , breathing is a rhythm , the sunrise a rhythm, you move in a certain rhythm.

So in order to become good at anything, working on that skill needs a rhythm. And in order for a rhythm to become a rhythm, planning it is necessary. Even for people who hate planning. Mostly it is not the planning people hate. But the showing up. Planning something leaves a lot of room for perceived failure, and that feeling is what you want to avoid. Postponing any activity feels bad. Especially an activity you want to be good at, have a passion for. Dream of doing.

So we don’t plan, and set ourselves up for failure. Not failure in a sense that we are bad at the very thing we want to be good at. But failing because we never got started.

So how do we plan ?

People tend not to plan activities, but cram the day as full as possible, doing as much as possible. And call it planning. That’s the opposite of planning. Planning needs room, breathing room. As a person you will not be at your best all the time. Most of the time, how you feel and how your energy flows depends on a lot of things you can’t control. Cramming your days as full as possible leaves more room for external factors sucking your attention and energy away.

The first step, set one new goal

There is a lot things that can be said for having multiple goals, but as we plan for the first time, in a new way, we forget we already have goals in our life. Maybe not goals defined as goals. But time is being consumed. You have your personal life, work, and maybe already a sport or other physical activity you do. All of these things already have a place in your diary and a rhythm to them.

So think of one new thing you want to master, be good at, improve your skills on. For me that is making music. Which always lingered in the distance and I defined it as a hobby, but never put in a consistent amount of time and work. Yet I loved doing it whenever I got around to it. So think about that one thing. Your passion as it is commonly defined.

Write this  down as your focus point for planning.

The second step, measure your real time consumption.

Keep a diary and measure how long every activity in your agenda really took versus how much you planned for it. And make notes on what kind of taks it was. Household shores are tasks you will have to do. And never plan enough time for. Also make notes of how all activities outside of the obligatory ones contribute to your new goal. Be honest.

You don’t plan the binging of this new series on Netflix or any other subscription thing. Note the hours, also make note of how many hours you spent on social media not doing anything towards your goal.

Make detailed notes, how you feel, if you where happy at the end of the day, how energized you felt at the beginning and at the end. Do all this for 2 weeks.

The third step, deleting activities and compressing time slots.

Now its time to start deleting all those excess activities and limit time spent on things, its ok to wind down with social media, watch some tv at the end of the day. But limit the hours you put into those things.

Household shores need doing, get the notes out and see if you planned these realistically or did they consume more time ? Allocate time appropriatly.
Also, plan ahead, do the groceries with a list you made earlier, plan making the list. And so on.

Delete any activities that drifted you away from your new goal, and are not absolutely necessary. Combining these 3 should make room for spending at least a couple of hours on the new goal. Make sure you plan these new activities at least 3 times a week, in order to get that all important rhythm.

Last but not least, plan leisure time. Grab that book, watch that movie, go hang out with friends, do date night , do nothing. Leave room for doing nothing. Plan rest! Really resting is very important, just sitting or lying down. Doesn’t have to take long.

Plan days or longer with no plans at all, play in those days. Do whatever you feel like. Be a kid again. This is a great way for experimenting without limits and ingraining new paths of thinking into your subconsciousness.

Make sure rest and recovery are done in between the ‘harder’ activities that take up a lot of energy. All tasks with a high level of concentration can only be done for so many hours a day. Science has it marked down to four a day, if you are practiced. I will do a separate blog on focussed work. But don’t overdo it on complicated tasks. Especially in the beginning.

The finish

So we now know what we want to achieve. We have the goal. We measured our activities.  We know the realities of executing all tasks in a week. We downsized on the amount of activities and limited our time we spend per activity.

We booked in time for rest and recharging. So what’s next, make a default planning for the week, set a fixed day for doing the planning for next week, lets say Saturday evening. Execute the planning, and keep a diary om the progress.

Next week I will dive into the structure of planning and how to build up a routine.

The music journey – Making an album (week 28)

I am running behind on my blogs, didn’t have time too scribble about week 28, due to other activities, mostly out of the house. Week 28 has been a week with lots of difficulty showing up. Starting any activities regarding my music ambitions was very hard.

I really value the rhythm I have developed and letting go of that rhythm is hard. It’s the same feeling I get when I can’t run. And that’s not even factoring in the positive effects both have on my wellbeing.

Yet this week has been all about having a hard time getting started with any of the activities I can normally swap between depending on my energy levels. And when I got started I had to give it up pretty fast.

I know its a case of falling down and getting up again, this week however was mostly falling down.

I will write about the previous week at the end of this week, making sure I get some of my Rhythm back.

The music journey – Making an album (week 25)

This week I made a good start in building the sequencer for my Eurorack in Max Msp, for now it’s aimed specifically at the Morphagene and what functionality I need for that. Already done a few tests and still have a lot of work to do.

That’s basically it as far as progress goes. while designing the Max patch I got to think about how music touches all of my interests. It satisfies my technological curiosity, I can think about design concepts and I can dive into musical history.

From reading manuals, via biographies and watching documentaries. Without even making any music. So when I have a good day cognitively speaking I can read and think about music, and if I have a really good day I can make music. It’s an integral part of my life, and weekly activities. There is always something to do which drives me forward in the direction of my goals.

As I touched upon last week, getting those goals in to fruition isn’t always easy and sometimes an activity doesn’t seem to contribute anything towards the goals. But if you look at it from another and wider perspective there is always something in the things you do which moves you forward, inching closer to your goals.

The music journey – Making an album (week 24)

Another week done. Time sure goes pretty fast. Especially when working on fun things. So this week has been all about MAX MSP. Partly due to having problems this week with listening too sound over a longer period of time, and partly because I had it planned.

Besides learning the workings of MAX I got into learning short cuts, basic workflow stuff that’s all over this software. I am more and more seeing the use of memorizing all this in order to gain some speed in my workflow. With my limited  cognitive energy it’s vital for me when I able too handle sound I can can get ideas out quickly. And finish them fast as well.

Muscle memory is key in that it skips thinking about were I can find a certain function, it becomes like riding a bike. It’s not the most exciting bit of this journey but a very essential one. Getting to know your equipment and making sure using it becomes second nature.

However learning these things is very straining, which I didn’t really expect. I know I have too get trough this phase of the learning curve in order too speed up the music making proces. To be continued. Onto next week.

The music journey – Making an album (week 16)

This week has seen the absence of making music. Lot’s of other things happened and I didn’t make my planned hours on music things. Up until now I mostly was able to fill my planned hours, if not with making music it would be with reading, thinking about ideas or studying music related topics.

This week has seen an hour worth of fiddling around with my Moog. Which is ok, it also solidified the importance of creating a habit. I missed it this week. Not only missed it as a fun thing but it starts to feel as an integral part of who I am.

It’s just like anything important to you in life, you need to form habits. Creativity doesn’t come on it’s own. It’s a process, learning the equipment, learning how to implement ideas and how to manage your projects is just like any other craft. It needs hours invested.

And while I was grossly over estimating my speed of working at the beginning of this adventure and my album making project will last far beyond my initial timeline the most important thing has happend. It’s becoming a habit.

Just like my running is a habit, meditation and yoga are a habit. That didn’t happen overnight, it took time. And if it’s falling to the sideline it’s easier to get going again. Because life happens, things don’t work out as planned. That’s ok, the important bit is that you get back into the groove.