I struggled with this for a long time, and honestly it still changes all the time. But I’ve found little bits and pieces that seem to work pretty good, so I’ll try and point out some of the common pitfalls I experienced.
First of all, everyone is different. Everyone works a little bit differently and need different stimuli to get them motivated. If you’ve read some of my previous articles, you’ll know I’m a big proponent of the MBTI and the theories of cognitive functions. I highly suggest you do a deep dive on how they work and learn a little more about yourself and how other people like you work (and stay productive) before continuing.
There are a few bits of advice I’ll start with, because I think they apply to everyone. They’re really more “healthy lifestyle” kinds of choices that everyone should try to live by, but try each one and see if it makes a noticeable difference.
This is going to sound weird, but one of the biggest pieces of advice I can give you is to stay away from your phone for the first hour or two of the day. I went through a phase where my first reaction in the morning was to start scrolling through Facebook. I noticed that my energy and motivation seemed to be lower for the rest of the day, so I started doing some research. Long story short, there are some brain chemical things going on as soon as you start checking your phone, and starting your day with those kinds of chemicals can kill your motivation and overall mood for the entire day. I keep my phone on Do Not Disturb mode for an extra hour or so after I wake up, and it makes a huge difference for me.
Second, try to maintain a relatively healthy diet and consistent exercise. This is probably the most common and best advice anyone can give you, because it really is that important. Especially the diet. I’ll admit, I’m not great at keeping this side of things. I was going to the gym consistently for the past year or so, but I ran into some money issues and couldn’t maintain the diet I was previously on (high metabolism, so I have to eat a lot to rebuild), so my gym time has suffered the past few months. Anyways, this can help fight off depression/anxiety stuff, too, if that’s something you’re struggling with. Lots of benefits to a healthy diet and exercise, and I’d highly encourage you try to fit it into your daily routine, if possible.
Third, begin with the end in mind. Never start your day without knowing specifically what you want to accomplish. In my case, it’s usually something like, “before noon, I want to finish mixing portions A, B, and C of song X, and start editing vocals on Song Y.” I put down specific tasks that I need/want to get done. Daily goals are important. They take maybe two or three minutes to figure out, and they make a big difference.
Plan rest days. I have this weird issue that if I’m monitoring all day on higher volume (which isn’t really that loud, tbh), I’ll start to get this weird pressure in my ears that gives me a headache. As soon as it starts, it doesn’t matter what system I’m listening on, they all just hurt. I also have diagnosed hearing damage in my right ear, so you may not ever have this problem if you take care of your ears, unlike me. Either way, rest days are important. I have specific days where I try to stay away from an audio that has potentially high SPL (sound pressure levels). Here’s the lesson kids: take care of your ears.
And finally, learn to meditate. It’s 2021. The amount of extra stimulus you’re experiencing every day is insane. Meditation helps with that. Like a lot. It’s not hard, but it will take some practice and getting used to. Worth it. You don’t have to get into the religious stuff that’s usually associated with it (I don’t), just stay within the “focus” kind of meditations. I’ve seen huge benefits from practicing it everyday. Check out “Meditation for Dummies” if you need some tips. Surprisingly thorough and informative book.
That said, I’ll tell you a few bits of my daily routine in hopes that you can learn something. I’ve actually pulled most of my daily routine from software developers (I actually do work in software on the side), so some of these may or may not be super applicable to you. There’s a certain type of personality that usually ends up in development, so a lot of them follow similar work patterns that tend to work really well for a lot of us. Not everyone though. Try some of my suggestions for a week or so, then decide if the benefits are worth it.
I wake up between 0600 and 0700 everyday (I’m an early-bird, lol). I usually drink a bunch of water as soon as I get up, then take a shower and grab something light to eat (granola bar, pop tart, Belvita, etc), then I write in my blog while I eat. While writing in a blog may seem kind of intense, I’ve found it extremely therapeutic. It’s honestly one of my favorite parts of the day. You don’t need to do a blog, but I would highly suggest a bit of journaling or something similar. Something where you can throw out all the thoughts floating around in your head. It’s nice.
I usually finish the blog post around 0900, unless I woke up early or had some other commitment in the morning. Then I meditate. Depending on the season, I may try and do this outside to try and get as much sun as possible before heading back inside. Usually this is only 10–15 minutes, but if it’s a particularly nice day outside and I’m particularly stressed, I might stay outside as long as half an hour. It’s crazy how much difference a little sunlight can make on your mood.
Then I try to identify what I need to get done for the day. These days I’m pretty backlogged, so it’s been pretty straightforward. Usually I like tackle mixes in the mornings and productions/tracking in the afternoon. Which is funny, because I have a lot more energy in the mornings and am usually better with people around then, but I like to use that energy to work on stuff by myself. If I don’t have someone distracting me, I work significantly quicker. I don’t let clients sit in on my mix sessions. I do let interns, every now and then, but only when I’m not under a heavy workload. I don’t see any benefit to having the artist in the room while I’m mixing, since they don’t understand the process and don’t have trained ears. I finish the mix then send it for feedback. Then they can decide if they want something changed. Unless it’s urgent, I’ll tackle the feedback first thing in the morning the following day.
I take frequent breaks, usually every 60–90 minutes. Usually only 10 mins or so, so I can let my ears rest, grab a snack, use the restroom, check social media, etc. When I get hungry enough, usually between 1100 and 1300, I’ll take lunch. If I’m ahead on my work, this is usually a good time to go to the gym since it’s usually less busy. These days, I’ve been going in the evenings so I don’t have to shower again in the middle of the day.
So why don’t I go to the gym first thing in the morning, like most people? Aren’t workouts more effective that way? Well, there’s a good reason actually. First is because I’ve found my most effective and productive working time is between 0700 and 1200. Second is because I do mostly HIIT training and power phase workouts, so I have to eat a ton of protein after the workout (which makes me feel tired and unmotivated for the next couple hours). Third is simply because my local gym is packed in the mornings. Yes, I’ve heard your workouts are more effective in the morning, but I think it’s more because that’s what your first focus of the day is. If you’re a bodybuilder and the productivity of your workouts are one of the most important things in your life, then going first thing in the morning makes a lot of sense. My health is honestly like, third or fourth on my priority list, so I don’t see any reason to ruin those first productivity hours of the day focusing on it.
Anyways, after lunch, it’s usually back to work. I’ve noticed a huge drop in productivity as soon as I reach the afternoon, so I usually save menial tasks for that time. Things like editing, tuning, bookkeeping, contacting clients, checking on project statuses, etc. Things that don’t require as much cognitive attention. Usually this period of inefficiency lasts until about 6 pm, so if I need to run errands or anything, I take advantage of this time. If I’m behind on work, I’ll usually work through it but take more frequent breaks. Every 40 mins or so, usually, if I can stay focused that long. Breaks are usually longer, too. A lot of it usually depends on the project. If I’m mixing for film or something like that, I’ve found I can usually work pretty efficiently all day long, since there aren’t a ton of technical things that need to be done. If a section is particularly tricky, I’ll save it for the following morning.
If you have a family and stuff, I’d cut off your time here. Spend the evening with your family. I don’t, so I use the evenings to watch movies and go to the gym, etc. I’m a workaholic, though, so if I’m behind on work I’ll work through the evening. I have another productivity phase from like 2000 to 2200, so I’ll take advantage of that if needed. Otherwise, I relax and try and do something away from the studio, so I don’t burn out. It’s a big problem for me, so I have to be really careful sometimes.
Now, you’ll go through phases where you don’t have work. Or, if you’re an independent artist, you’ll be trying to practice and work on your projects without specific tasks that need to be accomplished. What do you do? I’ve run into this many times, so here’s my advice.
First, if you can, offer free work or do a collaboration. You’re always more productive when there’s somebody else involved in a project, so leverage that. It’s good practice and can help expand your network. It gives you a more specific goal to work towards with the accountability of another person. Trying to push your career forward by constantly working by yourself on your own projects is a cycle that never ends. You end up getting nowhere. Force yourself out of your comfort zone. DM people on Instagram and get sessions going. Keep yourself busy, but not with your own stuff.
Second, if you’re dedicated to working on your own stuff, split it up into sections. “From 0900–1100, I will write song X with vocals and piano only. From 1100 to 1300, I will write the arrangement for the hook and the bridge.” Stuff like that. Don’t just pull open a session and say, “I’m going to work from 0800 to 1700 on Song X.”. You’ll get overwhelmed and end up getting nowhere. Divide up the work into specific goals that are achievable. It’ll keep you motivated and productive.
Third, take breaks. Lots of them. Including complete days off, where you do something unrelated to music. I know it sounds counterproductive, but it isn’t. It brings life and excitement back to music. Spend a day or two away and you’ll be much happier when you come back, and much more motivated to work. It makes the work more enjoyable, too.
Anyways, I know I went off a tangent there, but I hope you get the idea. My daily routine changes constantly, but the one I’m currently doing has probably been my favorite and most productive so far. Is it perfect? Definitely no, but I really enjoy it. I definitely need to take more breaks and get away from work more often, but every time I do, I’m plagued with the thought of, “ugh, I’m so far behind”, haha. I’m getting there.
I should mention that if you’re a natural night owl, you’ll want to restructure this to apply to your natural schedule. I think they say most night owls are most productive between 2300 and 0200, so swapping your schedule to revolve around these hours may be beneficial to you.
Anyways, hopefully you learned something. Like I said before, try some of the things I’ve suggested and focus on them for a week or so. If you don’t see any benefits from it, don’t do it, and try new things until you find something that works for you.
Good luck, have fun!