Hustle, Son

day-at-the-grind

It feels great to finally air out all my personal baggage and be moving past it. But now there’s a huge canvas to start working on – my life.  I’ve recently gotten on top of the single dad scenario, moved through awkwardly-wonderful dating adventures, survived kidney failure, (early stages of) cancer and a brutal ACL/medial meniscus reconstruction, fought off lawsuits from crazy, litigious freaks, and rekindled my atrophying musical career. What comes next? I guess it’s time to hustle, son.

Fortunately the hustle is something I’ve always done pretty well (when not spinning wheels in severe trauma or healing mode, natch). I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to structure my life and move forward without losing sight of all the lessons I’ve learned.  If your life is in chaos and you want to move through it – I’ve got some thoughts to consider.  Having spent years on the road both as a touring musician and press mouthpiece, as well as in offices as a product manager and content strategist, my perspective is sharpened to work with lives of all varieties.  Read forth and soak up the insight gained from years of skinned knees and bumped foreheads, good people.

I won’t waste a lot of time extolling the virtues of personal productivity and tactics for organizing your life.  You can read about that here in an earlier blog post. This time, I’m going to write about how I structure my week (in a perfect world), how I manage chaos (excepting the occasional freak-out, natch), and how I balance the needs for personal time, left-brain planning and right-brain creativity – all crucial for a balanced life in my opinion.

Structuring Your Week

As much as I’d like to think I’m beyond the work week/weekend stereotype, it’s really not something you can escape in modern society, as the world is largely structured around that concept.  In the span of a given week I often see my work extending into the evenings and weekends, my personal time demanding mid-week/mid-day hours to fulfill certain needs, my parenting responsibilities scattering throughout it all while my creative time demands free, clear space to write music or words (or whatever) without outside stress or demands distracting me.  My life crosses those boundaries constantly, for sure, but from a planning perspective I try to keep a week/weekend construct in place to help me fit into ‘regular civilian life’ a bit better.

For me, it mostly comes down to my son. He’s got M-F school, alternating days between myself and his mother.  Weekends are off, and require attention throughout the day.  My office (and the studios it houses) is largely a M-F affair as well, so for me, that’s how things are framed. Monday is the big day where the parenthood/livelihood needs spin up quickly, so I focus a lot of attention on making sure I’m as ready as possible for it.

That means Sunday is a day of preparation and forethought.  I usually get shopping done mid-day while running laundry to make sure we’re not re-wearing the slightly-soiled garments from the week prior or digging too deeply into the dark areas of our closets.  From a mindset perspective, I’m filling up my to-do list like crazy on Sunday.  Taking a little time in the evening (usually before or after my regularly-scheduled band rehearsal) to pull out the calendar and scheduling things on my to-do list makes sure that I’ve accounted for my time going forward into the busy period.  It’s my weekly review in which I take stock of everything I’ve done, everything I need to do, and making sure I’ve scheduled it into the time I know I’ve got looking forward at my work week.

Blocking out Personal Space

Next, I time-box personal time liberally throughout the week.  As soon as my work and gig/rehearsal schedule is in place, I know where those calendar holes are – and I fill them with personal time to either work or create.  Although these blocks of time don’t always have a name on them (for me, they’re usually just called ‘personal work time’), they’re specifically meant to be used in knocking both personal and professional tasks off my general to-do list.  I treat them as seriously as a work appointment or phone call with a client – in this case, the client is me, and the project is Getting Shit Done.

After I’ve blocked out these Get Shit Done times, I take a look at what’s left and make sure to schedule at least 2-3 blocks of at least two hours into each week to make sure I have Creative Time, too.  During the average week I dictate or jot down at least 10-20 ideas for new songs, posts, writing projects, etc – this is the time I use specifically for shutting off the outside world, and creating something new.  Usually it’s just the initial conception and fleshing out of a good idea, because once things take tangible form (like rough song structure and lyrics, for example), the production of said idea makes its way into specific to-do items on my list that get done in the Get Shit Done time.

It should go without saying that alongside my tactical to-do list is a big unstructured list of Good Ideas that I can pull from whenever I have that Creative Time available. Nuff said.

Motivation and Creative Time

Here’s where things get tricky.  And why I’m so persnickety about calendars, notebooks, and to-do lists.

Just because you’ve planned something doesn’t mean you’ll get it done.  In fact, one of my biggest problems with Creative Time is that once it hits, I find myself fighting the urge to overprepare.  I’ll want to get things set up, establish mood lighting and quiet space, find some comfortable clothes to wear, maybe make a cup of coffee or tea – the list goes on. It’s so easy to waste a ton of time preparing to do something real.

Don’t do that.  Just start working. I’m serious.

The more I look back at the times I’ve treated Creative Time as this sacred personal environment that must be prepared and maintained at all costs, the less productive I’ve been.  The times I’ve literally started chasing that idea down the rabbit hole and let all the environmental niceties sort themselves out later are the times I’ve made real progress.

So just start doing it, don’t fuck around.  Treat Creative time as sacred and irreplaceable.  Give yourself a goal with it – a complete first draft of a song or article, a new chorus lyric/melody for that ‘almost there’ tune, significant progress on an illustration I can measure – then hold yourself to it like a boss.  This is hustle time, son (or daughter)!

Now just because you dive in like a champ and push hard through your time doesn’t mean you’ll always be happy with the results. In fact, I usually find myself a little annoyed I either didn’t have more time to get a little further, or that I’m not really pleased with the end result of what I’ve done. Learn to forgive yourself, honor the progress made, and then just revisit it the next time you’ve got Creative Time. Forward is forward, y’all.

If you do this, you’ll start to really move forward with creative and personal goals alongside a busy work schedule quickly. And then you’ll hopefully feel  your life getting more balanced.  That is, except for one other type of time…

Date Nights for One (or more!)

You gotta treat yourself too. Self care and love is critical to happiness.  Which means that regardless of whether your single or taken, you need to honor your social and personal life. If you’ve got a significant other or are dating a special someone, make sure and block out date nights.  If you’re single, that could be either social time like drinks out with friends or even a movie and dinner with yourself.  Whatever floats your boat.  Just don’t let work and goals diminish your recharge and reconnect time – that’s something I was absolutely horrible about for years, and still fight against.

As a single father, this is particularly tricky.  I find that my nights off aren’t as easily juggled as I’d like, and I have about half the week available to me – much of which is hotly-contested by both professional and personal pursuits.  So although I don’t always get as much ‘me-time’ as I’d like, I always try to make sure I’ve got at least one night to myself each week to do whatever TF I want to do with it.  Sometimes that’s going out on a date, sometimes it’s just sitting at home in PJs catching up on my Netflix queue, sometimes it’s just meeting some friends for a drink or a show or something.  The key, I’ve found, is that I need to schedule time to be social or it’ll fall off the map quickly.  Don’t let that happen to you.

I haven’t specifically noted exercise and health, but this is also something I do in my weekly review- set up times each week to focus on getting some sweat on and pulling my battered and extreme-sport-broken body into better shape.  If you map this out alongside your date nights, you’ll be a lot happier.  Trust me.

Rinse, Repeat, Regenerate

So if you’ve been following along with me, you’ve now got a regular time each week to plan your world domination without much fuss.  You’ve also now got a calendar well-marked up with timeslots to get your shit done each week, and carve out some reset/recharge time to boot.  Kudos!

However, much like exercise or any good skill, if you don’t keep regular with it, you’ll ultimately fail.  So regardless of how well you take care of the above points, try to always have that one evening of reflection each week where you can look back on what you’ve done, look forward at what you need to do, and make sure to map out your progress.  Even if you’re just taking that evening to think about everything and not doing so well at the schedule management, with repetition you’ll find eventually you get better at stepping forward into action. Getting your hustle on. Getting shit DONE, son.

However, chaos often reigns supreme. Unexpected shit can arise. Remember to both be flexible, and easy on yourself if things don’t pan out exactly as your cunning plan intends. C’est la vie, mon ami(e). Just shift things out to the next block of time and forgive yourself for not being perfect. Guilt over factors outside your control isn’t going to help you at all. The beauty of thinking forward this way is that you can always juggle things around a bit – those boxes of time are flexible, and as long as you’re making progress you shouldn’t sweat a little slip here and there. It happens to the best of us.

This may all seem like common sense, but you’d be surprised at how much it can trip you up if you’re not actively managing this process.  Even if you disagree with my tactics above, just taking regular time each week to reflect, plan and put yourself into the mindset of action will help you reach your goals far, far faster than if you don’t.

And that, my friend, is all it really takes to get your hustle on.  Do shoot me a line if you encounter any revelations or great points to add – I’m always open to learning new tricks myself.  In particular, I’d love to get better about scheduling my date nights/exercise plans (which always seem to shift back and forth as my must-do activities shift around each week).

Go forth and rock that personal productivity game, y’all!  And get that hustle on.