I share my music plans for 2022 – Obey Robots, She Makes War *and* Penfriend, oh my! – raise the question of live gigs plus discuss why on earth this 40-year old musician is spending so much time making YouTube videos……and how you can help!
This month, I’m making an album with Rat from Ned’s Atomic Dustbin under the name OBEY ROBOTS and sharing the process in my Captain’s Vlog ⚓
I have 19 days to record all my parts in The Launchpad before we go into the studio to finish the album. The clock is ticking!
In this episode: I share never-before heard song snippets, plus my essential equipment for recording bass at home. See how I write, record and edit parts and try to overcome the mental roadblocks that are an inevitable part of the creative process.
This is the first time I’ve ever shown behind the scenes of how I write!
In my twenties, I spent a few years running a covers band called Co-Star. Great name, right? Good work, Gareth the guitarist.
I booked the shows, played bass and sang. It was an education in many things – how far away Aberdeen actually is in a van from London, how to file a CCJ when the agent doesn’t pay, how to dodge drunk wedding guests – but mostly in how songs are put together.
When Richard approached me to make my version of his band’s track I was delighted at the idea. It’s rare that a musician actively asks someone else to have a go at redoing their work – in my experience, we’re not the most humble bunch! – not to mention the invitation came via my Bespoke Sponsorships page, and a generous contribution to the Penfriend project.
I think a good song should still be immersive and affecting when you strip everything away apart from the main vocal line and a simple instrumental accompaniment. But when you add in the other building blocks – drums, bass, melody lines on guitar or synths or something else – you’re creating a world within the song, an alternate reality the listener can step inside for a few minutes. An escape.
I love “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” by Kylie Minogue, and I bet I’d still enjoy it if she sang it along to an acoustic guitar. It’s a good song. But when you add the hypnotic beats and subtle synth lines, you reside in a different universe for 3 minutes and 50 seconds.
Go back and listen to just how many bursts of different sounds support the vocals in that song…it’s a complex, but deceptively simple arrangement – and for once, I’ll accept the choice to fade out at the end (I’m not usually a fan).
[I’ve just realised my pop references are 21 years old – oh my. ANYWAY -]
I’ve only recorded a handful of covers over the years, so re-arranging “This Is The Sound” was a fun but slightly daunting challenge. When I listened to the original song, it sounded just right. I listened, I really enjoyed it, and I couldn’t think why there would need to be a cover of this song in the world. That *was* the sound.
However, I needed to honour Richard’s request, and so I set to work on picking out the key parts that I felt were integral to the world of the song, without seeking to recreate what was already there. You might have noticed that covers are often faster or slower than the original, perhaps a sad version of a happy song or vice versa. Creating contrast in speed or tone is the most straightforward way of creating space between the original and the cover, and I decided to go for “slow and weird”.
As I wrote to Richard in a status update email: “Your song is so great as it is that the only option was to GO WEIRD.”
I started with the drum machine parts, then added sounds from my OP-1 synth played through the Strymon Nightsky reverb pedal (which I was just starting to get the hang of…still am, if I’m honest…), vocals and synth bass.
As I was making a slower and therefore longer version, I was keen to make sure stuff kept happening throughout – and the shift in energy and tone at the end via the energetic bassline just came to me in a flash as I was sitting at my computer, wondering how to make the song sound more weird. Mission accomplished, I think!
“Battery Thinkers is a duo that emerged from Hull University in the late 90’s. I met Chris at regular music gatherings of students on the last year of my maths course, calling ourselves The Mobius Band. The two of us kept meeting up after University when we discovered we had each started writing our own songs and Chris was keen to try out some recording software he had recently acquired. Our influences were Teenage Fanclub, R.E.M. and Blur, our band name coming from a Blur lyric and we are both massive fans of Underworld. Battery Thinkers is something we do as a hobby just for fun, it’s never been something we have seriously pursued.
Our first ‘album’, ‘Dreaming in a Northern Town’, 2005, was recorded using a knackered kick drum found in the loft of Chris’ house when he moved in(!), improvised bass guitar for some songs as we didn’t have one & when I did buy one second hand it wouldn’t tune properly – and a mic stand that regularly had a leg fall off of it. We discovered at the end of that process that we had recorded most tracks incorrectly and the overall sound is a bit muffled on those songs as a result. So the song I chose for Laura to cover, ‘This is the Sound’ was from this album, as a surprise for Chris – he was really emotional about it when it arrived.
We have improved very slowly over the years in terms of standard of equipment and knowledge of recording, Chris has been the one making advances in the production knowledge whilst I generally sit on the other side of the room and make helpful comments. We recorded another 2 albums, ‘Three Thousand Thoughts’ in 2007 and ‘To the Rescue’ in 2011, after which progress stalled with the distance between the two of us greater due to my move to London and Chris being regularly busy in York with two kids.
Getting anything finished nowadays is a massive task and our imminent (maybe) next album has been years in the making. We stripped some songs intended for the album to form an EP ‘Square Pictures’ in 2015 just to get some songs finished. The new album, provisionally titled ‘All Things After Sunrise’ will have between 10 and 12 songs, depending on our sanity. We also have songs written for the next one after this, which we intend to be a road trip album.
In December 2019 we fulfilled a long time ambition to play a Battery Thinkers gig, at my friends 40th birthday party at Band On The Wall in Manchester, bringing in 4 friends to help us. After only 2 or 3 full band rehearsals we managed to get together 9 songs from our history, including This is the Sound and we went down well on the night. We did have plans to continue rehearsing in 2020 until of course they decided to hold a global pandemic event, so we are still waiting to meet up again.”
The 17th January is “Forget New Year’s Resolutions Day”. Did you know that? I believe everyone has the power to tweak and improve their lives, but there’s a far better way than proclaiming “New Year, new me!” on 1st January and then giving up 16 days later.
In this video, I discuss setting measurable goals and working backwards to figure out what activities you need to do to achieve them. And how about breaking the year up into more manageable, 12-week chunks as well?
What would you like to change in the next 12 weeks?
Resolutions don’t work. Change your life with GOALS TRANSCRIPT
The 17th January is “Forget New Year’s Resolutions Day”. Did you know that?
I believe everyone has the power to tweak and improve their lives, but there’s a far better way than proclaiming “New Year, new me!” on the 1st January and then giving up just 16 days later.
“Get fit, read more, stay in touch with friends, get organised, do better at work” – do these sound familiar? I’ve made these enthusiastic lists myself, fantasizing about revamping my life to become a better person in the New Year.
New Year. The magical New Year, glowing fresh like a hopeful Monday, but 52 times better!
At their worst, New Year’s Resolutions are a smorgasbord of random hopes and wishes that we almost immediately forget about. The idea is great – humans want to improve and progress, so why not get started in January?
The problem is we’re being way too vague. We’re listing too many things. And then, we let it all go far too easily – on the 17th January, apparently.
Repeat this a few times, and we’re even less likely to succeed with our resolutions next year: we’ve proved to ourselves that we can’t or won’t get very far with them, so why bother?
Let’s stop this right now.
How about this year we ditch the idea of New Year’s Resolutions, and set measurable goals instead? And let’s give ourselves a fighting chance of success by focusing just on the next 12 weeks.
I read “The 12 Week Year” by Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington last year and it was a game-changer.
Thinking about a whole year is really overwhelming. Three months – 12 weeks – that seems like a manageable length of time to me, and the idea of making big changes in that shorter period of time is more exciting to me, too. It feels closer, and more possible somehow.
So, what would you like to change in the next 12 weeks?
First, we need to change the way we think about this stuff. “Get fit” is a nice idea, but you would never know if you got there. Run 3 times a week is something I can actually tick off my list – but why am I running three times a week in the first place? What’s going to keep me ticking off those runs?
Well, goal setting. But not setting so many goals at once that we get overwhelmed and quit on the 17th January! And the key is setting goals that we really care about, that connect to our vision of our future – a future where I’m healthier, more well-read and doing well at the job I love, for example.
There has to be a reason that you want to achieve the goal.
I want to run regularly because I know that it makes me happier and nicer to be around, and way, way better at getting on with my creative work. When I wake up and I don’t want to go running because it’s cold outside, I stand a much better chance of going for that run if it’s part of a plan leading me towards a specific, measurable goal that I really care about. I don’t have to question the plan every chilly morning when it feels like I’ve got sand in my eyes, I just have to put my running gear on and leave the house, and then do it again next time.
Try this: set a measurable goal in each of the following categories: health, leisure time and work, and then list the activities that will help you achieve that goal.
For example, I would like to run 10K in under 60 minutes by the end of March 2022. The way I’ll get there is not by crossing my fingers and hoping, but by following a training plan which includes three runs per week of different styles – easy jogs, speed training and long runs – I only know this because I looked it up on the internet.
In my leisure category, I’d like to read 12 books in 12 weeks, which means one book a week on average. To stand a chance of managing that, I have to set aside time each day to read at least two chapters.
As for work, I have many goals and many activities going on all the time – and I’m sure you do too – but I know that picking out one thing to focus on over and above everything else is the very best way to make progress. I’m still figuring out what that one work thing is, but I will let you know in a future video.
Write your goals and your activities down – yes, write them down! Your brain is not a filing cabinet. You stand a far, far greater chance of achieving your goals if they’re written down. It really helps you to keep going when you can look back at your goals and remember why you decided to do these activities in the first place.
Achieving your goals is about making a plan and executing it. There’s really no use making the most perfect plan there ever was and not doing anything about it, or even worse – never making a plan at all.
Just make a plan, and execute it. And then do it again next time.
I’m genuinely excited about kicking off my New Year with this approach. I try to do a lot of things, and I get overwhelmed sometimes, no matter what forward-planning and time-blocking I do – and oh, I do!
Time spent taking a step back and thinking about what are the most important things to you in all of these categories is never wasted, and I’m convinced it will be way more effective if it happens more than once a year, with a hastily scribbled list of New Year’s Resolutions.
I hope this video helps you kick off a brilliant year.
If you want to read more on this, I’ve put affiliate links below to my top 3 productivity books: Eat That Frog, The 12 Week Year and Deep Work – but make sure you’re not just reading them to put off working towards your goals.
I went into more detail on goal-setting and the power of consistency in this video, so watch that next, and Happy mindfully productive New Year to you.
I started making videos again this year after discovering Casey Neistat’s vlogs 6 years late! Here are the three big things I’ve learned from his videos, why I think filmmaking is so similar to making music, and why I’ve signed up for Casey’s new online course. Plus dogs! And British winter chips! And a very cold, windy beach!
Audio was recorded on the new Rode Lavalier 2 – impressive!
It’s true: I’m only standing out here on a very chilly December day – right before Christmas! – because of Casey Neistat.
(It’s so cold…I’m wearing so many layers…)
I’m a firm believer in JOMO – the joy of missing out – so I really don’t mind when I’m late to the party on things. I only discovered Casey’s very famous vlogs this summer. 2021! – and he started uploading them in 2015…so that is pretty late to the party.
Benji’s eating sand.
[Tim, off camera – “Come on, Sandman!”]
[“Come on, mate…”]
For the first time ever, Casey is sharing his filmmaking and storytelling secrets in an online course through Monthly, and I signed up immediately.
I actually started vlogging in 2007 – 8 years before Casey did! – and I uploaded a couple of hundred videos to my old channel. But it was a lot harder to make videos for YouTube then – I was using camcorders with tapes. Tapes! Added to that, I’d sort of missed the memo about storytelling – it’s just something I’ve been learning about much more recently. So I’m not surprised my channel didn’t blow up, and that’s absolutely fine.
Watching Casey’s vlogs has taught me three big things:
1. It is possible to film yourself in really interesting ways, so you don’t have to rely on other people.
2. There are lots of different and fun ways to structure edits to tell a story, even when you think there might not be anything that interesting going on.
3. Just get on with it!
I’m aware there’s a backlash against this course, I get the sense that people are concerned this kind of course will just spawn thousands of copycat vloggers that will up YouTube with all of their stuff that looks the same as Casey Neistat’s.
The thing is, it’s very normal to copy people when you start out in any creative field. That’s just how we learn. Over time, hopefully you develop your own style and your own voice, through getting to know yourself better and gaining confidence in your skills. All that deliberate practice is what gets you there.
I’ve made music for a lot of years, and it’s a good way of learning how to take inspiration from a lot of places without ending up sounding like you’ve copied one band’s sound. The reason I’m so rubbish at answering the question “who are your musical influences?” is because I genuinely don’t think of it that way any more.
I’m more inspired by someone’s story, or the way that their song made me feel, than what the music actually sounds like. Keeping your influences varied and refreshing them from time to time is a really good way to help with all of this. You start filtering everything through the prism of your own experience, your own taste, your own values, and you keep the things that resonate with you and just sort of leave the things that don’t.
Most of the time I don’t listen to much music at all, because I find that ignoring what’s going on in the world helps me focus on trying to make stuff that I like.
So, why have I signed up to Casey Neistat’s filmmaking course?
I only started this channel properly a few months ago, and that was in large part down to watching Casey Neistat’s vlogs. There’s something about how he shares his life and his experience and his thoughts that really appeals to me. Basically, he’s already made me get over myself, get off my sofa and start making videos, so I want to see where the course will push me next.
I also want to be making videos all throughout 2022 and beyond, and I think this will really help.
I’ve got a lot of footage that I’ve shot over the years and never shared, and I’m really interested in trying to find out if there’s a way of pulling that stuff together into some kind of story that would be interesting to other humans, and I think this course will help with that too.
I want to film outdoors more – like this! – and I know that’s to do with overcoming laziness slash discomfort, but it’s also about overcoming fear. What will people think of me? Standing here like this isn’t an easy thing for me to do, I feel really weird. When I was walking over from the car with all the stuff, I just felt like I couldn’t be bothered, but I know that’s to do with procrastination and fear, so I’m doing it. Look, I’m doing it! Look, I’ve done it!
I’m also fascinated to learn more about Casey’s thought process, and the technical details of what he does, how he sets up his shots, and just the decisions he’s making on the fly, because I think that’s how you learn from other people, by watching them do stuff.
I think making videos is so similar to making music. It’s all about getting to know yourself more and more deeply, gaining experience at the thing you want to do to the point where you feel confident, to the point where no-one can take that away from you and you can communicate the things you want to communicate. They’re both about experimentation and finding your voice.
I don’t want to make videos that look like Casey Neistat’s videos. I want to make videos that look like my videos. I’m interested in his creative process and his structure, not his style. That’s his style, not mine.
These are so I can see!
So, I’m excited to start the course.
It’s time for fish and chips now, but before I go: online learning has become a big part of my life in the past few years. This video isn’t sponsored – I don’t have any sponsors yet – but there is an affiliate link down below for Skillshare.
I choose to pay full price for Skillshare membership every year because it’s become so valuable to me.
We all start somewhere! Bridgerton superstar Regé-Jean Page played a Bowie-inspired zombie clown in my first music video in 2010 BRILLIANTLY, but even he couldn’t save my YouTube channel…
Musicians can be particularly guilty of showing up to every social media platform and expecting the red carpet treatment – in this video I explain how to avoid my mistakes by asking yourself three simple questions.
How to not suck at YouTube (like I did for 14 years) TRANSCRIPT
Even Regé-Jean Page – the man people are saying could be the next James Bond! – even Regé-Jean Page, the Duke of freaking Hastings! couldn’t save my video.
This is a celebration video. I’ve reached a YouTube milestone, and I am shouting about it.
I wonder if you’ll switch this video off when I tell you the number…
It’s so easy to get obsessed by numbers, isn’t it, and easy to think that only really big numbers mean we’re doing well.
So, am I celebrating 100,000 subscribers today?
Today I’m celebrating 1490 subscribers to my channel – and I am genuinely delighted and excited about this because it proves that the changes I’ve made in my approach to YouTube in the past 18 months are working.
Let me explain.
I made music under the name She Makes War from 2004-ish to 2019, and alongside running a freelance video production business using old cameras like these, I started uploading videos to YouTube in 2007.
They’re not all public now, but I uploaded 276 videos to that channel. That’s a lot of videos.
The most subscribers my old channel ever had was 1490 – now down to 1489! – and that took 14 years. So you see why I’m celebrating earning the same number of subscribers in 18 months on the Penfriend channel.
I really do value every single person who finds me on the internet and registers their interest in what I’m doing, and I think those 1489 people are absolutely great. But after a while, I had to stop ignoring the evidence. I had to ask myself: how could I have got YouTube so very wrong?
I’ll tell you how, and I’ll tell you how I think you can avoid some of my mistakes in the form of three simple, fundamental questions you can ask yourself right here, right now, today.
Question 1: Is this helpful?
Videos that do well on YouTube are instructional, or entertaining, or both. Videos that are neither of these things aren’t worth spending your time on making, if you want people to watch them – and I include the majority of my 276 old videos in this category.
This is relevant to anyone making videos, but I think musicians can be particularly guilty of showing up to every social media platform and expecting the red carpet treatment. We’ve all grown up seeing successful artists treated like celebrities, so there’s a kind of inbuilt assumption that because we make music too, we’re automatically fascinating, and should be treated as such by hordes of people who would be so lucky to follow us online.
Even if this isn’t actually how you think – and I’ve never thought this way – it might be how you’re acting on the internet.
None of us are automatically better or more interesting than any member of our potential audience, so we need to think about what we can give through our videos, rather than what we are trying to get.
How are you helping people? How is your video helping people?
Entertainment is helpful, showing people how to do something is helpful, hopefully me telling you off for doing YouTube wrong like I did for 14 years is helpful.
Question 2: What’s the story?
Story is everything. It’s how your mind processes information, it’s how you can learn to hold someone’s attention and how you can shape your experiences into something useful and entertaining on YouTube and elsewhere.
You know how boring it is when someone can’t tell a story well. They ramble on, fixating on what day of the week it was when the thing happened – Tuesday, no, Wednesday, but at what time?! What did I have for lunch that day?
It’s tedious, and nothing really happens, or the punchline comes way too early and then you’re just waiting for the whole thing to end. It’s a mess. It makes your brain ache.
Now, that’s annoying enough when it’s a conversation with someone you care about, but if that’s the gist of the video you just pressed play on, you’re not going to sit through to the end. And someone spent hours making that.
“Look! This happened!” is not a story, and when I look at my old vlogs and music video behind the scenes films I see this mistake in almost every single one of them. It’s not clear what’s happening or why, who I am, who the people on camera are or why on earth this video has been put online with the expectation that someone else – let alone many someones – would like to watch it.
I used to look at YouTube as one part of a many-faceted puzzle. I figured that if someone followed me on Twitter and was perhaps also on my mailing list, then watching one of my videos would make sense because they already knew me a little bit, and that would put the whole thing into context.
But the problem with that approach is that instead of offering a coherent piece of work that says something in and of itself, I was asking people to do extra work to tie things together from across multiple platforms. And, looking at the numbers, that just wasn’t enticing for even my most loyal supporters, let alone people already on YouTube looking for new channels to subscribe to.
Here’s an example: I have a music video and accompanying BTS video starring a younger Regé-Jean Page, one of the hottest actors of our time, and surely one of the most Googled. His name has been fully searchable on both of those videos since they were published in early 2010. That’s nearly 12 years ago.
The music video has now had 9.7K views, which is okay but not great for a video that’s been available for so long. I have a theory about the usefulness or lack thereof of music videos for indie artists – but that’s for another video!
Back to the story: this behind the scenes video, where you get to see even more of the lovely Regé-Jean acting, getting made up to look like a Bowie-inspired zombie clown and being silly on set has had…696 views.
That’s an average of 58 views per year. I’m surprised, but I’m also not.
It’s a classic example of “look! this happened!” and I’m a musician so I assume other people will find what I’m up to interesting, even if I forget to give any context about what’s going on, who I am, who these other people are, or even what the story of the music video is.
“When did I become angry clown?” – RJP
I use this as an example because even Regé-Jean Page – the man people are saying could be the next James Bond! – even Regé-Jean Page, the Duke of freaking Hastings! couldn’t save my video. I don’t blame him, he was brilliant in my video, and has always been a thoroughly lovely chap. It’s wonderful to see him doing so well. Well done, Regé-Jean!
The lesson here is: learn about story. In its simplest structure it’s a beginning, a middle and an end. Jack and Jill go up the hill to fetch a pail of water – beginning. Jack fell down and broke his crown – middle – and Jill came tumbling after – end. You can do that. I can hopefully learn to do that. It’s built into all of us.
Question 3: Why should someone subscribe to you?
We all want people to follow us online, but where are we taking them? Why should someone want to follow you? Where are you going? What are you about? What are your values, your hopes, dreams, and aspirations? And are these obvious in the work you’re sharing online?
My personal lightbulb moment with this happened when I started listening to the Creative Pep Talk podcast a few years ago. The host, Andy J. Pizza, is so good at getting you to think deeply about your intentions, what sort of artist you are and how to communicate that, so I always highly recommend his show.
I’ve never liked the idea that making music was considered to be for special people only, I’ve never felt entitled to success or money or the adulation of a crowd for what I do, so when I realised I could turn all of that on its head and put time and effort into encouraging other people to be creative via the things that I make, that was life-changing for me.
When I set up this new channel I laid it all out from the very start. I have three content pillars: creativity, mindful productivity and digital minimalism. If I come up with an idea for a video that doesn’t fall into one of those categories, it’s fairly easy to say no to spending time on it.
It’s actually very helpful to have those parameters to help focus my energy on the message I want to keep putting out into the world again and again, and hopefully that makes for consistency in my videos, which hopefully leads to people subscribing because they like what they’ve just watched, it was useful and told a story, and they can see from the other videos on my channel that there’s a thread running through the whole thing that fits with what they’re looking for.
Why do you follow other people online? Think about that for a minute.
People follow people who add something to their lives, and we all have something to offer…so, what are you offering?
When you know what you’re about, it becomes a lot easier to figure out where to spend your energy, and importantly – where not to. And if you’re not sure what you’re about, it’s really time to figure that out!
Reading, thinking, writing, reflection, getting to know yourself more – all of these things will help. And a helpful exercise to get you closer to that is to work out what you’re not about.
I’m least interested in sports, jazz, housework and beauty hauls, for instance, and that’s a really easy list for me to make right here on the spot – so why not write your own “least interested in” list? It might help you get closer to where you want to go, and help you to successfully invite your future followers to go on that journey with you.
I hope this video helped you today. I’m still learning, always, and I’m just going to keep experimenting with these ideas and see how I get on with my next YouTube target of 2000 subscribers.
Numbers schmumbers, I love creating videos and being in touch with you on this platform, so please do say hi in the comments and let me know how you’re getting on.
I’ve got lots of videos on the way, so if you’d like to travel on this adventure with me please subscribe if you aren’t already, and click like to help get this video in front of more people who might find it useful.
And thank you for helping me smash my first YouTube goal! At the time of filming there are 1508 subscribers to this channel, so thank you so much every single one of you for being here.
What is a podcast? Where to find them and how to listen for FREE TRANSCRIPT
Podcast. Podcast. Pod-cast. Podcast. I can’t even say it.
You say podcarst, I say podcast. Except normally I don’t, I probably say “podcass”, because I drop my t’s a lot. A lo’. A lo’!
Anyway – I’m making this video to explain what podcasts are and – I can’t say it anymore! – and how you can enjoy them. Specifically, if I’m being honest, how you can enjoy *my* podcast.
OK, what is a podcast?
Apart from being a word that sounds utterly meaningless when you say it too many times in a row – podcast! – very simply a podcast is an audio broadcast.
They’re generally free to listen to, some of them have ads and some don’t, some podcasters get paid and some don’t, they’re very easy to find and enjoy and I think you might really like them.
Fun fact: the “pod” bit comes from iPod. Remember those? A little piece of history…iPod. This does nothing. This is so old that this was never a touchscreen.
And then “cast” comes from broadcast. Podcast. I didn’t even know that before I made this video, so thank you as always for giving me the opportunity and the excuse to learn something new today.
So, a podcast was originally an audio broadcast you could listen to on your iPod via iTunes, but these days you can listen to them on your phone, various places around the internet, and even here on YouTube. Do they even make iPods any more? I wish they hadn’t put a phone in them.
iPod. iPod. OK, that word sounds meaningless now too.
Podcasts come in all shapes, sizes and genres. They can be independently produced – like my one is – or made by big companies, they can be long or short, sweary or not, and in a world stuffed with shiny images I think there’s something really lovely about focusing in just on audio. Some podcasts are monologues – just one person talking – some have multiple voices, there are interview podcasts, news podcasts, drama podcasts, sport podcasts. Podcasts!
There’s a whole world to explore, and it’s so creative – the great thing about a format where anyone couldcontribute is that ideally you get people from all sorts of backgrounds talking about super niche topics and being able to connect with like-minded people through doing so.
Podcasts are kind of like radio shows, if anyone could make their own radio show, and if the radio show could be as long or as short as you wanted, and you could publish it yourself.
So, how do you listen to these magical audio broadcasts?
Good question! Allow me to demonstrate, using my podcast as an example.
Considering you’re already here on YouTube, the very easiest way to listen is to visit my channel and go to the Attention Engineer playlist. My podcast is audio-only, so you can easily have it playing in the background, and if you subscribe to my channel it’s easier for you to find new episodes as they’re published.
I listen to podcasts when I’m running, washing up, tidying up or driving somewhere, so for me it works best to access my favourite shows through a podcast app on my phone.
I recommend Pocket Casts, which is free for Android and iPhone users. You can find a show and just press play to stream it right then and there, or you can download it on your home wifi to listen to when you’re out and about later on and save data. Always remember to subscribe to your favourite shows though, because then the new episodes will show up in the app for you.
Other podcasts apps are available, of course, and if you have a different favourite from mine, please write a comment and let me know why you like yours.
I always recommend Pocket Casts because it just works, and it’s available for iPhone and Android. Having it installed on my phone means I can browse all the other shows out there as well, or easily find one that’s been recommended to me by a friend.
If you want to listen at your desk, I think Apple Podcasts is brilliant. I’ve heard bad things about the iPhone app, but the desktop version works fine for me. So if I’m here in the studio and I want to listen to a podcast through my speakers, usually while tidying up, that’s how I listen.
You can also listen to many podcasts – mine included – on Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music and even Audible, if you have a subscription.
One final way you can listen to my podcast is to visit my website penfriend.rocks and go to the podcast page. Every time I publish a new episode of Attention Engineer I make a deluxe show notes page, with embedded videos and links to the artist’s music, and there’s an audio player right there on the page that you can just click “play” on, or if you want to download the episode to listen to offline, or put on your phone, or burn to a CD, or whatever you want, that’s also possible – but if you’re new to this and are getting overwhelmed by the options then just keep it really simple. Pick whichever one is easiest for you.
Now before you go and practise your new skills, let me tell you a little bit about my show and why I chose to make a podcast in the first place.
“Attention Engineer: Artists on creativity, grit and determination” is made in an interview format, where I speak one on one with fellow musicians and artists about the creative process, mental health, touring life, the pros and cons of social media and whatever else comes up around those topics.
Making music as a solo artist is a very solitary thing, and I don’t have a big group of friends full stop, let alone a big group of friends who are musicians. So, I decided to create a framework of questions that would enable me to have the kinds of conversations I’d always hoped to have when I was supporting bands on tour, but never got to have because there’s always a lot of equipment to carry in and out of the building.
I had a hunch that the kinds of questions that I would ask as a musician would be quite different to those that would be asked by a journalist, and as someone who is always striving to make their work deeper, more meaningful, more impactful – podcasting just seemed like the right format for this project.
I started working on the podcast in November 2019 and launched it in June 2020 so, honestly, it’s been a real lifeline during a very disconnected time.
If you have any questions about my podcast or podcasting in general, please leave a comment below, because I’m making a one-off video episode of Attention Engineer to finish off the year, and I would love your help with shaping that.
I’ve been dealing with burnout for a few years on and off, and learning about completing the stress cycle recently has really helped me. In this video I talk about the symptoms of burnout and some things I’ve found helpful for dealing with it, including my new adventures in surfing and open water swimming. It’s all a process, and we’re in this together – so always feel free to say hi in the comments and let me know how you’re doing today xx
Burnout recovery tips – completing the stress cycle TRANSCRIPT
Let’s talk about burnout.
I really annoyed myself in my last video when I talked about how I find it really hard to take time off, and I like to work really hard…and all that stuff is true, but I annoyed myself, because – isn’t life so precious?
I’ve watched Gary Vee’s videos about “crushing it”, and I don’t disagree with a lot of the things he says, but I also know what burnout feels like – and I don’t want you to ever have to feel that way.
So, what is burnout?
According to helpguide.org, burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.
Burnout reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.
You may be on the road to burnout if:
Every day is a bad day.
Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy.
You’re exhausted all the time.
The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.
I’ve put a link to this article in the description box, it’s a really good one, and I wish I’d read it a lot earlier in my life, because looking at that list, I felt all those things, every single one, and alongside those feelings I became unable to control my temper, which made me feel really ashamed.
It wasn’t all the time, but every now and then I would completely unpredictably fly off the handle. It was horrible, and worse when I didn’t know what was going on, didn’t have a word for it, and so wasn’t able to accept that this was a condition with causes, and therefore solutions.
I didn’t know what to call it until about a year ago. Maybe if I lived alone, I would have just lived in denial and not looked it up.
When I realised that it had a name, and started taking it seriously, I realised I had felt that way many, many times before, and just didn’t know what word to call it. And for me, if something doesn’t have a name, then it sort of doesn’t exist and I can just forget about it and just concentrate on other things. So – that was helpful.
I’ve been reading a book recently called “Burnout”. I actually bought it probably about a year ago when I realised that I had this issue that was ongoing. And of course, I didn’t have time to read the book about burnout because I was too busy working! And then it kept happening…
So the time before last, that I felt the symptoms of burnout, I did start to read the book – and I haven’t read the whole book yet but even in just the first part of the book, I’ve learned so much.
It’s been a recurring theme in my diaries for the past bajillion years that whenever I don’t exercise, I feel rubbish. And then when I start exercising again, magically I start to feel better. I’m sure there are many, many medical and scientific reasons for this – we all know that exercise is good for us – but this book “Burnout” explained to me that the reason that it’s so, so powerful when it comes to making my mood lift is because it’s about completing the stress cycle.
Whatever you do in your job, whatever your family situation is, you’re going to experience stress. And if you can’t get that out of your body, then it sits inside – this is the science bit! – it sits inside you, and it festers, and it makes you feel rubbish, and it makes it feel like it’s really hard to do anything.
And I don’t know whether I’ve been confusing the symptoms of burnout for symptoms of depression for years either, because I wouldn’t say that I’m someone who has depression, I’m not someone who has anxiety – I find it very hard to call myself those things without having a diagnosis. If you have them and you don’t have a diagnosis, it doesn’t mean you don’t have them, I’m just saying that I’m unable to label those things in myself without more information.
But it is true, I think, that we all experience different levels of depression and anxiety without necessarily having those things as conditions in our lives. So I’ve experienced those things. They definitely get worse when I don’t exercise, when I don’t eat well, when I don’t rest enough, when I don’t get outside enough and when I don’t do much deep breathing.
So when I do yoga and meditation, when I go running, when I get outside, I “magically” feel better, and what I’ve learned from this book is that it’s directly linked to completing this thing called the stress cycle.
It’s Friday now, and I decided to take this whole week off work to rest and recharge and be adventurous and get outside and do the things that complete the stress cycle, but also have some fun. Like I said, I found myself a little bit annoying in the last video when I was talking about how I didn’t have time to do this, and I don’t make time to do this. And I just thought – make time to do those things.
The other book I’m reading at the moment is called “Four Thousand Weeks” by Oliver Burkeman, and that has had a massive impact on me. Just pointing out the fact that it’s such a waste to keep thinking about the next thing I’m going to do instead of enjoying the thing I’m doing now. It just made me wake up and think summer’s over, I blinked and I missed it. I sat in The Launchpad – my studio at home – making things all summer. I don’t regret that – I really like the things that I make – but that’s what I did all summer, I didn’t come outside really.
And it’s been really hard because of this pandemic to feel safe to be outside a lot of the time, but nothing was ever stopping me from cycling out to the Portishead salt flats. I just decided to stay home for a really long time. Maybe too long, maybe not. I don’t know. I’ve managed to avoid getting Coronavirus, that was my goal. I have achieved my goal. I hope to keep achieving my goal – while living my life and being safe – but living my life.
“Four Thousand Weeks” has just really woken me up. The title refers to the amount of weeks that we will live if we’re lucky and we stick around till our 80s. That’s not a very long time. It’s good to get a lot of stuff done, I love my job – but look at this!
I’ve been seeing the phrase “toxic productivity” around the internet recently, and that’s really interesting because I’m someone who’s read a lot of productivity books, I went freelance at the age of 24? 24. 23? 23. I went freelance at the age of 23, and that is incredibly precocious I now realise, and so I’ve been working for myself for 17 years. I love what I do, I love the creative career that I’ve built, but I agree that there’s a toxic side to this productivity idea. And so that’s why on my channel, I mention “mindful productivity”. Cal Newport, whose books and podcast I really love, was recently talking on his show about “slow productivity”, which to me is the same thing.
For me it’s about tweaking your life to make sure that you have time to do the things that you really love, and you really care about – whatever that is – while also taking care of yourself. And that’s a journey I’m on…I’m not doing particularly well at it at the moment.
I know when I’m starting to lose interest and not being able to see the point of the things that I do that it’s time to have a rest, but I’m really bad at doing it. And it really pisses me off that I’m bad at doing it because I think it makes me sound like some kind of productivity martyr. And I’ve got no interest in being that person.
So I started with really good intentions of getting outdoors and doing loads of cool stuff – just stuff I’d never tried before. So I booked myself in for a surf lesson at The Wave, which is this incredible powered lake thing in North West Bristol, it’s 15 minutes drive from my house. I went there on Monday and I had a surf lesson, and I’ve never been interested in surfing, I’ve never thought about surfing – the closest I’ve ever sort of come to watching any kind of surfing was on Baywatch when I was a teenager. And I didn’t even watch that much! So yeah, no interest in surfing before now, but it was a really fun thing to do.
And in “Four Thousand Weeks”, Oliver Burkeman writes about telic and atelic activities, and I’ve been thinking a lot about this. So, a telic activity is something that has a point to it, ao it’s got a goal of some kind. And an atelic activity is one that doesn’t, so it could be hanging out with a friend, it could be…surfing for me would be an atelic activity, because I’m not doing it to become a surfer, and I had no expectation that I would stand up on the board or anything, I just went along to do something, to spend time doing something for the sake of doing it, not for the sake of achieving something. And that is quite out of character for me, and therefore a really good thing to try.
I didn’t completely suck. But even if I had, that really doesn’t matter. That’s not the point of it. The point was to get out of my house and go somewhere and do something different. And I got to be around people – and I haven’t been around many people for quite a long time – and it all felt safe, and I had a few little chats with strangers, and that’s something I’ve missed as well.
Then on Tuesday and Wednesday, I sat on my sofa watching Netflix, feeling sorry for myself and deciding that I would never be able to go outside and do anything interesting, that I had no friends, that there was nothing going on in my life of any interest or import – and all of the stuff, all the voices, the voices, the voices. Luckily, Thursday I had planned to see several friends, and yeah, I thought about cancelling all of those things because I was feeling depressed on Tuesday / Wednesday, but I didn’t. So I feel proud of myself for that.
I don’t want to be the person who cancels on their friends – I haven’t been that person for a long time. When I lived in London, and I was “crushing it”, I cancelled on people all the time, and I really regret that now because I don’t live there any more. And those moments, those opportunities to hang out with those people are now gone forever, and that’s a shame.
Today, day five of my week off, has been much better. I again didn’t cancel on someone – and maybe at one point I would have done, if I’d let that voice that says “You don’t deserve to have a nice time”. Do you have that voice? I have that voice. If I let that voice be too loud, maybe I wouldn’t have gone today. But I’m so pleased that I went. And this is was even better than surfing I think – and surfing was wonderful!
I got up at six, because I’ve been doing that, and I met up with my neighbour from two doors down, and she drove us out to Clevedon Marine Lake, and we went swimming. And it was freezing! And it was so beautiful, and so quiet and calm and serene. And, oh, it’s gorgeous. It’s an infinity pool next to the sea, and it’s – oh, I don’t know how to explain it to you, but I took my GoPro so I don’t have to!
I spent the rest of the morning looking at wetsuits and swimming socks, and swimming gloves – these are cycling gloves – but swimming globes, and change robes that you can put on…like, there’s a whole load of stuff you can get. With any new pursuit there’s accessories, you know, you can go as far into it as you want. But I’m just really keen to go again, so that’s why I was looking at these accessories, so that I can go as soon as possible, because it’s obviously going to just keep getting colder now. And it’d be nice to be able to take advantage of the warmer weather as we go into winter.
I’ve been to Portishead before, but further over that way, so I’ve never seen this part, the salt marshes, and it’s quiet here. No-one’s here to laugh at me. I do find it really hard to get outside. I don’t know why. It’s not a habit of mine to spend a lot of time outdoors. Could it be? Could I build a new habit to be outdoors more? Could I build a new habit to go swimming in cold water a couple of times a week? I’d really like that – I’d like to be that person.
The only thing that I don’t like is running out of time, and Oliver Burkeman’s book is helping me reframe that in my mind. Because I’m not running out of time – time isn’t something that I definitely have. Time is something that I can use, but it’s not a resource, because yeah, you only know you had three hours when those three hours are up. Really interesting.
One of the things I wanted to do was give myself a little treat. I’m going to eat a chocolate bar out in the beautiful, beautiful environs of Portishead, who are one of my favourite bands as well. It’s funny to have been into them when I was 15/16…Portishead to me is a band, it’s not a place…but then I’ve lived just down the road from here for three years so it’s very much a place. Sorry to the people of Portishead – you had it first.
It’s just really nice out here. And I love a Twirl… I need to remind myself of things. Like how good Twirls are! Such a good Twirl.
I decided to challenge myself to get up at 6am every day for a week – and it changed my life!
Join me for a week in my life as a full-time artist, songwriter and podcast maker as I attempt to carve out my own personal timezone and find more hours in the day for making music, plus care for my elderly Miniature Schnauzer Benji during a tough time.
I found more time for creativity | Getting up at 6am for a week TRANSCRIPT
“I’m flagging…I’m flagging now. I’m not sure this would be possible without coffee.”
I first became a morning person in 2008. I blame this guy [photo of my dog Mister Benji looking v. handsome].
Before he scampered into my life, I’d work late every night and get up around 10 or 11 the next day, unless I had to be somewhere for a filming job or a band rehearsal.
Mister Benji helped me learn to appreciate mornings, and I’m very grateful for that.
Over the past few months, I’ve been feeling more than ever like I’m always running out of time. I know I’m not alone here – tell me in the comments will you, what are the things you’d love to spend time on first but always push to the end of your list?
I’m an ambitious person with an insatiable drive to make all sorts of things from music to podcasts to videos and everything in between, and I know I can’t do everything all at once, but I decided drastic action was required to at least try. I wanted to do the time equivalent of looking for money down the back of the sofa. I wanted more hours in the day. Plus, to be honest, I was keen to try anything different after 18 months of the same routine in the same (beautiful) four walls.
There are loads of ways to get more out of your time: reducing distractions, increasing focus by batch working, checking email at specific times only, time block planning your days, using the Pomodoro technique, bullet journalling, eating the frog – you name it, I’ve probably tried it.
What I hadn’t tried before was getting up at 6am.
Getting up early is meant to have huge benefits for your health, stress levels, productivity and success in life.
Ex-Navy Seal, now-author Jocko Willink suggests 4.30am as the best time to get up – he reckons that showing that much self discipline first thing has a major impact on your day, and I don’t doubt it. I was up for it! But, I don’t live alone, and I try to be a considerate person, so forcing my husband Tim to wake up at 4.30 seemed a bit much.
We agreed on 6am instead, which is already at least an hour and a half earlier than usual, two and a half hours on a particularly snoozy day.
To the experiment! Here are the rules: I’ll get up – actually get out of bed – at 6am every day for a whole week. First, I’ll do some exercise, then I’ll head up to my studio. After a breakfast and dog walking break around 9.15-10am, I’ll work til 6 as usual, with a break for lunch of course, then clock off for the evening.
At the end of this video I’ll share my tips on how you can get up earlier and make the most of your day. DAY ONE
“This is a good idea!
Wow, I’m really hungry. It’s about 7.15am. It’s about 15 minutes before my alarm clock would normally go off, and probably about half an hour to 45 minutes before I’d actually drag myself out of bed. So this is a very good start to the week already. I feel like I’ve given myself the gift of time!
Now it’s time to go upstairs and make some music.”
It felt so freeing to start the day with the thing I love doing the most, the thing my entire creative career is centred around – making music. It’s so easy to get caught up in more straightforward left brain activities like checking email or working through an admin task or, ugh, writing posts for social media to tell people about the music you’re making. I want to make the best use of my time, always, and so it’s always a great day when making music comes first.
Starting first thing is a good way of pushing through the self doubt that’s part and parcel of the creative process, too. I didn’t get a chance to talk myself out of it, basically!
“It’s 2.30, day 1. I feel pretty, pretty tired but coffee number 3 is on the go. It’s been a wildly productive day – I finished a song! But yeah, I am feeling a little bit sleepy now but then I have been up for eight and a half hours. So yeah, that’s to be expected. I think this is a really good development…it’s obviously only day one. We’ll see how it goes…”
“This must be the earliest I’ve ever thought about going running. That’s not true – I definitely used to go running in the dark in Victoria Park in Bristol before going to work. That was a few years ago. So this is the earliest I’ve thought about going running in eight years.
I feel fine though. I went to bed at 10 or something, so that’s perfectly reasonable. It’s always a bit of a shock to get up anyway.”
If I run, I never regret it. If I don’t, I always do! I started building my running habit from scratch in January 2020 and have pretty much run two or three times a week ever since. Lately I’ve been finding it harder to keep doing it, even though I know it always makes me feel brilliant. But I keep doing it.
Big shoutout to the Running Punks online community, a really welcoming group of people.
It was good to get started earlier than usual because I couldn’t make the excuse that I didn’t have enough time before work.
“It’s just after 8am, and I’m about to start working on music again for the second day in a row. I’ve had my shower, I feel fresh and energised. I don’t feel tired, I don’t feel at all sleepy. I don’t feel distracted, because there hasn’t been any time for anything to get in my head yet. So this is really nice.”
Energised by my run, I spent the whole day working on a song. What a joy.
Whenever I write music, I keep a captain’s log. I clock in and out by writing down the start and finish time of my writing session, I note down what I did and make a list of what needs to be done next at the end. I find it an excellent way of proving to myself that I’ve achieved something, even if nothing’s finished yet, and it leaves me with no doubt about how to get started again the next time. I highly recommend it.
“I mean, I do feel tired… But it’s 11.25, and I’ve spent hours and hours working on a song. I’ve had two coffees today, feeling pretty good. There will be more. But I’m feeling pretty good. I’m going to press on now…”
It seems obvious to me now that I should always, always start my day with something creative. Whether you have 15 minutes spare or 2 hours or anything in between, that’s enough to get going on something you care about, and if you keep coming back and chipping away at it, you’ll be surprised at what you can get done. I give that advice to absolutely anyone else who wants to make stuff – but sometimes I forget to be as nice to myself as I would be to a stranger. That’s something I’m working on…
“It’s about half eight at night, and I am tired. I’m a little bit annoyed because I arranged to do a podcast conversation recording this evening for my show, and I arranged to do at eight o’clock because that is 3pm EST in America, and I knew I was going to have a long day but I thought no, it’s okay because it’ll be good. I really wanted to talk to this person. And I logged on…and they didn’t log on.
And things come up and things change, but it’s a bit rubbish sitting there waiting for half an hour thinking, “Oh, it’s not happening”. And I spent ages prepping – I spend ages prepping for all of my podcast episodes. But prepping involved listening to this person’s really, really brilliant new album and just reading about their interesting life, so that’s okay. So yeah, that’s a shame, but my super productive day was super productive, and that’s what’s important. And now I get to go downstairs and eat chocolate and have a cup of tea and relax before going to bed quite soon.
And we’ll do it all again tomorrow. And Benji is going to be getting his stitches out as well. So that is brilliant.”
“I’ve been awake for ages!
Wednesday. And Pilates is the thing I’m most likely to skip out on doing in the week of exercise, even though – and maybe because, hmmm – because it’s the thing that I am almost certain is the thing that does the most for me. Can’t speak, it’s early and I’m tired.
Shout out to Cassey Ho on YouTube for being my Pilates guru. It’s tough, but she’s brilliant.
Just a quick pause to appreciate this attitude [Benji is curled up, asleep].
I’m so happy. It’s only 7.14 am and I’ve just done 36 minutes of Pilates. I feel fresh and wide awake and energised. And now I’ve got two full hours until Tim and I have agreed to meet for breakfast. So I just feel like I can get so much done. So, what’s next?
I’m recording a podcast conversation this afternoon with Rou Reynolds from Enter Shikari. So I’m just going to put the finishing touches to my prep now and there should be enough time before breakfast to make a bit of music.
My neighbours are going to work, and so am I.”
This is where it all started to go a bit wrong. I love past Laura for her optimism, but there wasn’t enough time to make music before breakfast as well as getting ready for my podcast recording, obviously. Instead of choosing to make music in my extra time before the work day started I just…started work early. I wish I hadn’t. I’m still wondering what song I might have written on day 3, if I’d just given myself the chance.
After breakfast we took Benji to the vet’s to get his stitches out. He had a splenectomy eight days before this – they removed his entire spleen because it had a tumour growing inside. It was really scary, especially because he’s 13 and a half, but he bounced right back from the operation, started putting weight back on and generally being his former bouncy self, so we were really happy.
He was very brave when they took the stitches out, and only yelped once. Good boy!
“It’s nearly the end of the day on Wednesday, and I’m not gonna lie, I’m flagging. I’m flagging now. At lunchtime, I was thinking about how nice it would be to just stop. Of course I feel tired, I’ve been up since six. It’s time to finish work soon and relax and have an early night and start again tomorrow.”
“I feel okay. This is a good idea!
Day four. Thursday 6.24am. I just wanted to say something: I understand that many people every day get up at 6am. So it’s not that I think this is a really extreme challenge. For me, this is just about having extra time at the beginning of a work day.
Anyway, I’m slightly stalling, which is what I often do when I’m supposed to be going for a run. So I’m gonna go do that now…
I’m really kicking myself looking back on this, because this was the second day in a row that I just started my usual work early. I hadn’t realised yet that there was a better way. But hey, that’s what an experiment is for! And because being creative always gives me a buzz, I might not have been feeling like this:
“Seriously flagging now. It feels like I’m in a different time zone because it’s sunny when it should be getting dark or something, even though it’s summer and it doesn’t get dark till like half eight. Just feels weird. I felt really weird yesterday as well. I think I’m focused on work, I think I’m getting things done. I’m gonna keep trying to get things done. The things that I do don’t happen super quickly anyway, they’re not finished quickly. So the day is still happening. I’ve got a couple more hours before I stop and…feeling a bit funny.
But we talked this morning at breakfast about whether this is going to be an ongoing thing because it seems like maybe shunting the day forward as we’ve done for the past few days, just doing it for a week might be more confusing than doing it for a few weeks. I wonder if it’s gonna take a little while for this to feel normal. Because ongoing, this could be normal. There’s no reason why we couldn’t get up at six and have our nice quiet mornings, and then finish on time and then go to bed at a reasonable time so that it doesn’t feel like this.” DAY FIVE
By the end of the week it had dawned on me that I wasn’t making the best use of my extra hours, so I went out first thing. Tim had surprised me by joining in on the challenge every day, and so together we took our younger dog Alby to the park before 7am. She was a bit surprised, but I think she liked it. It was magical up there at that time of the morning, and although we only saw a few other humans in the woods we weren’t completely alone… [there was a cat in the bushes!]
Getting up at 6am every day was a simple challenge, but there was something strangely thrilling about it. It felt so good to try something new.
I used to think of myself as a roving musical adventurer – up until the end of 2019 I was away for a decent chunk of every year playing shows and doing all sorts of freelance work. I always had a bag half packed. And then…none of that.
I’ve done my best over the past eighteen months, I think we all have, but time just hasn’t held the same sort of possibilities as it used to, so this challenge was a revelation. Opening up the possibility of making something brand new every morning in my studio, or simply getting out into nature and soaking in all this beauty – what a gift. I felt like I’d shaken myself out of a very long, deep, sleep.
Unfortunately, we don’t all get extra time. On Friday lunchtime we got the worst news – while Benji’s operation had been a great success, and he had recovered brilliantly, the story didn’t end there. Our vet called to let me know that Benji has hemangiosarcoma, a mysterious, aggressive and incurable form of cancer. I had been so excited to have my best friend back home and looking healthy again that I’d decided not to worry about the test results that we knew were on the way, and I don’t regret that – worrying is not preparation, after all – but this news was a shock, and I just got through the afternoon as best I could.
Day Six was a Saturday, and I decided 7am was a nice lie in treat for a weekend, giving me a little bit more sleep but not putting me back to square one. I try not to work every single day, but writing music doesn’t feel like work, and sometimes it’s good to keep pushing ahead with a creative idea while it feels fresh, so I put a few studio hours in and managed to make really good progress on another song before switching everything off for family time in the afternoon.
Rest is so important, and I am NOT great at it. I work really hard, but I do try to balance mindful goal setting and being productive with taking time off to recharge and spend time with the ones I love the most. It’s a work in progress but I am trying – especially now. DAY SEVEN
“It’s Sunday 6:41am and I’ve just done a pre-running Yoga with Adriene sequence. And I have eaten my protein balls and I am just about to get ready to go running. I snuck out of bed this morning without the alarm going off. I keep waking up maybe an hour before, but dozing again. Then because I have an alarm clock with a light, I was able to just turn it off before the birdsong started this morning so as not to disturb Tim, and I snuck downstairs to do my yoga.
Getting up at 6am isn’t just to do work. I’m not a joyless person who is going to work all weekend. But even in the short time I’ve been experimenting with it, I’ve really enjoyed the quiet extra time in the mornings and being able to start work on music really, really early. And that feels like a real achievement.
Look at this guy, though [Benji is snoozing!]
The dogs are not joining in with this experiment, they’re not willing to start the day early. And that’s fine!“
[goes running, returns]
[laughs] “My friends have come to say hello. Hey Alby!
It’s 9.15 now and no, I haven’t been out for that long. I have a problem, which is a problem you might have as well. This stupid thing. [holds up mobile phone]
“I got stuck to it, and I feel really annoyed because the point of getting up at 6am is not to give myself more time to scroll on my effing phone. So I’ve actually finally again put Freedom on my phone. And this is software that will block me from going on distracting websites, apps, whatever I choose not to go on. So I’ve chosen not to go on anything for the next 23 hours.
And of course after scrolling on this for about an hour this morning, I didn’t really want to go for a run so it was really hard to get out, whereas if I had just kept my forward motion going, then I would have been fine. But as it was I went anyway, and I did four miles which means I think I’ve done about nine in total this week, so I’m really happy with that actually.” CHALLENGE COMPLETE!
Getting up at 6am for a week changed my life.
It’s 11 days now since I completed my challenge, and I’ve got up at 6am every day since, apart from one day when I got up at 7. I don’t see any reason why I would stop now. I love the early morning quiet, I love not having any excuses not to exercise and I love having creative playtime available first thing in the day.
I do need to work on getting to bed a bit earlier, not using feeling sleepy as an excuse to eat biscuits all the time and clocking off at 6pm sharp, but I’m only human, you know?
If you’re interested in getting up earlier too, I have some tips for you:
1. Don’t snooze
I’ve done this a couple of times, and felt really annoyed with myself. If I’m going to get up at 6, I should set the alarm for 6. If I’m going to get up at 6.30, I should set the alarm for 6.30. When the alarm goes off, turn on a light, sit up and drink some water. It makes it a lot easier to do the next bit – getting out of bed! After that, you’re rolling.
2. Don’t touch your phone til later in the day No-one needs extra scrolling time, and you probably got up early to do more useful things than that, so just get on with those first.
3. Go to bed earlier
I didn’t do that, and that was really silly. I turned my light out at 11pm most nights, which was just about ok, but I think if I’d gone to sleep at 10 or even 10.30 I would have felt a drastic difference. Hmm, I really should start doing that now!
4. Plan your meals
I didn’t even consider this. I didn’t think I’d be so hungry earlier in the day, but of course the enzymes in our stomachs start doing their thing whatever time we get up, so a healthy pre-breakfast snack at least would have been very helpful. We weren’t strict about lunchtimes or dinnertimes either, so days when we didn’t get round to eating til late were unpleasant.
So yeah, think about when you’re going to eat, and what you’re going to eat, so you can keep your energy up throughout the day.
5. Do it gradually
If getting up at 6am, or 5am, or 4.30am seems a bit drastic right now, you can get there incrementally – just set your alarm for 15 minutes earlier, or 30 minutes earlier, try that for a few days, and then keep going bit by bit until you reach your desired getting up time.
Please make sure you’re taking care of yourself though, and getting enough sleep for your body and your brain.
Tell me, what time do you get up at the moment, and does it give you enough time to do everything you want? Are you thinking about getting up earlier after watching this video? Let me know in the comments, I’d really love to hear from you.
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