Album update: how not to get overwhelmed by big projects and the danger of endless lists
“Old Tape” image by Ozant Liuky from Pixabay
Suddenly, I find myself with only a little bit of an album to complete.
You might know I started writing this new collection of songs in February 2019, and the next six months proved to be such a transformative period that I ended my longtime music project to start this new one – and I’m so thankful you’ve decided to join me on Mission: Penfriend.
I recorded and mixed six songs by the end of the summer then set off on various tours, spending long solitary driving hours pondering my musical future, making plans and gradually figuring out the best way to make my transition. Recording stopped, pretty much, til December, but snippets of songs were still being recorded into phone memos.
This February I wrote four songs in one day, egged on by my friend, guitarist Charley Stone. We were playing the 20 Song Game, which I love, and I went from being sure which 6-ish more songs I was going to finish and record to being a bit overwhelmed by choice. In music, this is very much a “high class problem”, but it was a problem nevertheless.
Last week I sat at my desk and listened to all the things I’d chucked into my Works In Progress (WIP) folder and made a shortlist. It’s not very short, but it’s a list and I’m going with it!
I find that with any self-motivated project, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the little decisions that need to be made. You can’t write “make an album” or “write a book” on your to do list and expect to get anything done. Your brain sees the words and runs away to hide in tasks that are easy to conceive of and easy to complete. I joke – though it’s not really a joke – that the only time I start thinking about cleaning the house is when I have a day free to make music. My brain just can’t handle such a tenuous concept. I have to sneak up on it, breaking down the massive inconceivable task into tiny pieces. Sit at desk, make list of potential songs, plug in guitar…
Deadlines help, but it’s hard to obey self-imposed deadlines, especially when there are so many other things I “need” to do, not to mention scary world events to deal with in some way. I recently hired myself for the pretty hefty part time job of podcaster, which is going really well, and could easily engulf my entire week if I let it.
I’m also acutely aware that I’m a terrible workaholic, more than happy to dive into my endless schemes and dreams at the expense of having any time off. I love what I do so much and have always been really bad at stopping, ever. I’m trying to get better at that.
There will always be more stuff I’d like to make and do and, because of how my mind works, that will never come to an end, so I could feasibly work 12 hour days forever and never be “finished”. I write this here to remind myself, more than anything else, and perhaps to nudge you to be good to yourself, too.
I spent part of Sunday reading through the daily diary I wrote in the year I turned 18. It was a disappointing read, to be honest, the amount of times I wanted to shake my younger self and say “please just break up with him once and for all and do NOT go back!” was kind of painful, and I closed the book feeling really sad for this confused young person who was already displaying the workaholic tendencies I mentioned earlier. Why I was working 3-4 very late nights a week at a pizza restaurant around supposedly revising for my A levels I don’t know, and I wish someone could have stepped in and explained a few things to me about sleep, priorities and focus.
This week I’ve been trying to meditate those futile feelings of frustration, anger and sadness out of my body, alongside trying to set myself up for a successful week. I’ve mentioned Cal Newport tons of times before, but I listened to episode 1 of his new podcast “Deep Questions” on the weekend and it was so timely for me. My phone is now switched off and sitting behind a closed cupboard door, I turn it on once a day to check for voicemails and WhatsApp my sister and a few friends and that’s quite enough. I’m not checking email til the afternoon, and only once if I’m not waiting for something from someone.
Evenings are for dinner with my husband, snuggles with the dogs, reading and board games. I have two days a week booked for podcast work and three for music making. I have an album to finish!
What are your weekly priorities these days? Have they changed since COVID-19? Do you have any productivity / focus tips or links to share?
I have one more before I sign off for the week – check out my favourite YouTube channel by Matt D’Avella. I highly recommend his videos on minimalism, essentialism and getting things done while living a balanced life. He’s great. I’m a bit addicted…
Take care, and I hope to get to play for you at my upcoming online gig:
Next Thursday 25th June at 8pm BST I’ll be playing my monthly Correspondents-only online gig. Digipals and up will receive a link by email on Wednesday which you can use to watch live on the night or watch again later if you can’t make it. Leave me any questions in the comments and I will answer them!
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Have a lovely day xo