Limiting Options Is A Key To Productivity

One of the benefits of living in the 21st century is that we have more options in every aspect of our lives than ever.

Consider music for a moment.  In Beethoven’s day, If you wanted to hear Bach’s St. Matthews Passion, you had one of two choices.  You could either go to where a choir was performing the work, or acquire sheet music for the piece and organize your own choir to perform it.  ”Hearing” a piece performed for anyone living outside of a city meant that you could have been traveling for days or weeks to get somewhere where it was being performed.  Your “favorite” orchestral works may be something that you only heard 3-4 times in your lifetime.

If you have an internet connection, you can listen to any one of a hundred versions of the work instantly.  You can listen to it anywhere at anytime – even while driving. That’s an amazing thing.

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But too much of anything is a bad thing.

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When faced with too many options people generally shut down.  If you’ve ever watched an episode of Kitchen Nightmares, one of the first things Gordon Ramsay does is cut down the menu.  This not only focus the diners on a few select dishes  but also ensures  that the kitchen doesn’t get overwhelmed in preparing dishes.  When a kitchen can focus on a one page menu rather than a ten page menu – their chances of getting the dishes sent out the way they’re supposed to be climb dramatically.

Relating this to practicing – it’s easy to fall into this harmless looking trap.  You decide to sit down to practice and the first thing you think is, “Ok time to practice! I should practice scales, and comping – I have to make sure I work on improv – oh and reading – wow I really need to work on reading, and…”

…and…and…and soon it’s an hour later and nothing is done.

I’ve already posted about the importance of defining practice sessions and maintaining a practice log here, and about developing practicing as a habit rather than an event here, but I think it’s important to note that in whatever you do

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the end result of too many options isn’t freedom

it’s paralysis

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Have you every woken up with a goal for the day and not gotten it done because too many other things got in the way?  ”I wanted to go to the gym, but I had to get groceries and then while I was out I had to run some other errands and then…” (insert infinite number of events that go until the conclusion of the day making going to the gym impossible).  This is an example of getting overwhelmed with too many ways to spend time instead of just picking one thing at a time a focusing on that.

Here’s a related  productivity secret that may help you focus on your priorities:

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The important things in life are the things you do

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You can tell me that going to the gym and getting in shape is important to you – but if you spend the day watching TV instead of going to the gym than being comfortable is more important that being in shape.  In college you see people who blow off classes and then pull a week of all nighters to pass the term.  This shows me it’s important to them.  Their priorities may have gotten skewed over the course of the term but, at the end of the day, they made themselves very uncomfortable to achieve a goal and that shows where their priorities are.  This is in contrast to the people who say that they’re going to pull all nighter to get the paper done and take the F instead.

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Here are a couple of inter-related strategies to getting things done:

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  • If you are not getting things done – Identify what you want to be important and then make it a habit by doing it – a lot.
  • Clearly define your goals.
  • Make daily steps toward achieving those goals.
  • Realize that as each day is different – the results you get each day will be different.
  • When facing discouragement – keep your eye on long term goals.
  • Periodically assess your progress and adjust your actions accordingly.

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And finally, some related quotes:

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“If you always do what you always did you will always get what you always got”

(Unknown but I did see one reference that attributed it to J. “Moms” Mabley)

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“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well. If it is worth having, it is worth waiting for. If it is worth attaining, it is worth fighting for. If it is worth experiencing, it is worth putting aside time for.”

– Susan Jeffries

I hope this helps!  As always, thanks for dropping by.

– SC

Guit-A-Grip Podcast #13 – New Book “Excerpt” #2

Hello everyone!

Episode #13

Guit-A-Grip podcast episode #13 “Nothing Ever Got Done With An Excuse Excerpt #2″ is out and available for download/streaming.

Subscription Notes:

  • You can subscribe through iTunes here:
  • You can use this link to subscribe with any other feed based service:
  • or you can right-click here to download it.
  • or you can stream this episode below.
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Show Notes

The Podcast and the liberal use of the term “Excerpt”

Part of working in a format like this is being able to review things that you wrote a while ago and seeing how they shake out in a conversational manner.  That means that when I’m reading the book I’m editing the text in my head to prevent really awkward (or wrong things from being said.  It also makes for some stilted moments, but the good news it that it tightens up both the podcast and the book in the process.

I’ll talk more about why I do this in the future but (editing this down from a lumbering 23 minutes) I’m hoping to convince you that there is a method to my madness (or vice-versa).

The steps to follow:

Just to recap, these are the steps I reference in the podcast (I skipped a few of them on the audio!!!)  Good thing it’s an edit!

How to manage a project in a few broad strokes

  • Have a clear vision of what you want to do (set quantifiable goals).
  • Align perception with reality and create priorities (in other words make an honest assessment of what needs to happen to reach those goals)
  • Set deadlines and benchmarks.
  • Be accountable.
  • Do daily focused work on those goals and limit distractions and obstacles in the way of achieving them.
  • Make periodic reviews to check your project’s status against the benchmarks and timeline.
  • Utilize available resources when possible/necessary.

Come prepared:

I should have taken a page from the Boy Scouts this time around and been better prepared for a podcast.  Then, perhaps, I would have had something novel like water handy and not had either a coughing fit (edited out) or the scrath voice that comes in mid-way to the podcast before I started coughing.

Related material:

Most of the observations on this site, will work in directly with the podcast posted here.  But the two links I cited specifically were:

It’s not all gold and

Podcast Episode #12

That’s it for now!

As always, I hope this helps you with your own goals.

See you soon and thanks again for listening/reading!

-SC

Don’t Let Time Become An Excuse For Not Starting Something

Hi everybody!

I just wanted to add a post to go with the new series I’m running on my podcast. (if you like this post you might want to check it out if you haven’t already!)

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Time and Fear

It can be scary to start a new project, take on a new initiative or choose a new direction. One fear-based response I hear from people consistently for why they don’t want to take on something new is some variation of this:

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“Well…what if I put all of this time and energy into it and it doesn’t go anywhere?”

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The Tough Love Part Of The Post

Here is the reality check for this line of thinking:

Your time has no fixed economic value before you start something.

Let me clarify this.  If you’re currently making six figures a year in your day job, you are sorely mistaken (or outright delusional) if you’re taking on something new at the ground level and assuming that your time in your new venture will initially have the same value as what you’re currently making.

If you open a hot dog stand and sell five hot dogs in your first hour, SOME portion of that wage (and given the cost of supplies will be a negative figure in this case) will be your new (hopefully temporary) hourly wage.

While it doesn’t mean that’s what you’re worth –  it does mean that’s what you’re making at this moment.  Five years from now your artisan dogs might support a dozen stands selling hundreds an hour and bringing in real money – but at this moment – in the simplest equation – your business is valued at the dollar value generated when expenses are subtracted from assets and revenue.

Later on, once your project has inertia, your time will have a definitive value and there will be numerous things fighting for your time.  But initially, it’s like going to court in that just as you don’t get compensated for your time to appear in court – you don’t get back the time or energy in a project that went bust.  It’s gone.  Eat the loss and let it go.

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Sometimes you take a step back to move forward.

When I realized that my fretting hand technique was holding back my playing I had to re-learn about 1/2 of what I “knew” how to play.

It was a drag, and initially it felt like a huge waste of time taking a step that far back and I resisted it for a year because I didn’t want to wast my time taking a step back when there was already a lot I could do on guitar.

But what I could already do wasn’t getting me any further ahead in the long run.  The process of revamping my technique made me re-evaluate my relationship to the instrument and to music as a whole.  I began to hear my playing differently and began to hear other people’s playing differently.  Ultimately it got me the fluidity and clarity that I admired in so many other players playing that I was always wondering why it was missing from mine.

I sometimes wonder if people get frustrated when they talk about whatever they saw on the internet or TV (i.e. “if your time is so valuable how exactly are you spending it now?”) and then go on to ask the initial question:

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“Well…what if I put all of this time and energy into it and it doesn’t go anywhere?”

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Here’s the answer:

The good news is that if the project is a bust (and if you haven’t invested EVERYTHING into it) you can quit and take what you’ve learned from this venture to move on to the next one.

I copped this from Seth Godin who once said that quitting is undervalued and that the problem with quitting is that most people quit something when it’s too late.  The time to quit is in the early stages BEFORE you take the second mortgage, empty the bank account and realize that if this doesn’t work out that you and your family need to move back in with your folks.

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And now the caveat!

If this website has a one word core idea, it’s balance“.

Before I played guitar, I started off as a drummer in junior high school.  If I didn’t quit drums in my first year and later switched to guitar I never would have stayed in music because by the time I had enough time in on drums in high school I wouldn’t have had the energy or interest to transition to learning guitar.

If I quit my pursuit to revamp my technique too early, I never would have made the progress in my playing that I did.

The balance is the hardest thing because the onus of understanding and maintaining that balance falls on you, the individual.

Balance will play a huge role in the posts and podcasts ahead!

Starting any new project will take inertia to keep it going.  Once you get the project going you’ll have plenty of opportunities to evaluate your use of time and address it’s value in a real way, but don’t let that short circuit your plans for starting something.

More content coming soon.  As always, thanks for reading!

-SC

Guit-A-Grip Podcast #12 – New Book Excerpt #1

Hello everyone!

The New Book?

Yep!  I have a few new books that I’m working on, and the non-guitar instructional book, Nothing Ever Got Done With An Excuse (Or a case study in how to plan projects and get things done).  is all about several large scale projects that I got done (such as releasing 4 books of 1,200 + pages of writing in 5 months of 2011/2012).

You’re Podcasting this?

Yep!  A large component of the book is accountability so there are several advantages to podcasting the bulk of the book.

  1. It builds an audience for the book.
  2. It gives me a framework (and deadlines) for editing the material.
  3. Like I said in the podcast (re: pedagogy for pay and the flamenco dance teaching model) even if the ENTIRE book was put up online, there are people that will still want a book of the material.

Episode #12

Guit-A-Grip podcast episode #12 “Nothing Ever Got Done With An Excuse Introduction And Overview Excerpt” is out and available for download/streaming.

Subscription Notes:

  • You can subscribe through iTunes here:
  • You can use this link to subscribe with any other feed based service:
  • or you can right-click here to download it.
  • or you can stream this episode below.
.

Show Notes

The (other) Book

The writing book I reference in the podcast is Chris Baty’s, No Plot? No Problem!  A low-stress, high-velocity guide to writing a novel in 30 days. There are a bajillion Kindle titles for outputting an ebook quickly, but Chris’ book is the granddaddy of them in my humble opinion.

The Harvard Study:

The study I cited in the podcast was from a source that quoted,  What They Don’t Teach You in the Harvard Business School, by Mark McCormack.  Funny story, this site contends that the data is largely fabricated and based on a non-existant 1953 Yale study! (It then goes on to cite another study that came to the same conclusion).  So take that for what it’s worth because if the original study anecdote WAS fabricated – I can’t even fathom the number of people who must have cited the McCormack reference of it (or a reference to the reference) by now.

“There are only 12 notes and they take forever to learn.”

This is just a reminder.  If the new habits you’re trying to acquire are outside your comfort zone, you’ll need to review your game plan often.

The Steps to follow:

WOW!  It turns out that I was reading from an earlier draft of the book and missed a few steps!  Here’s a case where it pays to check out the website as well as the podcast.  ; )  I changed the below from first person to passive to make it more applicable to the reader.

How to manage a project in a few broad strokes

  • Have a clear vision of what you want to do (set quantifiable goals).
  • Align perception with reality and create priorities (in other words make an honest assessment of what needs to happen to reach those goals)
  • Set deadlines and benchmarks.
  • Be accountable.
  • Do daily focused work on those goals and limit distractions and obstacles in the way of achieving them.
  • Make periodic reviews to check your project’s status against the benchmarks and timeline.
  • Utilize available resources when possible/necessary.

That’s it for now!

See you soon and thanks again for listening/reading!

-SC

 

Depth Of Experience (Or If You Weren’t There Then You Weren’t Really There)

You know it’s going to be dark when it starts with Videodrome
My brother from another mother, Frank Coleman, recently reminded me of a quote from Videodrome (a favorite film from one of my all time favorite directors, David Cronenberg):

“The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality, and reality is less than television.”

That’s from 1983, but it seems to ring more true to me than ever (and Frank as well which is why I’m sure he posted it!)

Audition

Years ago, I had the chance to see a special sneak preview screening of Takashi Miike’s, Audition at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, MA.  With a program description of, “Sleepless in Seattle meets Silence of the Lambs“, I knew I’d have to check it out.

The theatre was full and the midway point of the film was where the romantic comedy went, well…dark.  (spolier alert if you’ve never seen the film).

There’s a scene towards the end of the film where the jilted female lead begins by poking the paralyzed protagonist with wires and culminates in amputating his leg with a piece of razor wire, while he’s fully conscious and aware of what’s going on.  I should mention that she’s smiling and making DISTURBING child like noise while she’s doing this.

It’s a nine minute plus sequence.  More than 1/2 the audience walked out of the film.  I was cringing in my seat while this was happening and laughing a kind of nervous laugh because of the effect it was having on everyone (including myself).

Cut to a year later.  I find a on-US DVD release of the video in an unmarked shop in Chinatown and grabbed it immediately.  I got a bunch of friends of mine together and hyped up the the film and we put it in and….

it was boring.

It was boring because we were sitting around eating pizza and talking and not watching the film.  We were pausing it when people went to the bathroom.

It was boring because we weren’t present in the moment.  It was background noise that was waiting for a big scene to shock people.

It taught me a HUGE lesson

The reason it worked in a theatre was that the audience there was immersed in it.

It was a ritual.  Watching a dvd in a living room with a Frathouse vibe killed the experience.

I realized that that was why people liked vinyl.

It wasn’t the sound.  It was the ritual.  It was the fact that you had to manually engage the stylus to get to another point of the song.  Otherwise you were along for the ride when it was playing,  If you were bouncing around, the needle would skip.  It forced you to remain relatively still and experience the recording as a whole (or at least as a whole side).

Depth of experience

We live in a video generation now where being exposed to a video often gets equated to having that experience but it’s important to realize that watching someone get hit in the groin on You Tube is not the same as getting hit in the groin yourself. (Empathy is not experience).

Even though biologically I think we’re wired to count what’s seen and heard as experience, what’s missing is context. There are reasons why people say, “You had to be there.”  There are reasons why some experiences are bigger than an actual event.  It’s the performance and the vibe, and the energy of the crowd and being fully present and engaged.

That’s hard to do with a YouTube video.  Trust me, you might see a video of someone killing it musically on You Tube but you’re only getting part of the story. Seeing someone play something doesn’t mean that you’ve assimilated it in any way, shape or form.   I think it’s important to remember that seeing something doesn’t mean that you’ve experienced it.  It goes back to that point I’ve reiterated here endlessly:

Thinking something does not always mean knowing something.

Seeing something doesn’t mean that you actually experienced it.

If you weren’t there when it happened, then your memory of it later is only a hologram.

“The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality, and reality is less than television.”

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But I’m not a nihilist.   Reality doesn’t have to be less than television.  The difference lies with you and I.

In some way, shape or form, I hope this helps.

As always, thanks for reading.

-SC

Guit-A-Grip Episode #11 – “Deeper and Deeper”

Hello everyone!

The Return Of The Podcasts?!?

So I took some time off from podcasting to evaluate the podcasts and re-assess.  The original idea of the podcasts was to bring people outside of what I normally do into my work, but it appears to just siphon traffic from guitarchitecture.org.

I’m re-thinking the purpose of the site with that in mind, and I’ve committed to podcasting  here at least until the end of the year while I refine the focus of the podcasts and see what happens.

In the meantime…

Episode #11

Guit-A-Grip podcast episode #11 “Deeper and Deeper” is out and available for download/streaming.

Subscription Notes:

  • You can subscribe through iTunes here:
  • You can use this link to subscribe with any other feed based service:
  • or you can right-click here to download it.
  • or you can stream this episode below.
.

Show Notes

This is a short podcast, so I’ll just fill in a few points.

Deeper and Deeper:

This was the name of a track of a band called The FIXX that was hugely influential on me.  When I got their Reach The Beach album, I played it so many times that the vinyl grew thin.  While I was listening to it, I was listening deeply to how the guitar parts would drive some tunes and just lay back and sit in the pocket on other tunes.  Jamie West-Oram, their guitarist, would become a really big influence on me as he made me realize the concept of playing a supporting role in a band.  Knowing where where slide, keyboard line and vocal inflection was on the record came from deep listening and changed how I viewed my own roles in playing with other people.

I’ll talk about this more in a future podcast, but when people smile that nonsensical smug guru smile and say things like, “the answer lies within” it tells me that they only understand part of the equation.

Ultimately, only you can provide your own answers, but you’re never going to come up with intelligent answers if you’ve never investigated anyone else’s solutions but your own.  People left to their own devices with no external input of any kind typically don’t become Buddha, they become dull and dim-witted and develop “facts” based on little more than observation.  Babies don’t come out of the womb fully formed.  They have to be exposed to language (i.e. copy language) to master it and ultimately come up with their own original ideas.

Going deep into something and loosing yourself into it, can be a way to go deeper into yourself if you learn lessons from the process or gain insights from what’s happening.

Repetition:

“There are only 12 notes and they take forever to learn.”

I think that a good philosophy has to have simple truths at it’s core in order to be actionable (and thus be a philosophy).  My guitar system, GuitArchitecture, is based on a handful of modular approaches that can be adapted to a variety of formats.  My philosophy is the same.  It’s based on a handful of ideas that I’ll repeat here over and over.

And I do that because some of them will take forever to learn.

In this process, I’m always falling back into old habits – the difference is that I can now usually identify what’s happening and I just don’t stay in those places for as long as I used to.

Music is about the destination and the process.  I wrote this blog, and podcast and teach because I’ve been fortunate enough to make a vast number of mistakes (large and small) and hopefully I can help other people not make the same mistakes I did.

More Next Time:

As always, thanks for visiting, reading and listening.  I hope you get something out of the podcast, and if you like the series please drop a line sometime.

See you soon and thanks again!

-SC

PS – Here are some Fixx tracks to get you through the day!
(Just skip the ads):
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Deeper and Deeper (Not much guitar in the mix but a great track)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIi79BHQ1ps
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Saved By Zero (Check out all of the neat fills and variations Jamie throws in!)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euBzxXFEuA4.

Beautiful Friction (Live) – Even with some issues – better than the studio version

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What God (Live) – The Chorus on this is (makes kissing fingertips motion).
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6UuLVxKJUk