This post is somewhat directed more towards those of you who have a career in music. But it might be just as helpful for anyone who struggles with energy management, no matter the reason and/or activity.
I suppose most of us are familiar with the saying that you must work hard to be truly successful. Well, we certainly need to invest time in something to see a positive result. But unless we’re confident in knowing when to take a break – physically and mentally – it will probably stress us out sooner or later. And the fact that we love what we do might not completely change that fact. I’ve pushed myself far beyond the healthy point in the past, partly because I love what I do! So, what did I miss?
Boundaries. I needed to invent my own boundaries in order to not over-do my passions. We all need boundaries. Below, I’ll share some of the things that have helped me to stay healthy in my musicianship. Some of them are a little square, so if they make your creative soul feel imprisoned, skip those and focus on the ones that help you put a frame to your work.
First of all – it might be harder to stop when you’re doing something you love
Music is one of my biggest passions in life. It usually makes me feel good, which makes it easier to keep pushing past the point where it’s still healthy. An important warning sign is when you stop enjoying what you used to love. At this point, if possible, stop to ask yourself what your needs are.
You have to set up a work routine for yourself – no one else will
Unless you are employed and have a more structured time schedule, it’s likely that most of your musical assignments have loose frames. This gives you a lot of freedom. But it might be a bad idea to throw away all of your boundaries, being constantly “plugged in” to your musical mindset without switching it off often enough. Deciding which hours of the day will be your work hours might be a good way to start to set boundaries. Remember, without breaks, things usually turn bad sooner or later. So, if you ever feel like you’re having trouble maintaining the balance between work and rest, read on.
Keep track of how much you work
The past year, I’ve experimented with a system that helps me keep track of how much I work, and it’s not very complicated. For every weekday where I work more than eight hours, I count the overtime. Every added hour becomes a “+1”, which sometimes makes the total way above the 40-hour work week I aim for. By working less than full time, I will gain a “-1” per hour. So, in order to decrease my overtime and get it back to zero (which is my goal), I simply have to work less. The same goes for working weekends, so, if you do most of your work on Saturdays, why not consider Mondays or Tuesdays your work free days? For me, the point is not to control every minute, it’s simply to be aware of your work amount. Before I started using this system, I was totally oblivious to the +40 hours I put in more or less every week. If you don’t know how much you work it is hard to know if you work to much! Demanding work periods might be part of the job, but this system could help you honor resting in the less intensive stages.
When it comes to creativity – add time for reflection
Don’t measure creative work the same way you would a more regular 9 to 5 job. The process of creativity is different, as the product is just the end result. You might actually need to do nothing in order to be creative. Allow yourself to get bored, it could spark new ideas. Time for reflection is beneficial, if not essential, for the creative process.
Use a mind map – and color-code it
If you google the word “mind map” you will find plenty of software to choose from. (I use one that is called MindMeister). It could help serve as an “external mind”, which you can fill with all the information you need to remember. I have a simple, yet effective, mind map system. Every specific project or area of work has its own group, with subgroups for various urgent or less urgent tasks. Every single task is colored red, orange or yellow. Red means priority, things I have to do as soon as possible. Orange means vital, but less pressing. And yellow, that I might do it at some point, if I still feel like it. Earlier, when I kept most things in my head, or just had a regular to do list, I often considered everything red/priority. I was stressed out, even by the things that weren’t really that important to get done. Using a color-coded mind map helped me feel less strained. It also made all the crazy, spontaneous ideas, that naturally pop up in my head, fun possibilities, rather than added anxiety.
Consider not working at home
If working at home feels fine, that’s great. If you have a hard time switching your mind from work mode to free time, it might not be the best idea. Our mind tends to code the environment based on what we usually do in that space. Consequently, if we work at home, we might find it harder to stop thinking about work, as well as, our work-related stress. You might not need an office, but maybe a rehearsal space? Or a nice café in your neighborhood? Make it feel like you are literally going to work while you’re out, so that you can feel free and relaxed when you come home.
Plan recovery days when necessary
If you know the next couple of days are going to be very energy-draining, take recovery time in to consideration, so that you have time (if possible) to regain some energy before moving on to the next thing.
Plan your phone / email time
In these phone-oriented days, have you ever experimented with limiting the time where you answer work related emails or check your social media accounts? For a month, when I didn’t have any urgent matters at hand, I checked neither my email or any social media at home. Work-related mail or Facebook messages had to wait until the next time I was at work. I lived alone at that time, and was hesitant about doing this, as I thought I would feel more cut off from the world. To my surprise, I felt the opposite. Ultimately, the lack of distractions made me more present. I also learned to better control my impulses. Unexpected? Maybe, but I really felt as if all areas of my life improved, simply because I did not give on to the urge to check my phone. The constant notifications make it less of a self-made choice to check your phone, and more of an obligation. Turning of notifications is a great way to take back control when it comes to engaging in social media.
One last tip regarding this is to consider setting a “phone time”, such as not checking your phone after 8 P.M.
Don’t say yes to jobs immediately
This has become one of my most precious core values. It is so simple to just say yes, only to realize later that you don’t have the time, or don’t really want to do a certain job. Never say yes before you’ve considered the cost in terms of time, energy, motivation and money. I try to always give myself at least one day before I decide. The key is to be nice, direct and honest in your communication. Let people know that you are happy they asked you and promise to get back to them soon.
Did you like what you just read? Are you looking for further answers to your challenges? Don’t hesitate to comment on these topics, or any other, below.