Ever had one of those days where you spent an inordinate amount of time on a relatively small task? It might have been because of poor time management. Or because your mind kept jumping from one element of the task to another, causing you to run in mental circles. As engineers, producers, and creators, we’ve all had hours, sessions, and days where it seems like we worked all day but only got a handful of things accomplished.
So how do we remain productive?
There’s a guideline I always try to keep in sharp focus when I wake up each morning whether I’m working or not. I call it the: 100% on, 100% off principle.
The basic idea behind this principle is that whether you’re working or having down time you should make sure your mind is 100% on the task at hand.
This means when you’re working on a specific task, make sure to be focussed on that task, not letting your mind (and focus) wander to other things you may encounter while accomplishing the task. Those things can wait. If a task has multiple steps, only focus on one step at a time. When working on step 2, don’t let steps 4 and 5 sneak up and take your “mind power” away from the task at hand. You can’t do anything about later steps until you get to them anyway. Any personal, non-task related thoughts that creep up on you also should be pushed aside for the task at hand.
Work is only half the issue though, too many times when we are not working we let our work dominate part of our brain. When we’re off, we should be off. When we’re spending time with the family, we should be 100% with them. Not 70% with the family and 30% working on the problems of a mix, or on that “to-do” list that’s grown too large. When we’re on a date, we shouldn’t be worrying about how long tomorrow’s project will take. The best thing an engineer can do for tomorrow’s project is to relax and have a great evening.
Now this principle doesn’t mean that if an incredible idea, or strategy jumps into your head while at dinner with friends we should push it away saying, “I shouldn’t be working right now.” We should note the idea on a phone or on a nearby napkin, and save it to address later. When using this principle you may find that great ideas come to mind more often than before. I know I do. This is because you’ve freed up more of your mind, and it can subconsciously work while you relax. But to-do lists, untuned vocals, and that terrible snare sound, don’t really have a place over wine and cheese with friends.
Too many times we are worn out from thinking about work, and we haven’t even started accomplishing things yet. When we actually start working our mind (being already worn out) is only 75% there. 25% of our thoughts are elsewhere, maybe already on the weekend, or holiday. We’re working with a self-induced handicap.
You probably already know from previous posts that I encourage engineers to take frequent short breaks when possible to give their ears and minds a rest. This principle is for those breaks as well. I’ve worked with producers who take lunch “breaks” while listening to upcoming songs, or the song we just finished. These producers tend to work longer hours and have less mental focus at the end of the day than those who take an actual lunch break. Our minds (and ears) need true breaks. We’ve got to have down time to remain at 100%. So for someone who is listening to music all day professionally it’s probably best to take breaks in which we don’t listen to music. It will not only save your ears, but will increase your productivity.
Sticking to this principle is harder than it sounds, and will be a lifelong process. But as you learn to apply it, I guarantee you will be more productive at work and more relaxed when not working. Your productivity will skyrocket and you will feel more fulfilled and rested. What have you got to lose?