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  • Writer's picturehana-piranha

7 Ideas for Efficient Workflow

Here are 7 things that have dramatically improved my workflow in the last few years.

  1. Dirty Tap

I watched an interview with Ed Sheeran and this piece of advice really stuck with me: writing is like turning on a dirty tap and letting the water flow out until it’s clean. This approach works for me so well and kind of echoes the “5% inspiration 95% perspiration” attitude to creating. I find that when I sit down and just start a stream-of-consciousness approach, I consistently come out with something useable by about the second or third page. Here is an example from one of our HVIRESS writing sessions.

I also wanted to add that I’m obsessed with notebooks, particularly when writing songs, as you can see the development from start to finish. For me it’s really important not to just delete while editing as you can miss out on good stuff later on that you either didn’t appreciate or didn’t draw a connection from at the time.

2. Second Screen

My partner was upgrading his work screen and I decided to connect his old one to my computer. At the time I couldn’t have imagined how it would improve my workflow. I can now score a piece while recording and no longer have to switch between platforms - it seems pretty obvious now that I have it but you don’t know what you don’t know. This has been an absolute game-changer for me in terms of ease and speed when doing my work.

When I was in my twenties and hadn’t yet been diagnosed with bipolar disorder I would go on what I can only describe as “work benders” where I would barely sleep or eat for days, totally engrossed in a project. I would be in a constant state of manic activity, sending me into a state of hyper anxiety and an insane rush towards the finished product. I’ve done a lot of work on myself since then and understand that working at a slower pace won’t make me less productive. (This is the most fucking obvious thing in the world but it took me so long to accept it.)

One important thing for me is setting timers for my work - for most stuff including practice I set strict 40 minute timers. (The Pomodoro Technique is a really good method for structured work too.) I also make time during the day for exercise breaks and I have an actual lunch break where I actually cook myself lunch. On an ideal day I stop working at around 6pm. Finishing my work at strict times also means I have a chance to look forward to the next day when I get to pick up where I left off.

I heard it put best on a podcast today:

“You do not need to earn rest. You need to rest in order to earn the time to do everything else.”

4. Audiobooks

I want to start by saying that reading is one of the top things that I prioritise as a creative person. There are many ways to get inspired but reading literature is something that you can do from your sofa for free - it’s just such an efficient way to consume ideas. During busy periods when I’m driving a lot this used to be something that was sacrificed but in the last few years I got into the habit of listening to audiobooks whenever I drive. I think I even read more actual books because of it as it just puts me in a generally receptive mindset.

5. 10 Minute Habits

If you've read my productivity blog you'll know I love a good star chart. I often have multiple trackers going on, with tasks ranging from practice to the most mundane stuff like taking my medication. Since I wrote that blog I've refined my approach.

When Lockdown tanked my career as a gigging musician I took the time to really "sharpen the saw", creating strict practice routines. But now my life is back to normal and I have more going on. I simply don't have time to achieve my shorter-term goals if I'm practising five instruments daily. Consistency is still key but I have to look at what I have coming up and restructure accordingly - for example if I have a Crimson Veil tour I focus just on cello and vocals. My approach at the moment is 30 day or 100 day “challenges” for the specific goals I’m working towards. This is still a long enough period of time to make a substantial improvement.

There's still a lot of stuff that can have a significant long-term impact from just a few minutes a day, so this is the stuff I put on my habit trackers. This month my list includes Duolingo, assemblés, supplements, and foam-rolling my injured leg. The extra time has allowed me to get on with some cool projects of my own which makes a nice change from what can begin to feel a bit like Groundhog Day. 

6. Do Not Disturb

As an introvert, anything involving people totally depletes my battery and I’m very strict when it comes to boundaries. I have my phone permanently on “do not disturb” because not engaging with unplanned distractions is really important to me. The moment I catch myself opening social media apps mindlessly I uninstall them until I need them again.

7. Just buy the fucking thing…

As someone with a lot of ideas and a limited budget, I’ve always had to be pretty frugal… however I waste a huge amount of time deliberating whether I can justify spending money on stuff.

The most ridiculous one was my harp tuner. Keys for a lever harp are £30 and they’re basically just a fancy drum key. So for years, I just used a drum key. I finally splashed out and bought an actual harp tuner after trying a friend’s and the difference in ease of tuning was so marked it made me deeply regret not having bought one years ago. Memories of tuning with a drum key mid-set still haunt me.

Another one was the elastic for my Neumann vocal mic. I waited until my previous one had completely fallen apart before I forked out £20 for a new (essential!) elastic band.

A third example is my pedalboard. I had so much guilt spending money on a pedaltrain and an expensive power supply but now that I have it I realise not only how necessary it is but more importantly, how unprofessional it is not to have it for the kind of stages I’ve been playing recently.

In my defence, the cost of maintaining all my musical gear is difficult to juggle. However I am a great believer in things always working out and I’m trying to get better at closing my eyes and just buying what I need when I need it. Ultimately, I’m going to have to buy it eventually so I may as well stop wasting time putting it off.

I think the most important thing for me overall is finding the balance between sticking with habits and routines that need to be given a period of attention long-term while having the flexibility to reevaluate my approach when necessary. Being adaptable when a method isn’t working without losing sight of the big picture can feel like a bit of a tightrope. But the eternal quest to be more efficient is something that brings me a lot of joy and I hope some of these points are useful to you too.

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