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Not Enough Time to Get Things Done – Think Again!

Are you ‘too busy’ to get things done? This simple article might make you rethink your ideas!

Years ago, I carried out my doctoral research into the songwriting process, in particular looking at how songwriters move from that first spark into a complete song. It was a whole lot of fun working with the songwriters (particularly for the first five years of the research!), and through interviews and workshops, I learned a whole lot about the process.
Every songwriter is different, of course, but one important lesson that emerged from the research is that spending a long time on writing does not necessarily produce a better result. In fact, it was almost the exact opposite. Songwriters who wrote quickly were the ones who were both happiest with their songs and also the ones who had the most success and favourable response in both live shows and recordings.
This slightly counter-intuitive result is probably due to a couple of factors. First, writers who write slowly tend to be critical about their work as they are writing. These writers question every line to the extent that they get in the way of their own creative processes and either fail to finish the song or over-analyze it so much that it has lost that initial spark that made it interesting. When a writer works very quickly or with a time limit, the critical filter becomes suspended, and often amazing things can happen. When we let the unconscious mind really loose, creativity can really flow. It is always possible to edit a song later, but applying the critical filter too early can mean that a song will never be finished.Second, songwriters who write slowly end up writing far fewer songs – simply because each song takes so long to write. And another important finding in the research was that good songwriters are the ones who have the experience of writing many songs. It is through songwriting that a songwriter develops his craft, and the writer who writes 100 songs will be far more flexible and creative than the writer who has written only 5. Writing more songs also increases the chances of writing really great songs. Like any other area of creativity, songwriters who write a lot may have more bad ideas but they are also much more likely to have more good ideas, too.
An Australian songwriter, Leon, was one of the faster writers and although he had little time available for songwriting or recording, he managed to use that limited time extremely effectively. Leon was working two jobs and raising young children. He said that he would write a song in his spare ten minutes in the morning, often while he was shaving or doing something else. Then he would rush into his garage studio and record a basic track on guitar and vocal. In the evening when he came home, he again had about 10 minutes before he had to rush out to his second job, so he would rush into the studio and add a keyboard part and a backing vocal. While his recordings were not perfect by any means, he very successfully wrote many great songs and produced good’sounding demos in this way. I asked Leon how things would be if he had a full day to write songs. “Oh, if I had a whole day, I’d do nothing – I’d probably sit around and watch TV or just chill out.”
I have had similar experiences myself. I had months and months to write six songs for a children’ education project. I worked slowly on demo after demo and nothing was really working. It was only on the day that the producer emailed me and said, “we need to talk”, that I realized how serious things had become. I knew that I was about to be fired if I didn’t do something. Once again, a time limit was a wonderful thing. I went into my studio at 8am, worked until midnight with hardly a break. By the end of the session, I had written six new songs, recorded all the tracks, added the vocals, and uploaded them to an online server for the producer. When he called me from New York at 3am, he said “where did these songs come from – I love them!”. Where did they come from indeed – good question because I hardly remember the day at all. I was working in a trance-like state with far far greater efficiency than my normal capabilities.  The time limit focused my mind, let my critical filter and conscious mind take a break, and let my unconscious mind do what it is good at – creating stuff quickly and efficiently.
So often, people say that they don’t have the time to get things done. Yet sometimes, a deadline or limited time is exactly what is needed to get things done. There’s an old saying that if you want to get something done, ask a busy person. So if you’re a busy person already, maybe you’re exactly the right person to do that special thing that you have been putting off.

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