The creative mind can be a challenge to manage.
We are constantly bombarded with new thoughts and ideas which can lead to overwhelm and project paralysis.
In this episode, John shares how the power of habit can fuel you to greater success in your singing and musical endeavors.
Episode 49 – Being More Productive
Hey there, this is John Henny. Welcome back to another episode of the Intelligent Vocalist.
As I talk, if you hear me sweating, it’s because it is just stupid hot in Los Angeles lately, and I have turned off the airconditioning so I don’t have the air. The vent is kind of over the microphone where I’m sitting, and I don’t want you to have to listen to (sound the vent is making) as I do this. So I will suffer for you. I’m going to be a hot mess literally.
So, I actually have an email list. If you are on the email list, fantastic. If you’re not on the email list, well shame on you. In this email list, I send out emails pretty regularly, discussing different things about the voice, and practicing, and just my thoughts on things. And I did one, a few days ago, on productivity and being creatively productive. It was really about turning out content. People have been remarking that I seemed to create an awful lot of content and asking me how I do it.
To be honest, I really feel I should be creating more content. I sometimes feel a little guilty. This podcast, for instance, is a little haphazard. I kind of do it here and there when I feel like it. I’m really thinking about changing that because doing a podcast on productivity when a podcast only pops out a couple times a month is a little hypocritical, shall we say. So I do not want to be hypocrite, at least not with my podcast. I’ll be a hypocrite in other areas of my life where it’s more fun.
So I was asked how I was able to get out this content. I’ve talked about it a few times, and I keep on thinking to myself I’m going to do a full podcast, maybe two, on what I went through last year. I’m not really sure if that would be helpful for people, or self-indulgent, or if I just need to do it. But I lost 165 lbs. last year, which in kilos and stones is – go Google that. I don’t know. But it was a lot of weight. I’m 6’7’, I’m quite tall, but even for me, for someone of my size, that’s a lot of weight. I lost it very very quickly. I lost 150 lbs. of it in eight months exactly. To the day, I was down 149 lbs. and I continued to lose after that. I’ve seemed stabilized.
But in doing so, because I tried to lose weight before, the mistake for me, and this is all for me – if you have a different experience, that’s fine. I’m happy t listen to your podcast. But I’m talking about what I went through. For me, the weight came on primarily. Sometimes it was emotional, sometimes it was boredom, but mostly the eating was habit. I fell into a habit if eating the wrong food and craving the wrong food out habit. And eating them at times that were not optimal, out of habit. Teaching all day, and then just shoveling food into my belly as a reward in the evening. And I have, very slowly but surely, ballooned up over the years. So I have a bit of a scare. They wanted to get my blood pressure and it started to get high. They wanted to put me on medication, and I started to get looking at the side-effects of that, and the possible effect to my voice. There was more, but basically I said I’m done.
So what I did is, this time I truly changed my habits. Before, I would try and change my eating habits, my diet, but I allowed little cheats. It’d be a cheat day or a cheat meal, or “I have been good today I can have this.” And all that did was keep the habit alive, the habit that I didn’t want. So this time, I completely eliminate it. I told myself for a period of time, “Any reward, any cheat, nothing.”
Every day I got up, and I chose to go with a whole food plant-based diet. No sugar, no oil, salt, no refined grains. I know I basically ate grass. And I was incredibly miserable with it for about five weeks. Then I began to tolerate it. And a about the 3-month mark it wasn’t so bad. And by month 5, I really began to enjoy it. And now it’s been about a year and a half, now I absolutely prefer it. I no longer crave the old food. In fact, some of the things that I used to enjoy that aren’t good for me, I find them kind of disgusting to think about and eating them. I never thought I’d say that. I’m not saying that to be arrogant or to brag. It actually really shocks me that I’m able to say that.
But what I did is I changed the habit. And so my mindset and everything, adjusted. And now that habit is so ingrained, it’s really my only option, and I would actually have to work, believe it or not. And it probably wouldn’t take me long. I wouldn’t have to work as long to go back, as it took me to get here. But I would actually have to work at eating cheesecake or hamburgers or pizza or chicken, any of that, that would be hard for me. It wouldn’t take long because they have a lot of flavor and a lot of calories, and your brain becomes addicted to them rather quickly. But I’m happy in my new habit.
So what I did is I begin to apply this idea of creating new habits to being more creatively productive. I began to insist on new habits that ensure that I would put out consistent content. And one of the things that I did is, just about everyday, I write. And I probably write a minimum of 500 words a day, some days couple of thousand or more, three thousand. And I found that at first it would be hard for me to sit at the table and I get up and want to wander, and I procrastinate, etc. And so I started setting some timers and just going, “okay, for 25 minutes turn off your notifications, get your phone out of the room. You’re going to sit and you’re going to write.” Same process. I was in resistance, then it wasn’t so bad, then I began to enjoy it. Now, if there’s a day where I don’t write, it feels weird. It feels like something is off. I’m sure many of you feel that with exercise or certain routines. If you’re working out consistently and there’s a day where you don’t work out, you feel really bad about that.
So then, I took that idea, and then I started keeping a journal. It was a journal of just what my big goal is, 13-week goal, what the steps I need to do, the big steps that I need to accomplish to hit that big goal, and then daily breaking down what I need to do each day, hitting about three big targets that I need to do each day, and then, breaking down literally hour by hour my work day. I schedule it. And if I’m going to have a break time or free time or eating time, etc. but I try and not have blank space in my day because that forces me to stay focused and puts me on track.
And I need that because of something that, I’m going to guess, we all share. If you’re listening to me, you are likely a creative, unless you’re an accountant that just likes to listen to podcast that have nothing to do with your profession. You’re interested in singing, you teach singing, you work with singers, you’re a producer that works with singers, you sing yourself, you wanted to be a musical director, whatever it is, you are a creative. And creative minds are a little special because creative minds are, by nature, we tend to be distracted. Our minds run at a hundred miles an hour all the time. And we are always thinking about different things and different ideas, and it doesn’t take much for our attention to just flash somewhere else.
There’s this great video when Will Ferrell auditioned for Saturday Night Live, you can find it on Youtube, and one of the things he did was he was imitating a cat playing with a toy. And he would go with the toy and then suddenly, just stare at something, and he’d go back to the toy, and then stopping and stare in another direction. That’s what I feel like our minds are like. We focused on something and then suddenly Boom! We go somewhere else. Boom! We go somewhere else. And the danger, the literal crack pipe for us is our technology, our phones, our social media, our alerts. Those will constantly pull our brains to and fro. That needs to be eliminated.
What I’m suggesting is you set aside time when you are truly going to work. You get your goal. You’re going to create something, whether you’re going to write, whether you’re going to practice singing. You’re going to work on maybe creating some product, maybe you want to do podcast yourself to get something out there. You need to be getting content out there. If you are creative, if you are the type of person who listens to this podcast, then I’m going to say to you that you actually have a duty to get your gift out to the world. I know that sounds cheesy. It is cheesy, but it’s true. And so, you need to set this time aside, and you need to shut off your notifications, and you need to put your phone away.
The other thing we need to do is we need to focus on one thing. There’s a book called The One Thing, I forget who wrote it but I think it’s one of the guys who founded Keller Williams Realty here in the US. But it really is what’s the one thing, the one most important thing, that’s going to take you towards your goal that you should be working on right now. Then do it. So get your one thing, and focus on that. Don’t be distracted. You are going to have a hundred different things that run through your mind. “Oh I should do this, I should do this.” What’s going to take you to your goal?
The other thing that I do is, whatever it is that we’re doing, Mark Twain said “If it is your job to eat a frog, eat it first thing in the morning. And if it is your job to eat two frogs, eat the biggest one first.” I say that to myself everyday. “Eat the frog. Eat the frog.” I wake up, there are tasks that I need to do that I don’t particularly feel like doing. And maybe I would rather play with a new piece of software I just got, or mess around with a new synthesizer that I put into my recording rig – that’s not going to take me to my goal. What do I need to do? And if it’s a frog, do it right away. If it’s unpleasant, get it out of the way.
Your morning ritual is really going to set you up for success. So right now, what I do is when I get up I will meditate for a few minutes, and then I will just do a little bit of exercise – some push-ups and things like that. Then I will just sit with that journal, and I really think about what I need to do today. And then, if I got a frog, I get on that frog, and I eat that frog. I get that out of the way. And then I can focus on what I need to do, what is most important. And that’s what I suggest that you would do. Get that focus. Get that mindset.
Here’s the other thing that our brains do to us, is in being a creative we put ourselves at the mercy of others. When we put out content, we release something into the world no matter how minor. We are doing this out love. We are doing this out of the love of our craft. We are doing this out of love of enriching the experience of others. We are doing it out of a love of enjoying the feedback of pleasing others. We want to please people. Nobody puts out a song going, “Wow this is just a piece of garbage and I really hope everybody hates it.” Well, there’s may one or two bands I can think that that must be the reason. But even if the song’s not something you think is good, the person who’s putting it out at some point in the process, thought it was good and wanted to share it. And when we put ourselves out there, there are those who are waiting to attack us, or even worse, not care. And sometimes, we will do things that people don’t care about, and it just kind of flops. That’s just the reality.
If you think of every artist, every filmmaker, every actor, every musician, and look at their body of work, every single one of them has a flop – something that didn’t go as well. Even the Beatles, it can be argued, some albums were less successful than others. Although, they pretty much everything, just about everything they did was gold. But that’s me, I’m a Beatles nut. But artists have flops, and you have to accept that. Don’t let this stop you.
Your brain is going to put you in the condition of, this creative brain, overwhelm. You are going to get hit. Here’s a scenario: “Wow I want to write this song.” You’re sitting and you’re writing a song, and then your brain is going to start think, “Is this direction that I want to go in? What if I added this other instrument? Do you think that’s the right piano sound? Oh I don’t know if I liked my vocal. Do you think people will like this? I’m not sure what to do. Oh look, someone mentioned me on Facebook!” then you’re off doing social media, and then you come back and you’ll be like, “Oh man, I’m not disciplined. I’m not feeling it anymore.” And then the song just sits. And the next thing you know, you haven’t touch it for weeks. And then you’ll look at it, and the initial drive and the burst of energy is gone. Or maybe you do finished it, and then you start questioning yourself, “I don’t know if this is good enough.”
You know, the beauty of the time that we live in is, you can test. You can start creating in content, and putting it out – putting it out in a limited way. Putting it out in your list, seeing if people like it or they don’t like it. Right now, my Contemporary Voice Teacher Academy, I have a small group of people going through it. The courses are not fully complete yet and they are giving me feedback. And I’m able to adjust course as I get the feedback, before I open it up to hopefully a lot of people. The course is going to train people to be Contemporary Voice Teachers. My goal is, if you’ve never taught a voice lesson before, you can learn from this course. You can learn how to play the piano, the scales, how to assess the voice, how to teach your lesson, all those things, business practices. But the feedback is vitally important.
And so I put it out, and I’m not worried if I get some criticisms. I’ve gotten some feedback like “yeah I don’t really like that.” Or “This wasn’t explained well as it could be.” And I’m able to take that and make it better.
You want to make things better. Do not be afraid. Don’t be afraid of good criticisms. And the trolls, ignore them. Don’t let your mind get stuck in overwhelm. Create habits. Use your willpower if you need to, initially, to start a habit. And pretty soon, your willpower – because willpower runs out – your willpower will give over to habit. In my weight loss, my willpower was basically a rule. I will not eat anything that is not healthy. Period. That is not whole food, plant-based. You know, I wasn’t going to do junkfood vegan – a donut is vegan. I stayed super healthy, and I was miserable with it. But the willpower, that day, each day, that was my rule. I just had to take off that day. And once I got that day done, then I tackled the next day. And as I said, it wasn’t fun. And it became tolerable, then it became preferable, and enjoyable. Your habit will ultimately become enjoyable.
So my challenge to you is, what are you putting off? What do you need to be doing? What habit could really transform your ability to get content out to the world? Is it practicing your voice everyday? So do this. Six days a week, you’re going to do 20 minutes, period. You’re going to do those 20 minutes. You’re going to put a calendar up the wall. When you do this 20 minutes, you’re going to check that calendar off.
Jerry Seinfeld famously used this when he was up and coming comic. He would write a joke everyday, and he would put an X on his calendar when he wrote a joke. And then all those X’s started to form a chain. And each day he’d say “I cannot break the chain.” And he’d write another joke. Were they all good? No. but by writing everyday, he got better, and better, and better. Practice everyday.
If you want to work on a material, you’re going to set aside 30 minutes everyday, and you’re going to write without distractions. You may struggle a little at first. You may want to go check your phone. Don’t let your phone in the room. Seriously. Do not. And work for those 30 minutes. Set a timer. And start getting your habit of being in work flow. If you’re going to create content, write 500 words everyday. Sit down and start plotting out what product you feel you could give to world that will help other people, how can you contribute. And then, every day you’re going to write those 500 words where you’re going to spend a half hour flushing out that program, and researching. And you’re going to make that a habit.
Once that becomes a habit, after the six weeks or the twelve weeks, when that really starts to become consistent, when the idea of not writing or not singing that day would actually upset you, then you’ll look at expanding that habit, moving your practice from 20 minutes to 35 minutes, to 45 minutes. Or you start to expand the amount of words that you’re writing, from 500 to 750 a day. Or you start adding a new habit.
The journal, for myself, has been key. I am accountable to the journal. And my daily routine, my daily habit in the morning I go through the journal. I fill it out. And then at the evening, as I’m shutting everything down, I go through the journal again, and I see what I accomplished – what I’m happy with, what did I do well, and what did I learned, what could I do better. And each day, I crossed off that I did it. And I just keep marching, and marching, and marching. And I’m getting better. I’m able to start producing more and more content. I’ve had courses that I’ve created that have just stalled and have taken me forever. And now I feel like, by taking that a little bit every day, that consistency, that march, is getting me to the goal much faster. And it begins to stack up.
The planner that I used is by Best Self. I will put a link in the show notes. Just go to johnhenny.com/49 because this is episode 49. And on my podcast now, when you go to the show page, I’m adding transcriptions, which is great. People really really liked them.
And yes, I want to thank you for listening to my diatribe, to my lecture, my brain-dump here. I really hope that this is helpful for you. And can inspire you to start blessing the rest of us with what it is that’s banging around in your own crazy mind. We’re all freaking crazy. If you’re listening to me, you’re crazy. But I understand.
So hey, you can go to johnhenny.com if you want further information about what I do. Keep a lookout for the Contemporary Voice Teacher Academy. If you think we might be a good fit for lessons, I don’t have much availability, but I always set time aside to work with people that I think I will click with. If you’re listening to me and you think we might be fit together, go ahead and click on that tab, and you can get in touch with us.
Until next time. To better singing! Thank you so much. Bye.