What you try to do with any productivity system is creating a way of balancing factors that produces the biggest advance and profit. An economy of forces (if I remember correctly, "economy" comes from ancient Greek oikos-nomos:care of the household). You place strategically openings and restrictions, so that the result of the whole propels you forward in the best way. An opportune metaphor here could be the steam machine: you have to manage fire and water. Not enough fire and you won't generate steam, the machine won't move. Too much fire and you'll run out of water too soon; you have to balance the factors.
In my discreet home recording adventures, I've tried drawing the line at many places, labeling in a lot of creative ways, always looking for the most cost effective way of keeping the machine rolling. My latest discovery, which I've mentioned before because it seems to stick nicely, is the fun/non-fun division.
This tension between fun and non-fun factors seems to be working as a great fuel for my machine. As I've also mentioned before, this is a dynamic kind of tension, as tasks can be born fun and then become non-fun, and viceversa, and so on in a perpetual dance, so it's important to stay open and flexible.
Here are the standard definitions I use as of today:
* Fun: things that I feel pulled to do, they don't require willpower. I go into them out of curiosity or wish of gratification, not thinking how long they are going to take, and not expecting necessarily a result out of them (if such result comes, for example, if out of the fun of playing guitar comes a riff and then a song, that's a nice bonus, but the moment you go into the thing with "I have to come out of today's session with a finished song", it stops being fun).
* Non-fun: in the realm of music making, things that I don't feel compelled to do, but I do feel compelled to get the outcomes they provide. My most notorious example: mixing and mastering. It drags me and tires me in many ways having to go through my own song over and over, but at the end of the process you have a presentable song that you can show to the world, and I do want that result.
Some other of my findings after a few months of following this division are:
* Non-fun tasks, surprise surprise, are overwhelmingly more in number than the fun ones (at any given time, because like I say they shift their category non stop). The best way of facing this is staying calm and applying the eat the elephant principle, and doing something non-fun every day (using a timer or other trick if you need to), so that those tasks do not become in your mind more dreadful than they really are. Also, there is a principle used in budgeting that I think is also relevant here: "embrace your real expenses". Don't just turn your back on things like distribution, promotion, etc, until the day you are "ready", "more liberated", etc, because if you turn your back on them you'll feel them staring at you every second from behind. Add them to the non-fun pile, do a bit of them when you can, and get the benefits of the synergies.
* Typical fun tasks: in my case, playing and recording just-for-me stuff, is something I could do forever. Also, those tasks that have a novelty halo: trying a new program for the first time... But once the novelty is gone, the moment you face a serious hurdle, the task will bump into a non-fun item; "wow, this program is so cool, but how the hell do you install the midi drums..."
On the contrary, sometimes tasks that started being boring for me (e.g. certain sessions of EQ or gorilla artwork) have turned into fun once I've got into the "zone" (and even though those tasks will never qualify among my favorite things to do).
* The discipline of doing something fun every day is just as important as with the non-fun stuff (and sometimes, just as challenging!)
* Two filters for non-fun tasks: out of a pile of non-fun tasks, there are two additional filters that help me choose more easily what to tackle.
First: the non-fun task that is closest to the "finish line" (=song published), gets done first.
Second: the "fuse" safety principle. This principle overrides the first. Sometimes I get saturated and have to stay away for a few days from certain tasks. The prototypical example is working so long in a song that you've lost all reference of how good or bad it sounds. Ignoring the fuse is looking for trouble, as the chances are you won't make a good job when you're so burnt out and just trying to advance out of obsession or stubbornness.
Until here a portrait of my inner dynamics for making music as of today. The latest song took me 5 months to complete (considering that it underwent special circumstances like a change of computer, being an intricate song, etc...) The song I'm currently finishing to mix has been in the works for 2 months now, and my guess is at the current pace it will be finished in 15 days (I was going to say a week so I multiplied it by 2, ha...) I see this as an advance, and I think the next ones will take less and less time, as my processes consolidate...
I have a guitar and I'm gonna use it