One of the biggest problems facing music producers (and essentially anyone working at a desk) is nothing to do with recording, arrangement, mixing or mastering. It’s precisely what’s required to do any of these things: focus. In this post, I’m going to show you how to eliminate distractions and make more music.
I’ve talked about focus before and highlighted how important – heck, downright essential – it is for achieving any kind of success. In this post, I’ll give you some practical strategies that you can implement today that will eliminate distractions.
Make more music
Be warned, these steps won’t immediately provide you with focus. Concentration takes practice.
However, they will help you on your way to becoming your optimal self: a prolific, creative powerhouse.
Prepare your environment
Look around you. What does your studio look like? Is it clean, minimal, zen-like? Or, is it completely full of dirty dishes, clothes and random objects?
This is particularly difficult if you’re working in a bedroom studio, or a room with other functions.
The environment in which you work is important. It should relax and inspire you, not distract you or, worse still, downright depress you.
Remove physical clutter
The old saying goes: “Tidy desk, tidy mind.” I’ve always found this to be the case, without exception.
When my workspace is uncluttered I feel at peace, ready to create and make more music.
Remove digital clutter
Just like your physical environment, your digital environment can be equally distracting.
Start with tidying your computer’s desktop, with good reason. Having a desktop crowded with numerous files is taxing on your machine’s processor and RAM.
Organise your work into folders with a clear architecture so that you can find items quickly and easily.
Make sure you have all the essentials nearby when starting a session e.g. a glass of water, a healthy snack.
This will avoid you having to get up between predetermined breaks and reduce the likelihood of potential distractions.
Hide any clocks
Seeing the time barely tick by when you’re trying to come up with ideas can be a real drag and demotivate you.
The opposite is also true – if you’re working to a deadline, watching time fly by can increase stress and reduce productivity.
Set an alarm instead and allow yourself to get lost in your work. Structuring your work into short bursts helps to maintain your concentration and make you more productive.
Close the door
If you have a physical barrier to your workspace, make the most of it.
Closing the door reduces outside ambience and sends a message to others that you’re busy.
Don’t work at home
There can be a lot of distractions at home, particularly if you live with others. However, a house can be full of distractions even if you do live alone. TV, games consoles, magazines, phones, food…
Physically travelling to a different space, dedicated for work, can help your mind to focus and make you more productive.
People have offices for a reason, and even those who work alone find great benefits in travelling to an external office to dedicate themselves to their work.
Change your environment
Mixing up your usual routine can do wonders for your creativity. Working in a new environment can refresh the mind and reduce opportunity for boredom.
You’ll feel refreshed, inspired by your surroundings and less likely to get distracted. Graham Cochrane shared his experiences mixing an EP exclusively at his local coffee shop.
Although it’s a bad idea to write and mix music solely on headphones, they can be a great way to drown out ambient noise and focus your mind.
I’m in my own world when I’m wearing headphones, I can get totally lost.
You don’t even necessarily need to be listening to anything. Many studio-style headphones have a degree of noise reduction that can help with concentration.
I recommend it, even when you’re not writing music or mixing. It’s great for coming up with ideas and planning.
Clear your mind
Having a clear and relaxed mind, free from distraction, is essential for optimal creativity and productivity.
Altering your environment can certainly work wonders, and there are a number of ways to affect your physical and mental state to help you concentrate and make more music.
Exercise before working
This next tip is another preventative measure. By exercising before working, you will feel more relaxed and more focused. Calm body = calm mind.
I’m quite a big fidgeter and often feel restless when sat at my desk. Going for a run, a hike, lifting kettlebells or even a short walk can help me to settle down and gain more mental clarity.
Plan your work
Maintain a to-do list and make sure you know what you want to achieve each session. This will help you to stay on track, avoid distraction and gain a sense of achievement to develop momentum.
This is particularly useful for mixing when reviewing your own work. You should listen to your track no more than twice (while your ears are fresh), and make a list of all of the adjustments that need to be made.
This way, you have a checklist of items to complete. This will reduce the probability of you getting distracted, and will also provide a great sense of satisfaction and achievement as you tick off your list…it’s a positive cycle and a win-win!
I must confess that I don’t meditate regularly, and not nearly enough to provide empirical data of its benefits. However, there is a great deal of research that shows that the vast majority of high achievers meditate daily in one form or another.
I should also note that I’m not limiting this to the ‘classical’ view of meditation i.e. sat cross-legged in silence, eyes closed, focusing on the breath. Any exercise that helps you to calm your mind and focus is meditation in my eyes.
For instance, physical exercise can be its own form of meditation. Running is great for the mind, as well as any repetitive physical activity.
Playing drums really helps me. Whenever I’m feeling irritable or having trouble focusing, I can just jump on the drums and my mind is so busy focusing on coordination and sound that I’m unable to get distracted by anything else.
You may have activities that you enjoy that require a great deal of focus or muscle memory, such as a sport, an exercise, singing or even cooking – whatever works for you.
Remove unnecessary technology
Technology is always on. It’s become a huge distraction in our lives. Don’t get me wrong, I love technology, I love my computers and portable devices just the same as anyone else, but they’re not productive.
I’ve consciously removed any unnecessary technology from my life so that I can focus more on my work and creativity. It’s difficult to abandon everything, but there are some effective techniques to implement to ensure that you have ample breaks and avoid distraction to make more music.
Disable the internet
The internet. The ultimate attention killer! Always on, always connected. It’s not good for your health or your productivity.
While you’re working on your music in your DAW, you don’t need access to the internet. If you need to learn something via a tutorial, download samples or software updates, save this for another time. Don’t do any learning or maintenance while you’re in an allocated creative time.
A simple way of achieving this is by temporarily disabling the internet on your computer. This can be done by simply turning off Airport on your Mac or disabling WiFi access on your PC. When you open your browser in a moment of weakness, it will be unable to load anything, and this reminder alone can be enough to get you back on track.
There are also a number of software solutions that can automate this for you. In other words, they automatically disable internet access at certain predefined time periods so that you can optimise your productivity. They all come with a price tag, however, so I recommend some straightforward old fashioned discipline.
Remove any phones
Second to the internet, mobile smartphones are the next biggest culprit. Your phone is portable and provides quick and easy access to the internet, so you need to manage your use of it extremely carefully.
I recommend turning it off completely, or enabling Airplane mode, and leaving it in another room. There are also some safe devices that operate on a timer, allowing you to lock away your device for a set amount time. I think this is a bit extreme, but you may need something more drastic!
I appreciate that, for some, this isn’t possible, as they may have family commitments or dependents that need to be able to contact them in an emergency. If so, read on…
Do no disturb
Most smartphones and electronic devices have a ‘Do not disturb’ feature that can even be automated to prevent pesky notifications and calls from coming through. You need to be dedicated when working, and a single text message has the potential to derail you completely. This feature can be set to kick in at certain times, so you can organise it around your schedule.
In addition, there are a number of scenarios where you need to be available in an emergency. For example, if you’re a parent or have others who depend upon you. On many devices, such as the iPhone, you can allow specific numbers to be able to get through, even when ‘Do not disturb’ is enabled.
Aside from phone calls, I’ve disabled all notifications on my phone and computers. Seeing text messages, Facebook notifications or news updates appear on your home screen or desktop can be a huge distraction, so get rid of them.
Only you should decide when you choose to view messages or take calls, not an application or a friend. Give your work the respect it deserves and take control over your time.
Close all other applications
When you’re working on a track, you only need one application, and that’s your DAW i.e. Logic, Ableton, Pro Tools, FL Studio etc.
Close down all of the other applications, including your internet browser. Aside from the benefits of freeing up more memory and CPU, you’ll also free up your mind to concentrate on the task at hand. As mentioned previously, you can always make a note of anything you’re struggling with and schedule time to research this afterwards. Use the time set aside for work for…work.
Multitasking doesn’t exist. Get in the habit of single-tasking and focus your mind to optimise your productivity.
Quit social media
I’ve already mentioned disabling all automatic notifications. Taking this to the ultimate level, you can always quit social media altogether.
However, keeping in mind that marketing is an essential part of promoting your work, you don’t necessarily need to quit all social media platforms. Most successful creators and entrepreneurs made it big on one platform first, then moved on to others and took their audience with them.
Another important point to make is that you also have the power to alter how you actually use social media, rather than ditching it completely. Tools like Kill News Feed (a Google Chrome extension that blocks the Facebook Newsfeed), allow you to reap many of the marketing benefits of a social platform, without getting lost in the meaningless slew of updates and cat videos.
One of the biggest mistakes that wannabe producers make is that they simply don’t allocate enough regular time in their schedule to make more music.
You need to practice (and fail!) consistently in order to improve in any way, and you need to provide enough regular time for this to take place.
Optimise your schedule
Find out your optimal work rhythms – when do you work best? When are your energy levels highest? Don’t just guess, test.
If you have the commitment of a full time job, try working in the mornings for a week, then try working in the evenings the next week. Review the results i.e. did you achieve more in Week 1 or Week 2?
Knowing that you’re going to be working on music at set times each week helps in training your mind and body to relax and focus, and you’ll also be preparing mentally subconsciously.
Check email only once or twice a day
Coming from experience, don’t leave your email client open constantly, for example, leaving Apple Mail running in the background or Gmail open in a tab. This inevitably leads to a reactive approach and this is a productivity killer.
Again, take control of your schedule and decide that you will only check email twice a day, for example, at 11am and 4pm. This proactive approach means that you’ll stay on top of things while simultaneously freeing up blocks of time to focus on what matters: the work.
For more information and practical advice, I highly recommend reading the strategies outlined in the 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss and Deep Work by Cal Newport.
Stop watching TV
TV is one of the biggest time-saps of our generation, and has taken on a whole new level due to on-demand services such as Netflix, allowing you to binge-watch your favourite series in succession.
Granted, there’s nothing wrong with relaxing and you need to decompress regularly. But you should make a conscious decision to block out this time, rather than defaulting to TV every night and falling into bad habits.
Notify your family and friends
Let the people in your life know that you’ll be busy at certain times. Share your calendar with them. Some may think you’re crazy, but you’ll likely find that they’re happy to support you.
You’ll be more focused when working, and you’ll be more present when you’re spending time with them. ‘Train’ other people to know when you’re unavailable, they’ll get it eventually.
Don’t worry about numbers
Don’t get distracted by how many plays your tracks or getting, how many likes and comments you receive on Facebook, or how many visits your website receives. Focus on the process.
Don’t get caught up in the metrics because, honestly, it’s pretty meaningless overall, especially when you’re starting out. Concentrate on honing your craft and improving your work. It’s good to pay attention to marketing, but make sure that you prioritise developing your art.
Embrace freedom and make more music
So there you have it, 22 ways to eliminate distractions and make more music. Implementing just one of these methods will help you to apply more focus to your music and be more productive, so start there and watch your work improve!
I’ve already mentioned exercise before working, but the combination of a balanced diet and regular exercise really is the ‘magic pill’ to improve your concentration and overall energy levels. For more information on this topic and to improve your health, check out one of my recent articles here.
When you’ve got so much to learn and so much music to make, it can feel like wasted time to worry about your health. But, believe me, if you want to be in this game long term, you need to look after your health. You can sacrifice it in the short term, but it’s just that: short term.
Now that you’ve won back your time, it’s time to use it wisely. Check out how I implement the Pomodoro technique to amp up my productivity.