You Can’t Save Time – You Can Spend Time Right

Productive Musicking

This is an idea I got while watching YouTube and really liked it, because it can very well relate to music and the broad benefits of musicking. 

Don’t know about you, but not always I am happy about my own productivity. As the internet is full of a broad variety of philosophies, tools, coaches and webinars aimed to help the rest of us to become more productive, I also use a few of them. One of my favorites is the YouTube channel Keep Productive. For almost 180,000 subscribers its owner Francesco maps the best productivity software, tools, apps, and he often chats with their authors and users. 

 Recently I got intrigued by the video title The Productivity Dilemma – with Chris Dancy & Mike Vardy and thus spent almost 50 minutes watching these three guys (Francesco as a host) discussing the topic. This is how the episode got introduced:

Do we invest too much in tools and too little in framework? Do we really need our tools? A chat with the most connected human Chris Dancy and time-blocking expert Mike Vardy explore the productivity dilemma of our time and exploring how our tools matter to us. 

My original plan was just to check the initial couple minutes to learn what the whole episode was about. I’ve known about Chris Dancy from the internet, where he describes how he ’systematized’  his whole life using various technologies, mainly an app/database called Airtable. I have also skimmed through his book Don’t Unplug: How Technology Saved My Life and Can Save Yours 

Mike Vardy is a founder of Productivityist – ‘a company built with the quest to help people stop “doing” productive and start “being” productive’. 

The discussion started Chris by framing the current situation and problems with productivity. His presentation got me into thinking more about the topic and writing this post. 

The very first slide of the presentation, where he shows his productivity journey already caught my attention with this statement:

We don’t know how to measure what we care about, so we care about what we measure.

This rung the bell in my head as I recalled a quote from my business studies attributed to the famous management guru and the Total Quality Management thinker W. Edwards Deming. (Sometimes it is attributed to another management thinker Peter Drucker.) 

The Deming’s quote goes like this:

It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it – a costly myth.

In the management circles this gets very often misquoted like this : If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. But I don’t think Dr. Deming would push for managing any business only based on numbers. Although my professional experience could confirm, that too often various managements tend to insist on using predominantly data for the decision-making – just to ‘play it safe’. 

Life and the nature are much broader and more complex systems to rely on the data we are able to extract. 

To support the Chris Dancy’s quote, there is a great example from the music world – the famous ’10,000 hours rule’. It got popularized by a renowned author Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers: The Story Of Success. It claims, that to become an expert or a master performer in a given field, you need 10,000 hours of practice. This is based on the research of Anders Ericsson, focused on violin students at a music academy in Berlin, Germany. The problem is, that this is “a provocative generalization” as Ericsson acknowledged himself. 

The number 10,000 looks good, but doesn’t say the whole truth. It focuses only on the number of hours spent practicing, but not on the quality of that practice. And Ericsson clearly stresses its importance even in the title of his research paper The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. Only the DELIBERATE practice is the quality that may bring expected mastery. That is how a musical practice can become productive. 

But it is hard to measure the quality of a music practice, so we rather count endless hours spent by, often squeaking and grinding and clunking and scratching… in the hope to become virtuosi. 

Another topic that Chris brough up in his presentation and that resonated with me was a ‘Time Journey of Productivity’. As he put it ‘What People Crave Is A Relationship With Time’. He claims that ‘productivity fails because of our short-term focus’. 

To visualize that journey, he describes five domains or stages, although not everyone would necessarilly pass through all of them:

Productivity -> Health -> Value -> Nature -> Transcendence

Seeing this I realized, that it depicts (at least for me), what music could and should mean in a human’s life, but also what is wrong currently with music and the music business. 

From what I can see right now, at least in the Western World – music being mostly relegated to the position of a productivity centered supporting tool. “Listening music” is used as a tool to help with concentration, with learning, exercising, to entice shopping, prevent sleepiness, or help sleeping, support creativity,  multitasking, increase performance …

All these are almost exclusively passive ways of consuming ‘organized sounds’. Music is used as a sound barrier, shopping inhibitor, a coffeine replacement. It’s good if it works for some people, although there are better ways to go – using natural sounds like ocean waves, rain or forrest can have better impact when a relaxation is expected; sufficient regular sleep time could do wonders, as could a better customer service at your shopping mall. 

It is well known habit, that top athletes often use music to help them concentrate or improve performance. But they are very particular with their music selections, which proves, that they don’t mindlessly consume whatever blasts around them. 

Looking back at the five domains of the Productivity Time Journey, we are mostly aatthe first one – the Productivity itself. And funny enough, when we now look at professional musicians and the professional music, these hardly move from the very first stage either. 

Sure enough, if someone needs to make his or her living by making music – they have to be productive. Sometimes too much productive, so instead of improving their ‘Health’, the professional music making can be harmful to their body and/or mind.

The following domain is ‘Value’ centered. And if this one would be merely about the monetary value, then the current world of the professional music would be right on. But it is not! Value here has much broader meaning and again – is hard to measure exactly … unlike money …. 

It is even harder to connect the remaining two domains with the professional music. ‘Nature’ often suffers when, for example, open-air mega-festivals happen. 

And ‘Transcendence’, although highly personal, is the Holy Grail of any music making, and thus extremely rare. One example for all – watch the legendary Leonard Bernstein conducting Vienna Philharmonics only by his face movements.

So if the professional music is not the best way, then where we could use our time more productively and better in relation to music? 

If you have read all the above, and maybe even some other stuff on this blog, the answer may be as obvious for you as it is for me: 

Musicking, or the active music making, is one of the best activities for you.

Playing a music instrument, or singing just for your enjoyment, may be beneficial for your body and for your mind. It can help optimize your ‘Health’, recharge your energy, bring you relax, balance and even improve your productivity, if that is what you need.

If you take it one step further and maybe involve your family members, your friends, neighbours, you bring the ‘Value’ of music to your community. This is not about competition, but about mutuality. This is about time spent well with people who you admire, you like and love and who reciprocate these feelings. You cannot measure and you cannot count these.

Making music for joy unavoidably makes you aware of yourself, your body, environment, the time … of the ‘Nature’. You can take your musicking right to the nature, or you can bring nature home in a form of a bautiful wooden music instrument, for example. 

And if you allow it to yourself, if your musicking happens without hesitation, if you master your instrument to the level, that you can stop thinking about it (doesn’t have anything to do with the professionalism!) – you can get ‘lost in time’, dissociate with the self and time and experience ‘Transcendence’. This sounds simple although it is not that easy. But it is doable for everyone. That is where all those preceding domains integrate into one with your body and mind. That is when you re-confirm that the life is worth living, that it is great to be with those you love, that things make sense. (At least some …) 

Musicking is time spent well.

“You can’t save time. The idea that when you could be productive enough, you could save time just doesn’t work. It is impossible to save time. Don’t save time – spend it right the first time!”  

Chris Dancy

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