10 Ways to Get Shit Done. by Simeon Smith


(Thanks to Ben who suggested, months back, that I write "How to write an album and a book and make short movies, and keep a band going and design synth modules and volunteer at a local community project while having three kids"... I changed the title to something more snappy)


My grandparents, in perfect contrast to my hippie parents, were prim and proper. Their house was always immaculate and their lawn always cut to a precise 1.5 inches, long enough to hide the occasional clump of moss, short enough to look like Wimbledon's Centre Court, and perfect for a game of french cricket with my cousins (which my tiny but sprightly grandmother was surprising good at). 

When visiting they had a lot of code language to discuss my parents (sorry, mum, I know you read this blog). My favourite of which, when something had been left and left, and never completed, was "...Always had a square one", meaning that my parents often had good intentions, but never got around to it. 

A "round" to it. 

Hilarious, I know. 

This kind of lead me to see productivity as something to aspire to, and it's certainly true in our society that "hard work" is seen as something worthy. And, sure, there are times when things need to get done. 

But rarely is doing more important than being. The weird thing is that the more I concentrate on being the best I can be, the more things I get done. 

And that bit of pop-self-help-mindfulness-baloney is the deepest thing I have to say on the subject. 

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The rest of my advice for people who want to become more productive is much more straightforward, and probably more worthwhile. This is just stuff that works for me, though, so take it with a pinch of salt. 

  • Drink coffee. Or yerba mate. Or water or whichever natural and relatively healthy stimulant gets you going. Humans started out as hunter-gatherers, and that only takes a few hours of hard work a day. Want to compete in the 21st century? You're going to have to hack your half-arsed body. Caffeine makes me more creative, more positive and is a great hunger-suppressor leading to...
  • Don't eat butt-tonnes of carbs. This is a really difficult one for me. I love carbs. Big plate of pasta? Yes, please. Sharing bag of crisps? Get me one just for me. 12-inch Sub? Sign me up. Following every carb-fest I partake in, I feel like I want to take a nap. Carbs kill motivation. Perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon. Not so great for the rest of the time. I find that also since I've stopped eating meat, it's harder to avoid the carbs because some of the best vegetarian food is carb-heavy. Every day it's a battle. 
  • Take your pills. As a society, we're probably over-medicating, but many of us, myself included, often need reminding that if we've got a medical problem that requires treatment, we need to listen to our doctors. I have depression and generalised anxiety disorder, for which I take Sertraline every day, but every now and then I think "Do I need this? Could I do without it? Should I...?" The answer being, for me at least: YES. Yes, if I want to be a productive member of society, if I want to be a good dad and do some good work I need to take my pills. And I see this time and time again. If you're in pain, take some painkillers and get on with being the best version of yourself. Don't let preventable illness stop you from getting shit done. 
  • Get a sleep routine. I don't sleep much. I joke that sleep is for the weak, but the truth is that everyone needs a different amount. I find, though, that when I have a good routine around sleep, I sleep fewer hours. Weeks when I'm in bed by midnight and get up at 7 every day seem to go smoother than when my sleep is all over the place. In fact fewer hours sleep on a regular routine seems to leave me less tired than when I sleep more! Ever had a lie-in until 10am and then felt dreadful the rest of the day? That's me all over. And don't get me wrong. I love sleep. I always want to sleep. But I need to right amount; not too much, not too little. 
  • Throw away your television. It's not that TV is bad, it's that TV is bad for productivity. There are some shows I love, Preacher is a current favourite, but man does TV kill my productivity!  I still have a TV but I try to limit my consumption to 2 shows a week. Same with video games. I love my gaming, but an hour of Final Fantasy followed by 3 hours of photography seems to work better than vice-versa for me. As for movies, it'd better be good for me to invest 2 hours of my life in watching it! 
  • Keep lists. I use Trello, which I find useful, but you could equally use a biro and the back of your hand. One area where I find I lose time is the space between tasks. Lists help me move quicker between activity. I especially use lists when working on music when I might listen to a recording and list a dozen things I need to change. I can then change them all and listen again, rather than having a listen between each change. 
  • Get outside. Especially at midday. My parents used to chuck me out of the house for half an hour every day in the hope this weird, home-schooled kid would make friends. It didn't do that (as a kid. I have friends now. Real ones!), but it did teach me how energising getting out for a short walk or to run an errand can be. 
  • Exercise when you don't want to exercise. The Oatmeal described this better than I ever could so, here goes: 
  • Self-cannibalise your own art. I get a lot of energy from the first couple of hours of any activity, and the last couple of hours of any activity. The dirge in between, though, nearly kills me. So I start another project. My creative process goes like this: Start new project, get excited, realise it might be hard work... Start another project! Get excited, then do a bit more work on the first project until I've run out of steam and I need to... Start another project! Get excited, work a bit on projects 1 and 2 until it all gets a bit much and I need to... You guessed it. Start another project. Eventually, one of these projects will near completion and that gives me more energy to hopefully finish a few projects. Which is why I released a book and an album and a synth module in close succession. So when people ask me "You're always doing so much! How do you do it all?!" The truth is, I DON'T KNOW HOW TO DO LESS! The energy I get from one project feeds another project which feeds another project which...
  • Collaborate. We're social beings and productivity takes a mix of co-working to stimulate constructive criticism and creativity, and lone-working to finish things. Don't neglect either area! When you're collaborating, also try not to be a leech, draining others of their ideas without giving back. I work with some amazing creatives, and hopefully they get as much out of the collaborations as I do.

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How to keep going. by Simeon Smith

“If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” - Toni Morrison.

Have I ever mentioned how much of a fanboy I am when it comes to Austin Kleon?

I may have done so a few hundred times. 

His books have inspired and helped me, and his attitudes towards life, music, art, parenting... are just beautiful. 

This week he posted on social media a picture of a cardboard file box. On it, scrawled in sharpie, HTKG, a cryptic clue to the title of the book he's writing at the moment. The comments section when a bit crazy with suggestions of what it could stand for, but given the titles of his last two books (Steal like an Artist, and Show Your Work) the simplest seemed the most likely, Ockham's Razor and all that. 

How To Keep Going. 

That's the book I need to read right now. 

Last week I had some shitty times. I was as ill as I've been in recent years, had some family stuff going on, and had a lot of things to prepare for this week. If you've ever had a conversation with me ill, I'm even more of a grumpy arsehole than I am normally. 

I enjoy being productive. I like to be busy. Sometimes it's probably not the healthiest, but fuck me I've got only got my three score and ten on this earth and I'll be damned if I'm not filling as full as an all-you-can-eat buffet plate on student discount night. 

But this week...

Today I was supposed to be recording music with a friend. He had other stuff crop up, so I now have an evening "free".

A nagging voice in the back of my head tells me there's tonnes of things I SHOULD be doing. 

And I reply no. There are things I COULD be doing. 

Or I could fuck around on the internet, write this blog post, make myself a mug of cocoa, and retire to bed early with a good book. 

But that scares me. 

What if I never do the things? What if I find myself in a mental health state, as I have many times previously, where I can't do the things? What if the delays on things due to my overcommitment means I let others down? 

How do I keep going? 

  • One day at a time. Today, I'm not up for anything. Tomorrow may be different.
  • Lists. Currently via Trello
  • Fitting things in. This week I have a photoshoot before work. Next week I have breakfast with a co-conspirator before my shift. I squeeze stuff into my lunch break. I ride trains and get stuff done.
  • Setting myself pointless deadlines. 
  • Distracting myself from stuff with other stuff. 

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