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7 Success Tips Musicians Can Teach Us

7 Success Tips Musicians Can Teach Us
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Look carefully, and you’ll notice that many of the most successful people in all walks of life — including Woody Allen, Alan Greenspan, and Condoleezza Rice — are musicians or former musicians.

Why are there so many musicians present at the top of so many industries? Is it just a coincidence?

As a musician myself, here’s what I think:

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1. Musicians aren’t afraid to suck.

Success has been linked with a high tolerance for stepping out of one’s comfort zone and being unafraid to make mistakes while taking a big learning curve. There are few things quite as painful as listening to a beginning musician. However, both musicians and entrepreneurs know that they don’t remain beginners forever.

2. Musicians stick with their instrument long enough to get good at it.

Success has also been linked with hanging in there and seeing a venture through thick and thin to its completion. Mastering a musical instrument doesn’t happen overnight. Depending on the instrument, it can take up to a year just to get a good, consistent sound, and another five to ten to build speed, master basic scales and arpeggios, learn to count, and either read music or play by ear accurately.

Interesting how similar this time table is to the growth of a startup, isn’t it?

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3. Musicians are disciplined and able to take the long view.

Successful people do what they have to do, even when they don’t particularly like what they’re doing at the moment. Learning a musical instrument requires regular practice time with etude books, the metronome, and scales – even on the days they’d rather have a tooth pulled without anesthesia than pick up that damned horn – because they know that in the long run, all of that hard work will pay off.

4. Musicians have a keen sense of when to speak up … and when to shut up.

One of the hallmarks of the most successful people is their sense of timing: knowing when it’s time to press an issue and when it’s time to back off, or knowing when to risk a business expansion and when it’s time to contract or fold. Musicians know that if they start playing too soon, too late, too loudly, or too softly, they run the risk of either losing their own place in the music, playing an accidental solo (!) or, at worst, throwing the whole ensemble off.

5. Musicians learn to let go of past mistakes and keep on playing.

Successful people make mistakes, but they use these mistakes as opportunities to learn, and then they move on. They don’t dwell on their mistakes. If a musician makes a mistake in a live performance, they can’t stop and redo it; the music must go on, no matter what. This means letting go in the moment, and then reviewing what happened afterwards so that the same thing doesn’t happen again.

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6. Musicians know how to focus both on their own part and on the sound of the whole group.

The most successful are able to focus on the task at hand and keep the big picture in view at the same time. Good ensemble musicians don’t just get swallowed up in their own part; they simultaneously listen to themselves and the other players, monitor the flow of the music, watch the director or the other band members, and sense the engagement of the audience.

7. Musicians know that they are much more powerful as part of a team than alone.

The most successful people in the world didn’t build their empires by themselves. There is no single person alive who can create a product, market it, and manage the money equally well. A single singer with a guitar is fine, but adding a bass, drums, and perhaps a horn or a keyboard has the potential to turn “nice” into “magical” or even “earth-moving.” There is no single player on the planet who can play all of those instruments at once.

A Final Word:

Whether musicians actually make a living playing their music or not, they have all learned some powerful life lessons in the process of learning to play, both by themselves and with others. I suspect this is why we see so many musicians among the most successful people in so many industries.

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And now…time to go practice.

Featured photo credit: Practice / Nosha via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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