Increasing productivity

At the beginning of December I had the good fortune to participate in music careers coach Angela Beeching’s Creative Productivity Challenge course which was hosted by NewMusicBox USA on their Facebook Site. Angela covered different topics each day, intending to help musicians conquer any negative gremlins, establish milestones across a realistic timeframe for particular projects, use their time more efficiently and productively and to be more positive in articulating their goals.

This was perfect timing for me at the mid-way point in my sabbatical. I had started to think slightly negatively about having so much time and yet seeming to be achieving so little. I had fallen into negative patterns of thinking which were working counter to efficiency.

By participating in the course each day, I started to plan out my time using the Pomodoro Technique whereby you set 25 minutes for undertaking one particular task and time yourself doing it, stopping when the time is up. Generally, the brain tends to switch off if you are focussed on a task over a longer period of time so breaking the day up into varied 25 minute chunks helped me to keep my brain active and to feel like I was achieving a lot more across each day. I also reflected on why I am often so hard on myself, telling myself I am not doing enough or not doing things as well as I should be doing them. This actually stems from a very positive drive to achieve my full potential but the negative gremlins get hold of this and twist it into something else!

Angela’s wise words, drawn from an array of related research literature helped me to reframe my focus more positively and the establishment of a schedule of small building blocks of time helped me to feel I was being much more productive and to congratulate myself on small achievements.

I also set timelines for the recording and production of my CD, for the associated tour and for the next phase of my So Many Beauties project. There’s a lot of work to be done in bringing in funding for these projects but having realistic timelines to work to helped the forthcoming workload to seem less mountainous!

The Pomodoro technique was also useful for practising the kora. I would spend 25 minutes working on a particular element of one piece such as phrasing or articulation rather than solid hours of just playing without really focussing on the fine detail.

This “chipping away” at different tasks across each day really gave me a sense of momentum and couldn’t have come at a better time. Also, “chipping away” at negative thought processes has been brilliant. One way of countering negativity is to consider what Angela referred to as the Gratitude Flow. Think of one small thing that has made you happy in the last few hours – it might be stroking your cat, enjoying a nice meal, hearing the birds singing in the trees. Really embody the happy feeling of gratitude for those small things. Scientific research shows the brain is unable to experience happy thoughts at the same time as negative thoughts. The gratitude flow can at least divert the brain away from negative thoughts for a short time and the more you do it, the more you can reprogram your brain to steer towards a more positive outlook.

You can find the first part of Angela’s course here and then follow on to the other sessions from the site.

Following on from Angela’s course, I decided to treat myself to a 5 day trip to Eigg to celebrate my birthday on this incredible Island and also to review where the materials for the album were up to. I was incredibly lucky with the weather, especially on my birthday when I was able to walk round the coastline without a coat on and to go bare-legged into the sea for a splash about! I was also able to enjoy some of the island festivities in the run up to Christmas including the primary school’s amazing Winter Solstice musical, written by Nanai Van Goght and the Community Christmas Dinner on my birthday where everyone brought and shared food.

It was wonderful to stay in the Laig Beach Bothy again and to share time and music with friends on the island. Here’s a photo medley from my trip so you get a flavour!


On my return from Eigg, I shared a wonderful Christmas with my brother and his family and our Mum and Dad. My brother JR Marland is the most wonderful chef (he works as Head of Creative at Rhubarb designing menus for the great and the good). We had a fantastic meal, I drank lots of gin and we all enjoyed family games together including cards and scrabble!


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