The media is always happy to provide us with disheartening (and probably exaggerated) statistics about how quickly our resolutions fail. But making plans and sticking to them is a mind game, an effort to make ourselves more disciplined. The world's not stopping us... but we might be stopping ourselves. So, to make reasonable goals that we can achieve successfully, we've got to start in the right frame of mind.
1. Remove the guilt
Almost any undone project conjures up guilty feelings, or feelings of being judged. You know you want to advance your music career – that's a given. But before thinking about how to proceed, it's time to discharge negative feelings about whatever you haven't done.
Consider potential goals and whether there is guilt attached to them. Forgive yourself for not having done these things yet! Life is busy and always a work in progress. If there's anyone in your life who is judging you, belittling your desire to be a musician, or predicting your failure, it's time to mentally exclude them from this thought process. These goals should be about what you want.
2. Remind yourself of what you've already accomplished
Wherever you are right now is not nothing. Maybe you've worked hard to build a band, a set, or an album. At the very least, you've practiced and toiled away to become proficient on an instrument.
Look at all you've done! You deserve congratulations and you deserve success. Finding the things you've done best offers a way forward, since you can continue to use those skills as you build on what you've done already.
3. Create habits by creating a schedule
Whatever you decide needs to be done, you're going to have to do it regularly. Many musical acts with enormous talent remain unknown because they play out sporadically: a spate of shows in October and then nothing more until February. Local music fans find themselves asking, "Are those guys still together?" Downtime in bands is also a good way to lose musicians, since quality players are often asked to join new groups. You need to keep your band busy so your bass player won't leave on tour with some other band.
Most pros have a pretty rigorous schedule of writing, rehearsing, recording, and touring. In fact, any enterprise, from restaurants to medical facilities, has some sort of schedule cycle to keep everything running smoothly and avoid getting behind on critical tasks. Some of these cyclical tasks for musicians include booking, promoting, updating social media, and writing new songs – and none of these things can be done too much or too often. Consider prioritizing these crucial jobs as you make your list of goals.
4. Make sure your goals are in your control
You may really want to play a particular venue, but that choice may not be up to you. You might want a local arts paper to give you a great review, but there's no accounting for the writer's taste. Instead of limiting yourself with goals that rely too much on others to play along, consider making some more open-ended plans like "get 200 new names on our mailing list" or "get booked at 10 new venues before the end of the year."
5. Knock off some things you only have to do once (at least for a while)
Doing things like creating a band logo, picking a great band name, or building a strong EPK will help you every day. These tasks are the last things you should procrastinate on and some of the best things to have on your to-do list. When they're done, you can check them off and feel super-productive, giving you tons of energy to attack the next thing on the list.
6. Write your goals down, and keep them where you can see them
Have you ever seen a factory or workplace with some kind of affirmation at the gate? It says something like, "Through these doors walk the finest ironworkers in Bristol County." That sort of acknowledgment isn't the only ingredient to a positive environment, but it doesn't hurt. When you post your list of goals where you see it every day and you can see list items falling like dominoes, you'll be inspired to keep it going.
7. Get support from other people
If you've resolved to get up at 6 a.m. every day and run three miles, it helps a lot to have a partner, someone who will come and bang on your door if you're not out there in your sweats at the top of the hour. The same goes for the more tedious tasks of promoting music and building a brand. You can do this alone, but it's less fun and you might be less consistent with it. Having someone checking in to see how you're doing, and working side by side with you, will help you close the deal on many of these difficult tasks.
If that partner is someone in your band, all the better. You can divide and conquer and report back to one another with your day's achievements.
With the right attitude, steady habits, and help from friends, you might be amazed at where you are in 12 months. Then, it'll be time for a new list.
Jesse Sterling Harrison is an author, recording artist, and part-time farmer. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, three daughters, and a herd of ducks.