Chunking: A Simple Method For Doing Big Things
Chunking could help you take control of your music career.
I was using it before I realized I was using it. And it’s extremely helpful for me.
People usually implement chunking to remember large amounts of information.
But as musicians, we can use it as a tool for productivity and work-life-music balance.
What Is Chunking?
So what is the chunking technique?
Chunking is when you break a lot of information into smaller chunks (surprise).
It’s all about getting the most out of your memory by dividing a long string of info into smaller bits.
You remember the whole by remembering the parts.
The point is to lighten the load on your cognitive functions. In other words, it helps your brain not get overwhelmed.
What is a good example of chunking?
It’s kind of like this blog post.
I break it up into sections.
I split those sections into paragraphs.
I divide the paragraphs into sentences.
And those sentences are made up of words.
All to make it easier for your brain to read.
Other than well-written blog posts, there are more common examples you see every day.
The way we remember phone numbers is a good example. Instead of trying to remember 18005555555, we break it up: 1-800-555-5555.
It’s the same with birthdays. You wouldn’t write that you were born 10101991. You’d chunk it into 10/10/1991.
Why Chunking Can Be Good For Musicians
So how does chunking relate to music? How can chunking help you?
The obvious answer is that it can help you learn a new skill or instrument.
Chunking is meant to help improve your memory.
So it can help you chunk a key into scales and those scales into notes.
But I propose that chunking is also good for any area of musicianship. Especially if you’re a part-time musician.
Time management. Organization. Goal-setting. You name it. You can chunk it all.
How To Use Chunking As A Musician
Now I want to share how you can practically apply chunking to your music career.
Chunk your music goals
Jon Acuff talks about setting small goals in his book Finish.
He actually did a little study on this. He asked the participants to cut their weight-loss goals in half.
“The people with smaller goals were 63% more successful,” he writes in Forbes. “Go big might be a good slogan for a gym wall, but if you really want to win, go small.”
The idea is that smaller goals are easier to reach.
So when you accomplish them, you’re encouraged. And that increases your motivation and momentum, keeping you going.
When you come up with a big picture for your music career, set goals that get you to that big picture.
But make the goals smaller than you think they should be.
Chunk your processes
There’s a process for everything. And in order to optimize your processes, you’ve got to chunk.
Let’s look at my typical songwriting process as an example.
I could chunk it into these smaller parts:
- Come up with a chord progression
- Sing gibberish lyrics over that chord progression
- Write lyrics based on how the song and melody feel
- Take a break from the song for 1-2 days
- Come back and edit, re-write, tweak, etc.
Now I can just handle one chunk at a time.
Whatever your process is for whatever you’re doing (recording, performing, making beats, etc), you can chunk it.
Chunk your time
When you work or care for kids all day, you don’t have much time to make music. This is where chunking your time comes in handy.
Find where you have free time (even a little) and use it to make music.
Spend that hour in the evening making music.
Send some emails over your lunch break.
Wake up 30 minutes earlier so you can do songwriting.
You have 15 free minutes in your day somewhere. And if you don’t, your job/career is probably taking over your life.
Take little bites of time to do music stuff.
Chunk your to-do list
Instead of using a generic to-do list, I split mine into categories.
Here’s how chunk my list:
- My current/most important musical project
- Random admin tasks
- My musical side project
And I order each section by priority.
So for my current musical project, the most immediate task to complete goes at the top. And so on.
You don’t have to use this method, but it could be very useful to chunk your to-do list in some way.
(You can use my to-do list template for free here).
Chunk your brain
Finally, you have to chunk your brain into pieces.
What the heck do I mean?
This is when you choose to metaphorically wear different “uniforms.”
I have four:
- An artist uniform
- A music-businessperson uniform
- A uniform for my personal life
- A day-job uniform
It’s basically a way to silo the different parts of your life.
Obviously, there will be some overlap. But whenever you switch from one uniform to another, try to get into that brain space.
When you go from work to making music, tell yourself the door to work is closed.
Chunk your brain and your life into pieces. It could be good for your music career.
Need a chart to help you chunk stuff? Grab the One-Thing-A-Day chart for FREE here.
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Caleb J. Murphy is a singer-songwriter and music producer based in Austin, Tx., and the founder of Musician With A Day Job, a blog that helps part-time musicians succeed.