Creative Strategies w/ Matt Shadetek: How to Eat an Elephant

In this creative strategies article, Logic expert and Dutty Artz label owner Matt Shadetek explains that the best creative approach is taking it one day at a time as opposed to setting lofty goals.


How do you eat an elephant?

People who think about productivity focus a great deal on the idea of goal-setting. Write down a goal with a date attached and this will help you to achieve those goals. There is certainly some value to this approach and many people swear by it. There is, however, a downside. The downside is that though we would very much like to believe otherwise, reality is often not under our control. This contradicts a lot of popular thinking about achievement which tells us things like: “You can do anything that you set your mind to!”

On one hand of course it’s valuable to think positive and aim for things we want to achieve. The trouble is that when there are setbacks it’s very easy for us to blame ourselves and judge ourselves harshly. It’s possible to believe that we’ve failed because we’re inadequate and that if we’d just done this one thing, or worked harder or been smarter we would have succeeded. This can cause us to feel shame, guilt and other de-motivating feelings at a time when we need our motivation most. Our feelings of failure sap our ability to work which causes us to fail to achieve further goals and fall into a spiral of unproductive behavior.

This situation arises because we are focusing intently on outcomes which by their nature are out of our control. So what can we control? We can control our process. And one way to control process is with systems. A system sounds complicated but it doesn’t need to be.

A system could be as simple as “every evening, after dinner, before I turn on the TV I will spend an hour working on my project.” If we want to frame this as a goal it’s a small, daily goal to show up for work. If we can achieve that goal with any kind of consistency progress will be made. It’s also not very stressful. Instead of obsessing about a deadline, feeling guilty because you’re not even half finished or comparing your progress to other people’s you can instead answer a simple question: “did I show up for work today?” If you can say yes, good job. If not, tomorrow is another day.

The approach here is similar to that taken by Alcoholic’s Anonymous in treating addiction. They suggest that sufferers of addiction take it easy and go one day at a time. Instead of focusing on the idea of never drinking again, they suggest that they focus on not drinking today, and then do the same tomorrow.

This shifts our focus from a big, anxiety inducing success/failure question to a much more controllable daily focus. We can not control whether the work today felt good or was awesome. Sometimes it’s a struggle and our progress is small but we can control whether we showed up, got in the chair and did something.

We all want to produce good work but sometimes that doesn’t happen. Part of us wants to think that it’s better to produce no work then to not produce good work. But that’s wrong. If we’re in the chair producing bad work, there’s always the chance for good work to suddenly happen. Sometimes bad work even turns into good work, surprising us. If we’re so scared to produce bad work that we don’t work at all, the chance of producing something good falls to zero.

Starting is often the hardest part. Once you get started and pick up a bit of momentum often you lose track of time and get into that wonderful feeling of creative flow. But you never start in that place, which is why starting is difficult and often the part we resist the hardest. If we choose to follow a system of starting at a certain point in our day and focus on just doing that with some kind of regularity, work will happen.

Building momentum is a huge part of finishing things. It’s very hard to continue or restart a project that feels stuck or bogged down. Feeling stuck feels terrible. Seeing progress is very, very motivating. Even if progress is smaller than we had initially hoped, or not in a perfectly straight line, if we see that we are moving closer to what we want to achieve that gives us hope that what we want is possible. That hope gives us the guts to show up for work each day.

Another way to consider this is to ask the question: if we had to choose between goals or systems, which would get us further? If the goal is to record an album of twelve songs by the end of the year, the system might be to spend an hour each morning either writing or rewriting lyrics. Who will get further? The person who sets a big goal? Or the person who works every day? I’d argue that from a purely emotional perspective it’s far easier to keep momentum when we are seeing consistent progress. These two choices are not mutually exclusive. We can set the goal of having an album done by a certain date and then work our system to make sure we make regular progress toward that goal.

Fundamentally a huge part of the concept here is to put our energy into places where it is not wasted. Spending a lot of mental energy stressing about the big picture has very limited value. Focus your energy on the details of your daily process, on working a system that is taking where you want to go. The big picture is made up of hundreds of tiny pieces. Put the pieces in place one at a time to the best of your ability and enjoy the process. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.


About Matt Shadetek

Matt Shadetek is one of New York City’s most exciting producers. His live sets encompass contemporary Dancehall, UK Funky, and Dubstep, all delivered with Shadetek’s unique production voice which bridges the underground-mainstream divide. He’s one of the rare DJs who can rock a crowd with sets composed solely of his own dancefloor bangers and remixes.

Matt’s early love for Hip Hop and Dancehall along with edgy electronic sounds led to his Warp Records debut album Burnerism as part of the duo Team Shadetek. While Matt was living in Berlin and touring Europe, the followup LP Pale Fire was released, featuring the underground hit “Brooklyn Anthem”. The hit song kick-started a dance craze in the Brooklyn reggae scene (leading to over 100 fan videos of kids dancing to it).

Returning to NYC, Matt founded the Dutty Artz label/production crew with DJ /Rupture. Shadetek produced Jahdan Blakkamoore’s debut album, Buzzrock Warrior (!K7), pioneering its signature Reggae-Dubstep-Rap sound. In 2009 he also teamed up with Rupture to release the mix album Solar Life Raft (The Agriculture). His latest release, on Dutty Artz, is Flowers, an effervescent solo instrumental effort that references dubstep, UK Funky and Garage. He has toured internationally both solo and accompanied by Jahdan as vocalist.

Connect with Matt on Twitter | SoundCloud | Website



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