Episode #052: Overcoming Overwhelm & Productivity Hacks with Suzanne Paulinski


Joining us today on the Savvy Musician Show is Suzanne Paulinski who is going to talk to us about something we’ve all experienced in trying to catch up to our fast-paced schedules – the feeling of being totally overwhelmed. Suzanne is a mindset coach for music professionals, particularly those who battle with anxiety around making their busy lives run smoothly while also trying to raise a family and advance their music careers. It is not easy, but everything is figure-outable! In trying to get down your work-life balance, Suzanne talks about time management, goal setting, time blocking and sometimes just breathing and giving yourself permission to take time out. We also discuss why we as people inherently fear success, how to avoid the shiny object syndrome and the paradoxical role that structure and routine can play in giving you artistic freedom. There is a lot of really helpful insight coming out of this episode, so be sure to tune in! 

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Suzanne’s niche in the music industry outside of being a performer or manager. 
  • Using time management and goal setting as gateway terms to deal with mental health issues. 
  • The widespread sense of overwhelm and the pressure to be an expert in multiple fields.
  • How Suzanne enables clients to organize and declutter their mental space. 
  • Reducing the overwhelm by differentiating between micro and macro tasks. 
  • Why we fear success more than failure and learning to celebrate the small wins. 
  • Batching tasks of similar mental focus together rather than switching from one to the other. 
  • Staying focused and avoiding the shiny object syndrome. 
  • Navigating feelings of resentment and guilt regarding family and making time for them.
  • The role of a schedule, being adaptable and learning to live in the mess.  
  • Why time blocks and boundaries can be adjusted, but shouldn’t be deleted. 
  • And much more!


“I have them just mind dump onto a piece of paper because writing, taking pen or pencil or paper is very effective and it just unlocks certain pieces of your brain.” — @RockStarAdvo [0:10:51]

“As humans, we don’t respond to vagueness. When we see something that’s big, we just avoid it. Getting as specific as possible with your to do list can be really helpful.” — @RockStarAdvo [0:14:09]

“No matter what team you have or what label signs you, the buck still ends with you.” — @RockStarAdvo [0:19:10]

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

Suzanne Paulinski — https://therockstaradvocate.com/

Marie Forleo — https://www.marieforleo.com/

The War of Art on Amazon — https://amzn.to/2KjKoqS 

Click For Full Transcript

00:23 CJ: Welcome once again to the Savvy Musician show, this is CJ Ortiz and I’m the mindset and branding coach here at the Savvy Musician Academy. Once again, joined by my dear friend, the queen herself Leah McHenry, how are you doing Leah?

00:39 Leah: Fantastic, how are you?

00:41 CJ: Wonderful. Well, this is a special podcast today, I’m really excited about it because this will be the first time that Leah and I get the chance to do an interview together. She’s done a number of these in the previous podcasts and bringing me on was to make her more the focus and so now we get to kind of tag team and get to ask someone else.

I’m excited about our guest today, Leah, why don’t you tell our listeners a little bit about who she is.

01:10 Leah: Yeah, we are excited to have Suzanne Paulinski here and I’m going to be talking to her about some very important things and I think you will all appreciate this episode because the topic that we’re about to get into is her area of expertise and something you guys asked me about all the time. Every day, I get questions about stuff to do with work-life balance, time management, productivity, all of that.

Leah, how do you do it with the five kids and running the music business and SMA, how are you doing all the stuff. Well, Suzanne is an expert on this and she specifically helps musicians and creative people master this area of their lives. So we’re really excited to have you here. Welcome!

01:54 Suz: Thank you so much, I’m a big fan and I’m honoured to be here.

01:57 Leah: Great, well, tell us a little bit how you got into coaching people on productivity and work-life balance and how’d you get into it and what do you exactly do?

02:09 Suz: Sorry about that. Yeah, I’ve been in the business a little over 15 years. I started at the major labels here in New York City. I worked at Atlantic and then I went to work for EMI and Astralwerks which was Fatboy Slim’s label at the time. You know, I’m not a performer, I’ve had experience performing in high school and stuff like that but that’s never how I saw myself and so I just figured, well, if I’m not a performer then I must need to be a manager or ANR or something. 

I studied music business in college and even then, it was still limited in terms of like here are your options. I just assumed, well, I’m not a performer, I must be working at a label and I did sales for a while and my accounts were Damn Goody and Virgin Megastore and Tower Records and within a year of me working there, they were all starting to post down. Myspace was growing and Napster was everywhere and so it was just a very odd time in the music industry.

I realized it’s not what I wanted to do so I started a company with my college roommate and that went through a bunch of changes and then I realized I’m not fitting in anywhere with what I love to do on the business side of things. Let me take a break, let me go back, whenever I get stuck, I like to go back to school and to learn new things and try to open my mind to new experiences. I went back from my masters in psychology and that’s when it really clicked.

I was like, this is what I love to do, I know that my clients need help with these things and so I said okay, I’m going to start a music therapy business and then I started to promote it and everyone was like, I don’t need therapy. That’s okay, I’m fine. I write music, my therapy. 

It was still very taboo to talk about. Help wasn’t really being talked about. Then I started to change it and figured, okay, I’ll promote time management and goal setting but really, both of those are so rooted in mental health and mindset. When I work with clients, you know, yes we talk about time management, we absolutely talk about how to navigate the industry while maybe you have a day job or children or all of the above.

But the root of those things and the root of why they may not be taking advantage of every time or why they might be stuck on something is all psychological, it’s all your mindset and stuff you might be struggling. That’s how it kind of how it came up and you know, it’s nice to see more and more people are starting to talk about mental health and more – there are more coaches coming out.

That once they realize t here’s a market for this, there have been more coaches that have opened up shop and I love that. Because it’s just showing how important it is and you know, we’re all creating a nice community of support for these musicians.

05:03 Leah: Fantastic, yeah.

05:06 CJ: Yeah, I could testify to that really. Because I’ve watched it from a different vantage point, Suzanne. Because I do this thing called mental motivation. It’s really more focused on just general audiences, no matter what their particular profession is, but obviously you’re going to get a lot of musicians because you’re focusing on that aspect.

Yeah, it’s been such a thing to see because it has at the same time sort of elevated the DIY approach to things. The technology kind of puts that, it’s exciting but also very frightening for a lot of people because they’re realizing, okay, it’s great. The technology really is powerful but my goodness, I’ve got to become such a master of so many things and they tend to look almost exclusively at the technology, not necessarily at the psychology and like you said, it’s probably the number one thing that does hinder them.

06:03 Suz: Yeah, absolutely.

06:04 Leah: What do you find – when you’re working with all different kinds of musicians, what’s the one common thread that you find, all of them regardless of what their particular situation is?

06:16 Suz: Yeah, a lot of as to what Chris said, it’s just overwhelm. Now, we see, okay, I don’t need a label but that means I need to do everything myself and you know, even when they say to me, I say, what’s your goal? To get signed by a label, why? Because they’ll do things for me. It’s like well, that’ not really how it works and you know, there is not a whole lot of artist development anymore these days through the labels, at least the major ones.

You know, getting that, doing it again, shake that of what the industry looks like and a lot of it is because they think my goal is not to get signed by a label and I’m doing everything myself as you had said. It’s like, there’s too much going on, I can’t be an expert in social media and in marketing and in sales and in my music and you know, fan engagement and building my mailing list and you know, there’s too many things and so, what I help them do is to just breathe and prioritize and understand, yes, you should know a little bit about all of these things, enough so that you can delegate it to somebody else.

Explain to them what you want them to do, how you want them to carry it out. You need to still be the captain steering the ship of your brand but that you can build a team and that you don’t have to have hundreds of thousands of dollars pouring in to do it. You can start small and even just by getting a virtual assistant who may not even be in the music industry to do some initial research for you or schedule your social media posts or any of those things.

A lot of what happens when they come to me and I work with managers and booking agents as well is overwhelm because, as this industry changes, we’re responsible for a whole lot more than we used to be. It’s a lot to manage.

07:59 Leah: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more and I mean, I know this firsthand because that musician in that position, you know? Yeah, my thought is that like you said, they are doing everything themselves and on one hand, here’s the thing. I tell musicians like, you don’t need to be an expert in all things marketing and copyrighting and landing pages and funnels.

You just need to be an expert at marketing your own music, right? If you learn the fundamentals of some of these things, it’s not as intimidating as you think, right? It is about prioritizing and the other thought that came to mind is like, there’s a lot of musicians probably even listening to this podcast. I mean, they’re nowhere near ready to build a team yet and like you said, they actually need to know enough about it to know even what to delegate, first of all.

Second of all, when they have delegated, are they even doing a good job? They need to know enough to be able to determine those things. Even at my level here and I have a long way to go in my career. I feel like I’m just scratching the surface, I’m just getting started. Even in my business, I have a full-time assistant and I have a full-time customer support person in my music business. It’s not Savvy Musician Academy. It’s a team of three.

Now, outside that, I will contract outside of that and of course, I don’t do everything myself and even in my music. I’m not mixing and mastering. Hell no. That’s not my area of expertise, why would I do that, right? I think sometimes when they think I have to do everything myself. They’re taking on everything themselves. It’s just like, you don’t need to do that, you know? I actually heard – I forget what the name of the painter was, I just heard it, I was looking at an audiobook this morning, about a painter.

I have to remember the name. He became – at first he was doing all these amazing paintings in – it was in England – himself and then he started delegating out certain parts of the paintings because he became really well known for just painting the faces and so when the royal – whatever it was, the queen or whatever hired them to do the paintings inside the buildings, he just worked on the faces and he had assistants do the rest of it.

I was like, my gosh, that’s brilliant, that’s a perfect example. We’ll have to do another show on this when I can remember who it is. Perfect example of doing the things that only you can do, delegating some of the other things but it’s still under your brand and under your oversight. I just love that example.

How do you help people accomplish things like that?

10:37 Suz: Sure, you know, one of the first things I like to do, one of my favourite exercises is just do a mind dump, you know? We carry around so much in our heads on a daily basis and especially if you are a parent, there’s just so much going on and so, I have them just mind dump onto a piece of paper because writing, taking pen or pencil or paper is very effective and it just unlocks certain pieces of your brain.

I just say okay, you know, what’s in your head, get it all out so that you can let go of it and you know that you’re not going to forget it. It’s down on paper but you know, we all have thoughts flowing around of like five year plans and things we have to do tomorrow and the laundry and buying groceries and all these other things and they’re all jumbled in our head together and then we feel like that kind of rise of panic and overwhelm of there’s so much to do, there’s so much to do.

It’s not organized in our brain so dump it all out and I like to take a fresh piece of paper and take out from that list, what are the immediate things, you know? They can be personal, I can be – I need to get groceries for dinner tonight. I have to get on top of my laundry, it’s out of control. It can be all those things because your music career, for instance, I’m sure you come across this a lot, you know, as you build your music career, yes, you want to – 

There’s all these social media platforms and yes, you could be a YouTube star or an Instagram influencer or have a great thriving Facebook group. Especially if you don’t have a team, you’re not going to do all those right now. Pick something, you know, when you get that all out on paper, I have to monetize my YouTube channel and I have to figure out how to get my Instastories is more consistent and I have to grow my Facebook, going to put on the piece of paper, pick one and start picking out things that you could take action on now.

Maybe you already started a Facebook group and you got more members and maybe your YouTube, you haven’t even touched. Just focus on Facebook right now and then if that’s kind of already got some momentum. Then, once you have like your priority piece of paper down, then you’re going to do what I always say is mono task and microtask. Again, to bring the overwhelm down, it’s kind of counterintuitive because you think I never have time in the day so I got to do everything at once but it’s so counterproductive.

If you just do one thing at a time and put less things on your plate, you’ll get more done faster to then on the third piece of paper, micro testing it out. What I mean by that is, YouTube for example, if you had on your list, I have to upload a new video. Well, have you started to film the video yet? You or I might do a tutorial on something. We need a script.

We need to set up a camera and the lights and the mic. We need to write a title and a caption and figure out the hashtags and write some social media posts for it and record it and edit it and then upload it. There are all these micro-tasks within that one thing so if we can break it down, then when you say I have no time but you’re sitting up a doctor’s office waiting for your kid to finish their exam or you’re on the train going to work to your day job that you hate.

The train gets stuck and you’re there for 30 minutes, you’re sure you can’t film the YouTube video but you could write a script or you could write an outline or come up with a social media post, you start to see that I have time to get started on some of these things.

Rather than look at your list and say, well, I don’t have four hours to do a YouTube video so I can’t do that today. I just work with them to try to break things down and really understand the components of what they’re trying to do because as humans, we don’t respond to vagueness. When we see something that’s big, we just avoid it. Getting as specific as possible with your to do list can be really helpful.

14:20 CJ: That’s great. They’ll often tell people in my group that you can get so focused on the size of the mountain that you miss how easy it is to take one step, you know? It is, they overwhelm is like you said it is all psychological. You know, the piece of paper is so helpful. I’ll often say that you know, I’ll write things down on the piece of paper because at least it puts me in a position where I can look down on something, you know?

Something about that posture and I guess it was also on paper, it’s not necessarily crowding the mind space. But it is, I mean, it is literally an overwhelming thing. Do you find though, that the problem gets compounded because of something like for example, the fear of success and just if we just define it in terms of like the fear of that added responsibility, the fear of putting yourself out there and being criticized, you know, especially for creatives.

I know that’s a big deal. It’s got to be something you encounter a lot yourself, right?

15:25 Suz: Absolutely. I’m so glad you said fear of success because so many say, fear of failure and we’re not afraid of failure, we’ll take that any day of the week because we were comfortable with it. We know what that looks like no matter what you’re aiming for, failure’s always going to feel the same no matter what. But when your goals are different, each time it’s higher, each time it’s a new thing. Success is always going to feel unknown because you’ve never been at that next level.

We fear the unknown and that is success is what’s unknown to us in each step of the way and so, yeah, I encounter that constantly and you know, a lot of it and as you were basically explaining fraud talk which is that imposter syndrome of I’m not good at this, somebody else is going to do it better, people are going to say nasty things about me online and we talk ourselves out of things. 

The micro-tasking also helps break it down like you said, taking that first step up the mountain. What I also like to do with them is to do an exercise to look back at what you’ve already accomplished that you never thought you did. Even if you think you haven’t accomplished anything. I bet when you were little, you didn’t think you could tie your shoes or you never thought you’d learn how to ride a bike or there are always things that we overcome.

We forget that. We forget to celebrate the small wins. I’m a big proponent of number one, always being in a place of gratitude and definitely being thankful for what you already have but to also celebrate the small wins. If you’re in a bad spot right now and you got up out of bed today, that’s awesome.

If you were able to put on a clean set of clothes and go outside and take on the day, even if it didn’t go your way, that’s awesome, celebrate that like each time you can celebrate something, even if it’s sometimes if I’m really scared to start something, I’ll add to my list, things I’ve already done like brush my teeth, ate breakfast, walk the dog, just so I can start crossing things off and then I’m like I like that feeling. I want to continue that.

I think that’s a big thing is that as you said, we look at the mountain and there’s so many things that we do that we take for granted that we should be celebrating.

17:29 CJ: Yeah, we have a very similar perspective, it’s almost scary. Because I’ll often tell my people, you know, we’ve got to celebrate the little victories. Just like it may seem like you clear off your desk or you rearrange a space or you clean out a closet.

To really get excited about that, make a big deal about it and why would you make a big deal about it, well, I said, it’s – I had small kids at one time and we made a big deal when they first ate their broccoli, that was a big deal. When they first did it, we’re like yay, you ate your broccoli. Because then we wanted to associate that this was a big accomplishment, you know? You do because you didn’t get to this lack of confidence overnight, it wasn’t a single even that gave you a traumatic experience.

It’s the adding up of little defeats. You reverse engineer that to say okay, well, let’s add a new thing, just a multiplicity of little victories to create this greater sense of self-confidence. They want it so fast, I understand because you know, the democratization of media means you can get started today. You can launch that YouTube channel today and that’s kind of frightening and I guess, there is that security in something like a label because it’s like okay, well, there’s already a process in place and there’s people in place and there’s other people that they’re going to have to do all that.

That’s now all on me. It kind of also gives you a bunch of stuff to stay busy with and not have to put yourself out there.

18:53 Suz: I’ve noticed the other thing is too and it all gets tied into fear of success but if it’s a label and they mess up or your album doesn’t sell or you’re show doesn’t sell out, well, they messed up, it’s not on you. If you can build a team and when things go wrong, you’re so willing to just get out, well they messed up. 

First of all, no matter what team you have or what labels signs you, the buck still ends with you. No matter what, it’s going to be your brand and your name and your career that’s at stake. A label’s not going to make that go away but that’s what we tell ourselves.

Another thing is too is the decision fatigue and I’m actually writing a book on that now is you know, when musicians just, okay, you just do it, can’t you do it for me, you know this stuff, just tell me what to do and it’s like, well, I don’t know because I’m not choosing your dream but you need to make the decision but I just did a podcast episode on the streets of me where it’s just, when we have so many decisions to make all the time constantly day after day. You’re not only many of our friends and family might go to a job and their boss says, I need this by this time and here’s the work and just do it. 

As a musicpreneur, you have to invent the work, create the work, set the deadlines, carry out the work, fix the work. Promote the work, there is so many decisions along the way that we do get fatigued and so when we’re not mono tasking, when we’re multitasking or we’re doing so many different things at once, trying to get it all done in a rush, you’re actually contextually shifting.

That contextual shifting like say, creating your social media graphics while you’re also writing your newsletter, why you’re also taking a call and your brain is doing so many different contextual tasks at once. Then you’re not, you’re exhausting yourself on top of that. There’s a whole lot of things that go into this one and this is why mono tasking is so important and the last thing I’ll say about it is when we do all that stuff, another thing I like to tell people is okay, I get that you’re trying to be productive.

What’s better and you’ll see this once you’re micro tasking out your list, you’ll start to see things that you can batch together, when you batch things, that means you’re taking things that use the same contextual focus. Maybe you need graphics score at your CD release but you also need it for something else you’re promoting and you also need to figure YouTube cover photos and you also like, fine, you have different projects you might be working on but they all need graphics. Do all the graphics. I do all the graphics at once.

If there are a bunch of videos you want to set up the camera, lights and microphone one time and then do record all of them. But then edit them all separately or delegate the editing to somebody else. Don’t constantly shift back and forth between different types of mental focuses because that’s going to exhaust you and overwhelm you very quickly.

21:42 Leah: Man, I can really relate to what you just said there because in fact, with me running two businesses, my music business and then SMA. I’ve learned this. That’s exactly what I learned. That I cannot context switch between like even if I’m working on networking, I’m working on a new album right now. I do not work on my album in the morning and then work on Savvy Musician Academy later the same day because it’s a completely different frame of mind, a different mindset, all of it.

What we’ve done right now, I don’t recommend running two businesses but, it’s really hard. The way we did it is, I have literally full designated days for music like Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday right now because I’m working on an album. Those days are all in, I’m all in music, there’s nothing else on my schedule at all except work on that.

There’s a lot, that can be anything music-related, whether we’re working on my album or music business or my eCommerce shop. All of it, it’s just that brand that I’m working on and then the other days of the week, it’s only Savvy Musician Academy. I’m coaching, I’m podcasting, creating content, writing emails, all of it, all in.

That helps me because I wake up and I can be focused and I’m like in a certain mindset. I can mentally prepare before I go into the day and the night before. I just found that made a huge world of difference and then I even do the same thing like I want to talk about your experience with musicians who have children because that’s a lot of us.

We do a lot of batching, in terms of just think like meal prep as well. We do some meal prep on Sundays, I love the Instapot, I don’t know if you were instant pot or Instapot, I don’t know. It’s like a pressure cooker, we just like do all the chicken at once, you know? Then it goes in the fridge or the freezer. That kind of thing. It really helps, it just categorize these different things and then batch them, it makes a big difference.

23:33 Suz: Absolutely, yeah, I love that you time block because it’s a big thing of what I teach and I’m also happy to share, I have a free audio tutorial on how to time block and I’m happy to share that with your audience. It’s basically taking all that stuff and saying it. Boundaries give you freedom, that’s what I say all the time.

23:52 Leah: Totally, yeah.

23:54 Suz: If you again, helping your decision fatigue, if you’re somebody that feels like I don’t want to make another decision. Time blocking, which is basically what you described, is so important because I always say too, there’s like the shiny object syndrome. I see musicians constantly where they’re working on something and then they’ve got their email open and the email comes along and says hey, I need this. Okay, they drop what they’re doing and then they go do that because we’ve learned, with technology in the last 15 years is this false urgency, everything is urgent.

I hear a beep and I must respond to it, right now. It’s like, really? Because I remember life without cellphones and when you got to the office, they couldn’t reach you, that was it. This is a job and as much as you love it and it’s a passion and maybe, whether you have kids or not, you wish you could devote 24/7 to it, that’s not realistic and it also doesn’t – it’s not sustainable for your health but also for your creativity.

You need to close the books on that and walk away from what you’re doing. If you say to yourself, I do the same thing with my business, I say okay, clients, I only work with clients from Monday’s, Wednesday’s and Friday’s. Obviously, if something happens and it’s important they need to schedule a call on a Tuesday. Okay, we work that out but if somebody says to me, hey, I’d love to hop on a call with you, when are you free?

I say, well, here is my calendar link and pick one and they’ll be Monday, Wednesday and Friday available that they can choose from. You know, rather than say, I don’t know what’s better for you and then I turn myself into a pretzel. You know, I think doing that insane no to things and saying I’ll answer – I’ll look at emails once in the morning and once at night and that’s it. 

Giving yourself that permission is a huge game changer and that’s definitely something that I say to my clients who have children where it’s – I tell them to schedule it just as if they would have another day job too. It’s like being a parent is a job, it’s a full-time job. You have to carve out, okay, here are my time for my kids and my family, here’s what I’m responsible for. I walk through that in the time blocking exercise.

First goes on, what are your responsibilities? Where are you needed and when and that in that free time, we plan in a 24 hour day, we don’t have the 24 hour day. You have maybe a four-hour day and what happens is you plan for 24 hour day, you get disappointed because you didn’t get half your stuff done and it’s not because you’re not good enough, it’s because you were just being unrealistic. 

You can’t stop the time continuum, you have to work with a realistic timetable and once you start blocking out your schedule, you realize, I can only really get one extra task done tomorrow. Let me plan for that and finish it and feel good. Because that was realistic. If there’s one meme I hate more than anything out there, it’s the, you have the same 24 hours as Beyoncé because you absolutely do not. Beyoncé doesn’t even have 24 hours in the day and she has an endless stream of people helping her to be the incredible person that she is.

26:58 Leah: She has a massive team.

27:00 Suz: Yeah, it is unrealistic and it is unhealthy for us to say, “I am not Beyoncé yet so I must not want it badly enough.” It is like, no when she sleeps, believe me, she gets a whole night’s rest, believe me. So you can’t compare apples to oranges in that way. 

27:16 Leah: Oh my gosh, yeah. You said so many things there that I resonate with and even with the shiny object syndrome problem, wow. I mean I think everybody has that a little bit even with social media. Anybody can reach us at any time all day long. It is even hard for me because I log into Facebook on my personal account and I have all the notifications not just from my personal life but from all my students, all my Facebook groups like my fans on top of that. 

There is so much going on like I have to put – I mean that is actually a weakness of mine. It is like I go to log in for personal reasons and then there is all these non-personal stuff. There is work and fun and music in everything there. We are just inundated with this and then the other shiny object syndrome I see a lot is with programs. I mean I feel it myself but I try to tell my students, if you are going through a program just focus on that one program. 

Don’t get sidetracked with like signing up for another program or even another one of my other programs. Do one at a time, just stay focused. One of our students, actually it was Lauren, she came up with the acronym, what was it, FTFC, Follow the Freaking Course because she shared the story on our coaching call because we are so easily sidetracked. We so easily go off the path that we know we’re supposed to be on. So many resonate with a lot of what you are saying but shiny object syndrome, man yeah this is full of good stuff here. 

28:53 Suz: And as you said, yeah I have actually turned students away if I ask them how many other courses that you are currently signed up for and I will say because I don’t want you to get crappy results from working with me and you are not going to get the results you want if you have already committed to other things. So yeah, I totally feel that. 

29:11 Leah: Yeah, for sure. Can you speak a little bit on specifics of musicians who do have kids? I can chime in as well but what are the main obstacles that you are finding with people that have kids or say like a very, maybe they’re in school fulltime or they have a lot of obligations but they have to do music. So what is the main piece of advice that you have for them? 

29:33 Suz: Yeah, it is a two-part with those types of clients that usually it is a lot of guilt mixed with a lot of resentment and then it is an endless cycle and then I feel guilty for being resentful and then it is like this whole big thing instead of again realizing you can still make progress. You are already being very unrealistic about how fast that progress is going to happen. So rather than being so consumed with it is going to take me longer, yeah it probably will. 

But you will do it rather than sitting there complaining that it is going to take you longer and you haven’t taken that first step yet. If you can get a schedule down where you are maybe most people could have six hours in a day to give to their career, maybe you only have one or two but if you can commit to that and be boundary with that and treat that as sacred time, treat it like it is your own child then that will work and I think with the guilt, you know I always talk about the oxygen mask principle. 

You know we have been on planes before and they say when the oxygen mask comes down even if a baby is next to you, you put your mask on first because you have to be able to help them and if you’re gasping for air and you are running out of breath you are not going to be able to help them correctly. So it is the same thing where it is our instinct especially as women I have to say. I notice it is so much more of my female clients it’s, “Let me drop that. It is not worth it. Let me help them.” 

But then the resentment comes up and it’s like, yes because we have to be able to give ourselves permission to want what we want and draw that boundary in and both my parents worked and my mom went back to school after I was born and I was already in a daycare and she would have to bring me to class sometimes and you know I am going to be quiet in the back of the room and sit there and then she would have to come home and she needed that night out with her girlfriends. 

So she’d say, “You know you are with your grandma or you are with your dad tonight and I am going out” and no matter how much we cried and we wanted her it’s like, “No this is my time. I am entitled to it and this is what I am going to go do” and I think as parents in general I think it is important to have that and obviously every stage of being a parent maybe you have infants, maybe you have teenagers, the responsibilities are going to be different. 

But you can still find something to draw a boundary around and say this is my time because you are also going to be a great example to your kids going after what you’re passionate about and you are going to be a better parent who is happy and you are fulfilled and it has such a great domino effect. 

32:00 CJ: Yeah, that does really. You are a better version of yourself, you know? There is a good reason for you to succeed and do what it is that you want to do with your life because you are so much easier to live with. You have so much more to give, right? You have so much to give, you’ll be so much more encouraging, so much more of an example, et cetera. There is nothing but incentive to do that and I think you’re dead right to say that this is a handicap for a lot of women.

Especially once they get into that wife and mother role because it is so in your nature to put others above yourself. It’s just it. 

32:36 Suz: Yeah and I have to say another quick thing about that is that I am not a parent. Every single one of my friends is basically on their second kid by now just from a lot of observing of this. Another thing is too and I’ve learned this myself just being an entrepreneur, but you’ve got to live in the mess. Obviously when you have children especially some of my friends is so type A and everything is organized and everything is scheduled and then the kids you can’t predict who is going to get sick. 

Or who is going to need you or who’s going to fall and hurt themselves or all of that stuff. So you know you are learning as a parent to live in the mess and you have to learn that for your career as well. You know I am a time management expert. I still struggle sometimes where things pop up and they have to take priority, you know family comes first obviously and there is boundaries but then there is also realizing, “Okay my kid is sick and I have to stay home and take care of them” and that’s that. 

And so, some of my clients would beat themselves up. “I didn’t get to finish that song, I didn’t do my social media this week as much as I want to because my child was sick and I had to take them to the doctor” and I say, “Okay but you did what you had to do right? I mean you were proactive and taking care of what was in front of you and you did that.” so you have to embrace the mess and no, maybe I don’t keep to the schedule all the time but I know that’s my structure to go back to. 

That is what I aim for and that is what you work towards. You are not always going to get it and then that is okay. Acknowledgement over judgment and I think we just have to keep repeating that to ourselves.

34:08 CJ: Yeah, guilt is a handicap, man. It really is. 

34:13 Leah: Yeah and that scenario happens to me all the time by the way because I have five kids, not just one but there is a lot of variables in my household. A lot of variables and I work with my husband too. So there is a lot going on and I think having some time management skills and programs, you know there is lots of different project management type software, Asana and they really help because and I always say the tool doesn’t really matter right? 

It doesn’t matter that you have something, you have a plan and that is the whole reason why it is useful because life is going to throw a curveball and if you have kids, you have a lot of curveballs and then you just get right back on track to where you were, right? If you are on a diet or something and then you go out to eat and you have something you don’t normally have, “I don’t normally have this” and then you go back to what you are doing right after that, right? 

It’s just getting back on track and then it doesn’t have to be so stressful. It’s like I have the plan, something came up that it doesn’t normally happen and whatever, I am going to get back on track. I know where I am going. I know what I am doing. I know what my goal is and it’s great and so I just feel like it relieves some of that pressure to have that in place. So I mean CJ and I did a podcast recently on annual planning actually and so some of the things I am doing – 

I mean I do an annual plan but then I also do some quarterly planning. So I am sticking to the 90 day thing because I feel like beyond 90 days starts to be a little unrealistic and I have found you probably can tell me about this that, I mean so many things come up even in a 90 day period of time that completely change what you thought you were going to do and so I mean I have learned that both in business and personal life and in my music life that I plan on reaching this goal. 

And if I say I want to be this place a year from now, it is really tough to actually see that happen whereas a 90-day goal is within a close enough reach that is actually kind of attainable but even then, I got to be willing to pivot and adapt, be very adaptable. I mean that is the one piece of advice I have. So what have you noticed in terms of like goal setting, in terms of timelines and stuff? 

36:26 Suz: Absolutely. I am 100% with you. I first heard of the 90-day sprints from Todd Herman and – 

36:33 Leah: I love Todd, he’s great. 

36:34 Suz: Yeah, I love his stuff and I am the same way. I have been creating the rock star life planner for about four years now and this past year we finally put in front of the book a section about why should I plan out my year if I can’t predict it and I guess I was having a lot of clients say, “Well I spend this time to think about my goals and plan out how my year is going to go and it never goes as planned. So why should I bother?” and all of that stuff. 

Here is the thing, I like to plan in pencil for the year. I don’t need to spend too much time doing it but I spend a little bit of time thinking what would I like to accomplish in the year and then doing that as I am sure you’ll find too, I like to do the quarterly just as you said because then I could work backwards and say, “Well then what could I take on this quarter and then what can I take on this month and what needs to be done this week and tomorrow and right now?” 

And what I always say to that is yes, I understand the frustrations when you have to pivot or things don’t go as planned and then musicians usually like to be more in the moment but if you are not working backwards and you don’t know what the first step to take. So if you are just going to blindly say, “Oh well I’d do this now but you don’t have an intention of what impact that is going to have, then you are not really doing for physical action with it. 

So I like to start with a year, get just basic structure, basic hopes and dreams for it and then as you said, once I get to a quarter let’s get real specific and then every week, at the end of every week I always reflect on what’s happened. What worked, what didn’t, let me look at my monthly goal, am I still on track, do I need to change my goal because we are learning every day. I’m sure like your students take your course and they learn something new. 

And in order for them to not make it a shiny object syndrome, they are going to have to take a moment and say, “Wow that is some really great information. Where do I work that into my plan right now? Do I do that now or do I finish what I was doing and then I act on what I just learned?” You know it is understanding where things fall in your list of priorities. So it is very important to be okay with the mess, be okay with the pivoting and it’s not that you were wrong. 

We blame ourselves, “Well I was wrong. I planned for the year and I didn’t do what I set out to do and I stink because I couldn’t predict it” You don’t know what you don’t know until you know it. So as you go, it is not about being wrong, it is just about collecting more data points and being able to make a smarter vision as you go and it is all about that science experiment mentality of like, “I’m going to give it an educated guess. I am going to experiment and then I’m going to look at my data and then redo it and do it again in a more specific manner.”

39:10 CJ: It’s funny how we introduce the moral question to all of these things you don’t do it and so I must be something wrong as if guilt and self-condemnation are going to get you any quicker to your goal. We could probably go all day with extremely practical and helpful tips about time management organization and planning and you still come back to this initial hurdle of just how much people trip, you know? Life is hard enough as it is. 

You compound the problem when you are adding this anxiousness about it you know? That has to be frustrating a bit for you as a coach because you are like, “Okay these tips that you are giving them could help them so much if you could get them to chill out.” Don’t take it so seriously, it’s not the end of the world. 

40:02 Suz: Right, I was lucky enough when I worked at Atlantic Records. My boss would always say, “We’re not curing cancer.” Like if you make a mistake, you know yes, what we can do is very impactful. Music can be very impactful but you know it is okay, the world will live if I mess up on my podcast or if I write a blog post and if I leave out a tip or I don’t include something or maybe it is not as clear as I hoped it could be. It’s like, okay I have another shot to clarify it or to edit it or to go back and update it. 

There are always things – you know Marie Forleo, I am a big fan of hers and she always says everything is figure-outable and I spent a year literally every morning repeating that to myself and it did wonders for my mind because I have anxiety too and I get that way the minute the plan doesn’t go as planned. It’s like, “Well why? What did I do wrong or why can’t the universe work in my favour?” You know I merely in my what are three things I am grateful for and I am going to repeat to myself I will figure this out. There will be a solution just keep going. Just keep swimming. 

41:08 CJ: Yeah, you know why, I guess asking yourself why is never a great way to start a question, you know always better to say how “How can I get it?” from not “Why am I…” because the obvious answer is going to be is well because you are a loser or at least that is what we’ll tell ourselves. Why can’t I get this figured out? Because you’re a loser. We don’t ask why and so, “How can I get this figured out?” You know I’ll often tell people that because of the concept of worry and anxiousness, which pervades anybody who’s trying to do anything great. 

And it’s not used to that going to this next levels of achievement, that worry is just there. It’s just there and I’ll often say that worry is self-prayer and you make a terrible god because it’s as if you’re constantly going over these anxious thoughts in your mind as if somehow, you are going to produce an answer that way. So you are almost petitioning yourself and it never ever seems to work out. I love what you said about what the record label said. 

You are not curing cancer. This is again, we are bringing all of this to the table. We are bringing all of this extra baggage to something that is actually just very practical. It is a very practical thing. You know we dress it up like it is. We put the makeup on the dress and everything on and make it more than it is but it is funny how we do that now, but especially creative souls because they are so sensitive. 

42:28 Leah: Do you find musicians and creative people resist these kinds of methods at first? Like are they afraid of structure and boundaries and routine and productivity or do you find like okay, once they got over the hurdle of that, they just fly like what is your experience in that regard? 

42:48 Suz: Yeah, that is a great question. One of the first things that ends up happening is they are resisting at first because they look at boundaries or routines as, “It will stifle me and I am a musician, I don’t know when I am going to create and I don’t know when I am going to hit that flow and so I can’t live in these boxes.” one of the things I always say is boundaries, you have the power to move them and you can always change them and alter them but you should have them up. 

Again, it is all about giving yourself freedom to have a starting point and if you give yourself too many options and it is a blank canvas that you are working on, you are never going to take that first step because again, I mean we are still animals and animals fear the unknown. So if you don’t know what direction or when you’re going to make a decision to work on something and put your focus on it, yeah maybe you’ll say Saturday for two hours. 

I’m going to lock myself in the studio and write a song and maybe you do that and it doesn’t work out. Okay but you tried it and then you learn from it and maybe Saturday afternoons aren’t my sweet spot or maybe I just wasn’t in the mood that day, whatever happens, you can then work around it but you got to first try it and take action and the other thing I say to them too is with time blocking. I have my blocks of time all set up. I can always move them. 

I could always say, “Oh that two hour thing I am going to break it up into one hour chunks for these two days for this week” because that is what this calls for and that’s what I am going to do and I have the power to give myself permission to do that but I am not deleting the time blocks. The reason time blocking is so important is because you are giving space to the things that matter and if you start deleting them and replacing them with stuff, I always say to people it is like when you have a kid. 

And they want your attention and you say, “Not now. I am doing this other thing” and you don’t give them attention eventually. What happens is they start screaming, “Mom!” 

44:43 Leah: Or they light the house on fire. 

44:44 Suz: Right, exactly. You need to pay attention and that’s that resentment. That’s, “Oh I don’t have time for that” or “Oh I know I said I’d write for two hours on Saturday but I decided to go do this other collaboration” or go to this networking event and so if you are not moving those two hours somewhere else will eventually give attention. If you are just deleting it that resentment is growing and you’re at that networking event not focusing on making connections. 

But you are focusing on, “I can’t believe I have to be here. I should be in my studio. I wanted to be in my studio. I don’t want to be here” rather than, “Okay I am going to do this now and I will do my studio later this evening rather than this afternoon because this was also important. You know understanding that there is a compromise and that there is a lot more flexibility in routines than people think and one of my clients, Corina Corina. 

She is a wonderful singer and songwriter, we spoke a lot. She is one of my first clients with the Rock Star Advocate here and we talked a lot about toward depression and what a real thing it is and how you’re on the road and every day is different living out of pace and then you come home and it is the daily grind. The responsibilities waiting for you and all of that stuff and that transition is really difficult. What she started to do after 12 national tours that she booked for herself, she realized well I need a routine. 

I need to be centred and grounded because again, we might find it fun and exhilaration in the different day to days but again, we’re creatures and creatures need habits and creatures need structure. You got to get your baby on a sleep schedule, kids go to school for the same hours every day, they have math and gym and science at the same times every day. There is a reason for that so we don’t just grow out of needing that. 

So doing routines like every morning, she does yoga, she meditates for 10 minutes and she journals for 20 minutes and that stays the same and that enables her to ground herself while she is changing environments, while she’s on tour, while she is taking on other projects. So routines can be more freeing than they initially seem to be. 

46:50 Leah: Yeah, oh my gosh you described me so much like I am that. To give everybody hope, I am the artist that says, “I hate schedules. I don’t like routine. I have no idea what I am going to create.” In fact over the last few years when I have been trying to make albums and grow Savvy Musician Academy, this was a huge conundrum because I am like, my brain is going to internally combust because I am trying to – I am in different headspaces all the time. 

I am trying to make an album. How the heck do we make this work? So I have really been there and yes, routine is everything and actually what really impacted me is Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art, where he said in regards to blocking time and to showing up and doing it, you know the difference between an amateur and a professional is the professional shows up no matter what they feel like and they sit down and they do their work. 

Even if not a single word came out of your pen, if you sat down to write, you sit down and think and you just be there, right? So within that still having flexibility to this day that’s it. So I got my major time blocks right now, I started working on my album and SMA but within there, there’s flexibility. There is some days where I am like, “So normally Wednesday would be a music day. Today I actually have to do an extra thing for Savvy Musician Academy. No big deal.” 

I just carry on and then we’d pick up where we were the next week and we don’t delete the time blocks just like you said. So guys just to give you hope out there, you know I am that artist where I feel extremely artsy-fartsy. If I could do it, have my way I would do everything on the fly and on the seat of my pants. That is how I roll but you know the boundaries have given me freedom and just like an artist, an artist needs to work on a canvass. 

There are borders around the canvas. They are not just like painting in infinity. There is structure to it, there is a border around the edge, there is edges where they go off the canvas and now you are on nothing. So within the boundaries comes creativity that is what I found. So I just love everything you are saying. It is really cool. I feel like you got this nailed down. 

49:02 Suz: Yeah, I mean I have spent my whole life around musicians and I have such respect and always so in awe how vulnerable musicians are and you know I try to be vulnerable to them with the lessons that I have learned through mental health and with other things in my life but to take something so intimate and put it out there for people to share, I am just in awe of it. So I learn from musicians every day and if there is anything I could ever give back to them, awesome. 

49:30 Leah: That is awesome. Well if you could leave us with one main tip, if you have to leave people one big thing that they can do right now that would make a big difference, what would that be? 

49:41 Suz: I would say to give themselves permission to be kinder to themselves. I think a lot of people like when they hire me they expect me to be all tough love and kick their butts and sometimes I do but a lot of it is just I am always reminding them to forgive themselves and you know, give yourself and understand you are not planning a 24-hour day. Understand that you are going to do the best you can and maybe just plan to get one thing done tomorrow. 

That is important too, that is going to move your career forward and then go from there and I think that’s the most you should do rather than, “You know if I really want this I have to grind, grind, grind and hustle, hustle, hustle” it’s like just take a breath and I think you will get a lot further than you think you will. 

[0:50:23.6] Leah: That’s awesome and if someone was interested, you mentioned you have a planner and everything. Actually I’ve got it right here on my desk. Yeah, it is really cool and I really enjoyed going through it and just seeing everything you have in there. I think you could really help a lot of people for sure who need that, the physical write it down kind of planner, life planner and it is really comprehensive. So you did a great job on that. If people are interested in learning more about that and what you do, where can they go? 

50:50 Suz: Yes, so you will find all of that and more on my home page at the rockstaradvocate.com and thank you so much for those kind words because I am a big fan so that means a lot coming from you. So thank you for that. 

51:02 Leah: Yeah, absolutely. It was a real pleasure having you. I’d love to have you back and do some follow up because man, you’ve got us nailed down to a tee but you know us. So yeah, I would love to have you back. Any closing thoughts CJ? 

51:16 CJ: No, I think this is wonderful Suzanne. Like I said, I can just jive so much about your approach and because I think it is practical and you are focusing on those things that really trip everybody up and it is really the simple stuff you know? We got tripped up about the simple stuff and just the fact that your alleviating these things, you know I kind of put you then in a category with Leah where I think I have often said about Leah and what she’s doing with SMA. 

This is the most important thing to develop since Napster, since Napster initiated the collabs if you will of the music industry, she is the first thing to come about that produces a real change and gives musicians hope again that they can do them, but with that comes a tremendous amount of work and when I first joined her in her group as a coach, the first thing she said to me was ‘overwhelmed’ that that was the main thing that was just really doing a job on these students. 

And so I love your approach to it and because it is such a practical way for them to hack their own little psychology and move forward that they can. They can achieve success. They can experience so much more than they even imagined and it is something to be excited about not something to be anxious about or worried about or as you said, stand in your own way with self-sabotage so I think that is awesome. 

52:47 Suz: Thank you so much and I would love to have you on my podcast as well. I’m just a big fan of what you both do and yeah, I am just very excited to have had a chance to speak with you. 

52:59 Leah: Yeah, it was a pleasure. Absolutely, we’ll definitely set that up. So thank you again Suzanne and I hope everybody listening in that you got something out of this and know that you are not alone feeling some of these challenges and facing these challenges. This is part and parcel of who we are and what we are doing in today’s music business. So thanks again for joining us. 

53:22 Suz: Thank you. 

53:23 CJ: Well, thanks once again for joining us here on the Savvy Musician Show. So please go and like and review this podcast. Help us get up in the rankings and we will see you online. Take care.

Leah McHenry

It's become my absolute obsession to find out what will make musicians successful today. In the face of many obstacles, and in the vast sea of the internet, we have an opportunity that has NEVER been available to us in the history of the music business.