The Nashville Method

When I think about how my favorite albums were created my head fills with images of late night, smoke-filled control rooms. Boozy bandmates sitting on 4AM couches not having seen the light of day in half a week waiting for the producer to get the drum kit set up in the bathroom down the hall in the hopes of getting just the right sound so inspiration might strike.

Given this imagination, I was somewhat surprised to learn that on Nashville’s famed Music Row, where much of the best Country and Singer-Songwriter music of the past five plus decades has been written, performed and recorded, they do things significantly differently

In Music City, artists, studio musicians and producers all show up at 9AM and are more likely to be drinking out of a coffee mug than a whiskey bottle. Sessions begin on time and follow a specific process. They take a break for an hour lunch at 12:30 and by 5PM – hopefully with a couple of songs under their belts – they head home to spend their evenings with family or grab dinner with friends or to hit the lanes for their twice-per-week bowling league.

Not exactly the picture of rock and roll excess.

But, as I already mentioned, this seemingly creatively-stifling process has not hindered one of the biggest music industry machines in the world from consistently putting out critically-acclaimed, financially successful music year over year.

I’d argue it’s actually one of the keys to its success.

There was a stretch in the not-so-distant past where I was really struggling with very basic self-care activities. My mind got so busy with so many things that routines like taking a shower, brushing my teeth, drinking enough water and getting my supplements in felt like Herculean tasks that I had to keep reminding myself to do or risk them falling by the wayside.

Certainly these can be signs of depression but I don’t think that was what was going on with me. I think I was simply overwhelmed.

An important part of the solution was to deal with the overwhelm itself but this is sometimes easier said than done. Simply taking the time to realize you have some major responsibilities does not magically make those responsibilities go away. Acknowledging the problem is an important step in solving any problem, but it is not in-and-of-itself the solution.

So while I was working all this out I decided to employ what I began to refer to as The Nashville Method. I would simply schedule the important stuff in order to make sure it got done and wasn’t consuming my mind.

6AM wake up

7AM breakfast

7:40AM shower

You get the idea.

But I didn’t stop there. I began using the Nashville Method for other tasks as well.

10AM-11:30 write newsletters and blog post

11:30-12 eat second breakfast

12-1:30 work on programming

2-3 workout

By scheduling the important tasks out I quickly learned that when I just followed the system the overwhelming became less and less so.

Now, I realize this can seem like some common sense shit. But as a serial daydreamer and creative type I was always resistant to this type of structure as I thought it would feel stifling.

Van Gogh didn’t schedule lunch breaks! Beethoven didn’t set an alarm clock!

Well, turns out, that’s actually not true. If you look into the diaries of the prolific artists who kept them (and actually the artists who did keep accurate journals also tended to be the ones who have produced the most work, which I don’t think is a coincidence) having scheduled times to do work and other activities seemed to be just as important as allowing time for free thought, contemplation and recreation.

Michelangelo, for example, who may be one of the most high-producing artists of the past five hundred years (seriously, you can’t walk around Italy without bumping into a bridge, fountain or sculpture that this guy made) was meticulous about scheduling his time, projects and process.

Turns out that creativity may best manifest itself with some constraints.

If you fancy yourself a creative or free-thinking type, this may seem like a bummer. But I’ve found it to be quite the opposite. Relieving my mind of managing the basics afforded me the time to think without the constant background wonder of when and how I’d get those things done. It’s like Einstein or Steve Jobs wearing the exact thing day after day. They didn’t have to think. The schedule allows the freedom.

If you are struggling with productivity – whether that is with self-care or work projects or your training – I highly recommend you utilize the system that prolific artists from Nashville to Naples have used throughout time. Put yourself on a schedule. Keep it basic and give yourself some grace if you have a hard time getting it nailed down in the beginning. The goal is to make things better, not worse.

Because while I realize that Keith Richards was probably too blasted to even read a wrist watch had he been wearing one during the making of “Exile on Main Street”, I also realize that you, my friend, are not Keith Richards.

Putting yourself in a bit of a box may actually be the thing that sets you free.