The art of playlists

I am a child of the cassette generation; I grew up sharing tapes, crowding around a player to get the best fade, the perfect mix. Titles stuck on with glue or scratched with ink over whiteout. Compiled with hormone visions and a need to express emotions, only music could. Tapes were crafted for moods, for moments in time captured in their fragile reels. My walkman a permanent attachment to my head in all it’s ever reducing forms as the years passed.

Perhaps this is why playlists have always fascinated me. I moved from tapes to CDs – the same care but in the broader space. Then from that moving onto iTunes and curating based on digital tracks foraged or brought with the care of a collector. With all this history and passion for playlists, Spotify is a playground for me. It’s where I get to have limitless options for curating that perfect mix.

I am not alone in this; others have a playlist for every occasion and those that might just come up. Some happen all of a sudden and others grow over the years. Perhaps they are around a genre of music, maybe an experience, it doesn’t matter because they are always a ritual, process of enjoyment.

A playlist to bounce along to:

One to have a moment:

One to just let it go:

Playlists I come back to and curate with the care of a musical bonsai tree. Carefully pruning and growing into the shape, sometimes a form I wasn’t planning at the start. They are a personal art form that has been an expression since tapes and shows no sign of waning no matter what platform.

I also love hearing other’s playlists. They are insights into their souls, captured in lists. Giving and taking emotional currency in the marketplace of playlists is a beauty in itself. Even the ones shared by AI weekly can often open worlds and adventures in sound. Spotify’s discover weekly and release radar take me on journeys I jump with both feet into that deep often strange pool. Playlists indeed are art, and I am here for all their forms.

Annual recharge

I refer to my end of year time off as annual recharge because it’s just that for me. I thought it could be nice to share what for me this process looks like after having just done it again. It does adapt each year but this is the current format for me.

Everyone recharges differently

A recharge for me comes with a process I do every end of the year: clear, prioritise and schedule. I think it’s important to note that not everyone is the same. My ‘turning off’ is doing this process, by doing it I also cope much better with the cognitive load of work. I don’t expect everyone though to find this as soothing as I do.

Clear

  • All subscriptions: this year it saw me cancel Dropbox. I was only really using it for photos so wasn’t worth keeping as moved those to Google Photos and hard drive.
  • Archive the past year: Evernote, Simplenote, Toby, Todoist, Instapaper (clear all of that down).
  • Go through everything own and clear out what I don’t want anymore (or haven’t used for over 6 months). I do this part of the process regularly every season as try and limit items I own.
  • Digitise any paper have. I use Evernote to scan.
  • Go through clothes.
  • The clearing out often ends up in going to a donation centre specifically with clothes.
  • Trade-in any products or games don’t use anymore. This year saw me trading in an old Kindle, external hard drives, numerous USB sticks (fairly sure they are breeding) and 2 games.
  • Remove apps don’t use across all devices.
  • Set up new wallpaper: something cathartic about this and for the first month I set to the theme for the year.
  • Clear down any old tasks into categories.
  • Remove Spotify playlists don’t use and clear out starred/likes. I have a folder of ‘starred’ and move everything out from there into playlists.
  • Inbox properly zero.
  • Audit all domains have. This was a new addition to my process this year.
  • Clear down any draft posts.
  • Check my goals from last year and see if I met them. I do regularly check these along the way but I do one last ‘thanking’ of them as a closeout.

As I clear reflection often happens, which leads me into the next phase.

Prioritise

  • Set a theme of the year. I do this every year and this one is balance. I’ve done a lot of stretching myself last year and now it’s time to bring back the balance both in what I do and how I spend my time.
  • Define what I want to accomplish this year. I set goals for myself. I have the following format:
    • 6 things I want to stop and 6 to start.
    • 6 things I want to learn and 6 to make a habit.
  • Order all tasks into priorities.
  • Setup a new journal: I use GoodNotes for this.
  • Organise all device screens, consider the order of them.

Schedule

  • Outline schedule for the day: I use a calendar just for schedule and set up a personal one apart from one for work.
  • Set up any dates I know for the year ahead: for example travel or holidays.
  • Set up timers for getting up and sleep time.
  • Set new affirmations and checkins in Aloe Bud.
  • Set up a new playlist for the first month, this is usually from starred tracks to boost me into things I forgot I liked.

Form habits when on holiday

Start habits while on break: a key to keeping them if enter the year with the set. A couple of new ones I set up this year:

  • Reading in the morning: for 10 minutes before getting into work.
  • Putting my laptop in the office after 8 pm, so I have to work on an iPad. I can do a lot via iPad so this is more about shifting brain than limiting work I can do.
  • Writing for at least 15 minutes a day.

I realise as said at the start this is quite a process, it is something I do gradually over the two weeks I take off, but it helps me enter the new year mentally clear and supported by having closed out the past one.

Reflections on a year

I used to write every year my reflections on the year like a whole lot of people. It was my bow I tied on the season as I packaged it up and moved into the next. Time passed and I dropped this habit, this year though I feel the need to in a little way close what has been quite a year.

I don’t want to go act by act through what happened this year, instead I want to share some lessons it’s taught me. This is me writing them down as reminders to a future self.

You only have one head so don’t balance too many hats on it

This is a really deep lesson I learnt this year. I am incredibly lucky to not have never had burnout but I think this year was closest I came to it. It’s not something I want to try to achieve and usually have strong practices in place to ensure it doesn’t. In trying to do a lot of things both in work and life, I managed to spend some of this year in a bit of daze. With the ending of one project and move to a more focused role, I can start this New Year defining my boundaries again.

Assuming positive intent is essential

Beyond just assuming positive intent, giving myself time to not just react to any interaction is crucial. It is incredibly easy to just assumption yourself into a corner, but taking time means you can see the human over simply react.

Everyone is a work in progress

This relates a little to the above lesson. Accepting that nobody is set in stone and ‘done’. This both means most are open to change and learning, but also that you can’t be so hard on yourself if you stumble. Giving anyone time to just make mistakes means an opportunity to learn. Apologies exist in language so you can use them if you truly mean them and have learnt from the mistake made.

Goals free you to grow

For a long time I’ve had an awkward acceptance of being someone that felt they could always do better, driven themselves incredibly hard to achieve. This came after spending far too long rejecting I ever had any ambitions of any form. Whilst I still firmly believe in taking life as it flows, I close out the year with probably the clearest professional goals I’ve had in a long time. This is empowering and is already helping me dial out the noise, focus on what really matters to getting me there. I am still open for course changes, but having as a North Star frees me to follow it or take a detour, it’s my choice.

Coaching provides clarity

This year coaching really helped me focus and context a lot that went on. It’s something if you have the opportunity to do I would highly encourage. Through coaching I have come to realise what is important to me and focus on achieving that. I was also able to reflect on my interactions and look to grow.

Passion projects are to be embraced

As the year progressed I stopped working on any of my passion projects. It was probably inevitable due to the pace of the project I was focusing on, yet it meant I wasn’t recharging as much creativity as usual. I grew to miss those things I just did over the things I needed to do.

Meditation is always helping, even if you don’t see it

This year was one where I really focused on meditating every day outside of the meditation I do within my yoga practice. This had a powerful impact on my mental state when I really needed it. I admit I didn’t always do every day, however, those were rare and really noticed, which made me want to experience them even less.

Onward

As the year closes I know in 2019 I will learn more lessons and have others underlined I already knew. The end of this year has been a lot to handle but I close it out knowing there’s a strength to be gained from everything I experience. Sometimes I have to really look deep into that event to find it, but it is there. I am grateful for every single person I got to meet, continue to hang out with and collaborate with this year.

Knitting as meditation

One of the big things I have focused on this year is doing more offline things. As a result I have rediscovered knitting. Whilst this has helped in logging me off its also had an unexpected benefit. I’ve found that by knitting a little at night my brain churns through things and unclogs itself.

I’ve always been convinced where my brain is concerned it is a case of letting me in on the thinking somewhere near the end, than an active thinker. I tend to get stuff swirling around brain and after it does the rounds of my neurons, at some undetermined point it pops up with an actionable. This has its benefits and drawbacks. I tend to most of the time be in a 70% pondering state. Doesn’t help focus and adds to my already natural state of permadistraction.

I’ve experimented with meditation. The most I’ve ever managed to keep up is tied to my yoga practice. I find sitting still akin to torture. Hatha yoga is about as passive as my brain can handle. I’m that fidgety kid at heart, not doing makes me almost have to distract myself even with an itch.

My brain I have come to learn over the years doesn’t like to be rushed. It isn’t fond of on the stop thinking, nor a fan of rapid fire questions. Words and me aren’t always friends when time is poor. As a result my thinking times tend to be on the dawdling side. I’ll get there but be a while before anything worth sharing brews.

For me finding a way of depondering my brain and getting those thoughts out in a timely manner is a great benefit. I don’t want to force myself or rush the process though, that never ends well for me. I’ve discovered for me, knitting is oddly a perfect meditation tool.

When I knit my mind whirls into action. I get wave upon wave of thoughts and this ebbs and flows as things come into focus. Often after knitting I will find I write notes, enter to do tasks or in one shot write a blog post like this.

Perhaps it comes down to both the logging off and the action. This may be why sitting still meditation and me never were a good fit. A few years ago I started using beads on my wrist to calm myself in groups. It works really well, but as a side effect helps me muster my brain a bit in the difficult one on one quick fire times. Knitting is a little like that, I’m doing something so my brain is able to free wheel.

Whatever the reason though, I’m enjoying the ability to sort my thoughts out each day. I’m finding it increases my productivity too. A clogged distracted brain is not so useful. In conjunction with the nightly task list dumping I do, I’m getting more out there than stuck in my head.