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Riley Music Academy Music Cast: Spinning Plates

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Do you ever hear something on the radio or read an article that really fires you up and then is immediately forgotten? I do this all the time! So much, that Im trying to work out a way to harness the power of whatever that insightful message might be.

I try to soak up as much good advice as I can over the working week and I very often come across comments, quotes and demonstrations that helps stoke the fire of creativity. The trouble is, I end up getting so buzzed that I start it and then my attention is diverted to something else which is new and shiny! I can easily flit from one exciting project to another and it not only does it become exhausting but I end up getting nothing done.

In some respects I think that it is possible to be above average, good or even excellent at a lot of different skills. Years ago I was whining to a friend saying that I couldn’t be good at everything at he said: “why not’?! Such a simple response, but very powerful. I often think back to that.

I think the problem arrises when the motivation comes but you fail to focus it. Im surrounding myself with inspiration through books, podcasts, blogs, documentaries, articles, research, online videos etc but I sometimes find it difficult to lock on to what I want to achieve.

I think the spinning plates analogy works quite well. Once you have 2 or 3 projects on the go it’s incredibly exciting. “Look…I have them spinning and I only need to put a little bit of energy into them every so often to keep them going.” As soon as you take on more plates (and some take on way too many), you become flustered and everything goes to sh*%! All you achieve is broken plates!

I’m still working on this but I’ve figured out a few things and I want to offer my suggestions here.


Procrastinating is not the way. Make a choice and stick to it. If it doesn’t pan out after a reasonable amount of effort then bin it.

2-3 projects

Sometimes I like to dive into one project, heart and soul, sweat and tears, but that often isn’t feasible. Its far more likely that deadlines will overlap and dictate a 2-3 project approach. As a side note (but hopefully relevant), if you listen to a catchy pop tune, you may notice that there are usually 3 areas of focus – rhythm, harmony and melody, any more and it looses clarity. Notice that once the singer drops out, something replaces it (a guitar riff or a synth line). Clarity is often the best way to convey a message. NB As I say, Im working on this!

Take notes

By cutting out a lot of negativity in my life I have been far more energised. I rarely listen to the news and I don’t buy magazines or papers anymore. I also restrict my time on social media and if I don’t like what people are saying, I unsubscribe. I am trying to surround myself with cool people; people who are much cleverer than me and hoping that a small part of it rubs off! The flip side of this however is that I sometimes get overwhelmed with enthusiasm and go rushing off in 100 different directions at once! Examples are: learning a foreign language, coding my own programmes, writing a book (or two), playing jazz like a proper jazzer, finding some piano technique. I like to think that I will achieve some or all of these things but they are very different skills. Ive noticed that if I take some notes whilst I am bursting with excitement then I feel like Ive moved a step closer and not lost all of the inertia. I can pick it back up again when I have time and get the ball rolling much quicker. I write notes using apps, this blog, my practice diary (when I remember to fill it in!) and sometimes just a plain old piece of paper that very often gets crumpled up in my pocket and goes through the washing machine. Still…the act of writing it down helps a lot.


I’ve said this before but my biggest motivator is a deadline. If one doesn’t exist then create it yourself.

Reflect on achievements

Moving from project to project can be fun, exhilarating, consuming, tiring, depleting, tedious, energising and gratifying. Notice that I listed a range of emotions. Working on a project can be a roller coaster ride or sometimes cyclical. I find it important to my general state of wellbeing to check-in with my achievements from time to time. I heard a good way of doing this recently, although I am yet to implement it. Every time you have a good day, achieve something, make a worthy discovery you write it on a piece of paper and place it in a jar. On New Years Eve you open the jar and read all the notes from the past year. As I say, I haven’t tried this yet, but I can see how it would be a great reminder of what you’ve accomplished in a year.

Churn out the work

Sometimes life is not very glamorous. Its often the times of miserably hard work that determine what rewards are around the corner. Another lesson I have to teach myself every day!

Comments can be left below


5 Comments Add a Comment
  1. Roger
    November 24, 2016

    Hi Jay,
    The policy I use at work in order to ensure I get the essentials done is at the end of every day I write down the 5 most essential actions that need to be completed the following day. In the morning of that day I allow myself to add one more emergency issue that may have come in over night. I then ensure I deliver all of those 6 tasks before I start on the more day to day type activities such as wading through emails.

    I’ve started to apply the same approach to things at home (I’ve got way too many projects on the go as Helen keeps telling me). So I have a 6 project list; (paint a wall, finish renovating a sax etc), and I try very hard not to start a new one until there is a free slot on the list. And I’m not thinking of creating a key music tasks list to focus my practice and learning. I’ll let you know how that goes!

    • Jay
      November 24, 2016

      Thanks for that Roger. Nice to see a corporate project management angle worked into your free time too. I think that’s a great idea to list the 5 items and have the flexibility of a sixth.

      Maybe you could combine relacquering an old saxophone and painting the wall at the same time? You could get a nice vintage bronze effect!

  2. James Nelson
    November 24, 2016

    Hi Jay

    Long time no see!

    I have sometimes found it useful to adopt the “Greek Restaurant” approach to plates, spinning, smashing, etc. I am not being flippant but it is a good attitude to have to avoid anxiety, stress, depression, lost sleep, etc.

    I am always worried about spreading myself thin. I am currently in two bands – one a covers outfit and the other writing original material. On top of this some other musician friends are asking me to join in on a Jam Night in Lichfield… on top of that – trying to go running three times a week, learning Spanish and doing yoga one night a week means I barely have time to sleep never mind do my day job. But somehow with planning and notes I manage it – to a point.

    The result is occasionally a floor of smashed crockery! But it not usually unforeseen. Luckily I have kept all informed of the limitations of my time and availability and I have occasionally told various people “NO! I don’t currently have enough time but please ask again”. I find this is perfectly acceptable.

    I hope this is of some use. I now need a holiday.

    Peace and Love

    • Jay
      November 24, 2016

      Ha. Thanks James. I’ve done Bazooki dancing before (in a slightly enbriated state) but never had the pleasure of smashing the plates. I’ll add it to the list! Glad you are getting so much done. All that you have listed (bands, running, yoga) are good in my book. It’s just the day job that’s the problem!

  3. Les Whiteman
    November 25, 2016

    Hi Jay ,
    As you may know, l had my own business, which is now over fifty years old.
    I all ways found the best solution, is to wright a list of all the things to be done for the next day,
    Start on that days work as early as possible, and try to achieve your goals before 1pm.
    All the jobs done after that is a bonus. Then plan for the next day.

    It’s a pity I can’t get to achieve this in my retirement, l keep being sick.

    Good luck ,l hope to be back with you soon. Les.

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