A Year in Time: 2020 Edition
I’ve been growing more and more interested in the relative value of time over the last few years. Time tracking has illuminated what I find value in, what stresses me out, but most importantly it provides me with more raw data than I could ever have expected. Year by year, the value of the data will grow exponentially as it creates a complete set. But of course, 2020 hasn’t been any regular year. All of the normal parameters under which I’d gauge my personal experiences have all but disappeared, leaving me with none of the infrastructure I’d expected to have. In 2018, one of my biggest challenges was travel, and that started to dictate a lot of the time tracking process, as well as a lot of my own feelings. As far as I was concerned, the more travel I was doing, the worse that period of time was going to be. That was by no means true, some of the best experiences I’ve had in recent memory have been travel related. But the point is, travelling became the metric by which I measured everything else subconsciously. Time spent moving from place to place was dead time, and everything else was actively up for grabs. This meant that when all my reasons for travel suddenly evaporated, the context for everything I do evaporated with it. I was, hypothetically, left with nothing but active time, and without the big obstruction I’d built in my head. On face value, surely this was a dream come true, right? Wouldn’t that mean that everything I’d wanted to accomplish in that time that I’d spent commuting or waiting around could now get done? The answer to that is far more complicated than I expected.
Before I dig into the stats and discuss all of this, I want to qualify a lot of what I’m going to say. 2020 hasn’t just been a year where things have changed slightly, it’s a year that’s seen global catastrophe. It’s all well and good for me to sit here as someone who stays at home making music for a living and judge how this has affected me, but I think it’s worth noting the gravity of everything that’s happened outside of my bubble, and that this may not have been a year where this kind of thought exercise is helpful, and if so, that’s totally fine. One of my core values for this year has been not to hold myself accountable. By that, I mean that I shouldn’t be expecting the world of myself just because there’s ostensibly a few more hours in a day I have access to. So yeah, I’m still very interested in how this year might have affected my habits, but I’m not living in a vacuum. A lot’s happened, and a lot of it’s been awful, and that needs acknowledging somewhere. But with that being said, let’s get into some stats.
Work – 662 hours (2019 – 614 hours)
The increase I see here is fairly unsurprising given the amount of time I’ve been at home, but the fact that there’s only 48 extra hours logged is very curious to me. In 2019, I was working part time for 4 months of the year because of touring work. Granted, I still worked while I was on the road, but nowhere near full capacity. So to have worked 5 days a week this whole year and only to have increased by that margin is certainly not what I expected. That said, this is a welcome development as far as I’m concerned. Not only does this mean I'm likely getting more efficient with my output, but it also means I'm still able to somewhat respect the boundary between work and downtime, even in a year like this. Given how much more time I’ve been spending at home, it could have been very easy to simply double down and try and be as productive as possible, but the fact that I was restrained enough to keep it at a regular level is encouraging. As we’ll see, this is the first of a much larger trend in that regard.
On a sidenote regarding work, I just submitted my thousandth music transcription at time of writing, and I’m very pleased about that.
Practice – 273 hours (2019 – 288 hours)
There’s something about practice hours for me that I feel are important to unpack. I see travel and practice as two sides of the same coin, both representing different allocations of energy and priority. If I’m travelling, I’m not making an effort, but when I’m doing nothing but working on guitar, I am making pure effort, working to improve and expand. Is that true? I can’t say. A lot of these hours I’ve logged have been spent watching anime and being passive in some degree. That’s not to say they’re not still valuable, I’d say they’re essential, but whether this is the single metric I can grade my musicianship by is questionable at best. But that’s something I need to work on myself. I need to accept that a lot of improvement comes from mindset, experience, and just listening. Being a good musician is deeply multifaceted, it requires an understanding of music as an entire universe, and you need to be able to look past yourself to see the world around you. Obviously you need to be as well equipped to navigate the musical landscape as you can (hence raw practice hours) but that only makes up one aspect of your skillset, and that’s an important lesson I’m still learning. That’s why I’m not going to stress too much over a missing 15 hours (as much as I’d like to) and accept the reality that those 273 hours were far more intentional, efficient, and enjoyable than many of those hours from the year prior where a lot of it was done far more passively and not as much progress was made. The other reason I’m not going to stress a great deal is because there was an equally important category for me this year:
Writing – 178 hours
This category became a bit of a catch-all term for basically any activity that involved sitting down and being creative in any capacity. This didn’t include things like lyric writing, because that is usually something that happens when I’m walking or doing the dishes or something less tangible. So this mainly concerned things like recording/production, any more deliberate songwriting, and things like this blog post. What’s surprising about this number itself is that it encompasses a great deal in itself. In that 178 hours, I recorded two Eps (we’ll get to that), wrote half another album, and during the wild stressful month of NaNoWriMo, actually wrote a novel. I think that number is as low as it is because a lot of the creative process for me takes place before actually sitting down to work on anything. If I write songs with an instrument, the instrument becomes a distraction too quickly. If I try and write using Logic as a writing tool, it becomes a slog and I get too bogged down in the production aspect of it. Basically, without wanting to sound like too much of a hippie, a lot of creative process for me is super ephemeral and this category was really for tracking the mechanical practical aspects of making the things. I’ve really tried to instil the value that making things is the top priority, but there’s clearly work to be done until my actual habits reflect that. But that’s OK! There’s still time, and I’ve made a lot of stuff that I’m genuinely proud of this year.
Travel – 102 hours
Given that I’ve spent the vast majority of this year in the same square mile of land, this is wild to me. This 102 hours, with minor exception, must have taken place in the first few months of the year, which is frankly quite shocking. Looking back, I can only remember a handful of gigs and a few visits to my parents that really stick out, but going over the data reveals tons of trips to shows and holidays and things that the rest of 2020 would have wiped from my memory had they not been on record. On the other hand, everything that I did travel for was a worthwhile experience that I’m glad I did, so I hope that this is the first step in reframing travel from this thing that was a giant time-sink into something that can lead to the most valuable thing on earth, experiences. Speaking of what I was travelling to, let’s talk about gigs.
Playing live – 7.5 hours
I played 8 gigs in 2020, which I’m fine with given they all happened between January and March. I’m hesitant to say I miss gigging, but it’s certainly not something I’ve felt totally robbed of since lockdown occurred. What I will say is that this experience has made it clear what shows I value more than anything, and what I want to prioritise when gigging becomes possible again. I’m excited to tour again, I’m excited to be back on stage with the homies, and I’m excited to be able to share new music with people, but I’m not in a rush. The world doesn’t need small gigs right now, and that’s absolutely OK, there will be a time for it again.
Exercise – 45 hours (2019 – 151 hours)
This was the one major development this year, I was actually able to get a reasonable exercise routine together. I’m usually a runner, but my agoraphobia kicked in and I found myself on an exercise watching JoJo’s Bizarre adventure every couple of days. In October I also decided it would be a good idea to run a half marathon for no particular reason. It hurt. But I did it!
The most interesting element of this whole experience was to see things staying at almost the exact same level as they had been previously, despite the world around me changing drastically. I don’t know whether this means I’m in my comfort zone or at my upper limit, but it’s certainly telling that I didn’t double down on anything in particular this year. I’m also glad I didn’t do that because it gave me time to actually appreciate the change of pace this year brought. I watched a lot of films, played some incredible video games, and I even played almost 2000 games of chess. I hung out with friends I hadn’t spoken to in a while, and had a lot of meaningful social experiences, albeit online. Ultimately, these sorts of things will never show up in a pie chart or a spreadsheet, but that’s because they can’t, and shouldn’t. The raw data is only one side of the story, and there are so many unquantifiable moments every single day that make life diverse and interesting and worth experiencing, and that might well be the most important lesson I took from 2020.
At time of writing, the UK has just been subjected to a new strain of COVID-19 and a fresh bout of Tory incompetence. It’s a very strange time for all, and if you’re reading this when it came out, I hope you’re enjoying the holiday season in any way you can, and here’s to a healthy and prosperous 2021.
I’ve got a lot of new music ready to release, but I just don’t quite know how or when yet! Soon though!