This is part 3 of a series dedicated to workflow strategies for audio engineers, with a specific focus on engineers who have ADHD (like me). In part 1, I outline the importance of automating repetitive tasks. In part 2, I discuss ways to consolidate your toolset for maximum efficiency. In this part, we’ll discuss delegation.
But before we begin, I want to ask that you stick around even if you don’t have ADHD. It’s been said that those with ADHD are outstanding at finding ways to increase efficiency. While those improvements may be a necessity for someone like me, they can also benefit those of you who don’t have ADHD. So stick around!
You Can’t Do Everything:
Let’s face facts. Everybody has strengths and weaknesses. None of you are immune, whether you have ADHD or not. It’s important to understand what your weaknesses are, and it’s important to play into your strengths. After all, not everyone has equal ability to address their weaknesses. This is where delegation comes into play. If you have ADHD, you have weak executive functioning skills. Time management, organization, prioritization, and other areas are more difficult for you than for others. But even if you don’t have ADHD, these things may not be your strongest areas for other reasons. Everyone is unique, so understanding your strengths and weaknesses is key!
It’s also important to remember that EVERYONE has a limited amount of mental energy to spend each day. Think of it like your brain’s gas tank. Whether you have ADHD or not, everyone starts the day with as full of a tank as we could get the night before. We refuel when we sleep, so if you’re not getting enough sleep you’re starting out with less fuel. As the day goes on, and you put mental effort toward various tasks, you deplete the fuel supply.
Here’s where it gets interesting. The resting brains of those without ADHD are like an idling car. Technically it’s burning fuel, but it’s idling so slowly that it would take all day to run out of gas. Meanwhile, the overactive mind of someone with ADHD is like a car that’s idling way too high. We can make attempts to slow it down, but it ramps right back up to a higher RPM in no time. The gas tank is going to run empty much sooner than the other car, because you’re using more of your fuel supply while you’re at rest. Our brains don’t slow down unless we make an effort to slow them down. Anything that keeps the mind engaged is burning fuel. So if we have an important task in the evening, and we’ve spent the morning getting fired up by talk radio, we’ve spent much of our reserves needlessly! You have less fuel to start with and are at a disadvantage before you leave your driveway!
(On a side note, this is also why I now avoid podcasts and audiobooks on days when I’m planning to do some mental heavy lifting, and opt for music instead. The audiobooks and podcasts are saved for days when I need something interesting to listen to while doing something boring that doesn’t require much mental power to accomplish…like laundry. Back to the topic at hand though…)
This is why delegation is so important. Everything we do takes away some of our mental energy, which we can only get back by resting our minds. We should be guarding that reserve like the precious commodity that it is, not squandering it on mundane tasks. Some tasks are things only you can do, but many of the tasks we hold on to are things we can task to others. Things like setting up the session at a new studio, setting up microphones, taking recall notes, invoicing, scheduling, etc. Save your energy for when it’s most important and needed, such as when you’re dialing in sounds or listening for the right take during recording. Focus more on the big picture stuff, and let someone else handle the small stuff that doesn’t have to be done by you.
The Trouble With Delegation:
In order to delegate, we need to make an up front effort to create detailed instructions for the person doing the task. This can be painful for a couple of reasons. It’s tedious, requires us to fully understand every step well enough to break it down into a logical sequence, and can be boring! That last one is important, because when a task is too boring it’s physically uncomfortable for many of us with ADHD. We avoid boredom like the plague, which is why forcing our way through a boring task can feel like a form of torture. (For more on the effects of boredom on ADHD, check out episode 135 of the ADDitude podcast)
Our ADHD leaves us often less motivated by the rewards of accomplishing a goal. Instead, we find motivation in the level of interest the task holds for us in a given moment. However, If you can envision how much more productive you’ll be now that these things have been delegated, you can find the motivation to push through the tough task of preparing instructions. Long story short, we need to remember the reason we’re delegating to begin with.
Think of preparing the instructions for the task as a time investment that can have a huge return. As the person assisting you gets better at the task, they’ll need to come to you less often for guidance. It’ll become more and more automatic for them, and you’ll be able to reduce your brain share of tedious tasks that are harder for you to do. If the person being delegated to ever leaves, or you’re working with someone new temporarily, you’ve already written out the instructions up front. Keeping that in your digital documents archive in dropbox (mentioned in part 2, Task Consolidation) allows you to send it to any studio you’ll be working at in advance, allowing whomever will be assisting you that day to get up and running without you necessarily needing to walk them through it in person.
But Only I Know How To Do That Right:
Many of us resist the idea of delegating. This theme is common among entrepreneurial types, and there are plenty of entrepreneurs with ADHD. This isn’t something that comes naturally to us because we get used to having to do it all in the beginning. As things grow, we stick to the routine that worked to get us there. But that’s not scale-able, and can cost you in mental energy and focus as you bring on more and more clients.
There are several reasons this doesn’t come naturally to us. A big reason for this is that we don’t want to give up control of the decision making process. We strive for perfection as a coping mechanism, guarding us against negative criticism from those who don’t understand the ins and outs of our ADHD. Whether we disclose our diagnosis or not, we’ve all heard countless times through our lives how we need to just try harder and focus more. After a while, that manifests as perfectionism. If we get it right 100% of the time, people can’t be critical of us.
However, perfectionism is nothing more than a defense mechanism. Call it whatever you want, it’s not a good thing for someone with ADHD to strive for, especially in a creative field. Your idea of perfect might be exactly the opposite of the client’s, and vice versa. Instead, we need to strive for meeting the expectations of the client and reaching for “good enough”.
We’ll never achieve perfection. It doesn’t exist, especially in a creative field. But we can deliver an outstanding record that meets the expectations of our clients and makes the fans want to dance! That should be the end goal, and as long as you’ve met that goal you’ve done your job.
We can see successful delegation in action at the top levels of the industry simply by watching videos on Puremix.com. These videos show top brass mix engineers like Vance Powell, Chris Lorde Alge, and Al Schmitt doing their thing. In each course from each of these mentors, we also see how involved their assistant is in the overall process.
Al Schmitt’s assistant, Steve Genewick, gets everything set up to Al’s specifications before Al arrives at the studio to record or mix. Whether he knows it or not, this allows Al to reserve the limited mental energy we all have so he can point his focus where it’s most needed. Instead of spending his brain power patching and routing, it’s done for him by the time he arrives. He’ll show up, grab a coffee, talk to the band, and get to work. Delegation allows Al Schmitt to put creativity first.
Vance Powell maintains a more hands on approach while still delegating to his assistant, Mike Fahey. Mike helps Vance maintain momentum while setting up a session and dialing in sounds for tracking. Vance will be setting things up on his SSL console in the front of the room, while Mike is in the back of the room patching what Vance wants to use and cataloging those connections for recall sheets. Mike is also sent into the live room to make adjustments for Vance. And when it’s time to mix, Mike will start setting up Vance’s analog template. Despite Vance being more hands on during a session, Mike is clearly an integral part of Vance’s workflow.
Chris Lorde Alge‘s assistant is Nik Karpen. Nik’s role is to support Chris’s need to stay in the creative zone while getting the mix finished as quickly as possible. Chris doesn’t want to lose objectivity on a mix, which can easily happen as you repeatedly listen to a song. Nik will consolidate the session to fit Chris’s template, including combining multiple sources into stereo pairs to reduce track counts and maximize speed. At one point, Chris wants the pre-chorus guitars to jump out of the mix more to create a certain dynamic, and he tasks Nik with adjusting the pre-chorus guitars up using clip gain. This is one less thing to automate on the console, because Chris isn’t ready for automation yet. Later when Chris finds a plosive in a vocal, he tasks Nik to edit the plosive out of the vocal track. Each of these moves reduces Chris’s brain share in the process, allowing him to keep it closely focused on the balance and feel before he loses objectivity.
But…I Can’t Afford An Assistant:
One thing Al, Vance, and Chris have in common is the resources they have at their disposal. Many of us do not have enough money to pay for an assistant due to our level of income being generated by our work in the industry. It’s important to understand that I’m not saying you need to have a full time assistant. I bring Al, Vance, and Chris up as examples of successful delegation at the top levels of the industry, not as a model for exactly how you should do things. You’re not them. You may not have their resources, and you certainly don’t have their brains.
So let’s discuss some of the ways you can delegate what you need without breaking the bank.
Barter & Trade.
This one should be self explanatory, but I want you to think about time the same way we think about money. We have limited amounts of time, and we have limited amounts of money. If we spend money on one thing, we can’t spend that same money on something else. The same is true of time.
So if we think about time as a currency, we can spend time instead of money to get something accomplished. Maybe you’re excellent at setting up guitars, and your friend needs their guitar set up? Offer to set their instruments up for them in exchange for their assistance on a project. It doesn’t have to be guitars, obviously. It can be anything of value that is mutually beneficial to both parties. But it has to be something you’re willing to follow through on without overcommitting yourself.
Hire Someone From Your Network
If you frequent audio groups or forums, and have built a decent network of peers, you can often find someone capable of the task who is within your price range. Be careful not to start a bidding war in these groups, as some who may be desperate for work often will undercut someone else’s rate just to try landing the gig. Instead of posting asking for rates, ask for recommendations instead. For example:
“I have a drum editing project, 3 songs at varying tempos with fairly straight forward grooves. I’m looking for someone who can deliver by Thursday at noon. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you can deliver this by Thursday.”
Don’t bring price into the equation in the original post, as this helps avoid starting a bidding war in the comments. Give specific instructions on how to contact you in the post, as anyone not willing to follow those specific instructions when contacting you might not be detail oriented enough for your needs. Those who contact you properly, don’t low ball them. If your budget isn’t high, state that in your original post in a way that avoids sparking a bidding war. This keeps those who aren’t willing to budge from wasting time by reaching out, while helping them understand that your resources are limited before they contact you.
If the tasks you want to delegate can be done remotely, consider Fiverr. Let’s say you want someone to schedule your social media posts for you, or you want someone to do invoicing for you. You can even find audio editing on Fiverr for those of you who can’t stand the tediousness of tuning vocals or editing drums. Fiverr also eliminates the need for finding connections yourself and trying to strike a deal. Their terms are already outlined, all you have to do is reach out if you’re willing to pay what they ask!
This is especially helpful if the task doesn’t require knowledge of audio engineering. For example, I typically ask my wife to proofread posts from guest bloggers. If I’m feeling unfocused and need help finding information in a hurry, I’ll ask my followers on facebook. This allows me to step away and recharge my mind, only to return focused to a string of helpful information from the community (which I’m always grateful for! Thank you!)
Is there someone in your life somewhere who might be willing to help you with this thing you need to do? It’s important not to take advantage of someone’s generosity. But if you have someone willing to help you from time to time, and this can be accomplished without taking them for granted, there’s nothing wrong with asking them for help.
A Personal Story Of Asking For Help:
Self guided projects can be too open ended for someone with executive functioning difficulties. I’ve been working on a course off and on for nearly 3 years now, and I’m getting nowhere. I didn’t realize this was because of my untreated ADHD, coupled with the stresses of being a caregiver to disabled family members. The ADHD causes me to have trouble identifying where to start, because I kept wanting my next step to be executed flawlessly.
So I got stuck in research and development, constantly digging deeper and reading more and more about the topics to make sure the information was absolutely flawless before producing the content. But the more I read and researched, the less return I got on that time investment as time went on. I either got stranded in a sea of misinformed bloggers spreading things I knew not to be true, or I found myself looking for a new nugget of information in a sea of text that was teaching me things I already knew. Both scenarios led to boredom, which led me to find something more immediately interesting to focus on. “I’ll come back to this.”
But in the absence of an external deadline, having no need to keep a client happy, I found it too easy to keep going down this unstructured path without putting boundaries on how much information to collect. Sure, I learned a lot. But I wasted a lot of my time in the process. Then I’d get tired of searching and let my impulsive nature get the better of me. I’ve started arguments with bloggers who were spreading misinformation, whether they knew it or not. That depleted my mental energy, and after growing frustrated I’d realize I’d actually gained no traction toward the ultimate goal of developing this course…again…sigh…I started feeling stuck. That led to more procrastination, and eventually led to long stretches of time where I considered quite thoroughly just giving up on this stupid course idea.
The constant research was fed by perfectionism. I had to get it right, at all cost, with no room for anyone to question what I was trying to teach. I didn’t realize that my boredom with constant research led me to be impulsive in order to make things interesting, which directly caused a lot of fights on the internet and did damage to my reputation in some circles. But those arguments and discussions were way more immediately interesting than the task I was supposed to be doing, and I couldn’t figure out how to navigate to the next step in the course. I had no idea at the time that my untreated ADHD was to blame for this cycle. I’ve known since childhood that I had ADHD, but I’ve been trying for the last 20 years to wing it and not let it hold me down. Little did I know that by not addressing it, I was doing exactly what I was trying not to do. It has definitely held me down.
Then I realized something. When I have a project for a client that has a deadline, I’m quite capable of doing what I’m setting out to do without getting distracted! Often I can kick that project’s ass! The external pressure would keep me on task, and I’d easily see the project through to completion. So it’s quite apparent that I am capable of navigating these roads when there is some sense of structure and a set of boundaries. After all, I was able to deliver the content I’d been hired to deliver! The pressure of delivering for a client, coupled with the fear of failure, both provided fuel that kept me focused on the task until it was completed.
So if I’m going to finish this course once and for all, I need to bring the same external accountability into this environment. As of this writing, I’m trying to schedule a sit-down with a fellow audio-educator and friend who can act as that point of external accountability for me. Time will tell how effective this will be, the course has a long way to go. But if I can break the workload into small bites, while having that external motivation to pull me through the process, it stands to reason that I can keep on task and push through to completion.
The other factor is in knowing where to start. Since this accountability partner is also an audio educator, they know the field and know how to structure course curriculum effectively. While I’m not looking for input on what I’m teaching, my poor executive functioning skills make it hard to know where to start in general. This person would also be there to give me suggestions of which path to take in which order.
I know this approach works for me, because it works at home. There are times when I’ll have a list of 5 or so household chores that need done, and I’m not sure where to start. None of them seem all that interesting in the moment, but I know I need to get moving, so I’ll sit there staring at the page while trying to pick between them. Then I grow frustrated and go do something else. I broke that cycle by asking my wife to give me a starting point when I can’t find one naturally. “Start with the dishes”…and that’s exactly what I do. The decision was made, I do the dishes, and then I’m up and gaining momentum. That fuels my effort toward the rest of the list, and I don’t need to be told what to do next. Before I know it, the list is completed. All I needed was a starting point. I’m hoping to apply that same strategy to the development of this course so I can finish it once and for all!
I tell you the story of the failed course to drive home a point. When you have ADHD, you tend to have a path littered with unmet goals and unfulfilled promises. This largely isn’t our fault, we have difficulty seeing the path to completion at times. That’s ok to admit. I’m admitting one I’m not particularly proud of, for all the world to see, so that you can hopefully see that it’s not so bad admitting when you need such help. The important thing is that you get to the finish line, and that’s what I want to see happen for all of you.
ADHD is challenging, but it doesn’t have to derail your career. You need to understand that your brain doesn’t function the way other people’s brains do, and you can’t work against your own wiring. While the strategies in these posts are conceived from my vantage point as an adult working with his ADHD brain, I encourage you to consider these tips regardless of the way your mind works. Consider other ways you’ve simplified the way you approach audio, and please leave a comment below with suggestions that I maybe didn’t have room to cover in this article!
As with last time, here’s a quick shoutout to Alan Brown at ADD Crusher. I’ve been following his curriculum in an attempt to manage my own ADHD, and I have to say that it is both well thought out and had immediate impacts on my ability to focus and manage my ADHD symptoms. Alan has been gracious enough to give The Noise Floor readers a discount of 10% off of the course, just use the coupon code: NOISE10. More on that at the bottom.
I bring up ADD Crusher here because the concepts of Automating, Consolidating, and Delegating are key principles discussed in one of his 10 ways to crush your ADHD. Those principles were the inspiration for this 3 part series. Click here to read “Part 1: Task Automation“, and “Part 2: Task Consolidation“.
Living with ADHD? Check out ADD Crusher. I wouldn’t endorse it if it weren’t working for me, and I’ve spent half of a year applying this method to make sure it would get my seal of approval.