time management

Musicians, follow this time management plan to get more done

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Time is valuable, which means time management is a valuable skill – especially for indie musicians who have to manage all the facets of their music careers.

Time: it’s something we never feel like we have enough of. There just never seems to be enough time in the day to get everything done.

And boy is there a lot to do as a musician… practicing, recording, writing, rehearsing, mixing, gigging, promoting on social media, emailing your list, managing your website, planning your gig schedule, ordering merch, organizing your album release, creating YouTube videos, trying to get your music licensed, networking… the list goes on.

It’s easy to go days or weeks feeling like you’re running around juggling everything – like you’re always busy all the time – and still find you’re not making any real progress.

You see, the solution isn’t doing more things. You need to organize your time to get more of the right things done – more of the things that will actually get you closer to finishing your projects and accomplishing your goals.

The thing is, time is valuable. Every hour you spend doing something that’s not getting you closer to finishing your projects is wasted time.

So today, let’s go through a few time management steps you can take to make your days more productive.

Do a time analysis

Before you change anything, you need to get a good idea of where you are right now. For that, we’re going to do an analysis of your current time management situation.

For the next two weeks, write down everything you do during the day. And I mean everything. If you take a break during band rehearsal, write it down. If you’re traveling to a gig, write it down. If you’re browsing Facebook instead of focusing on practicing, write that too. I want you to be meticulously focused on the details.

Write down the time of day you do each task and how long you spend on it.

This is going to show you a few really insightful things:

  1. You’ll see how long things really take. We often underestimate just how long tasks like checking email or responding to tweets take (or how much time we waste mindlessly browsing the Internet).
  2. You’ll have a hindsight view of how long you spend on things that didn’t end up moving you forward. This time can be reallocated to more productive tasks.
  3. You’ll start evaluating everything you do. Writing things down and committing it to the permanency of paper will make you ask the question, “Is this really worth spending my time on?”

I recommend you come back and do a time analysis for yourself a few times a year, maybe every couple of months. Even after you go through this process it’s very easy to slip back into bad habits, so coming back to this step is a good way to give yourself a kick in the rear to get focused again.

Embrace brain dumps

Let’s be honest, it’s very easy to get all caught up in the business stuff that comes along with being a musician. And sometimes all that business stuff floating around in your brain makes it really hard to focus on creativity and your craft as a musician, songwriter, and performer.

That’s where brain dumps come in.
Get a piece of paper and write down everything that’s in your head. It can be things you need to do (in music or just your day-to-day life), anything that’s on your mind, creative ideas, lists, and literally anything else that pops into your mind.

I know it sounds simple and even a little silly, but just the act of writing things down will clear out a lot of weight from your mind.

Getting these thoughts out and in some tangible form will allow you to use your brain power for what it’s really meant for: music.

Once you’ve finished a brain dump, you can go back later and organize it into tasks, to-do lists, and file away any other information in its proper place.

What is your #1 task?

Once you’ve completed your time analysis, it’s time to optimize your time. Time management is really about thinking strategically and focusing on your most important tasks – the ones that will really move the needle for you. To do that, you need to know your big goals.

For the purpose of this exercise, try to think of something tangible and relatively close at hand, like a project you’re currently working on. Maybe you want to put an album out, or organize a tour, or get your music licensed, or just book a single gig.

Now, divide that project up into tasks. Ask yourself, “What are the steps I need to take to get this done?” These will become your #1 tasks which you can start scheduling into your daily to-do lists.

Make to-do lists (the right way)

To-do lists are great. They help you get a bird’s eye view of what needs to get done, and it helps you feel a sense of forward momentum and accomplishment as you start to cross things off.

But, if you don’t approach a to-do with the right mindset, it can very easily work against you.

The key is to not just write things down with no rhyme or reason and start picking things off. Your natural reaction will be to start with the small easy stuff.

Instead, think about these questions as you put your to-do list together:

  • How important is this task?
  • How much will it move me towards completing my project or goal?
  • How long will it take?
  • How much focus or brainpower will it take?

Put your #1 task for the day at the top of the list. Highlight it. Put a big star next to it. Do whatever you need to make sure that gets done and no other things like answering emails or replying on Twitter gets in the way. Those things are important for sure, but it’s very easy to get caught up in them and lose your whole day. That’s when you start feeling the momentum fizzle away.

Know your focus time

Now we’re going to take the to-do list a step further.

Take a look back at your time analysis and notice what times during the day you were most productive. Were there any trends? Any times where you consistently smashed a ton of things off your to-do list or felt like you were really in the “zone?”
You’ll notice things like, “From 12-3 pm on most days I got a TON of stuff done. But between 6-8 pm I didn’t.” These are your big focus times and your times that are maybe not so productive.

Once you know your focus time, you can schedule your #1 task in that time slot and really make the most of your heightened productivity.
During this time, turn off your email, turn off your phone and just use that focus time 100%. The world won’t end if you don’t respond to a text or email immediately.

Managing your time requires constant effort, so revisit this system as often as you need to reinforce these productivity practices. Eventually they will commit themselves to habit.

As an endnote, always remember that this time is yours and it is extremely valuable. You need to be dedicated to using it to move yourself forward. Other people are prioritizing their time, so if you don’t put your foot down and focus on time management for yourself, you’ll always be working on someone else’s schedule.

If you want more guidance, you can download this free time management worksheet.

Dave Kusek is the founder of New Artist Model and Berklee Online. Over the years he’s worked with tens of thousands of musicians around the world across every genre imaginable and in many different markets. New Artist Model is an online music business school designed especially for indie musicians. Learn how to turn your music into a career, understand the business, and start thinking like a musical entrepreneur.

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