The Secret To Buying More Time

[Editors Note: This is the third post in a series by Debbie Stanley, owner of Thoughts In Order. Debbie has been helping chronically disorganized clients get their act together since 1997. Her latest book is The Organized Musician and she’ll be speaking on “Time Management for Musicians” at South By Southwest 2017.]

With my last two posts, we established that time management is every DIY musician’s most essential organizational skill. I gave you a method for differentiating your externally controlled time (things you must do) from your self-controlled time (those precious few hours that are actually yours to control), and I emphasized how essential it is to budget your time even more carefully than money, because there is absolutely no way to earn, borrow, or make more time.

You get the same 24 hours per day that everyone else gets, no matter how talented and deserving you are or how hard you work. Unlike money, with time you get what you get, period.

Except … there is one loophole.

You can’t actually receive more time for yourself. You’re still getting your 24 hours, no more and no less. But you can gain the use of more than your standard daily allotment. Let’s look at two ways to do it:

1. Delegation

Delegation is assigning a job to someone else. In theory, it sounds like a great solution: If you don’t have time to do a task or a job, delegate it and it will get done without your involvement.

The problem is that anything you delegate does still require some of your time. If a task will take 4 hours, you don’t regain 4 hours of your time by delegating it: Considering the time it takes to get the other person’s commitment, give him or her instructions on how to do it, respond to any questions, monitor to ensure you receive it by the due date, and confirm it was done correctly or well, you might only save yourself 2 hours. And if you end up having to redo it yourself, now that 4-hour task has cost you 6 hours.

So delegation can be a great help, but you must calculate correctly the time you’re actually saving, and you have to put safeties in place to prevent getting back a substandard result.

When the task is creative, like a show poster, in addition to communicating the details to be included and the due date, you also need to do your best to convey the look and feel you have in mind, then hope the artistic output will be something you like or can at least live with.

When the task is purely administrative, like running the merch table, detailed written instructions emailed in advance and also printed and kept with the merch supplies will save you in-person training time and head off many questions and mistakes.

Delegating an ongoing job will often pay off better than a single task because, once the person is up to speed on the requirements and skills of the job, the need for your supervision time is reduced. You still have to spot-check now and then, but when the delegee is skilled and motivated to do well for you, the time you save by handing over that job is close to 100%.

Jobs that are well-suited to delegation include merch management, upkeep of all of your show postings across various platforms, organization of your photos and videos, and updating of your EPK with new assets and media coverage. Highly skilled and trustworthy delegees can even manage your sync licensing catalog, social media, and booking.

But how do you get people to do that much work for you for little or no pay? This is where relationship equity comes in.

2. Relationship Equity

A second way of gaining the use of more than your standard hours is with relationship equity, a form of currency that everyone continually earns and spends. It can replace money, which is of course great for ramen-eating indie artists, but it can also replace time, which is just as valuable as money and sometimes more so.

Whenever you ask for a favor, you’re spending some of the relationship equity that you’ve built up with the person you’re asking. When you succeed in delegating jobs to volunteers, it’s certainly not for the fame and glory at this point: They do the work for you because you’ve banked relationship equity with them.

It gets really interesting when you think about what happens when you ask strangers for help. Why would they do anything for you? They don’t even know you. But if they know and like something about you, or if you’re connected by a mutual friend who has a lot of relationship equity with them, they’ll help you out.

If you’ve ever contributed to a stranger’s GoFundMe account shared by a good friend of yours, you’ve seen this in action. Same with fans who have never met you but like your music, so they chip in for your next album’s PledgeMusic campaign.

The true magic happens when your relationship equity is working for you and you don’t even know it. At that point, it’s not costing you any money or time, and in fact you wouldn’t be able to purchase it even if you did have those resources to spare. When fans bring their friends to your shows, when reviewers tell their readers to buy your album, when bookers tell other bookers that you’re a solid hire … all of those situations represent relationship equity.

In each case, you have impressed—and have not turned off—the people who are speaking up for you. At some point, you did something that made them willing to invest their own time and relationship equity on your behalf. I can’t overstate how valuable that is.

So how do you build relationship equity? In addition to creating great music, which will cause people to like you as a halo effect of liking your art, it’s things like engaging with fans after the show, liking and replying to their comments on your social media, helping other bands to get bookings, being courteous/on time/not a diva with your own bookings, responding to email and messages promptly, and, perhaps the biggest one, showing appreciation. Saying thank-you, genuinely and constantly, might be the single most valuable thing you can do to “buy” more time and, by extension, more opportunity.

How Musicians Can Stop Running Out Of Time

[Editors Note: This blog is written by Debbie Stanley, the second in a three-part series that aims to help musicians of all genres and career levels get organized in order to become more productive and meet their creative and professional goals.]

In my last post, I explained why time management is every DIY musician’s most essential organizational skill. We looked at time as a limited resource, similar to money, and at the fact that only a portion of your time (sometimes a very small portion) is actually under your control.

The truth is that you have relatively few hours and a ton of work to do if you want to make it as an indie artist, so you need ways to operate at peak efficiency. There will inevitably be mistakes and circumstances that end up costing you time; a certain amount of that is unavoidable. But what you do with the rest of your time—how you streamline, systematize, and prioritize—could add up to the difference between the career you want and one you’re stuck with.

Budgeting time is similar to budgeting money. When you write a financial budget, the thought process goes like this:

  1. “How much money do I need?” (Add up monthly expenses)
  2. “How much do I have?” (Add up all sources of monthly income)
  3. If it’s not enough: “How can I make more?” and “How can I spend less?”

The process for budgeting time is basically the same, with one key difference: Your ability to “make more time” is limited to what you can pay or persuade others to do for you, so the bulk of your budgeting strategy will likely be about how you can spend less.

How Much Time Do You Have?

If we use the same thought process to start a time budget, estimating 16 waking hours per day and 30 days per month, it looks like this:

  1. “How much time do I need?” (Add up hours of all monthly time commitments)
  2. “How much do I have?” (Total your hours [16×30=480] plus hours contributed by others)
  3. If it’s not enough: “How can I delegate more?” and “How can I spend less?”

Caution: Budgeting time is not as clear-cut as budgeting money. Unless you pay for everything in cash, you can calculate your regular monthly expenses simply by looking at your recent transaction history. But to know how you spent your time, you have to track it manually. You could keep a time journal for a month if you really want to be precise, or you can do like most people and estimate from memory.

This doesn’t have to be perfectly complete: At this point you don’t really need to know what you’ve been doing with all of your time, because presumably you’re planning to get rid of the slackery stuff anyway. You just need to know how many hours are “externally controlled,” meaning formally committed to something.

Let’s add that up:

  • How many hours per month do you spend on your day job or in school? (Include commute time and breaks)
  • How many hours on dressing, grooming, hygiene, meals, and other personal care?
  • Do you require more than 8 hours of sleep per night? Add in the extra time.
  • If you’re on a sports team or committed to recurring fitness classes, how many hours do you spend on that? (Again include commute time)
  • Are you responsible for childcare or tending to your parents? How many hours does it take, both at home and in chauffeuring?
  • Any hours spent on a committee or other volunteering?
  • What about household stuff like laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping?
  • If you already have regular music-related commitments like rehearsals or a residency, how many hours do those take including commute time?
  • Anything else? You want to end up with a total of all hours per month that you either can’t get out of or really don’t want to give up.

Total all of your externally controlled time and subtract it from 480. This is the time you have left each month to make your music career. Was it more than 20 hours per week? If your calculations are correct, you’re blessed with an abundance of available time! Was it fewer than 10? That’s ok—knowing you have less time can help you to stay focused. It can also be the writing on the wall that motivates you to put your music goals ahead of the bowling league or Netflix binges.

Now that you know what you’re working with, you can fill those hours intentionally instead of letting them simply pass you by. Managing your own indie music career brings an endless array of things you could do, paths you could try, approaches you could take, and angles you could explore. You will definitely have no problem filling your time. The challenge is to fill it with actions that have the best potential to contribute to your goals. As you’re devising your strategy, keep the following habits in mind.

Habits That Waste Your Time

  • Failing to define your goals. You didn’t just throw a dart at a board full of industries, land on “music,” and accept it with a shrug. You chose music over all other options because it’s your passion, but you must define it more specifically than that. What part of the music industry? What role do you want? If it’s performance, what instrument? What genre? Touring? If so, where, how often, and to what size of audiences? And dozens more questions. If you don’t know exactly what you’re aiming at, it’s as if you’re throwing darts blindfolded and hoping a bullseye will jump in front of them.
  • Losing sight of your priorities. It’s so easy to take your eyes off the prize. It can happen if you live in reaction mode instead of actively planning your steps. But even if you’re utterly fixated on achieving your goals, you might still be vulnerable if another captivating thing—or person—enters your life. Donovan Keith alludes to this risk in the mournful “Silhouette,” about an enchanting girl “and the promises you made me forget.” Here’s a jarring realization: Having this career requires not having a multitude of other good things. There are difficult crossroads in your future.
  • Mishandling distractions. This is the minute-by-minute version of forgetting your priorities. If you’re supposed to be concentrating on those booking emails or that website update, but as you’re working on it you keep checking Facebook or wandering away for a snack, you’re just making everything harder for yourself and spending more time than you can afford. I trained myself out of this habit with a Nike “Just Do It” poster next to my computer. I cursed at the damn poster countless times, but it kept me on task.Here’s another trick for when your brain keeps interrupting you with reminders of other things you want or need to do: Make a “parking lot” to jot them down and keep going. It could be a pad of sticky notes, a notebook, a note in an app on your phone—whatever method you can use to capture the thought and go right back to work without breaking your concentration.
  • Reinventing the wheel. The most foolhardy myth about time that we nonetheless keep telling ourselves is, “I’ll remember.” Any time you do something that you’re going to do again, document the procedure. Make a checklist. Capture the details of the steps as you’re doing them so the process can go even more quickly and accurately the next time. Then remember to use the checklist next time, and refine or correct it. Soon you’ll have a killer procedures manual and it will be far easier to delegate tasks to others.

Habits That Protect Your Time

  • Write down your Big Picture. In a notebook, in a digital document, on a posterboard, on your mirror with a dry-erase marker . . . whatever way works for you, but somewhere, in some form, have a clear description of your goals and the timeline and tasks that are carrying you toward them. Look at it whenever you’re feeling unfocused or uninspired.
  • Know your flow. How long can you work without losing concentration? 15 minutes? An hour? Do you do better working on something a little bit each day, or in a full-day marathon? Or as career counselor Wilma Fellman asks, are you a sprinter or a plodder? Sprinters like to work on projects when inspiration hits (or a deadline looms), while plodders prefer to do a little at a time within a regular, methodical routine. Whichever you are, don’t try to change—embrace it and make it work for you.
  • Know your energy cycle. Are you an earlybird, a night owl, or maybe the in-between afternoon person? Again, whichever you are, don’t try to change. Studies indicate that this tendency is innate, not just a habit or a preference. Try to complete your tasks at the time of day when you’re most likely to have the type of energy they require: Do email and write social media posts when you’re best able to be quick and upbeat. Handle contracts and advances when you’re sharpest and least likely to make errors. Do routine tasks like posting new shows to all of the online calendar platforms when you’re most tolerant of boredom. Catch up on skimming social media timelines and checking out new music when you’re fried and no good for much else anyway.
  • Recognize false urgencies. The internet, and the email and smartphones it spawned, have conditioned us to respond with urgency to things that are utterly unimportant. Be very selective with who and what you turn on notifications for. Create blocks of isolation when you can silence your phone and work offline, or if the work is web-based, open one browser window at a time. Close yourself in a room if your housemates need a visual cue not to disturb you. You might be surprised at how productive you can be without the constant popups and dings.

Now you’ve got some new ideas for figuring out how much time you really have and making the most of it. In my next post, I’ll give you ways to enlist help from others and to equip them with the tools they’ll need to actually save you time instead of creating more work for you.


Debbie Stanley, owner of Thoughts In Order, has been helping chronically disorganized clients get their act together since 1997. Her next book, The Organized Musician, publishes Sep. 20, 2016.

The #1 Skill Artists Need To Get Organized

[Editors NoteThis is the first in a series of articles on organization written by Debbie Stanley. Vote for Debbie’s “Time Management For Musicians” Panel to be held at SXSW 2017.]

The most essential organizational skill for a DIY musician is time management. Organizing your data and your belongings are important too, but those also require first organizing your time. If you get to the gig 30 minutes before load-in and your gear is tangled and strewn all over your vehicle, you’re still better off than if you show up tidy and inventoried and 30 minutes late.

Being cluttery stresses you, and you can fix it when you get fed up with it. But being late stresses the venue and can burn bridges that you won’t be able to repair. Taking control of your time is your most urgent objective.

“Spending” Time

Time is like money. They’re both forms of currency, and often one replaces the other: If you don’t have money, you’ll have to spend time. When you’re indie and still developing, you don’t have the money to pay for everything you need, so you do it yourself: You spend your time. Once you get some money, you start paying people to do some of the work for you: You buy back your time.

The big problem with time as a form of currency is that it’s limited. On one hand, it’s great that you automatically get 24 hours every day. On the other hand, there is nothing you can do to receive more time. It is literally impossible. Think of all the language we have around this: make time, find time, stretch time, gain time, save time. These are all illusions. You get the same amount of time as everyone else, on the same schedule, in the same increments.

This illusion of a bottomless well of time is a major pitfall for ambitious indie artists. You go to a workshop or read a book or meet with a consultant, learn dozens of great ways to grow your music business, get all fired up and motivated, and tell yourself you’re going to do all of those things. All it will take is dedication and self-discipline and focus, and you have those qualities so you can do this!

No. You can’t do all of it. The math doesn’t work. Enacting every great idea would take more hours than you have. You must choose the best ones that will fit your time budget.

So the first thing to understand is that time is like money: It’s finite. Next is recognizing that, of your already limited time, you only have authority over a portion of it.

Externally vs. Internally Controlled Time

All of your time is either externally or internally controlled. Externally controlled time is governed by forces outside of yourself—other people or circumstances, or simply realities you can’t change. Sleep is a great example: It’s a requirement of survival, so you have no choice but to spend about a third of your life doing it. Other examples are the hours you must spend at your day job, or at school, or commuting—obligations that you really can’t afford not to fulfill—plus the minimum amount of time it takes to run your life (eating, showering, doing chores, etc.).

The time that you’ve voluntarily committed to someone or something else is also externally controlled: It’s life-balance things like playing in a sports league or taking a regular shift at the animal shelter, but also all of your music-related commitments: rehearsals, performances, recording sessions, media appearances, songwriting circles. Anything with a deadline or a schedule becomes externally controlled as soon as you promise to do it.

Internally controlled, or self-controlled, time is what’s left. It’s what we tend to call “free time,” which is ridiculous since it’s obviously not at all free or cheap. Start with 168 (the number of hours in a week), subtract all of your externally controlled time, and you’ll probably be shocked at how few hours remain. For most people it’s only about 1-3 hours per day.

Your internally controlled time—the time you get to use exactly how you want to use it—is a scarce and precious resource. And as a DIY musician, it’s all you’ve got.

The 80/20 Rule

You can’t always know which time expenditures will pay off. Most of what you do will, at best, contribute in some small way to moving the entire operation forward. At worst, it will knock you back.

There is a theory called the Pareto Principle, a.k.a. the 80/20 Rule, that tells us, on average, 20% of any category is the really valuable stuff, and the other 80% is of less value. Some people take this to mean that 80% of everything is crap. That’s an exaggeration: the 80% isn’t all useLESS. Some of it is, but most of it is just less useFUL.

Applying the 80/20 Rule to time, you can expect that about 20% of the time you spend working on your music career will pay off the most. The other 80% will either be necessary but no-glory work, or mistakes that waste time.

The problem with the 80/20 Rule is that it’s hard to predict which 20% of your time will produce the big rewards. However, if you’re making well-thought-out choices about how you spend your time and keeping track of the results, you’ll become better able to anticipate how to budget your precious few self-controlled hours.

Where to Begin

I know this is a lot to digest and it can be discouraging at first. Don’t throw in the towel—you CAN make this work for you! For now, start thinking about time as a resource like money: Recognize it’s limited and pay attention to how you’re spending it. In my next post, I’ll show you ways to maximize your self-controlled time and build a strategic time budget.


Debbie Stanley, owner of Thoughts In Order, has been helping chronically disorganized clients get their act together since 1997. Her next book, The Organized Musician, publishes Sep. 20, 2016.