Do Less, Get More Done: The Ultimate Time Management Tip For Musicians

[Editors Note: This article was written by Chelsea Ira of New Artist Model.]

 

Pretty much every indie musician I’ve talked to has two big problems that really overshadow just about everything else. Number one, there’s just WAY too much to do. These days, you need to essentially set up a business around your music – which is a full-time job in and of itself – AND you need to find time for practicing, playing, writing, rehearsing, recording, and gigging on top of that. It’s a lot to manage.

And the second big problem is that despite putting a lot of time and effort into their career, many musicians STILL feel stagnant – almost like they’re not making any progress.

So today, let’s solve both problems at the same time, so you can start getting more accomplished and start building up some serious momentum. If you want more guidance and time management tips, I have a time management and productivity guide that you can download for free. Click here to get your free copy.

The Problem with Trying to Do Everything

What if I told you that you were wasting a lot of time and effort doing things that may not have as big an effect on the growth of your career as you thought?

Let me explain. The DIY revolution has created this mindset that indie musicians need to do everything and that they need to do it all themselves.

The there are so many musicians out there competing for attention that you feel like we have to be on every single social media platform out there if you even want to be noticed at all.

Not to mention, the diminishing and fragmenting revenue streams. Today, there are more revenue streams out there than ever before. BUT, the small payouts from things like streaming services can make it feel like you need to have your hand in just about every revenue bucket just to make a decent living.

Now here’s the big flaw – if you’re trying to split your limited time between everything, you probably don’t have the time to dedicate to each to do them really well. And as a result, you’re taking a lot of small steps in different directions.

There are only so many hours in the day and time management is about using them wisely – focusing on the essentials, the big movers that will really make a difference in your career.

Let’s take a look at an example.

It’s totally normal to be on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, and Soundcloud to promote your music and connect with your fans. But can you realistically fully understand each platform? Will you know the best ways to engage? The best times to post? All the while pushing out unique content and actively engaging with fans on all platforms? Probably not. All social media platforms require a unique approach if you want to be truly successful.

It’s the same for revenue streams. If you really want to be successful licensing your music, you can’t treat it like a passive income stream. You need to be actively improving your songs, co-writing, networking in the licensing industry, sending personalized emails, and doing research to find the productions your music would fit best.

I hope you’re starting to see just how important focus is. If you try to do everything you just can’t give everything enough attention to make your efforts really successful. In short, you’ll be doing a lot of things half way, never actually putting in enough time to reach your goals.

The Focused Approach

So how do you get passed this perpetual overwhelmed feeling and also start seeing real, meaningful progress in your music career?

It may seem counter intuitive, but the key is to do less – do less but better. If you really want to be successful, it’s not about doing a million different things and hoping it will work out. It’s about knowing where you want to go and taking calculated steps to get there. And saying no to everything else.

Understand Your Goals

So how do you simplify? The first step is to really understand your goals in music. What is the one thing you really want to accomplish with your music? What do you want to spend your days doing?

If you really want to spend most of the year gigging and touring regionally and nationally, why waste your time pursuing sync licenses?

Instead, focus! Make connections in the live industry, develop your setlist, improve the way you set up your merch table, and promote your shows. Maybe you could start doing streamed concerts or house concerts and think up some really cool merch. As you can see, all these tasks really compliment and work with the gigging goal.

As a rule of thumb, every time you’re presented with a new opportunity, ask yourself, “Is this related to my goals in music? Will this help me get closer to my goals?” If the answer is no, it may not be worth your valuable time.

Cut Back

The next thing I’d recommend is doing a time analysis. For the next two or three weeks, write down everything you do each day and how much time you spend on each task. This might seem a little tedious but it can really help you get a bird’s-eye view of just how much time things take.

And finally, it’s time to start cutting things out! What tasks aren’t taking you closer to your goals? What tasks aren’t getting the results you want?

You may find that you’re pouring a ton of time into trying to grow your following on Twitter. And maybe, despite your efforts, Twitter just isn’t catching on for you in terms of engagement compared to your other channels. Maybe you’re just using it because a lot of other musicians do. In this case, it may be best to put Twitter on the back burner and focus on making your other social channels even more awesome. Reallocate your time to a more productive task.

As another example, you might see that posting videos to YouTube doesn’t really align with the goals you set for your career. Despite what you may hear, doing YouTube successfully is a huge undertaking that goes way beyond just posting videos every now and then.

On the flip side, it can be a great career path for musicians who want to release cover videos, music videos, gear reviews, and tour and studio vlogs, and channel monetization and partnerships can become a viable revenue stream if you get enough views and subscribers. YouTube can also tie in well with a Patreon, and many successful YouTube artists have incorporated Patreon into their income strategy to great effect.

 


Time management and staying focused on your goals is going to be an ongoing effort. As your career grows you’ll find you need to reassess how you’re spending your time to make the most of your present opportunities. To help you stay on track, you can also download my free time management guide: The Musician’s Guide to Getting More Done, and revisit it as often as you need to.

If you want more tips, I’d also recommend checking out the book Essentialism.

Your Stress-Free SXSW Kit

With SXSW 2017 kicking off this week, we thought it would be cool to offer our friend Debbie Stanley’s “Stress-Free SXSW Kit” infographic, covering everything an indie artist or band will need during their time in Austin for health and comfort, communication, and overall preparedness.

Debbie is the author of The Organized Musician and owner of Thoughts In Order. She’ll will be presenting at SXSW’s “Time Management For Musicians” panel this week (details below):

“Time Management for Musicians”
Thurs. 3/16, 3-4:30pm – RSVP required

Stress-Free SXSW Kit - Stanley

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.

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.