Maybe you feel this way, too: That there’s never enough time in the day or in the week to get to everything. So your creative time for your music gets pitted against taking care of the business side of your art. You end up cheating on one for the other. The issue comes down to managing both, to how well you play the game. On your ability to focus on what matters most — for both your music and for your career.
Here are some of the most common musician complaints:
“I don’t have enough time or enough bandwidth to do my best work.”
“I don’t really know where to start—I feel so overwhelmed.”
“I end up taking care of immediate or urgent things. And then the really important projects keep getting delayed.”
Any of this ringing a bell?
First, let’s acknowledge the truth: managing your time and your priorities is a real challenge.
I’ll be the first to admit that if we all did all the “right” things in terms of self-promotion and self-management, that we’d never have ANY time for the actual artistic work.
So what’s the solution?
If you don’t have a trust fund or a fairy godmother to take care of the business side of your music career, then try my
5 Step System to Get More Done . . .
1. Clarify your priorities
Instead of complaining about how things are and wishing they were magically better, set a concrete goal you can commit to working towards. What do you most want to accomplish over the next 12 months?
Make sure your goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound. So if your priority right now is to book more concerts in more prestigious and better paying venues, then put a number to your goal. Or if your goal is to grow your teaching studio, name the number of students you want to have one year from today.
People always ask me if they should be realistic or not with setting goals. I say this: make the goal something you’ll need to stretch for but make sure it’s achievable. Remember the goal is for 12 months from today and YOU are the one who is going to do the work, starting from where you stand now.
Once you’ve got your goal set, it’s time to . . .
2. Divide and Conquer
Work backwards from your concrete 12 month goal so you can divide up the work into steps. Whether your goal is to book 20 concerts or to grow your teaching studio to 20 students, write down the key steps you’ll need to take to get this done.
Break down what may feel intimidating into manageable steps.
Do you need to research concert series to target with your pitches?
Maybe you know you need to upgrade your email pitches and get feedback on these.
Perhaps you need to upgrade your online presentation and the samples you offer presenters.
If you’re growing your studio, maybe you need to research where you could give guest workshops or clinics.
Or to make a list of friends and colleagues to contact about referring students to you.
Whatever you see as necessary next steps, write these down. That way, you can take things one at a time and not feel overwhelmed.
3. Identify the bottleneck
Looking at your list of steps, get honest with yourself about where you’re stuck. What’s the scariest step, the one you’ve most been avoiding?
It’s easy to tell ourselves (and to even believe it) that the only reason we haven’t taken action is because we don’t have the time, money, or specific expertise needed.
In truth, the thing we’re lacking is the courage to lean into our fear and take action.
We fear rejection. We fear not getting things “right” and not being in control. We fear what people will think of us. We fear damaging relationships. The list goes on and on.
Ultimately, all these are elaborate stories we tell ourselves to keep ourselves ‘safe’ in our comfort zones. Even though this means sacrificing our growth as artists and as people. That’s the trade off.
If you want to become the artist you were meant to be you’re going to have to face your fears and push forward into and through.
Identify the real issue so you can do something about it.
4. Problem solve your obstacles
I’ve had clients tell me things like . . .
“I can’t send out pitch emails because I don’t have decent demo recordings on my site. And I can’t record anything new because the pianist I work with is unavailable.”
“I need to work on my website first before I start booking. And right now I don’t have the help or the money needed so the whole thing’s on hold.”
Do you see how in both these cases there’s probably several possible work-arounds?
You can finding another pianist. And you can research lower-cost web developers and/or friends and family who might have built or upgraded a site. And there are other parts of the project you can tackle to move forward: whether it’s researching presenters or fine-tuning your email pitch drafts.
Again, we may see the solution but our fear, our Resistance, may be keeping us stuck.
To take action . . .
5. Plan your work & work your plan
Designate specific time blocks in your calendar for working on your project, and write in the particular task you will focus on.
Here’s what’s worked for me and many of my clients:
Make a schedule each Sunday for the upcoming week, putting in practice and rehearsal time, as well as teaching and other scheduled commitments.
Then designate specific time blocks for focused project work and deadlines for completing certain tasks.
That way, you can look ahead at upcoming deadlines and assign yourself time blocks for what you need to focus on and when.
For example, I write the ‘Angela Answers‘ column for Chamber Music magazine and have regular deadlines for each article. What helps is putting the deadline in my calendar along with specific time blocks for writing starting 7-10 days before the due date. This gives me time for multiple drafts and to get editing feedback on these from trusted friends (thank you, Peter!).
Bonus Tips: the winning game plan
Having a weekly plan, though, isn’t enough. Because there are always glitches and unforeseen upsets to our well-planned week. And there’s always the fear.
So each evening before I go to bed I review the plan for the next day and tweak whatever needs to be adjusted.
The aim is to be able to start each new day without having to make decisions about what needs to be done and when. Otherwise I’ll easily talk myself out of the scary things. But if I’ve already committed to making that phone call or writing the draft, then I can get on with the work and get past my Resistance.
Declare your intention and your specific goal for the week and for each day. Even if all the time you have is 45 minutes each day to move your career forward, make a real commitment and do it.
By investing 45 minutes of focused time each day to work on your career project, you can do much more than you think.
In 45 minutes you could draft your email pitch and send it to a knowledgable colleague or mentor to get feedback.
And in the next day’s 45 minutes you could begin your research of presenting series and identify 7 good prospects.
With another 45 minutes you could make a good start on a draft of a new bio.
You may have 7 items on your “next steps” to-do list. Instead of fretting over what needs to be tackled first, just pick one and get going.
The point is to start. Set good habits: commit to the process.
Over the course of a month you’ll be amazed at how much you can get done. Step by step, you can achieve your goal for 12 months from today.
I hope it’s clear that this kind of focused time and intentional scheduling of your priorities, is NOT simply for your career projects.
This absolutely applies to practicing and composing time. Make sure you schedule time blocks for undistracted artistic work and set specific goals in each time block. Do this so you can get past the racing thoughts, the negative self-talk, and the zillion other ways we avoid doing our best work.
And of course, having a coach or an accountability buddy to help you stay on track and to trouble shoot when you hit a bump, that can make a huge difference. Just like New Year’s resolutions, we all start off great, but we all need support along the way.
Follow these tips so you can focus on what matters most — for your music AND your career.
Have a question about managing your time and priorities? Hit me up in our free Facebook group. Happy to have you join our supportive community!
Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well