A question came in recently about tips for exhausted musicians on how to manage task transitions in hectic schedules.
Thank you, Lisa! She wrote, “How do you manage exhaustion from switching between many different tasks each day? I find if I change tasks every hour or two all day for 8-9 hours, I get very exhausted and have a sense of ‘whiplash’ at the end of the day.”
First of all, Lisa, you’re not alone!
Most musicians struggle with managing time and energy
As busy freelance musicians, we typically live at a frantic pace. We rush from one thing to the next chasing our endless to do lists. We go from rehearsals and teaching, to day jobs and errands. All while trying to sandwich in networking and family time.
No matter how hard we try, most musicians end up feeling depleted at the end of the day, the week, and the month.
Let’s be clear: most of us try to do too much.
And no time management system or creative scheduling can fix being over-committed.
So first check on whether or not you can let some things go. Or else delegate and reschedule what you do when.
Next, Build in Renewal
As musicians, our work is demanding on three levels: emotional, intellectual, and physical. Whether it’s in rehearsal, performance, teaching, or coaching, being in flow is a giving out of energy.
That’s why it’s essential that you make time to take in new energy — in the form of creative inspiration. Get recharged.
Build renewal into your day and your week. We all need time to be delighted and surprised or challenged creatively.
This doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Renewal might come from a book you’re reading, a performance or podcast you hear, or a conversation you participate in. Or the museum visit or the film you watched.
Pro tip: keep a gratitude journal at your bedside. Every night before you turn out the light, write down 3-5 things that went well during the day. Include the moments of renewal and reconnection. Doing this helps you hold on to that day’s “wins.” Gain an appreciation for the life you’re living and the people you get to work with.
Be less frantic and more productive
What Lisa’s question brings up is the issue of HOW we transition from one activity to the next. Whether it’s teaching back to back lessons. Or fitting in practice in a packed schedule. It’s about how we re-direct our focus to the new task when there’s often no time in between activities.
That common ‘whiplash’ effect Lisa mentions happens when we yank our focus away from one activity to plunge into the next.
It can feel like a part of you isn’t ready to let go of the previous focus. Especially if you need to transition from a creative project to taking care of necessary admin work.
If you’re like me, you may end up feeling rushed and resentful. Because you aren’t able to complete the thought or wrap up the last activity up properly.
So on the most practical level . . .
Budget your time within a time block
For example, let’s say you’re teaching a lesson.
You don’t want to overwhelm your student with too many ideas or too much feedback. So you manage the time and watch your pacing
You make sure you start the wrap up and summary early enough. That way, you give the student time to reflect on what she’s learned
Then together, you go over the key take-aways. And review what the student will work on before the next lesson.
This gives both you and your student time and space for closure. And that helps you both transition into the next activity of the day.
Let’s apply this same pacing and closure concept to your creative work. In advance, take 3 minutes to plan how you’ll use the time. Beware of trying to cover too much.
If it’s practice, focus strategically on the areas that need the most help. Work in small checks and record yourself. Then designate time for key run throughs of sections.
At the end of of the session, review what you accomplished, and what you heard improve in your recordings. Then map out your next steps.
Be intentional about how you use and manage your creative time, especially how you “wrap things up’ at the end of sessions. That way you can feel better about what you accomplish and more able to move to the next activity.
What else helps?
Manage your energy level
We all need breaks. In practice sessions, in rehearsals, and in teaching. Otherwise, you’re going to burn out.
So schedule breaks to give yourself time to regroup. Clear your mind, stretch, drink water, or get some fresh air.
Don’t use breaks to catch up on social media or email. That only adds to the stress.
Hit the Reset Button: use the Tool
So far we’ve covered building in renewal, planning the pacing of time blocks, and taking breaks.
But there’s something else. There’s a tool that’s aimed specifically at helping us manage transitions.
It comes from the LA shrinks Phil Stutz and Barry Michels. Their clients include Hollywood A-list performers, directors, and writers.
The Tools are a set of dynamic visualization practices that can shift your emotional state, behavior, and outlook.
When practiced regularly these tools can help you transform your mindset and your life. They’ve worked for me and many of my clients.
Give it a whirl. What have you got to lose?
Try the Vortex
Warning: this is the woo-woo segment of this post. You don’t have to believe in this stuff. Just try it and see what you experience.
Try it for a week whenever you’re feeling exhausted or overwhelmed. Or when you’re feeling like you’re not able to transition to the next activity.
This visualization activity is designed to help you connect to a reserve of creative energy you didn’t know you had. Your life force.
The Tools use archetypes and symbols related to the work of Carl Jung.
From the Tools website, here’s the description of the tool the Vortex, which I’ve slightly adapted below:
The Vortex tool in brief
The Vortex combines two age-old symbols in a new way: the Sun (a source of endless energy) and the number twelve (traditionally the number of completeness).
First put yourself in that feeling state of being overwhelmed and exhausted, and not ready to take on the next task of the day. Then do this:
1. Visualize Twelve Suns: See the suns in a radiant circle above your head in the sky. Feel the warmth on your skin. The suns can help you access the energy you need, but you need to actually ask for it. So with focused intensity silently scream the word “help” directing your plea to the circle of suns. This sets the entire circle of suns spinning, creating a vortex. An energy tunnel that lifts you up and through the circle of the suns, like a soft-form tornado.
2. Rise: Relax and allow your body to become one with the vortex. Feel the pull of the vortex as it lifts you up through the circle of suns.
3. Grow: Once you’re through the circle, feel yourself grow taller and taller—filled with unlimited energy. See yourself moving calmly but deliberately through the world without any resistance.
It’s not enough to read the Tools. They only work if you actually do them.
Notice how your body feels before, during, and after using the Tool. Notice what goes on in your mind and with your energy. What’s different?
When I first read the book The Tools I thought, wow, this is crazy stuff. I was as skeptical as you can possibly imagine.
But what I found was these tools could shift me out of whatever funk I was in so that I could get past my Resistance.
More than anything else, the Tools have proven to me that I don’t have to be a victim to my own emotions. That I can change my state of mind.
And because I can do that, I can move forward through whatever obstacles have prevented me in the past. Whether it’s fear, uncertainty, anger, or anything else.
Over time, I’ve found that using the Tools has made a huge difference in my life. And many of my clients have experienced this as well.
What the Vortex is like for me
I use the Vortex to get out of bed in the morning when I’m feeling the most Resistance. When I’d rather turn over and go back to sleep.
I picture the 12 suns. In my mind’s eye they start to turn clockwise and it actually feels like a force is lifting me out of bed. It’s not a decision I’m making or a battle I’m trying to win. I’m just suddenly up and in forward motion, starting my day without the resentment.
Give it a go. Put these tips and the Vortex into action. And add your comments and questions to the conversation in our free Facebook group. Happy to welcome you to our supportive community!
Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well