Musicians need a lot of help with time management since they have so much going on and they have to manage multiple professional activities, not to mention all that goes on in their personal lives! That’s why time management is such a critical skill for successful music entrepreneurs.
Here are my top 4 strategies that musicians can use to help to cut through the feelings of overwhelm and zero in on what is really important:
- Align with Your Values
- Prioritize and Say No to the Rest
- Weekly Planning with Quadrant II Time Management
- Daily Planning with a Strategic To-Do List
Let’s take 3 different musicians* and see how they manage their time using these 4 strategies.
Bill is a composer whose works are routinely performed in venues around the world. Bill collaborates with a lot of different performers and artists. He also teaches composition at the university level and is devoted to his wife and children.
Jenny is a classically trained violinist who performs new music, as well as rock. She is the artistic director of a new music ensemble, plays with a number of other well-known ensembles in New York City and tours at least twice a year with a rock band.
Tom is an active freelance horn player in New York City. He performs as a substitute with many of the city’s leading orchestras. He is also a teaching artist with a major arts organization and teaches privately as well. And he helped to found an ensemble where has assumed a major leadership role. He also has a strong commitment to his health and exercises regularly, as well as cooks his own meals.
All three have busy lives. Let’s take a look at how they use these 4 strategies to stay on top of their commitments and feel good about the way they are using their time.
1. Align with Your Values
Time management starts with knowing your values and then set goals reflecting those values.
Values are the principles that govern your life. There are no right or wrong values for musicians and values can range from relationships to personal growth to leadership and creativity, joy, passion, autonomy, security, authenticity, service or community. When you align your life with your values, you can cut through the swirl of confusion and make smart decisions, including the activities and relationships that provide meaning and fulfillment.
Armed with these values, musicians set their long-term career and personal goals. As we will see from the examples of our three musicians, the more they align their goals with your values, the better they feel about the way they use their time because these choices reflect what they consider to be the vital part of their lives.
Bill values his artistic creativity, his desire to learn, collaborating with others and spending time with his family. He therefore prioritizes projects with other people, he seeks out new work that challenges him and he always makes time for his family.
Jenny puts a high value on her autonomy, a balance between work and fun and her creativity and her relationships. Her work as artistic director puts her in the driver’s seat. She enjoys the variety that her schedule gives her because it gives her a lot of freedom. She also values her relationships and therefore seeks out ensemble work.
Tom puts a premium on excellence, joy, integrity, leadership and wisdom. His work as a teaching artist is a way to share his joy of music with others. He also is the co-founder of an ensemble where he has assumed a leadership role.
2. Prioritize and Say No to the Rest
Values can also help musicians to set their priorities.
Priorities are short-term goals, the things that they want to achieve in the next performance season, or the next 3 months or the next semester. It helps to set priorities that feed into long-term goals because that provides an additional motivation to tackle the priorities.
Another advantage of setting values-based priorities is that it is easier to say no to anything that is not a priority. And because priorities are short-term goals, they change over time so that at some point in the future, a project that you say no to now might very well show up on a future priority list!
Let’s take a closer look at how our 3 musicians set priorities.
This season, Bill has prioritized a few creative projects that have taken him into new territory. Bill thrives on learning and challenge so he prioritizes these types of projects. He carves out time to be alone in his studio to make sure that he is advancing on this important work. Moreover, when he is not traveling, he is home when his children return from school so that he can spend time with them.
Jenny is prioritizing her ensemble and has decided to do less touring with her rock band since she no longer feels that it is creatively fulfilling. Her current priorities include promoting her ensemble’s tour, performing with other ensembles and making time for her new boyfriend.
Tom juggles his part-time job as a teaching artist with evening performances of the various ensembles with whom he plays. He is also considering graduate school for an advanced degree that will position him for a more significant leadership role in academe and therefore is devoting time each week to researching graduate programs. And he gets to the gym 3-5 times a week to stay in shape.
3. Commit to Weekly Planning
With so much on their plates, planning is essential for world-class musicians! That’s where Quadrant II Time Management fits in. This model was invented by the late Steven Covey and involves assessing the importance of your activities by viewing them through the lens of how important they are and how urgent they are. The 4 quadrants are:
- Quadrant I: important and urgent
- Quadrant II: important and not urgent
- Quadrant III: urgent and not important
- Quadrant IV: not urgent and not important
The sweet spot is Quadrant II, where you are tending to the activities that are important to you and not urgent to anyone else but where if you spend the time, you will be working towards achieving your long-term vision.
Take a look at Covey’s Quadrant II Chart to see the model of the 4 quadrants and what is urgent/not urgent and important/not important. You can also get a sense of how to implement the 4 quadrants into your life.
Under this model, you make a weekly plan, focusing on two types of activities:
- Quadrant I activities to which you are committed (e.g., rehearsals, performances, teaching, other professional obligations and any other personal and family commitments); plus
- a few of your “Quadrant II” activities that feed long-term goals, nurture important relationships and represent your values-driven projects.
Quadrant I activities tend to take care of themselves so it’s a matter of putting those activities into your calendar. The second part is where the magic occurs because it means that you are taking actions towards making your vision of success more likely to happen.
Each week, pick one or two of your Quadrant II activities and treat them as an important commitment to your future!
Here is what is on the plate of each of our 3 musicians this week:
Bill: new artistic projects, collaborations, family time
Jenny: expand the ensemble, reduce the time in rock bands, record, and spend time with new boyfriend
Tom: step up the level of freelance work to get paid more in order to free up time for leadership roles. Thinking about getting an advanced degree. Make sure to get to the gym and to Whole Foods for this week’s groceries.
4. Create a Strategic Daily To-Do List
The other part of planning is to have a daily to-do list. This is NOT the “kitchen sink” method of dumping everything onto a piece of paper with the illusion that you can tackle each one! Instead, world-class musicians can pare their lists down with a strategic daily to-do list, answering the following 3 questions:
- What is important about today?
- What must get done today?
- What is important about the future?
Making a strategic to-do list can help our busy musicians to focus on what is important in both the short-term and the long-term.
In our examples, Bill has a performance of one of his works today. That means he will travel to the city where the performance is taking place and he will attend the rehearsal and give comments. He also will attend the concert and the post-concert party. In the meantime, there is a potential collaborator who lives in this city and Bill has scheduled lunch with this person to explore collaborating. And he makes time to Skype with his children.
For Jenny, today is the gala of her ensemble so that is what is the most important thing about today. She also needs to tend to her future by booking the travel arrangements for the ensemble’s tour. Her boyfriend is attending as her guest so that the two of them can spend time together. No time to practice today!
Tom’s important event today is opening night of a major orchestra with whom he is performing. After the performance he has been invited to the opening night party and is looking forward to meeting a few of the donors who will be attending. That means he has to practice and attend a dress rehearsal. He also wants to tend to his future by calling the director of the summer festival where he will be teaching next summer to confirm his attendance dates for next year.
World-class musicians are able to handle their busy lives by managing their time with these strategies. So take a page from these high-achievers and see which one of these strategies can help you to feel on top of your time and your life!
*These stories are based on actual musicians, all of whom are friends and/or clients. Their names and some details have been changed to protect their privacy.