As creatives, we tend to struggle with this. Time management for music producers, DJs, and artists in general, has always been problematic. We’re so focused on our art that we don’t seem to be able to schedule things accordingly. Or even worse: We’re stuck in a day job and find it hard to set aside time for our art. In this episode of Pick Yourself, I’m going to reveal five time management secrets for musicians might be a game-changer for your way of working.
Why managing your time as an artist is so important
Time is the most valuable resource we have. You simply can’t get it back, no matter how hard you try or how much you’re willing to pay for it. Therefore, the good old saying “time is money” is simply wrong. If you don’t learn how to deal with time management as an artist, you’re always going to feel exhausted, unsatisfied, and lagging behind.
There’s always this feeling of “if I just had more time, it would all work out”. Your studio time, your gig preparation, social media posting, promo send-outs, your day job or side-hustle, and let’s not forget your private life with family and friends.
My definition of time management
If you take away one thing from this episode, it should be this:
“Time management for music producers and DJs is the art of setting aside time for the things that truly matter and radically saying no to the things that don’t.“
That’s it in a nutshell. Let’s take a closer look at this definition. It contains three important aspects:
- “Setting aside time”: Intentionally blocking time in your calendar.
- “For the things that truly matter”: Knowing what’s essential to you and making a decision to fully commit to taking action on what needs to be done.
- “Saying no to the things that don’t matter”: Having the guts to say no to all the other options that try to steal your precious time.
While this may sound easy now, it’s harder when you try to implement it. Otherwise, we probably wouldn’t struggle as much with it. In the next chapter, I’m going to walk you through the five time management tricks for artists that will make a big difference to your way of working.
Top 5 time management secrets of successful music producers and DJs
Most successful artists have figured out how to spend their time and energy most effectively. There are rare exceptions of people who are at the top of their game and still a mess when it comes to time management. But they either have a team around them that makes sure everything works out in the end, or they’re feeling distressed and miserable because they’re constantly afraid of not being able to live up to the expectations.
Either way, this shouldn’t be an excuse for you. Learn the secrets of time management for artists and you’ll be free to live a fulfilled creative life without the constant pressure and stress level. Here are my top five that are going to make a big difference in your life:
1. Know the one thing that really matters right now and fully commit to doing it
Now I finally get to cite another one of my favorite books. In “The One Thing”, the authors Gary W. Keller and Jay Papasan recommend to ask yourself a very specific question:
“What’s the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
– The ONE Thing by Gary W. Keller and Jay Papasan
So what could that be? Think back of what you’ve learned in episode 23 on goal-setting. It trickles down from your big vision to your 1-3 yearly goals and from there to your weekly and daily actions that bring you closer. Step by step. So the ONE thing is simply the next step you need to take in order to achieve something.
Let’s say your goal is to write and produce one awesome demo track this year that you can hand over to people at ADE. Your “ONE thing” today could be to find a writing slot in your calendar and set a reminder that makes sure you stay on track. The next day, your “ONE thing” will be to show up at the studio on time and start writing. Yes, it’s that easy. Well, sticking to what your calendar tells you isn’t really that easy, but hey, we all have to learn this the hard way I guess.
2. Block time slots in your calendar that take your energy levels into account
Time management for music producers and DJs is often a problem because we tend to have very strange work and sleep patterns. If you’re touring a lot, you will know what I mean. To be honest with you, this is one of the reasons why I chose to dedicate my life to studio work instead of playing live shows every weekend. But that’s another story.
Even if your work and sleep schedule might be a bit strange compared to other people with a “regular life”, you still have a chance to take control of your time and schedule things effectively. The first thing you need to do is to observe your energy levels. After two weeks of observation, you’re going to get a good idea of your internal “energy schedule”.
Most people have more energy in the first part of the day. Others need a bit longer until they can unlock their full potential. There is no right or wrong but you need to gain awareness of how your body and mind work. So start to write a daily “energy” journal for two weeks to find out when you feel most focused and productive.
The most important work needs to be done when you feel energized and focused
The secret to great time management for artists is to put the important things (which are usually hard to do) inside pre-defined time-slots in your calendar that correspond with your highest energy levels. If that sounds complicated, let me repeat this in clear action steps:
- Know your energy patterns throughout the day and week.
- Block “deep work” time-slots in your calendar for the times where you feel most focused and productive.
- Do your “ONE thing” consistently during these hours of maximum focus and attention.
Of course, there are more than just these focus time slots. You might notice that you’re feeling less productive in the afternoon (compared to your deep focus time in the morning), but also less exhausted compared to the hour right after lunch. So you might want to take a break after lunch and put a “busy work” slot in your calendar from 4 pm-6 pm where you take care of emails and social media.
3. Have dedicated time slots for meetings and calls
The biggest issue with time management for music producers and DJs is that something always gets in the way of doing the most important work. Usually, these distractions either come from internet-related activities (hello Insta-distraction) or from people. Yes, other people can be the biggest time-suck of all. Everybody wants our attention, either for a quick call, instant replies on emails and messengers, or for a meeting. Strangely, these people always seem to find the exact time slot in which you’re trying to work on your artist career.
The only solution to that is having a system of when to deal with messages, calls, and meetings. You need to protect your “deep work” hours as much as possible. So the best thing you can do is to set aside time in your calendar for these types of interactions. You can simply reserve time slots to do that. I recommend doing meetings in the afternoons and evenings because it makes it more likely to get the important work done before. Believe me, your meeting will feel way more relaxed if you do it that way. The feeling of accomplishment is going to transmit a lot of positive energy. Not a bad starting point for any meeting, right?
4. Use a digital calendar and create a system of colors and notifications
Don’t worry, I’ve been guilty of this as well. I haven’t used a digital calendar for many years. The problem was, I didn’t even have a physical one either. Well, I must admit that this seems to be a part of growing up. If you don’t use a calendar system, your brain has to burn a lot of energy simply to remind you again and again of certain important things and deadlines. What if you could free up this energy to get that stuff done or work on music instead?
Time management for artists is a mess because most of them haven’t even done the bare minimum to keep track of things. Here’s what I suggest you do as soon as possible:
- Sign up for whatever digital calendar feels best to you (I use Google calendar because it seems to integrate with almost any other service on earth).
- Decide which colors you want to use for deep work slots, busy work slots, emails & social, meetings, and whatever else is happening regularly in your life.
- Enter all recurring events so you simply don’t have to think of them anymore.
- Set-up a reminder system that a) doesn’t feel stressful but b) still prevents you from missing important events.
Once you’ve joined the ranks of fellow calendar users, you’re going to enjoy your new freedom pretty soon.
Optimize and adjust your calendar system on the fly
Forget it, you won’t come up with the one, perfect calendar system. Remember, that’s your perfectionism creeping in again. You simply set up something that feels “good enough” for the moment and then you move on. The secret behind time management for music producers and DJs is not to develop a perfect system, it’s to create a system that works.
You’re going to find out what works and what doesn’t and you’ll be able to adjust it in the future. I’m optimizing my calendar system every six months or so and that’s completely fine.
5. Plan for obstacles and don’t forget to take breaks
Life gets in the way. Almost always. So you better plan for it! When people jump into time management techniques, they usually end up overbooking themselves and feeling their stress level rise because all they do is swipe away calendar notifications.
Don’t be that person!
The only way this is going to work is if you…
- Don’t try to plan too far ahead and completely fill out every single white spot in your calendar for the next two weeks.
- Remember that only 5% of your calendar events are going to happen exactly as planned, the other 95% will require some flexibility on your end.
So instead of being frustrated because you’re running late again or having to take a cab from the studio to your meeting, you can prevent these things from happening by leaving a generous buffer between events in your calendar. At least 15 minutes (excluding travel time, of course), but I recommend 30 minutes or more. My main argument for this is that your mind will need to switch from one state to a different one. Leaving the studio after listening to kick drums and dystopian atmospheres in solitude is not exactly helping you start a conversation at the dinner party you’re going to next.
Putting it into action: Time management for producers and DJs
You might think that you’re never going to learn proper time management as an artist. But that’s a trap. You HAVE to learn this important skill because otherwise, you won’t have the time to reach the next level in your artist career. It’s all about that first step. Claim responsibility for your time management and get started with these three action steps.
1. Take an honest look at your current time management
- Does your current way of managing your time satisfy you?
- Do you get the most important work done or do you feel like you’re constantly lagging behind?
- What does your system look like? Is it consistent and prevents you from missing important events?
2. Observe your energy levels for at least two weeks and find out which slots are perfect for your most important work
- You can use a scale (from 1 to 10) or simply use words to describe your energy level from when you get up to when you go to sleep again).
- Try to identify patterns of high and low energy on a daily but also on a weekly level.
3. Set up a digital calendar system and adjust it on the fly
- Simply do it. Now. It’s going to be better than what you’re currently doing and your life is going to feel less stressful thanks to it.
- Don’t fall into perfectionism, you’re going to change it over and over anyway.
- Block time slots for your most important work and others for administrative tasks as well as email, social media, and meetings.
So that’s it for this episode. I’d love to hear which time management tricks have helped you so far and what you’re still struggling with.
Let me know in the comments, I read everything.