Time Tactics

Does it seem as if there's never enough time to chase your musical dreams? You probably feel that if you only had more time, you'd get so much more music

Does it seem as if there's never enough time to chase your musical dreams? You probably feel that if you only had more time, you'd get so much more music finished. The whole concept of “more time” is misleading. We all get the same time allotment each day: 24 hours. Spending those hours productively is what separates those who accomplish more from those who only wish they could.

When you complain about not having enough time to complete musical projects, you probably mean there's not enough creative time available. Trying to impose time-management tactics on your creative time will probably make you feel less creative. The secret is to manage everything else that you do. Then, you can free up time to spend on your music, where cutting time corners simply doesn't work.

Two ways to manage your time better involve using your available time more wisely and getting more done in less time through increased productivity. Use your time better by choosing the important tasks and focusing on those jobs that you do well. Increase your productivity through outside assistance and technology. Multitasking — doing more than one thing at once — also works for more mundane matters, such as reading while waiting in line.


Lack of time can really stress you out. You feel as though you're forever moving and getting nowhere, and that can seriously interfere with your music. Stop. Take a step back and evaluate your life. You need to clear the clutter from your mind.

Keep a journal of how you spend your time for a week or two. Include as much detail as you can, including your feelings about what you did. After the fortnight, take a long, hard look at how you fill your days. Identify the time wasters and the stuff that you hate doing and reduce the time you spend on them or jettison them completely. Weed out those commitments that interfere with your music goals. Also, look for unproductive time and decide how to fill those scrap moments with more productive musical undertakings.


Grab a piece of paper and write your most important “need-to” along the top: “Make more music.” Below that, make a list of your “have-tos,” which are all those things you must do to maintain your current lifestyle. Include the obvious things such as sleeping, eating, and earning a living, along with the mundane elements such as doing laundry, paying bills, and so forth.

Notice how your have-tos and need-tos conflict? Emotions pull you to your dream; logic drags you back to reality. If you could only remove the have-tos, you'd have more time. So, circle the least important have-to on your list. Is there some way you can eliminate it? Can you pay somebody else to do it? With that have-to crossed off, you instantly create a time gap that can be filled with your music. Not only that, by forcing yourself to carefully choose what is of immediate importance in your life, you give yourself permission to pursue that which holds the most meaning and satisfaction for you.

Now, draft a detailed plan by setting realistic goals, both short- and long-term, and indicate how you will achieve them. Plans serve as road maps that keep you focused on your destination every day. With major goals in place, start a to-do list that indicates specific tasks that you must accomplish to reach your goals. Now plan each day by asking, What is the most important thing to do today? Do that first, then move on to the next most important task.


It's possible to accomplish more with your music using whatever time you have available. In Jerry Cleaver's book Immediate Fiction: A Complete Writing Course (St. Martin's Press, 2002), he offers this simple yet effective method for making time for your creative pursuits. Set aside five minutes each day to work on your music for a month. Take no time off. For any reason. And don't bank the minutes. Spend five minutes every day for 30 full days. Although five minutes isn't much time, the two and a half hours that you accrue can add up to some significant progress. You also make music part of your daily, must-do routine. That's important if you have a day job: work your five music minutes before your regular job — your mind is fresher and your subconscious learns that music is more important to you.

After your first month, bump up the time to 10 minutes, then 15 the next month, then 20, 30, and so forth. By slowly making time in your schedule for music, you establish a genuine groove that both satisfies your musical needs and substantially increases your output.

There may be days when you're unable to work on your music as much as you would like. The distractions of daily life can keep you from your music goals. Don't fight those days. Keep reminding yourself of your primary need-to and look for other musical immersions instead. Listen to other artists. Throw in a CD of your works-in-progress as you drive to your day job or to an appointment. Read magazines that pertain to your music. Practice your instrument of choice. Scribble a few ideas down about a song, lyric, or production technique. Promote your music in some small way. Whatever it takes. You can work on your music for at least five minutes every day even when it seems as though you can't.


A major time vortex is your job. If music isn't your main gig, your day job can zap a considerable chunk out of your time allotment. If music is your main gig, you still must spend time managing your affairs. It all comes down to money. (Doesn't it always?) If you have any number of adult responsibilities, paying your bills is your albatross. Can you work less and free up more time for your musical pursuits? Examine your lifestyle and see if you can cut back on expenses. Living on less money precludes your need for working as much.

I focus on gigs that pay well and eschew nickel-and-dime clients. Volume sales means more work and less time for other pursuits. Well-paying gigs mean I can work fewer hours on client projects and gain more time for my personal work. Moreover, if you're primarily a music-service provider, come up with alternate ways to make more money in less time; for example, develop products to sell in addition to your services. Pushing $600 or more in product sales through my Web site each month provides a sound financial cushion.


Good organizational skills are crucial to successfully managing your time. Prioritize those tasks that are most important to you. I'm a bit mercenary and always prioritize by money, choosing projects that will pay me money now as opposed to later. I also tend to get the busy work and jobs I most hate out of the way fast. Clearing the minutia helps me concentrate on more important duties.

Set aside specific work time each day and don't let anything or anyone interfere with it. Even if your music is a part-time venture, keep regular hours. Musicians often dread the tyranny of a daily grind because routine and creativity just don't mix. Instead, schedule flexible time blocks for music creation and other sessions to take care of everything else that needs your attention.

Know and understand your particular strengths. For example, I'm sluggish and less creative in the morning. Therefore, I use my mornings to catch up on all those little things that steal time away from creative endeavors but have to be done anyway. I then hit the ground running with main projects after lunch. That really works for me because I rid my desk and mind of daily details before pursuing more creative possibilities.

The distractions of telephones, e-mail, and people can really soak up your time fast. Let the voice mail grab your calls while you work on your music. Leave the e-mail for later. It really is okay to say “No” to people. Tell them that you're busy and then give a time when you will be available to them.

Don't let paperwork, e-mail, phone calls, and such pile up, though. Putting them off only exacerbates your time crunch. Set aside time each day to deal with them promptly. Handle your e-mail once or twice a day. Use e-mail filtering that automatically deletes spam, sends personal messages to a separate folder, and leaves important business information in your inbox. Make all your phone calls in one marathon session. When postal mail arrives, shred the junk, separate personal mail from business, and take care of it right away.

Group related duties together, too. For example, make one errand run that hits all the spots you need in one trip. Better still, shop on the Internet and have the things you purchase delivered (or download them right away) instead of wasting time driving to the store.

Play too much phone tag? Send an e-mail or fax instead. Schedule a telephone meeting just as you would an in-person meeting. Also, have people come to see you rather than traveling to them.

Create a logical filing system both in your computer and for physical files. Have short-term storage (for current and pending projects) and long-term storage for completed items, record keeping, and so on. On my computer, I set up folders for each of my projects and carefully file everything pertaining to the project in subfolders off the main one.

Set up your work area for efficiency (see Fig. 1). If your room is nothing but a big hassle, rethink it. Put the things you need in easy reach. Find the right basic settings for your gear, keep it set up, and dial up what you need quickly. Use templates and other shortcuts to automate your work in whatever ways make sense for you. Organize separate workspaces for specific tasks such as a shipping area stocked with labels, tape, envelopes, and products.

Most importantly, get to know your music tools really well. You'll waste less time learning new software/hardware or troubleshooting. With a few well-chosen tools, your productivity will increase exponentially.


You'll gain precious time when you concentrate on the work that you do best and find other means to get the rest done. Get help from a family member or hire an assistant to reduce your workload. Don't feel you have to hire permanent help. Rely on temporary aid or subcontractors to fill your skill-set voids.

Technology will definitely help you get more done in less time, especially computers. I use two to automate many tasks. One handles word processing, Internet surfing, e-mail, bookkeeping, printing material, and burning CDs; the second works for music, sound, and visual content only.

With this configuration, I burn CDs, print material, download software, and manage my business affairs on one computer, while working on a music or sound project on the other. Some days my main computer is tied up rendering a video project. I then use my other computer to take care of business. Even though music (and video) production requires a more robust system, you can use any low-end machine for basic tasks. You'll accomplish more and easily justify the extra cost.

Get a PDA, too (see Fig. 2). The typical handheld packs an address book, calendar, to-do list, and more into a few inches. Add-in programs give you additional power. For keeping track of the people, appointments, and projects that comprise a busy music life, these wonder boxes can't be beat. Plug in all your contact information, use the to-do list, track and manage your short- and long-term goals, schedule your days with the calendar, program reminder alarms, and keep all this with you as your portable office. When you waste less time keeping track of information, you'll gain more time for your music.


Big projects are scary. Cut them into smaller chunks and digest them until the whole meal is finished. Planning a new CD? Set a future date for the finished product and then set interim deadlines for major milestones (composition, tracking, mixing, mastering, and duplication) by working backward through your calendar. When scheduling large projects, add a 20 to 40 percent margin of error, because it will take longer than you think. Finally, establish deadlines and do whatever it takes to meet them. Also, work on your project every day — even if you do only a little work — to keep you on track.

Give yourself permission to mess up now and again and don't feel guilty about it. So what if you took half a day off and neglected other business and personal chores — it's no big deal. To use your time wisely, you do not need to fill every waking moment with productive activities. When you're particularly inspired, let your creativity breathe and your music flow. When the muse wanes, grab the to-do list and check off a few items.

Jeffrey P. Fisher's latest book, Moneymaking Music (Artistpro, 2003), is a guide to making, keeping, protecting, and growing your music success fortune. Check it out atwww.jeffreypfisher.com.