Time Mastery for Musicians

by | Oct 3, 2022 | Uncategorized

This post is part of The Renegade Musician Series.

Time mastery is the very essence of the Renegade way.

Most people pat themselves on the back for another “long, hard” eight-hour workday at the office where they were productive for a whole two hours and 53 minutes.

Look, I know jobs are hard, and it isn’t my intention to make light of that. But here, too, we must invite in accurate thinking to illuminate our paths.

Most days I work anywhere from 10 to 12 hours, and the notion of being productive for only a quarter of that time is a thing of the most horrifying nightmares. I’m behind on projects as is, and the consequences of failing to show up and produce on any given day would be angry clients, exhausting conversations, and lost income.

I can get away with the occasional “off” scatterbrained day, half-day, or “putting out fires” day. I even take one day off per week. But if I “winged it” for more than a few days, I could find myself in hot water.

Now, I’m not saying that this is the model to follow. I’m the kind of person that thrives on variety and opportunity. Most people would look at what I do and feel very unsettled if they weren’t on their way to having a heart attack.

I’m not advocating for my approach to building a music career or business, nor am I saying you should follow my example.

What I’m saying is you’re nowhere near as effective you could be in the time available to you. You can do more. But your access to greater productivity must be unlocked.

Your access to greater productivity must be unlocked. Share on X

You Can’t Master Time Without Energy

We need to give ourselves the best possible shot at making the most of the time we have, and the only way we can do this is by setting aside time for breaks, rest, meditation, sleep, vacation, refueling, and of course, exercise.

As I’ve been living out of Airbnbs for three months, I’ve been making it a point to walk for an hour per day at 2 PM. It took a bit of experimentation to figure out that I didn’t want to walk at 3 PM, because at that time of day, kids are getting out of school, and I like to walk and think alone. The less traffic and noise on the trails, the better. You learn from your mistakes.

The point is you’ve got to put breaks into your schedule and follow through on the intentions you’ve set to the best of your ability (because it’s always easy not to step away from the desk for 15 minutes of meditation). Even with a neatly organized, timeboxed Google Calendar, you’re still not going to do everything at the time you set out to do it. You’re not going to do it all perfectly. But as it has been said:

… plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

You must determine what you’re going to do with your time. But it’s not going to do you any good to obsess over the glitches that occur as the days unfold. That just makes you want to give up on planning altogether.

It’s not going to do you any good to obsess over the glitches that occur as the days unfold. Share on X

This will make a lot more sense as you’re living out your daily plans.

So, what must we do to ensure we’re always at our best for when it counts?

  • Breaks. Get up and walk around the block, go to the bathroom, make tea, spend time away from your devices. Also, listen to your feelings. If you’re tired, in a bad mood, or sad, you’re not going to be at your best. Steal away for a couple hours, even a few days if possible. Go to the beach, head out to the mountains, play golf.
  • Rest. Studies suggest people can’t focus for longer than 90 minutes at a time before requiring a 15-minute break. Resting goes hand in hand with what was already said about breaks, but if you want to take midday naps or spend 30 minutes playing a video game, build this into your routine also.
  • Meditation. I like to meditate for at least 15 minutes per day. The health benefits alone are worth the effort. You can experiment and see what works for you. But I don’t see much point in complicating the process. Simply find a guided meditation or meditation music you like on YouTube, close your eyes, and breathe.
  • Sleep. Increasingly, studies show that at least eight hours per night of sleep is a requirement. Any less and we don’t function at optimal levels, and long term, our health suffers. It sounds extreme to some, but before falling asleep, I take magnesium and Somno-Pro, put on a fan, put on my sleeping mask, and insert ear plugs, preferably in a cool, dark room.
  • Vacation. To live like no one else can, we need to be willing to live like no one else will for a while. So, cast aside any notion of the two-week vacation. It doesn’t make sense for the Renegade. It will either be too much time away from your passion, or not enough time to fully recover from the managed chaos that is your life. Consider taking a few days (or a full week) off every quarter instead, especially if you’re grinding out 10- to 16-hour days (these have a way of becoming unsustainable). And if some rare opportunities come up to go on a family vacation, or to visit a country you’ve always wanted to travel to, seize it. I regret not going to Mexico with my family in 2014, but don’t regret spending over two weeks in Japan in 2017.
  • Refueling. Refueling, of course, refers to eating, and eating is necessary to living. We all know we need to eat healthy and that this is easier said than done. My naturopath recommended to me a balance of organic grains and beans, vegetables, and meats, preferably all cooked. A very easy way to fulfill on this intention is to make soups and stews, which is easy to do with a pressure cooker. But if in doubt, consult a trusted source. I am not a nutritionist or physician.
  • Exercise. I make it my goal to walk at least 6,000 steps per day. Many days I will exceed that number. On rare occasions, I will come well under. I have since added pushups and sit-ups and have seen immediate results from the effort. I can’t tell you what to do here. It depends a lot on how much time you have available and where you plan to exercise. You might have an excellent workout regimen already, in which case, congratulations. But if you don’t, implement one. And if you can, mix things up. Engage in walking, weight training, cycling, and hot yoga. Also, don’t let a one-hour workout expand to fill three hours with idle dilly-dally, slowly tying your gym shoes, spending 30 minutes in the shower, etc. Get in, get out, unless it’s your day off.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute health advice. Seek out a qualified professional if you have questions.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

We’re artists. We love to follow inspiration and start things from scratch.

But we must adjust. Starting from scratch is messy. It’s costing us time, and time is costing us income. This puts a ceiling on what we can accomplish on a given day. And weeks, months, and years are just days added up.

In the last few days, I’ve published at least three blog posts per day on Music Entrepreneur HQ. The reason I’ve been able to do this is because I’m not reinventing the wheel, even if I’m saying something old in a new way.

I’m not suggesting that you suppress your creativity. Far from it.

But just as building a house begins with a blueprint, you should have pre-built frameworks for activities you carry out on a recurring basis. In other words, if you know you’re going to be doing it more than once, make a template, swipe file, checklist, or framework for it. This is good backup planning too – you can give your checklist to a band or team member when you’re not able to handle the task or want to delegate it.

You’re smart enough to figure out how and where this will apply to your situation, but I will offer a few examples to get you started:

  • Email templates. There are certain types of emails you will be sending repeatedly – booking requests, playlist pitches, thank-you messages, and so on. Gmail lets you easily store all your email templates, but if you’re not using Gmail, you could always make Word or plain text docs. One caveat – please, for the love of god, don’t forget to personalize all your emails. Even if the gist of the message is going to be the same, you still need to adhere to best practices – address the email to the right person, complement them, deliver your win-win value proposition, etc. I’ll be talking more about pitching in another post.
  • Lyric sheets. You could treat it like a letterhead – add your logo to the top with a place to add the title and the date you began working on the song. If you want, you could create a space for the names of the writers and contributors, too. Custom lyrics sheets could be great for archiving, posterity, and even for making a book of your band’s history.
  • Custom DAW templates. Getting ready to fire up a new project in your DAW? Nowadays, not only do DAWs come with pre-loaded templates, but you can also customize and create your own. This should save you a lot of time setting up and labeling tracks for all the instruments you intend to record. Even bands that experiment widely with synth sounds generally utilize close to the same number of channels across projects.

Move with Urgency

I’m a laid-back guy. Some have even referred to me as the “master of Zen.”

But behind the scenes, I’m not thinking to myself, “no worries – there’s always more time.” I’m doing what I can do today to advance the projects in my queue.

I have several rules I follow. For instance, I only dedicate one hour per day to email and communication. I batch all the emails, messages, and calls I possibly can in that one hour, moving as fast as I can (not to the detriment of accuracy, mind), because I know I will only have an hour to return messages.

It’s nice to think there will always be more time to do what you need to do. You might look at your schedule on Thursday and say, “Look at that, it’s 2 PM and I only have one thing left to do. It’s not even due until Monday. I’ve worked hard. I’m going to reward myself and chill the rest of the day.”

I get it. These opportunities may be rare. But you can’t possibly know how you’re going to be feeling tomorrow, let alone what will happen between Thursday and Monday. Move with urgency, especially if you’ve got energy left over. New opportunities could show up tomorrow and then you will wish you had completed the task on Thursday.

The 95% always put things off until tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. There are times to take a step back, but you don’t want laziness to become habitual.

Identify “Good Enough”

This is another doozie for creatives. We want everything to be “perfect.” When we deliver a film score to a client, a demo to a label, or a YouTube video to our fans, we want everything to be just right.

Look, there is a time and place for making something as good as you possibly can make it. Unfortunately, I know far too many artists and creatives who are held back by perfectionism. They never get around to their first blog post let alone launching their website. They never get around to their first song let alone their full studio album.

I’m happy to offer coaching to anyone who’s stuck, but I can’t steer a parked car. You’ve got to get your vehicle in motion so I can help you adjust course.

Once you’re overcome the perfectionism trap, and you’ve spent a few years developing your skills, the next step is to determine what’s “good enough” in every situation.

If your financial ledger contains all the data but you’re not happy with how the columns look and want to use bold fonts and add color, you’ve passed the point of “good enough.”

If you promised an acoustic number to one of your crowdfunding pledgers, and you’ve captured all your parts in pristine studio quality but proceed to add synth and organ parts that were never a part of your intended deliverable, you’ve passed the point of “good enough.”

Again, there is a time and a place for over-delivering. Do it when you can. It is very Renegade to over-deliver. But I don’t know too many people who say “look at all the time I have left over” at the end of the day.

Your “good enough” will be above and beyond in the eyes of most.

Take advantage of The Most Incredible Back to School Sale while you still can.