They get exhausted just thinking about writing blog posts, making YouTube videos, updating their website, posting on Facebook, Twitter, and now Instagram, doing their own booking, sending out press releases, submitting songs to music libraries, creating newsletters, and… Well, you get the idea. Even I’m exhausted after reading that list!
The cool thing about the new state of the music business is that YOU have complete control over your career. But that also means that you have complete responsibility for it too. It is up to you to handle the business AND the creative sides of your career now.
So…the big question is: How? How do you handle so many tasks and still maintain your sanity, a family/social life, and your creativity?
The answer is: It’s tricky. No doubt about it. But it’s definitely doable, and here are some tips to get you started:
1. Do a Brain Dump of Your Head
Part of what makes everything seem so overwhelming is that you’re trying to keep track of too many details—dates, times, tasks, priorities, people’s names, etc.—all in your head.
So, before doing anything else, get that stuff out of your head and into a safe and centralized location.
This could be a master to-do list, your journal, or a computer app like Evernote. Use whatever feels natural to YOU. If you prefer using pen and paper, don’t try to force yourself into using the latest whiz-bang smartphone app. But don’t scatter sticky notes everywhere either. Find a notebook that you can carry with you and keep everything in one place. That way, you’ll know exactly where to look when you need to find the information.
Creatives often need to SEE things. So, if your info is buried in a computer file, it might be lost forever. In fact, if a notebook is still too hidden from view, then try using a whiteboard or index cards (one item per card) on a bulletin board instead.
2. Chunk It Down and Get Specific
If you’re getting stuck with what to do next, it might be because your to-do list items are too big or too general. Does your list say things like make booking calls, post on Facebook, and send newsletter? Then, try breaking these up into multiple, micro-steps that tell you exactly what to do.
Make booking calls might become three different tasks telling you exactly who to call and what the call is for. For example:
- Call Michael at The Courtyard Cafe to see if he received the package sent on Monday.
- Call Bob at The Little Theatre to thank him again for a wonderful gig and to discuss a return booking date.
- Call Kathy at Kathy’s House Concerts to see if she’s had a chance to review materials and if so to book date next season.
Suddenly, there’s no question what you need to do. Just pick up the phone and make the call. In fact, you can even put the phone number right in the to-do list if that makes it easier.
3. Schedule It!
Regardless of whether it’s an actual appointment or just a to-do list item, put everything on your calendar.
Yeah, you heard me. Everything!
Now, if the mere thought of scheduling every task makes you ill, angry, or resistant, I feel your pain. I avoided scheduling items on my calendar for years because I like the “freedom” of going with the flow and doing what I want, when I want.
The trouble with this approach is that anything that is uncomfortable or boring or even a little bit scary always falls into the “I-don’t-wanna-do-that-right-now” box. Hence, some items never get done!
What I’ve found that works much better for me is to assign everything to a specific day on my calendar. I might even give it a tentative time. But then I give myself the flexibility to change the order or time that I do each task on that day. This lets me feel that “freedom” I desire so much while still accomplishing all the tasks that need to get done.
Occasionally a task might slip to the next day or two, but I still see it on my calendar so I know it HAS to get done. Scheduling it on my calendar brings it up in the priority level.
4. Harness the Power of 3
OK, this one may be especially tough. But hear me out.
Each day, limit yourself to your Top 3 Priorities.
Yes, I know you have 28 items on your to-do list—and that’s just for Monday! But with a list that long you are surely setting yourself up for failure. No one can do that much. I don’t care how much time you have!
By limiting yourself to your Power 3 (as I like to call them), you’re eliminating a lot of stress and giving yourself the possibility of completion! (Very important!)
Plus, there’s something special about the number 3. “Doing things in threes” has been used as a key element in marketing, public speaking, decorating, comedy, photography, and yes, MUSIC. (Can you say triad?)
It seems that the brain perceives, likes, and remembers things better in groups of 3. And, quite frankly, 3 just feels DO-able. So, it’s motivating instead of overwhelming.
If you finish your Power 3 early and want to keep going? GREAT! You can always steal from tomorrow’s tasks.
Hmmm…Completing things ahead of schedule. How good would THAT feel?!
5. Start with the Biggest Boost
Now that you’ve narrowed your list down to the Power 3 for each day, want to really kick yourself into high gear? Then, do the one that will give you the Biggest Boost first.
That might mean the one task that will take the longest to complete. Or maybe it’s the one you fear doing the most. It could be the one you’ve avoided doing for the longest time. Or perhaps it’s just the one that takes you the most outside of your current comfort zone.
The point is…Imagine how you’ll feel if you get this one out of the way? Trust me, you’re going to feel good! Great, even. Your confidence is going to soar. Hey, if you can do THIS one, the rest will be a breeze, right?
Yep. Exactly. You’ll be fired up to get through the rest of your list in no time.
6. Turn OFF Bells & Whistles
I can’t recommend this one strongly enough! We are bombarded on a daily basis with noises and dings and tones that interrupt us to get our attention. If you want to be more productive, you’ve got to minimize distractions. So…
- Close the Facebook tab(s) that you have open in your browser. (And yes, you know you have more than one open.)
- Shut down your email program.
- Turn off your cell phone. Yes, off. Power down.
- Silence the ringer on your landline.
- Disable any and all notifications and/or alarms on your computer.
Do yourself a huge favor…if it dings, beeps, whistles, chimes, or otherwise alerts you, Turn. It. Off.
And watch your productivity soar!
7. Use Templates, Apps, and Automation
Now, you need to make the most of every distraction-free minute you have. That’s where a variety of productivity tools and systems come into play.
Email templates are easy to create and will save you loads of time when sending out multiple inquiries or responding to fans. But templates aren’t just for paragraphs of text. You can use them for anything that requires repetitive set up or formatting, like blog posts, letters, web pages and press releases. You can even set up project templates in your recording software.
There are also a lot of apps available that can help you do more in less time. Buffer is one of my current faves. It’ll allow you to queue up and schedule posts to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+, and Pinterest–separately or all at the same time. That means your posts will go out while you’re doing something else! (Oh, and the Individual plan is free!)
If you use Gmail for your email, then you might want to check out Boomerang and ActiveInbox Plus. These plugins will allow you to schedule your email for a later date/time, remind you if someone doesn’t respond to your email, and even turn an email into a task on your calendar.
Evernote is a great way to capture your ideas…and still be able to find them later.
I haven’t used it yet, but two of my clients just this last week mentioned Trello as a task or project manager.
And Contactually, Insightly, Hubspot CRM, and Less Annoying CRM (which quite frankly gets my vote just for its name!) will all help you maintain relationships with your peeps. They’re all a little different, so you need to find the one that works for you.
The point is that you want to find apps that will help you make your tasks—and therefore your life—easier. If they can do it for you automatically while you sleep or do something else, even better.
So, if you find yourself doing something more than once (especially tedious, repetitive tasks), ask yourself if there’s a way to make a template or find an automated way to handle it.
8. Hold a Weekly Meeting
Meetings can often be a huge waste of time. So, am I really suggesting a meeting as a tip for how to get things done?
As a matter of fact, I am.
And that’s because for Fett and me, the thing that has made the biggest difference to our success over the years is definitely our Weekly Meeting.
Once a week, usually on Sunday, we get out of the house and review the week just finished, celebrate our accomplishments, discuss any challenges, take note of what’s coming up, and plan our schedule for the next week. When we do this, we’re much better at staying on track and maintaining our sanity.
The few times that we’ve stopped doing our Weekly Meetings consistently? Well, let’s just say we noticed. And not in a good way.
You don’t have to do this with someone else. You don’t have to leave the house. And you don’t have to do it on Sunday. But once a week, find a time to review what’s going on and what’s coming up. ALWAYS make sure to acknowledge your successes, wins, abundances, opportunities and accomplishments, no matter how small. And every now and then look back at your goals and intentions to see how you’re doing.
9. Ask For Help
Are you holding onto tasks that could be delegated? Do you think it’s easier and faster for you to do it, rather than take the time to teach someone else to do it? Or do you want help and just think you can’t afford it?
There are many ways of getting help:
- Students and Interns are often willing to work for free to get valuable experience.
- Super Fans will often jump at the chance to volunteer to help you.
- Street Teams can often be compensated with digital incentives or back stage passes that don’t cost you a thing.
Maybe your music career isn’t where you need the help. What can you do in your personal life to free up more time?
- Maybe have your kids help you with more of the house work.
- Or pay a neighbor’s kid to mow the lawn.
- Or have your grocery store deliver so you don’t spend as much time shopping.
And don’t automatically assume that you can’t afford a personal assistant (PA) or virtual assistant (VA). Many PAs and VAs are available to work just a few hours a week or month. With that extra time, you could be booking more gigs, writing more cues, recording more music and making more money than they are costing you.
Or maybe what you really need is support. Do It Yourself doesn’t have to mean you’re all alone. An accountability partner, online support group, or a personal coach might be just the thing.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And keep asking until you find it.
10. Be OK With Imperfection
Perhaps the best advice I can give you is to simply cut yourself some slack. When you’ve got a million things to do and only 900,000 of them get done, is that really so bad?
The reality is that sometimes things are going to fall through the cracks. You’ll miss a deadline. You’ll forget to call someone back. You won’t get as much done as you would’ve liked.
It’s OK. You did the best that you could at the time. And the world didn’t end.
Chalk it up to imperfect action…which is ALWAYS better than NO action at all.
What about you? Do you have a favorite app to recommend? Or a suggestion for how you handle the life of an aspiring music mogul? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
I found that a 4’x5′ white board attached to the wall in my studio REALLY keeps me focused. I found it at an office surplus store to $10 and it has saved me hours of looking up that “one thing that I wanted to submit to” but just can’t remember where/what/when it was!!!
That’s great Laurel! Works really well for visual people. Thanks! 🙂
Thanks Nancy! As someone who likes my freedom I struggle with scheduling everything, but as you say, if you don’t sometimes it just disappears and doesn’t get done (or catches on fire – which isn’t fun). I’ve been using the free app Toodledo. The weekly meeting sounds helpful. Do you and Fett have any daily routines you follow?
I REALLY get that, Michelle! I avoided scheduling for SO long. The trick is to make it your own. Make it work for you on YOUR terms. That’s what I did by scheduling things onto a particular day and then letting ME decide when to actually do it. Somehow, that tricked my mind enough to let it work. Sometimes you have to try several different things before you land on the one that works.
Toodledo is another one that I haven’t heard of. So, I’ll have to check it out.
The weekly meeting is the thing that really does it for us. Every now and then we miss one because…well, because other things do come up on Sundays. But every time we miss one, we notice.
As far as daily routines? That’s tough for me because each day is SO different. However, LOOKING at my calendar and the to-do list that I’ve made for the week is one thing I try to do every day. Otherwise, things don’t get done simply because they get forgotten! Also, NOT looking at email and/or Facebook FIRST thing is pretty key. It’s easy to get swept up into both of those. And they are MAJOR time sucks! (Have to admit, though…I’m not 100% successful with this. But I’m usually sorry when I start out this way.)
For me, it’s about focusing on one thing at a time and limiting distractions from that one thing. That’s what helps me the most!
Oh yeah…and the other thing…an accountability buddy. I hate the word accountability. But I’ve never found a good replacement. And I appreciate the concept. Fett and I are kinda accountability buddies for each other. And that’s the role the weekly meeting plays. But for many people, it helps to have an “outside” accountability buddy. Just someone you check in – once/week or once/day.
Do you have any routines that help YOU?
I don’t really have any ‘work’ routines – and I’ve been trying to change that because I find if I start my day lying in bed looking at email on my phone, I regret it. I’ve been reading a lot about how routines (morning and evening) boost productivity and I’m curious to hear what works for other musicians. 🙂
Yes, you definitely don’t want to start by looking at email or Facebook! I’ve heard many theories – one is to start by doing your CREATIVE work first. So, if you’re a writer, give yourself time to write before anything else. That way, it doesn’t get dropped simply because you run out of time at the end of the day. Another theory is to start by doing the hardest thing first. That way, everything else seems like a breeze! 🙂 And another theory is to start your day as if you were going to work in the morning. So, set an alarm, get up and shower, get dressed up, put on makeup…the whole bit! The theory behind this is that you put yourself into that work mindset.
Now, this doesn’t work for everyone. So, you have to keep that in mind. But I say, try what sounds interesting to you. Or if nothing else is working, then try what doesn’t sound interesting. Even if you think you won’t like it. Try it anyway. You can do anything for a few days, right?
Another idea is to set your schedule for the following day the night before. That way, you don’t wake up and think “hmmmm…wonder what I should start with first today?” You just wake up and look at your schedule and start!
Hope this helps! <3