Making more time for music is something that every musician is trying to do. For me, it seems that everything I do, I do in order to make more time for something else. When I do all the dishes at 11 PM, even though I’m exhausted, I’m doing it so I have more free time the next day, to make music.
More broadly, making time for art and for creative thinking is hard. Just Google: “How to make more time for art” and you’ll get one hundred self-help articles with different strategies for making more time.
However, I think that some of these efforts are misguided. It’s pretty hard to “make more time” when you’re busy. You’ve got a life outside of art (whether you like it or not), and sometimes things get hectic. Maybe you’ve got kids, or a stressful job, or you’re traveling a lot for work.
It can feel impossible to make more time. What isn’t impossible is making more art.
It’s all about how you spend your creative time. Whether you have two hours or 30 minutes, it’s how you spend it that counts. If I can only schedule in 30 minutes of creative time, I want to spend it well.
That said, you need more than 30 minutes a day to put a dent in your body of work. Managing your time is also important.
So, in this guide, I’m going to lay out a few practical time management strategies that have worked for me, as well as some really incredible strategies that will make your creative time more productive.
Before we begin, I must tell you about a few books and thinkers who have inspired much of this advice: Art Before Breakfast by Danny Gregory, Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon, and Deep Work by Cal Newport are all worth reading if you’re interested in this sort of thing.
There’s also a great TED Talk on the subject, and the Freakonmics episode, How to Be Great At Anything are full of great, fact-checked information on creativity.
5 Time Management Tips To Help You Create More Art
Here are several ways you can better manage your time to get more done.
1. Make Art Before Breakfast
Obviously, this is directly inspired by the book I mentioned above, but the principle is this: You don’t need as much time to make music or art as you think you do.
We like to feel busy, and we like to tell people how busy we are. It feeds our egos. We’ve heard successful musicians and producers tell us that they spent 12 hours a day in the studio, and that’s why they’re successful.
Don’t get me wrong, you absolutely have to work hard, but that all or nothing approach (eight hours per day or none at all) is totally misguided.
K. Anders Ericsson, the father of the research on Deliberate Practice says that most novices can only practice with intense concentration for an hour. Experts can practice with this concentration for as many as four hours, but rarely more.
These practice sessions are usually broken in half. Two two-hour sessions, four one hour sessions, and so on.
This is fantastic news.
It means that you can excel and even master your craft while working a full-time job.
It also means that the more you practice deliberately, the better you’ll get at it, and the more productive you’ll be.
All this to say, you can make music before breakfast. Get up 40 minutes early and practice. Warm up your voice. Do some technique work. Finish the song you were working on the night before. Whatever. 30 minutes of intense work produces results.
Make art before breakfast and in any other time available. Just do it.
2. Rethink Your Priorities
A big problem for me once I ditched my “day job” was feeling like I had a ton of music “business” stuff to do. I did, but the problem with music business stuff is that there is a virtually unlimited number of things you could be doing.
I found myself frustrated and unhappy. I’ve always been the kind of person to look inwards at what was making me frustrated, and when I did, I discovered my priorities had shifted in the wrong way.
I would try to get all the “business” stuff out of the way first thing in the morning, but inevitably it would take me four hours longer than I thought it would. Bad idea. By the end of the day, I would be exhausted and not wanting to make music for myself.
It was literally as simple as switching my creative time to first thing in the morning. Before I check my emails, before I look at social media or the news, I put in one to two hours of deliberate practice. Let me tell you, it feels amazing.
Rethink your priorities. Business stuff is very, very rarely urgent. You must put your creativity and your craft first. Nobody cares that you were late responding to an email if you write a hit.
3. Delegate Responsibilities
The other problem I had was literally doing too much work. I wasn’t delegating properly, because that just seemed like more work.
It was as simple as telling my band mates how I felt. They immediately understood and took responsibilities off my plate.
The other problem I had was making too much work. My band ran a pre-order campaign and opted to send out all of the merch ourselves to save money. I will never do that again. That is work that is not rewarding, and should have been delegated to a professional.
Figure out what parts of your work you are the least keen on, the worst at, or drains most of your time, and then figure out how to share that load with others.
4. Make Goals & Then Make A Plan
Part of practicing deliberately is knowing what you want to achieve. Making goals and then making a plan to achieve them will help you structure whatever creative time you have, and then work intensely on desired results.
For some people, doing a “challenge” is a great way to achieve a goal. For example, I had a friend who wanted to write a novel, so she joined a “Write a Novel in 30 Days” sort of challenge, and then just did it.
She had the time all along, she just needed the community support and the deadline to make the time that she had more productive.
And she learned that in 30 minutes before breakfast, she could write 500 words. And on her lunch break, another 350. And after doing the dishes, another 750. All of the sudden, she was writing 1,500 words a day.
That’s how you “make time”.
5. Make Music In Your Head
Anders Ericcson has also shown the benefits of practicing mentally. Literally visualizing yourself practicing and going through the motions in your brain helps.
There is a famous study on this effect, that showed that people that practiced free throws for an hour a day, for two weeks, showed the same improvements as people that visualized practicing free throws for an hour a day, for two weeks.
There’s also a famous story about the concert pianist Glenn Gould learning and memorizing an entire concerto on the plane.
The implications are remarkable. You can literally practice anywhere. Just close your eyes and put in 10 minutes of mental practice.
6 Ways To Make Your Creative Time More Productive
Even scheduled creative time can sometimes get away from you. Here are several ways to ensure you’re getting the most from it.
1. Make Your Creative Time 100% Distraction-Free
I know it’s hard, especially in the 21st century, but it is absolutely imperative that you be without distraction when making art.
Why can’t you check your phone a couple times during an hour of intense concentration?
Every time you break your concentration, even just for a few seconds, it results in an extended period of diffused concentration, and you’ll suffer the cost of task-switching which is known as attention residue. Look up either of these terms for more information.
Basically, it means that the notification you’ve responded to or received will be taking up mental space long after you’ve received it, and your brain will be recovering from the mental energy it expended when you were switching tasks.
The time you spend in focused practice without any distractions allows for “deep work”. Deep work is professional practice in a distraction-free environment that will push your cognitive abilities to their limits. It’s very important time.
How can you do this? Well, there are a few easy strategies and some great tools you can use to ensure you remain undistracted:
- Leave your phone outside the studio space. Just don’t bring it in. Even if you have files converting or bouncing, don’t check your phone. Just sit there. Let your mind wander. This is creative time.
- If you need your phone for creative work, put it on Airplane Mode. Not Do Not Disturb – with Do Not Disturb, you still get notifications; they just don’t make noise. On Airplane Mode, you don’t even have data to load up an Instagram feed.
- Download Focus on your computer. It’s a cheap app that will block a bunch of distracting websites for you while you’re working. Or just disable Wi-Fi and don’t turn it back on. No notifications. It’s bliss.
- Download Freedom for your phone. This app is intense. If you set it up properly, it not only blocks incoming notifications and surfing, it also prevents you from even unlocking the app. Even if you restart your phone. When you turn it on, it can also block you from using your iPad, computer, etc. It’s the real deal.
2. Schedule In Your “Deep Work” Time & Make It Routine
Routine is more important than inspiration. Many people seem to think that scheduling in creativity makes you less inspired, but most people find the opposite to be true.
When you schedule time to be working on music distraction-free, your mind breathes a giant sigh of relief. It’s suddenly free to think about whatever it wants to think. It can actually focus. Not just constantly multi-task.
Establishing a routine for this can be challenging, but if you make the time you spend in “deep work” routine, it will only get more productive. Your mind will settle into concentration faster and will stay there longer.
3. Also Schedule In “White Space”
If you really find you’re lacking inspiration, schedule in “white space”. This means space in your schedule where you have nothing to do.
During this space, you can do whatever you want. Go for a walk. Meditate. Do the dishes. Go make or get lunch.
The key with white space is that it has to be device free. At most, you should have a small recording device or a notepad. Nothing else.
This seems kind of “hippy dippy” or “artist-y”, but it’s uncanny. Every single time I allow myself this white space, I get a melody. And if I feel so inclined, I can go write the whole song right then and there. I can do whatever I want with my white space.
White space also doesn’t have to be long. It can be 15 minutes. It just has to be an amount of time where you give yourself the freedom to do whatever.
4. Get A Studio Space
It’s hard to stress the importance of having a dedicated music making space.
Of course, I think it’s also important to realize that you can make music literally anywhere, but having a dedicated space is seriously awesome.
If you can dedicate a room in your house to music, awesome. If you can afford a studio space outside your house, even better. Houses are full of distraction. You’ll also be more inclined to keep your studio space tidy if it’s not in your house.
5. Clean Up & Shut Down When Your Day Is Over
When your “deep work” time or creative day is over, clean up your work space and “shut it down”. Develop a shut-down routine. For me, I wrap cables, turn off my rack gear, interface, and monitors, and then literally shut down my computer.
The benefit of this, is that it allows you to relax afterwards, knowing that your work is done.
In fact, I think these routines are even important if you are just going to restart your laptop to watch a movie later. It’s about the routine, not the practicality of it.
The other benefit to a shutdown routine is that it creates a start-up routine. A routine that, when established, will kick-start your brain into creative, “deep work” mode.
Start Small, Think Big
Finally, it’s important not to just implement all of this at once. I’m still working on it. I haven’t really got to the point where I clean my studio every day, even though I totally should.
Developing habits takes time. Bite off little bits of this advice at a time, and be rewarded when you have a beautiful, creative habit in a few years. That’s what I’m working towards!