How To Become More Productive as a Musician

About 5 years ago, I reached a point where I felt as though I was no longer being productive with my time. Every week was jam packed with work. For the first few years I was in my element, but after a while I felt like a hamster spinning round and round on a wheel. I was moving, but not very far. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d burnout doing the very thing I love more than anything, but I did. The lack of sleep, bad diet, and stress took its toll on me, and I realized I had to find another way.

I finally decided to figure out how I could use my time more effectively and honestly, it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

If you want to become more productive with your time, here are a few tips I’ve learnt along the way. I hope they help you as much as they have helped me.

Busy vs Productive

This was a big one. I confused being busy with being productive and they are two very different things.

It wasn’t uncommon for me to play between 3-5 shows on a weekend, as well as teaching lessons and workshops during the day. Through the week was equally busy and I never, ever had a day off.

When people would ask me what I’d been up to, I’d tell them with much enthusiasm how insanely busy I was, as if that was something to be proud of.

Truth is, I was running myself into the ground and a couple of years ago I completely and utterly burned out.

Just in case you’re wondering, burnout is very real.

I worked morning, noon and night, saying yes to everything and anything that was offered to me. I thought that was what being productive was all about.

*WRONG!*

Rule #1: You time is valuable! Never forget that.

The first and most difficult decision I made was to start saying No more often than Yes. It was scary at first. Like, really scary. I’m self-employed and saying No to offers of work seemed insane. What if I turn down this work and nothing else comes in? What if I can’t pay the bills? What if what if what if…..

But as a result of me sticking to my guns and saying No more often, I can now do 1 gig for the same amount of money as 3 previous gigs.

I learned that when I said Yes to a gig that doesn’t pay well and takes up a lot of my time, I’m saying No to a better offer. And it works the other way around too.

To recap:
Busy = Saying yes to whatever comes along, without considering if it’s worth doing or not.

Productive = Setting goals and only saying yes to things that help you achieve those goals.

Which leads me nicely into:

Set Goals and Stick to Them

At the beginning of this journey, my first goal was to do less work for more money. I felt like such a self-centered a-hole making this my goal. I mean, who asks for that?! Even admitting this to you makes me feel a little icky.

I come from a long line of hard workers and was raised on the principle that if you want something you put in the time and work hard for it. Nothing wrong with that. However, problems arise when you’re only working harder and not smarter (cue the hamster wheel).

If you want to see change, set goals for yourself. Be clear on what those goals are and then stick to them. Prioritize them at all costs.

It’s also important to write your goals down and re-read them from time to time. You know that saying “When we lose our why we lose our way?” If ever I’m feeling as if I’ve forgotten what direction I’m going in, I remind myself of the goals I have set for myself.

Every time an offer comes in, be sure to ask yourself; does this help me achieve my goals? If the answer is no, don’t do it. It’s most likely a distraction and it will only pull you away from the path you have chosen for yourself.

Set Aside Time for Personal and Creative Development

I have a morning routine which takes place between 9-10am. In that hour I do a mixture of Yoga, Qi Gong, meditation, journaling, reading and music practice. I know what you’re thinking, sounds like an awful lot to cram into 60 minutes It’s taken some time to figure out exactly how long to spend on what, but I now have an awesome routine that I look forward to every day.

In the old days I used to spend hours and hours practicing, but now I find I’m much more productive when I do short bursts of 5-10mins.

I knew this routine was going to help me, but I’ve been absolutely blown away by how much of a difference it has made to not only my musicianship, but my overall disposition.

I highly recommend taking time out of your day for some you time. Create your own routine incorporating whatever you like. If you’re a songwriter, how about doing some speed writing every morning? Or if you’ve always wanted to get into meditation or something similar, carve out the time and get started. If it feels overwhelming, start off small with something like 5-10 minutes a day. You could even do something as simple as writing down 3 things you’re grateful for every morning or going for a walk around the block. Don’t overthink it, just start somewhere and keep going! You’ll be amazed at the difference it will make.

Getting off the Devices

This is easier for some than others I decided to set specific times to check my social media and emails and then for the rest of the day I resist the urge to pull out my phone and look at stuff. For me, it’s unproductive and serves as nothing but a distraction.

Every morning with my cup of tea, I go over my emails and social media. Then again in the early evening I go over emails one more time. Instead of scrolling through aimless social media posts late at night, I leave my phone in the lounge and take a book to bed.

This simple act has removed a lot of the clutter from my brain, and I’ve noticed I sleep a whole lot better too.

I really hope some of these tips have been helpful. Let me know in the comments below. I’d also love to know if you have anything else to add to this list.

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