Time management strategies for staying creative and productive

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Illustration: Filip Froehlich

While not having enough time can be tough, having ‘too much’ of it can also present its own set of challenges in regards to creativity.

Whether you have very little free time or are struggling to use an abundance of it effectively, there are a number of time management strategies out there that can help you orient yourself towards productivity. Below, we explore four strategies that are particularly valuable.

1. Be intentional with how you set aside time

Even if it’s just an hour once every few days, intentionally set aside time that you’re going to dedicate to music (or any other activity of your choice). Rather than making a mental note, put it down in some sort of concrete way through a calendar block, an alarm on your phone, etc. If you can, also try to make that time a recurring block (ex. the same day / time every week) so that it becomes ingrained in your day-to-day routine. And during the time you’ve set aside, remove whatever you know to be your greatest distractions – close that YouTube tab, leave your phone on the other side of the room, etc. When it comes to time management, it’s ultimately not about how many hours you have, but rather how you use them.

2. Don’t let one project halt all of your creativity

Whether it’s an unwritten bridge or a challenging mix, sometimes we get stuck on a specific aspect of a project we’re working on, and the creative frustration deters us from opening our DAW at all. If you feel yourself falling into this trap, either set that work aside for a bit and try something new, or make a creative decision, take a deep breath, and move on instead of tinkering endlessly.

If you’re someone who struggles with committing to creative decisions, try participating in regular challenges that have short turnarounds like remix contests or Songwriting Club and Weekly Rhythm prompts. These sorts of exercises will get you into the habit of finishing musical ideas, or if not, at least being okay with moving forward with something that’s not your (probably virtually unattainable) definition of “perfect.” Challenges with deadlines will also naturally push you to be more productive with your time, as it’ll be a finite resource.

3. Find an accountability partner

Whether it’s another musician, a partner, or a completely non-musical friend, find someone who you can regularly report to and celebrate your progress with. Tell them about something you’d like to achieve and when you’d like to achieve it by, and have them do the same for you, for whatever makes sense to them. Now that you have someone besides yourself who’s conscious of your goals and a timeline that isn’t solely in your head, you’ll find that you have more motivation to complete the task at hand – for better or worse, many of us will work harder to avoid letting other people down than ourselves.

When it comes to identifying an accountability partner, finding the right personality may be more important than finding someone who shares the same exact goals; make sure the individual is someone who genuinely pushes you to succeed, but also doesn’t beat you up in the event that you don’t quite accomplish everything that you hoped you would. Find someone who you would also genuinely like to see succeed, and wouldn’t be afraid to (kindly) call out if they need it. Start by holding each other accountable to smaller, short-term goals (ex. “I’m going to finish recording vocals up to the first chorus of this new demo by the end of the week”) and gradually work your way up.

4. Don’t be afraid to take a break

Procrastinators know best that when you’re not being productive, you’re unable to fully enjoy the creative process or whatever else you’re doing to avoid it. While we mentioned above that it’s important to set aside distractions when you’re working, after you’ve put in the hours, also find some time where you can take breaks without worrying about anything else. Fully immerse yourself in the recreational activity you’re indulging in, whether it’s watching Netflix, reading a book, catching up with a friend, or diving into the newest game you’ve been itching to play. Remember to keep an eye on the clock and plan when you’re going to stop beforehand, but be kind to yourself and don’t feel bad about taking a breather – as a matter of fact, sometimes the activities that you enjoy outside of the DAW are the very things that spark the inspiration for your next magnum opus.

Do you have any time management strategies we didn’t mention above that you’ve found success with? Let us know in the comments below.

April 16, 2020

Harrison Shimazu Harrison Shimazu is the editor of the Splice blog and a composer for video games and film.