Musician's Top 10 Getting It Done List

Being a working musician is tough. You're pretty much on your own. You have to take care of all of the business, networking and finances. On top of that you have to find time after a busy day to try and be creative and make some great art. Here are a list of things to help you keep focused and on track.

1. Move away from abstract ideas to actionable goals - There was a study done with two groups of people. Both groups where given a set of tasks to complete. Group A's tasks where clear and concise (like go pickup this, go here etc.); whereas Group B's tasks where a little more abstract (like having to pick out 'interesting items'). Group A completed all of the tasks whereas Group B had trouble completing the list. It's much easier for us to complete concrete, measurable goals. This especially applies to musicians because so much of what we do is abstract. For example your goal maybe to write a song. That's not well enough defined and also may not be something you can complete in one go. A better goal would be to finish a first draft of a pop song or ballad. This applies to everything; your writing, business and practice sessions.

2. Work backwards with the end in mind - This is another well known technique that is hard for musicians to convert to their art. If you're creating art, you can't start with the end in mind because you usually don't know what the end is. This works better for career goals and band/marketing/business tasks but like noted above can be helpful in your writing and practicing. For example you have a band and don't know where you want to go. You decide that you want to release a 6 song professionally done CD in 6 months. That's starting with the end in mind. Now when you get together you can start planning for that end.

3. Create and/or get involved in a community/network - One of the worst mistakes I see artists doing is working in a vacuum. Not only does networking and being in a large community help with your creativity, it helps get gigs, make money and keeps you in touch with what's going on. It also helps in the learning curve since so much can be gained from others' experience and mistakes.

4. Take note of your successes - It's easy to get carried away with trying to get stuff done that you don't take notice of what you've accomplished. This is also very important in another aspect; if you take note of your successes, you'll slowly start to learn what works and what doesn't. Most of the time musicians have to fly by the seat of their pants. If you come across something that works, take note and use it again. It doesn't matter if it goes against the grain or not, if it works for you, it works.

5. Review plans and goals often - This goes along with the previous. It's too easy to get carried away in creating music and playing without taking note of why you're doing it or if it's line with your goals. One of the great things about music is that it is literally never ending. It's too easy to go in a hundred different directions at once and in the end not get anything done at all. Make sure what you're doing stays in line with your goals. Review your goals often; edit and change when you feel the need.

6. Create time-lines and deadlines - I've known musicians how have worked on the same song for years. It's important that for every goal you write down, you create a time-line and more importantly a deadline. Try as hard as you can to adhere to these if you can. If you've put something on your list, it has to have importance to it and it has to be done. This is one of the best ways of getting things done.

7. Simplify - There are a million things that you have to do. More now than ever, a musician has to be effective in tons of areas. The best way to make sure things are getting done is to simplify. Simplify your entire life if you can. That means sometimes saying no to new projects because you must finish the ones you're on. That means using the gear you have and not needing every new piece that comes along. It means saying no to other activities to open up time for your music. Or, leaving off some new musical ventures and techniques because you have to prepare for your next gig. You must be ruthless in this area. If you are effective in this, you may actually find time opening up for all of those other things that you want to do.

8. Create working hours - It's too easy to just try and fit your musical activities into your 'free' time and hope to get it all done. The most effective way to make sure that you're getting something done everyday is to assign certain times of the day for work and practice. I separate the two; music business, and music practice. Music business can be done at almost anytime of the day although I find it's best to do it first; that way I know that it's getting done. The first thing you should do during your 'office hours' is go through your goals and planner and see what needs to be done. That way you're always on course and not likely to waste time on things that aren't on your list. Secondly, always schedule practice and writing time into your day. You may find that certain times work better for this than others. Maybe you're more creative at night therefore you would schedule your time for that. Schedule in a certain amount of time (I like to work in half hour increments) and always make sure you do at least that.

9. Be diligent - Getting stuff done on your own takes a lot of discipline. It's important that you stay focused, practice discipline (it's a muscle, not a talent), and always finish important projects. It's easy to get discouraged and let things go. It takes diligence to make it.

10. Always make time for your art - Being a musician is a 24 hour a day lifestyle. Although it may not seem like it, this list is to free your mind so you can get that all important work done. When you have a community that you are a part of, if you're taking care of the business side, if you're staying disciplined and on course, it becomes a lot easier to get more done. You'll be amazed at how much more you enjoy the process, even though there's a ton of stuff going on. Most of all, it leaves time in everyday to be creative and just enjoy being a musician.

Try and Try Again

The idea of getting things done isn't new. Most of these are tried and true techniques. Musicians and artists seem to have issues all of their own. It's important that you address these and find work-arounds. It's tough enough trying to create great art in the first place, never mind having to deal with the million other things in your life. Simplify, work hard and stay focused and you'll soon find yourself enjoying the process all that much more.


  1. This is a great post, but I do have one question I would love if you could comment on. Setting goals is something discussed in #1 and #5, and those goals have an impact on the rest of the points, so I was wondering if you could comment on how to set effective goals. How can a musician effectively evaluate oneself and set a goal that is reaching but attainable? Any tips?

  2. Hi,

    Great question. Too much to mention here. Working on my next post.