7 Time Management Tips for Busy Musicians

Do you ever feel like you’re living a double life? In one life, you’re a musician; in another, you’re a fill-in-the-blank.

Whether you’re a solo performer or part of an ensemble, whether you’re working full time or part time, whether you’re raising a family or just trying to take care of yourself — leading this “double life” can get hectic.

You’re being pulled in many different directions, and you might even feel like, at the end of the day, you dropped the ball somewhere — maybe with your practice, or spending time with friends, or eating well.

So, what’s the answer? How can musicians find the best way to manage their time?

Ask a Pro

For time management tips, we talked one of the busiest people we know: Chad Smith, the COO of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

His role carries numerous responsibilities: on the content side, he manages artistic planning and the education department. On the producing side, he oversees the orchestra and production department (which is more about making the planning come to life). He is also responsible for overseeing centennial planning which involves even more long-term strategic thinking. And four nights a week he’s at a concert.

“The challenging part is balancing discussions about things that are happening in a few hours with the kind of thinking required to imagine things that are happening in three to five years. These are two very different kinds of thinking, and I often have to toggle between immediate problems and long-term challenges.”

Sound familiar?

In a recent interview with Chad, he shared his top time-management strategies, which we’ve laid out below.

Set Aside Uninterrupted Time for Big-Picture Thinking

You probably know that highly successful people spend time working on what is important, not just what is urgent. Important work is often more long-term in nature and pertains to your ability to achieve goals that may be a year or more away, not just for tomorrow or next week.

A critical part of Chad’s role is thinking about the long-term on a daily basis as he works on programming for future seasons.

“I set aside 2 hours each day as ‘planning time.’ During that time, I don’t reply to emails or calls; instead, I work on the things that take more than five minutes.”

Of course, working for a busy nonprofit means that interruptions do occur, and Chad has to adapt.

“Part of it is developing the muscle to shift from thinking about short-term things and then switch back and give yourself mental space to think about longer projects.”

Chad says that, with practice, juggling short- and long-term goals gets easier. When planning long-term, he doesn’t get too caught up in the bite-size details — those come later during the execution phase. Instead he tries to build out the architecture and decision-making process of a project so he can create a framework for moving it along.

Say, “Not Now”

Many of our clients say yes to projects and commitments that aren’t aligned with their bigger goals — or that won’t pay off for them in the long run (in terms of the amount of time or energy it would take them to get it done).

Part of Chad’s job is saying no to 99% of ideas that come across his desk. So how does he say no in a way that feels good? His second time management tip is key.

Instead of saying a hard no, he says, “Not now.”

“I always need to stay open in the arts world, since I’m constantly following and looking out for new projects.”

Saying no is like a dance — so say it with a smile, and remember that “no” doesn’t mean “never.”

Approach Tasks with a Creative Mindset

Checking off your to-do list can feel fun when you find ways to be creative. Even if creativity is not encouraged in your current job, it’s important — as a musician, performer and creative type — to push yourself to find creativity in all parts of your day.

“In a healthy work environment, everyone should feel like their job is creative. Creativity is a state of being. In that space, you feel empowered to creatively manage your projects or imagine better ways to do things.”

According to Chad, if you notice that you’re feeling a lack of creativity it’s often a sign of complacency or resignation about change. Broaden your thinking by asking “what if” questions — even when dealing with projects that don’t appear to be creative on the surface.

Work Around Your Energy

You probably know the time of day that you typically hit a wall (2pm snack break anyone?). Pay attention to your energy patterns and plan your workflow around them.

For Chad, he is most creative and productive in the morning, from around 8 to Noon, so he tries to plan team meetings during that time. The afternoon is more of a slump, so he tries to go to the gym or respond to emails. And his creativity picks back up between 5 and 7pm.

What aspects of your work require your most focused energy and creativity? How can you plan those around your best times of the day?

During your “slump” hours, can you take on an easy task like answering emails — or possibly take a short break to re-energize?

Find Opportunities to Come Back to the Present

As we mentioned earlier, Chad is at a concert four nights a week. And even though he’s gotten used to this schedule over the years, there are times that he has to take a break from it all.

For him, that means going hiking or taking a vacation, and really using that time to stay completely present.

As a musician, your time is often split between planning for long-term projects and goals and practicing for the next gig coming up. Make sure to carve out time, either weekly or a few times a year, to step away from “forward thinking” and bring yourself back into the present moment.

This doesn’t have to be hard! Practice presence while you’re exercising, practicing, reading — or even cooking dinner.

Take a Musical Approach

You’ve probably experienced already how achieving musical excellence is a long game. It requires diligent commitment and planning over many years.

How can you bring that mentality to the professional aspects of your career and make long-term plans?

Chad reminded us that, in music, the idea of progress is very incremental. When managing projects over a long period of time, he approaches them with the same perspective that he used in his musical training: bite-size pieces that, over time, demonstrate progress.


Handing off parts of a project can be scary. But it can also be extremely rewarding and free you up to do the things you’re truly passionate about.

Chad suggests dividing your tasks into two buckets: the things you have to do and the things others can do.

Remember that the way someone else does something might be different but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Liberate yourself from doing the tasks that don’t bring you joy.

Do You Have Any Time Management Tips?

Chad has experimented with a number of time-management methods over the years — and some have been more successful than others. So, we would love to hear what works for YOU.

How do you manage the “double life” of a performer?

What do you do to stay on track, even when you’re overwhelmed?

What’s your biggest struggle when it comes to time management?

Leave a comment below.

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