In this post we’re going to talk about project management for songwriters and musicians. Most musicians I know have several (too many) irons in the fire. The nature of our profession requires that we wear many hats and the “creating art” part of the job is often the part that we spend the least amount of time on.
We are often our own managers, booking agents, travel agents, marketers, promoters, graphic designers, drivers, roadies, producers and engineers. In fact, the most successful musicians I know are the ones who are just as good at these other roles as they are at their art.
But when you’re pulled in so many directions, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. All of these competing demands can lead to stress, exhaustion, compromise and even the temptation to just quit the biz and get a 9-to-5 – especially when the amount of work doesn’t seem to equal the payoff.
How do we manage it all, maintain a proper balance in our lives, and avoid burnout?
One idea that has helped me tremendously is something I got from Jonathan Feist in his book Project Management For Musicians. He suggests something called a Life Project Index – a list of all your projects organized into a plan.
I always have a lot of projects going on at the same time and, if I don’t have a plan, things can quickly get out of control. Keeping a project index really helps me to keep focused on the things that matter and I actually complete a lot more.
So what is a Life Project Index?
A Life Project Index is a list of all your projects organized by roles, importance, and urgency and it’s an invaluable go-to tool for keeping peace in your life.
Note that we’re focusing on PROJECTS not merely goals. A project is something tangible with a defined end result. At home, a new patio is a project. So is painting your house. With your music career, an album or a song is a project. A concert is a project.
How To Create A Life Project Index
STEP 1 : LIST
Make a list of all of your projects – both current projects and anything else you’d like to complete sometime in your life. We’re talking about everything here – professional and personal, big and little, important and just for fun. Get it all out. One of the best parts of this step for me is just being able to dump out everything that’s going on in my head.
STEP 2: CATEGORIZE
Categorize your list by the different areas of your life. You can be general (Work, Home, Hobbies) or very specific (Music Recording, Music Performing, Relationships, Community Service) – whatever works best for you.
STEP 3: PRIORITIZE
For each category, prioritize each project by how important or urgent it is to you. Organize the list with the most important items on top and the least important at the bottom. If you use a spreadsheet you can simply assign a number to each item and then just sort the range lowest to highest.
STEP 4: BUILD THE INDEX
Now the last step is where it gets fun and is the most helpful. You’re going to turn your list into a chart (all of this is easier with a spreadsheet but you can also just write it out). For each item in your list, you’re going to add a little information that will keep you on track.
You’ve already got the list prioritized. Next we want to add a completion date (if it applies). You’re also going to include just the next step you need to take towards completion of the project. This part is especially important for me as it helps me to focus on what’s right in front of me instead of looking ahead and getting overwhelmed at everything left to do.
Then decide when you’re going to do that next step and assign a status.
- 1 = Urgent
- 2 = This week sometime
- 3 = When I get to it
- W = Waiting on someone else.
The “W” has been especially helpful for me. I used to schedule each detail of my projects a month or more in advance only to have the whole plan fall apart each time someone else failed to deliver. Assigning a W gets it out of the way until I can actually work on it.
I’ve also added a column with an estimated amount of time it will take for me to complete the next step. This helps when planning my day and, if I find myself with an unexpected free hour, I can look quickly for something on the list that can be done in that amount of time.
So now you have a plan for your day, your week, and your life – at least for the near future. Instead of getting tossed around and reacting to whatever is in front of you, you can focus on what’s most important to you.
The key to keeping up with this for me has been to keep it very simple. For a short time, I had added a few extra columns and categories to my index but the minute it starts to become too much work, I stop using it. The point is to have something fluid you can quickly go to daily (even hourly) and know exactly what your next task will be and why it’s important.
Written down, this seems like a big process but, in practice and once you’ve used it for a bit, it’s very quick and easy.
I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered this – I still work way too many hours in a week and am often wishing I had more time for other things – BUT my mind is clearer, I’m less stressed, and I have many more moments where I feel like I’ve accomplished something.
I’ve only touched on the value of project management for musicians. I strongly recommend checking out Jonathan Feist’s Project Management for Musicians for a ton of ideas like this to help you get more done more efficiently.
If you’d like help managing your song or album project, reach out to me. I’d love to hear from you and I’d love to help.