Expert Advice: How To Manage Your Time & Money

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We’ve all squandered valuable time in our lives and careers, wishing we could go back and make the most of those hours, days and weeks. Likewise, on how many occasions have we squandered our money, spending without thinking of the big picture and the long haul? To help you avoid those regrets, music career expert Charles Michael Austin, Ed. D., Director of Career Development at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, has plenty of sage, sensible advice.

1. Managing Time and Managing Money Are the Same Thing

They both involve prioritizing and managing scarce resources. Dealing with them is essential if you’re going to successfully handle the projects that will lead to the career success you’re after. Most of us spend our time and use (or misuse) our money largely because we’re unaware. It’s time to wake up—and stay awake.

2. Dont Sin Against Your Talent

Lenny Bruce was a groundbreaking standup comedian in the 1950s and ‘60s. He was also a heroin addict. When he OD’d at age 40, someone said Lenny “sinned against his talent.” You, too, were given a talent to share with the world. Your talent isn’t for you to waste; it’s something to always nurture so others can benefit from your creativity. Avoid anything that gets in the way of that. Behaviors like partying when you ought to be practicing, eating junk food when it’s cheaper (and healthier) to prepare your own, smoking cigarettes when you know they’re expensive and will shorten your life and affect your singing voice, are “sins against your talent.”

3. Start At The End

When you have a goal, you can plan how you manage your time and spend your money to support it. What comes first is that which moves your career forward; anything else is secondary. Become a marketing machine, doing everything you can at all times to deliver your talent to the world.

4. Distinguish Needs from Wants

When you get cold, your extremities feel it first—they’re protecting your vital organs. With your career goal in mind (say, writing and recording two songs), determine what you need to make that happen (scheduling writing sessions with a collaborator, booking studio time, buying a new amp, etc.) versus what you want ($150 concert tickets, buying $300 worth of drinks for your friends every Friday, sleeping instead of going to the gym, etc.). When you’re clear about your goals, you can decide whether something makes your money (or gives you time) or costs you money or time.

5. Get Your Priorities Straight 

Rock & roll culture encourages perpetual adolescence. You never have to grow up; life is a big party. People who’ve been in the business for a while, however, will tell you that you can’t build a sustainable career like that. What really matters to you? Why are you here? Is it to waste your talent—or grow and share it? You became a musician so other people could hear and appreciate your music. Since it has the potential to change lives, when are you going to stop ripping other people off?

6. Set Manageable Milestones

Rather than seeing your goal as a giant mountain you have to climb, think of it as a series of small hills. Break it down into steps with measurable deliverables and deadlines. Here’s the process of writing and recording your two songs: write music to first song by Friday; finish lyrics by Monday; lay tracks to first song in two weeks; vocals recorded three days after that; mixing for six days after vocals recorded; track complete by the end of month. At each step you congratulate—and reward—yourself for accomplishing part of the project. Eventually, you finished the whole thing!

7. Increase Revenue and Cut Expenses

This is the mantra for every business. All musicians are freelancers. Freelancing means you are your own business. This means you’ve got to follow a budget and look at it every month to see how you need to increase revenue—and where you’re wasting money. This needs to be a practice for as long as you keep working, no matter how much money you have.

8. Analyze How You Spend Your Time

An excellent way to become aware of how you use—and waste—your time is to journal how you spend your time during the week, in half-hour increments. As with money, first you become aware of your routine, and then make the adjustments. Focus on spending your time (and money) to generate and maintain forward progress in your career. Once you’ve created your “time budget,” ask yourself if you’re being as efficient as possible. Do you need to hang out with your friends that much? (Could you be practicing instead?) Do you need to be on Netflix for so long? (Maybe you could write some songs instead?) I’m not advocating no fun; I’m saying some of it needs to be postponed while you work at creating and building your career.

9. Do As Little Work As Possible

How efficiently can you accomplish what you need to do? It’s not about activity; it’s about accomplishment. It’s not how hard you worked; all that matters are the results you produced. Your challenge is always: produce the greatest amount of positive results with the least amount of effort.

10. Develop New Habits

Becoming and staying conscious about how you handle time and money are probably not going to be fun. They’re just things adults just need to do to—the work that allows you to play. This is about being your own parent, the adult who has to say no (or not yet) occasionally, so the inner child can get to express itself when it’s appropriate.

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