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RULE 1: Minimize

Chances are, if you’re in your 20′s or 30′s, you’re doing too much. You have a Twitter, Facebook, 4Square, Tumblr account, and maybe more. You may not even realize it, but you find yourself wishing you’d start that business, try for that dream job, or make that record… and you don’t because of “obligations” or “responsibilities”, or worse yet, simple “lack of time.” I’m with you. I’ve been there. Unfortunately for us as humans, this doesn’t get easier as we grow older and add families or children to the mix, so it’s best that we learn how to handle it now. No more excuses. It’s time to trim the fat.

In my early 20′s, I found myself devoured by a freelance design business that demanded constant attention with little return. My assumption that making my own hours would instantly give me the flexibility to do music wasn’t exactly true, as the constant search to find work became a full-time job of its own. My solution? Take a 9-5 position at a local design firm. While this might sound counter-intuitive, it actually freed up a large majority of my time by eliminating an entire proposal and client management side I no longer dealt with, and provided me with the means to invest in my music career for the first time. I had time to write better songs and money to get things moving.

RULE 2: Delegate

While the term “independent” in the music industry generally refers to running your own career, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do it alone. This is one part of the puzzle that I find many creatives miss. I know I certainly did. The beauty of being an “independent” artist is that you’re suddenly the boss of your own career; the CEO and founder of your music, and it’s your job to build a team under you.

So how do we do this? If you’ve followed rule #1, you should have already eliminated anything that isn’t necessary to do. With what’s left, ask yourself if it’s necessary that You specifically do the task, or if someone else could do it for you, possibly even better than you. [side-note: I don’t generally suggest delegation of creative work. That’s what you enjoy, remember!?] If it’s work that you personally need to do, [for example, communicating with your fans] I move it onto the next rule. Otherwise, I find a way to delegate it.

RULE 3: Prioritize

“The key is not to prioritize your schedule but to schedule your priorities.”

~ Stephen R. Covey from “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”

Our society, and partially our school system, has ingrained in us that busy is better; that multi-tasking is a necessity, and that Facebook deserves your constant attention. It doesn’t. What does deserve your attention are your goal-driven, well-defined priorities. It’s time to separate yourself from the noise.

If we’ve already dropped the collective mass of unnecessary items from our lives and delegated out anything that doesn’t specifically require our input, then all we have left are things that actually need our attention. You are now the CEO of your life and artist career. Congrats! Now to act like one.

This is the rule where I see most creatives lose focus. I personally suffer from the “do-it-all-now!” syndrome, so I can relate, but doing what deserves your attention at the right time creates momentum, and our goal is to feed that energy.

I start this process by taking a pen and paper and writing down all of the tasks that I need to do [Actually, I usually do this starting at rule one and make columns for “minimize”, “delegate” and “prioritize”]. Once I have my list, I’ll give each task a weight based on its urgency, my desire to see it to completion, or the length of time it’s been on the list [longer gets higher priority].

RULE 4: Automate

Does anyone still pay with cash all the time? Do you remember having to thumb through a stack of bills and change to find the right amount, then possibly receiving change back and having to count or organize it? Along came Debit and Credit Cards, and with them slews of systems to make the process of a transaction more efficient. What if you could use similar automation to get out of your own way? Well you can, and I do every day.

By running myself through this “5 Rules” process numerous times, I began to notice systems develop each time a similar priority was identified. Perhaps all co-writing appointments could be setup in the same 4 steps. Maybe all my reoccurring payments could be pooled to one credit card that I auto-pay once a month? Could all my booking emails be funneled to an auto-responder that followed up for me and sent a press release? As these systems began to develop, I would ask myself one simple question: Does automating this task make it too impersonal? If the answer was no, I’d set the system in place.

RULE 5: Create

This is it, folks. This is what you’ve saved up so much time and energy to do. In my personal opinion, this should always be priority and rule #1, even if you do use the first 4 rules to clean out everything else. This is what drives and motivates you. As an artist or content creator, this is what will actually make or break you in the end. This is what you should be funneling the vast majority of your time and effort into as it feeds your authentic ability to connect and engage your audience.

My personal favorite metaphor for this comes from Bruce Warila’s article about a 3 legged table. It’s a quick read and worth your time, but in summary it suggests that your career is built on 3 legs: Songs, Magnetism, and Business… and that out of these, Songs is the one leg that can bring down the entire table if it isn’t strong. Take this to heart. Spend your time developing your talents and creating quality material. While it may not be the first thing that brings you financial success [via digital downloads, for example] it is the strongest piece that connects you to your fans, and builds a relationship that can last your entire career.”

[Al Lindstrom]