Time Management for Game Audio Freelancers - Part 1
Have you ever experienced any of the following?
Lack of Focus
Work & Life Imbalance
LOL just kidding. We ALL experience these problems.
While it happens to the best of us, excessive issues with focus, attention, and balance often plague those who don't live by and strictly adhere to a well-organized schedule.
If you just thought, "Ew... scheduling out my day like a robot is not for me. I'm a creative!", then I 100% sympathize with you.
I also never considered using my calendar for anything other than remembering birthdays, until someone persuaded me to give a little more thought to my time management.
It's a game-changer. And in more ways than you might think.
Keep reading to discover why proper time management is a tool you and your business can't live without, and how to get started using it quickly and easily.
P.S. This would be a good article to read in cooperation with my post on setting priorities for your business. Managing your time well is more useful when you are using that time for tasks that are actually important!
Tick. Tock. Time is your most valuable asset. Use it wisely!
Time Management & Creatives
Creative people are not naturally drawn towards the topic of time management.
This makes sense because time management is an exercise in rigidity and organization and being creative involves breaking free from strict structures in order to will something new and original into existence.
And yet everywhere you look, you'll find world-class artists have found solace and comfort in having a schedule.
Fantastic research by Mason Curry (from the book "Daily Rituals")
Whether they were early birds or night owls, created for hours without break or hardly worked at all, they all subscribed more or less to the idea that setting aside specific times for specific tasks was of paramount importance.
"If it's not in the calendar, it's not real.
You're not going to FIND balance. You have to CREATE it."
More than Just Routine
Having a well-thought-out schedule is more than simply abiding by a routine.
Most of us do that already. We are all creatures of habit in our own ways, whether we realize it or not.
Time management is about looking into your future, deciding what activities are worthwhile, and dedicating a pre-planned amount of time to spend on them.
But why do this?
If something is important, I will surely remember to do it, right?
If something is necessary for my business and/or life I'll surely be motivated to do it in a timely manner, right?
Unless you are a natural planner (and if you are, you probably aren't reading this blog) then these are exactly the reasons why scheduling certain tasks in advance is so important!
Without a set time slot (preferably with a reminder) to do a certain task, it very well might slip under the radar, no matter how important it is.
Depending on the task, this might be no big deal...
But it might also have serious consequences for you and your business!
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So How Do You Get Started?
Paradoxically, the best place to start placing tasks on your calendar is not with the big projects you might consider tackling first.
Instead, begin with the small, recurring tasks associated with running your business.
Because those are easily forgettable.
Who hasn't had this feeling?
Human beings are in the habit of falsely associating the size and scope of a task with its importance.
This isn't to say that the OST you're hustling to get finished isn't important.
However, ignoring, for example, the small task of following up regularly with your industry contacts in favor of spending an extra half hour on that synth bass sound may be more serious than you think.
Put off small tasks like that once and it's not likely to be the death of your career.
Forget about them for weeks or months at a time though, and you might find yourself with one hot new OST but zero new paying projects.
A freelancer's life is made up of too many similarly small but crucial tasks to rely on your grey matter to juggle it all for you.
Unless you're a polymath genius, your brain isn't likely to magically alert you at consistent intervals to do your bookkeeping, answer emails, write your blog, etc...
But your schedule can do just that.
So let's get started!
Step 1 | Brain Dump
Yup, you heard me right. Brain dump.
Brain dumping is the act of transferring knowledge from your brain into some other storage medium.
Similar to saving a custom preset on your favorite plugin for easy access later, we will tuck these brain-dumped items away in a safe place where we can find them, thus opening up our mental resources for other, more important tasks.
You after relieving your brain of remembering these tasks.
What does this look like?
Take out a pen and paper or open up an empty document on your computer and literally dump all those minuscule but necessary recurring business tasks out onto the page.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Following up with contacts from your network
And don't stop at your business!
Dump those recurring private life tasks while you're at it!
Calling your mother-in-law
Why list both?
Because work is life and life is work.
"Work is life and life is work!" Preach!
Realizing you forgot to go grocery shopping for your family yesterday will stress you out at work just as thinking about that email you forgot to write will stress you out at home on the weekend.
Being the master of all these tasks is the only way to truly relieve yourself of these kinds of stressful situations and find that precious "work-life balance" everyone is always talking about.
When you're done, you should have a nice, colorful list of every imaginable repeating activity in your life.
Keep it open for a while. You're sure to have forgotten something!
Step 2 | Scheduling
Now that you have a list of all those little tasks that often go unnoticed (or flat out ignored), we can start putting them into our calendar.
Consider each task, how often it likely needs to be done, and when in your life it would be most appropriate to take care of it.
This will be drastically different for each and every one of us, but here are some ideas from my calendar:
- Schedule Social Media Posts
Tuesday & Thursday 8pm-9pm
- Work on Game Audio Pro Blog (it's currently 8:45pm on a Thursday as I write this)
- Meal plan/order groceries for next week
Last Friday of Every Month 10am-12pm
- Monthly Recap, Plan for Next Month
There is much more, but you get the idea.
If you have certain obligations (such as a newborn) that prevent extremely exact scheduling, you could always just put things on a to-do list for a certain day of the week and squeeze them in when you can.
Even then, however, I would strive to be as exact as possible.
The whole point of being precise with your planning is to eliminate the stress of wondering when you will take care of certain things that need to be done.
The less precise you are, the less certainty exists in your schedule.
This creates more room for mistakes. We don't want that.
Once these tasks are in your calendar, I'd strongly suggest setting reminders to notify you when it's time to do them.
Otherwise, there's no way you will remember it all.
And that would be kind of missing the point, yes?
The sky is the limit here and I encourage you to go all out and fill your schedule up as much and as precisely as possible because only then can you move on to the next step!
Step 3 | Implementation & Fine Tuning
Now it's time to start living your beautifully scheduled life.
And guess what?
You're gonna mess this up!
And I mean a vast majority of what you planned will likely be wrong and simply not work for you and your schedule.
The point of going big right from the get-go is that you will start receiving instant feedback from your life as to whether or not your initial plan was reasonable.
Maybe you scheduled too much time for a short task or too little time for a long one.
Maybe you realized that Saturdays aren't a great time to go grocery shopping because it's the weekend and you want to relax.
That's all fine and a natural part of the process.
There's no need to expect your first attempt to be perfect.
That being said, it's important to give it your best and live by the schedule you've set, even if it isn't perfect yet.
If you ignore it or skip some of it because you don't feel like it, you won't get that sweet, sweet feedback that leads to you actually understanding and creating a great schedule that works for you.
Tweak as you go and over time you will have an epic, super-custom schedule that fits your life like a glove!
Is There More?
You bet your butt there is!
As you probably noticed, we've only tackled a small part of your life's many varied activities.
That being said, most of us are not likely to forget that we are currently composing music for a game, creating a new sound pack, or other big-ticket tasks.
I personally have those in my calendar as "project work" chunks between my carefully scheduled breaks for email, bookkeeping, and all those other smaller tasks mentioned above.
I will circle around later to add some helpful time management tips for those bigger tasks, so make sure you sign up to my email list to get that notification.
"For every minute spent planning, an hour is earned."
Your calendar is not there to restrict you, but rather to free you from trying to juggle these recurring, menial tasks with brainpower alone.
You are not a robot, which means your inevitable failure to execute perfectly on all these little tasks without some kind of system in place will cause you unnecessary and totally avoidable stress!
Why worry about remembering to reach out to your valuable industry contacts every once in a while.
Put it in your calendar!
Why lose sleep over that email you realize you didn't respond to?
Put it in your calendar!
Why wonder when the last time you cleaned your bedsheets was?
Put it in your calendar!
We've all heard how time is an irreplaceable asset.
What many leave out is that the quality of the time you spend at work and at home can easily be devalued by poor planning and that sinking feeling you get when you realize you forgot something.
There are abundant, free-to-use scheduling/calendar tools available to all of us that can help avoid that feeling, increase our focus, find balance, and make our lives easier.
All we have to do is start using them.
I created The Game Audio Pro with the goal of helping others understand the fundamental business skills that are often the difference between success and failure for freelancers.
If you're ready to take your game audio career to the next level, download my guide to The Most Important Mindset for Game Audio Success.