In theory, being a musician could mean many things. It could mean sleeping in late on weekdays, doing what you love, living a bohemian life that doesn’t conform to the world’s materialistic standards. In reality, being a musician means getting up at six in the morning to run to work before uni starts, to be able to pay rent because music doesn’t. It means spending more time on reading about Instagram algorithms than writing songs, and worrying about whether your music is commercial enough.
Most musicians, contrary to what some people may think, have very little time and a lot to do. We design our own websites, record and produce our own songs, perform, write, keep up with our social media, make our own videos, and often have another job on the side. I don’t know if other musicians feel the same way, but I often feel like I have too much on my plate. I struggle with the pressure to do as much as other singer-songwriters I know.
The first two years of making music as my primary occupation, these thoughts freaked me out. Every time I sat down to watch a film or read a book, I felt guilty because I knew some of my friends were still rehearsing at eleven in the evening. Days off were unheard of – you either worked a regular job or you worked on your music. The busyness culture had crept into the most bohemian of occupations, and I was being swept up in it. But slowly, I started figuring out little ways to trick my mind into relaxing, finding ways to get stuff done, and to rest. It’s been an arduous journey, but I think I’m getting there. And for all the other workaholics out there, I hope this will help:
1. I began timing myself.
As a musician, there are a lot of tasks you need to accomplish that could take ten minutes, or – if you’re a perfectionist – will take actual hours. Shooting an Instagram video, anything with music production, recording a vocal take – you name it. And sometimes, it’s hard to know when to stop. So, now, whenever I know I might lose track of time doing something, I set a timer before I start. For example, when I work on a recording of a song, I set a timer for two hours. It pushes me to work faster and be more decisive and usually delivers the same results as I would have had otherwise.
2. I started making time for my friends.
When I moved to London, I found myself alone. All through my first year, I lived in a hostel, so I had plenty of social contact, but none of the deeper relationships I kept hearing were important. At the end of my first year at university, I felt lonely, stressed, and tired. I remember sitting down at a table in our university cafe with some classmates and talking about it, only to find out that everybody felt that way. I had spent my first year working on my music and stressing about whether I was enough, but never once did I consider just talking to someone. Now, I regularly meet up with other musicians, and we all complain about how much we should be doing and how little we are actually doing, and it takes some of the pressure off.
3. I developed a morning ritual.
Every morning, I wake up and do yoga or go running, write for about twenty minutes, and have breakfast. These things take about an hour but make a massive difference in my day. Doing sports gives me energy and motivation, writing gives me some reflection time so that I’m ready to tackle my to-do list later on. It also gives me structure, which is the first step towards a peace of mind. Mornings are my time, and especially since musicians often can’t keep regular hours, it gives me the semblance of a routine, whether I’m doing it at seven in the morning or at eleven.
4. I started scheduling everything, including time off.
Although I’ve always been a control freak, I never believed in rigid planning. Until my job started getting in the way of my music and I had to find a way to maximise my free time. I have a friend, Manon Vix, who sits down every weekend to write an hourly schedule of her week (she is also a great musician and you should check her out). I always kind of admired it and thought she was kind of crazy at the same time. But then, I decided to try it for myself, and it changed my life. It includes what I previously mentioned about timing yourself – if you only give yourself so much time to do something, you will find a way to get it done. But most importantly, it made me see how much time I spent working, and made me feel less guilty about scheduling nights off and time to rest. Whenever I write out my schedule now, I try to do similar activities around the same time, which brings me closer to a routine than I’ve been since high school.
5. I embraced slow living.
This has probably been the biggest change in my mindset over the last couple years. I used to think that there was something admirable in being exhausted all the time, but I stopped seeing the point of it half a year ago. All of a sudden, I couldn’t bring myself to do anything. The motivation was not there, the energy was missing. I started re-evaluating my life. Slow living doesn’t have one set definition, but it revolves around being prepared to make more time for the things that matter and to let go of the things that don’t. By cutting out miscellaneous tasks, I had more time to rest, which made me more productive, less stressed, and gave me the opportunity to maintain some kind of social life. Too often, I catch myself thinking I’m wasting time when I’m resting, but in reality, I come back from it twice as productive and in much better spirits.