Time Management and the “Part Time” Composer
In my most recent Composer’s Digest entry, I outlined several changes I wanted to make to enhance my professional productivity. A short while after publishing that, I hit upon the idea of creating for myself an annual production schedule (that is, mapping out all the projects I would complete during the course of the year and an approximate time frame in which to complete each project). I was really taken with this idea as I thought it would give me more focus and thus lead to more pieces being completed. As I began to sit down to put this list together, however, I kept coming back to the question:
When during the day will I actually DO the composing?
A tricky point, considering (as is the case for many of my fellow “part time” composers) I have a job, go to school, have an active family, and participate in community music groups. Those rare occasions when I have down time, I’m usually too physically or mentally exhausted to do anything else.
So it became clear that, while having a production queue was a fine idea, I was first going to have to figure out a way to organize my life.
I began by coming up with my time inventory. First I figured out the things I absolutely had to carve out time for on a daily basis and usually occurred at set times. I called these “fixed mandatories.”
- Class (including transit time)
- Organization Attendance (choir, band, drum corps; the kids’ activities)
Next I came up with the things I had to do but for which the time demands change from day to day. I called these “variable mandatories.”
- Household Administration (e.g., chores, paying bills, etc.)
- Organization Administration (e.g., maintaining web sites, managing libraries, member communications, etc.)
- General Family Time (any manner of casual or structured activity as a couple or as a family)
I also decided that I needed to create “flex time” to allow myself some wiggle room in the case that time estimates are off, if something comes up at the last minute (as often happens when one has a family with young children), or if I felt I needed additional down time.
The final decision, then, was how to categorize composition. I could either make it fixed mandatory or variable mandatory. Looking at my overall situation, I felt it was more realistic to allow myself to budget time for this based around the holistic demands of each day, so I went with “variable.”
The basic time inventory complete, my next task was to flesh out a daily schedule (note I normally sleep from 11p-7a, though when I work, that’s my shift; either way nothing special to report there so I saved space and left it off). The kids go to school during the day, so that helps in being able to accomplish more focused tasks.
My life, in Excel format:
I tried to arrange it so that composing occurred in longer blocks of time so that I could give it sustained attention.
Note that, in practice, this “schedule” is quite fluid. If I have extra chores to do, or not much studying, or something comes up at the last minute, I freely rearrange things. As long as I can still get in the approximate total allotted time for each activity by the end of the day, then I consider it a success (e.g., two hours for housework even if it isn’t at the exact indicated time).
With that squared away, I could return my attention to the original quest of organizing my composing life. First I had to decide what my professional priorities were. I have any number of projects I could pick away at, but, as you’ve seen, only so much time to spend. To maximize the impact of this precious time, I decided my career would focus primarily on publishing concert band literature. That isn’t to say I won’t work on other kinds of projects now and then; certainly I have commissions and other projects that require my attention from time to time. But for the most part I have decided I will be focused on writing band music for publication.
Right now, as a consequence of my previous “scattered” approach to time management, I have a large number of unfinished projects in my sock drawer. So I started my project queue by taking a look at these and deciding which seemed most promising. I took into consideration several factors:
- how much progress had already been made (and approximate time to complete)
- intrinsic interest level in working on it
- publication potential
- whether it advanced my primary career goal (i.e., publishing band literature)
Using that criteria to whittle down the considerable list of unfinished projects, I settled on a short list of pieces I would focus on completing this year. My next task, then, was to give myself a broad time frame within which to complete each piece. Similar to my life schedule, I thought it wise to give a little flex time in the production queue as I’ve noticed projects don’t always go according to plan (or life events slow things down). So I inserted a week long “buffer” between each project to either take a break or give myself a little extra time to work.
The amount of time assigned to each piece is largely arbitrary since I’ve never done this before in such an organized way (though if a piece was mostly finished already, I didn’t need to give it as much time obviously; I also took into account other life events happening, like exams, holidays, etc). I erred on the side of giving myself more time than less. Rushing is probably not a good idea. And if I do finish a project early, I’ll just jump to the next piece and adjust the schedule accordingly.
Here is my 2013 production schedule:
January 1 – February 23: drum corps commissions
February 24 – March 2: work buffer or break
March 3 – March 16: unaccompanied solo piece (title TBD)
March 17 – March 23: work buffer or break
March 24 – April 6: “Heart of Kings,” concert band
April 7 – April 13: work buffer or break
April 14 – May 4: “Testaments,” concert band
May 5 – May 11: work buffer or break
May 12 – May 25: “Suomalainen Suite, ” concert band
May 26 – June 1: work buffer or break
June 2 – June 15: “Glory of the North Country, ” concert band
June 16 – June 22: work buffer or break
June 23 – July 20: “Variants on Greensleeves,” concert band
July 21 – July 27: work buffer or break
July 28 – August 10: “Through Many Toils, Snares, and Dangers, ” concert band
August 11 – August 17: work buffer or break
August 18 – August 31 reworking of completed-but-unreleased concert band project (new title TBD)
September 1 – September 7: work buffer or break
September 8 – September 21: complete binary band piece (title TBD)
September 22 – September 28: work buffer or break
September 29 – October 12: “Revival, ” concert band
October 13 – October 19: work buffer or break
October 20 – November 2: “Silent Night/Coventry Carol, ” concert band
November 3 – November 9: work buffer or break
November 10 – November 30: “Benedicimus Te,” choir
December 1 – December 7: work buffer or break
December 8 – December 31: “Desert Sunscapes,” concert band
I’ll post progress updates on my Composer’s Digest. Here’s to a more productive year!
Take a look at what I’ve composed here