Managing your minutes can produce monumental results in your harp life
There is some irony in my writing this column about time management as I stare down a press deadline barely 48 hours away. Believe it or not, I planned it this way. I’ve written enough in my life to know I can churn out an article at warp speed when my back is against the wall. On the flip side, I have also played the harp long enough to know that a similar last-minute cram session for a performance will likely end in disaster. I would never put off learning a new orchestra part until the day before the concert because, well, I’ve been there, done that, crashed, and burned.
Talking about how you budget the hours in your day doesn’t exactly stir the soul or ignite passionate responses. However, there are few skills that can make or break your freelance career like time management. It might not be as fun as marketing, as thrilling as performing, or as fulfilling as teaching, but being smart about how you spend each minute of your day can yield dramatic results in the long run. But it’s not a skill we practice in lessons or take classes on in school. It’s a skill largely learned the hard way—through missed opportunities, poor performances, and mounting stress.
In recent conversations and interviews with a number of young professional harpists, I have heard many of them say the same thing: one of the biggest challenges of their fledgling careers is figuring out how to manage their time. The problem might not be what you assume—not enough time in the day to get everything done. It can actually be the opposite. For many young professionals, the post-college years are the first time in their lives that no one is telling them where to be or what to do. This new-found freedom can quickly start to feel like a burden. You have all the time in the world and no idea what to do with it. Practicing can wait ’til tomorrow when a friend invites you out to catch a matinée. Because it’s the perfect morning for a bike ride to the beach, updating your website can be put off ’til later. When there is a clear deadline looming, we all know we have to pick up the hose and put out the fire, but it’s far too easy to put off the tasks that are a slow burn—the results of which you only see over time. Things like returning email, updating your resume, getting good publicity photos, networking with contractors, marketing yourself, sending out contracts, maintaining your website—the list of mundane tasks that don’t even involve touching a harp is endless. Yet getting these jobs done in a timely fashion allows you to play the harp.
We asked Anne Sullivan to show us how she and other highly organized harpists manage their time. Two things are very clear after reading her article “All the Time in the World” on pg. 16.
First, the challenges of time management look very different depending on the stage of your career and your personal life. Sullivan profiles NYC harpist Kristi Shade, a mother of two young children. Shade started out saying yes to everything that came her way, but in this stage of her life and career, she has learned how to say no. “Some people think that if you have kids, you have to stop doing music,” Shade says. “I made the decision that your life changes, but it doesn’t change in terms of music.”
Second, mastering time management cannot happen until you define your priorities and understand your tendencies. “Choices made in support of your personal priorities and career goals will lead to deep satisfaction,” writes Sullivan. “Choices made contrary to your priorities will likely frustrate you.”
Simply being more intentional about defining your priorities and making small, daily decisions to support those priorities can make a huge difference in achieving the career you want. Time management is like everything we do at the harp—daily practice returns positive results. •
Alison Reese is editor of Harp Column. She is a freelance performer and teacher in West Michigan. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.