This topic has been very involved in my life as of late.  I’m working an office job and teaching (in addition to my composing projects), so I have to find whatever windows I can to compose.  Luckily my projects are each quite different, so I have variety in my compositional life, but I also have multiple goals/deadlines, whether they’re set by myself or others.  Here are my strategies for balancing multiple projects:

  1. Plan to work on one project per day, or per 2 days.  This helps with planning, and makes getting deeply involved in a project easy, since you know on a calendar or schedule which day(s) has which project.  If you have an upcoming deadline you could of course extend it o 3+ days, but I’ve found 1 or 2 days per project works well for staying on top of all of them.  For example, Monday 10/29 could be calendared as Project A, Tuesday and Wednesday 10/30 and 10/31 could be Project D, Thursday Project B, Friday Project E, and the weekend project C.  You could make this a set weekly schedule, or change it every week to fit whatever else comes up.
  2. Think about the compositions whenever you can. If you need to work on a project but aren’t in a good environment for composing, or don’t have your materials on hand, try thinking through the piece, taking mental notes of changes that need to be made, solving problems you’ve encountered, assessing the conceptual side of the composition, asking yourself questions about the piece to refine it, or planning out structure.  (The list goes on and on for this one.)
  3. If you can, choose to do projects that are varied.  For example: writing incidental music, working with electronics, doing engraving, and writing concert music are projects I’m involved in, and the variety keeps my mind fresh and interested, and the burden of having multiple projects doesn’t seem bad since I always have something different awaiting me.
  4. Know that there is never an end.  In other words, once you’ve started getting enough projects to keep you busy, it will be (very) rare when you will once again have no projects on which to work.  So, don’t wait to rest or take breaks until you’re done with all your projects, because that will never happen (and so you’ll never get a break).  Take time to compartmentalize and put a wall between you and your music when you need a bit of peace and quiet to rejuvenate your mind and replenish your energy.
  5. Prioritize.  When you’d like to say “yes” to another commission, but you’re not sure you can satisfy it right away, my advice is to say “yes, but…” and indicate that it will have to be lower on the priority list than if you weren’t so busy.  Write down your projects (which is good stop worrying about them), and number them in terms of importance (eg. projects 1 through 7, with 1 being the most important).
  6. Fill the gaps in your life.  Most of us encounter those 30 minute or so gaps in which we’re not sure what to do with ourselves before the next obligation.  My advice is to fill them with either a.) relaxation (eg. imagery, deep breaths, closing your eyes, drinking some ice water, etc.),  b.) thinking about a certain project, or c.) making a plan or to-do list.  These three things either enliven you for the next task, help you get further with the next task, or help you organize your tasks.
  7. Plan the next day’s tasks before you go to bed.  This helps you take inventory, clear the worries from your brain so you can fall asleep faster and sleep better, and set daily goals so you don’t have to worry about planning the next morning when you wake up; all you have to do is follow the plan.
  8. Let each project inform the other.  A composer is always growing; we are eternal students.  Let your musical discoveries live and breathe; they are a part of you and thus are involved in everything you do.  By letting the ideas you have bleed across project lines, you’re 1.) thinking about the ideas more, and 2.) staying cohesive as a composer.  Each project is interrelated because each one stems in part from you, so let this relation be free to mutate and join each project.  This helps develop your compositional voice further.
  9. Talk to people.  No matter how much of a curmudgeon I become when I’m feeling burdened, talking to people either makes me feel immediately better, or gets me thinking of ways to get or feel less burdened.  And you don’t have to be talking about the burden or things that are stressing you–it can be about sports, a movie, or a mutually fun activity.
  10. Laugh.  The Joker’s “Why so serious?” never makes as much sense as it does when you’re expending your creative juices to their fullest extent.  It’s easy to become worried and overly serious when you’re crazily busy.  Don’t let the work prevent you from laughing your stress away.

So, these are some time management, stress reduction, and artistic tips.  What helps you balance multiple projects?

Happy composing,

Dan