Making the Time for Practice

Contemplative Bassist

Q: It seems like you are a pretty busy guy and travel a lot (I follow your social media feeds). I feel like I’m not half as busy but somehow still can’t seem to find the time to work on stuff like I should. Any tips?

A: I got asked a similar question at a clinic once, actually about writing all of these columns for No Treble while traveling as much as I do, teaching, etc. My quick answer was, “I bought a laptop” (tongue in cheek).

What it comes down to is time management and an efficient workflow. There are times when I even forbid myself from checking my phone or social media until I’ve completed X, Y & Z tasks. I simply have to work efficiently when it’s time to work. Otherwise, I just can’t get everything done that I want to get done.

Here are some tips for effective time management as well as efficient use of your time in the shed:

1. You have a calendar on your phone. Use it!

I schedule everything on my calendar. I also (compulsively) look forward in time to look at what I’ll have to work on and schedule time before then to work on it. I sometimes schedule transcribing and/or shed time for gigs weeks in advance, depending on how free I am surrounding some gigs. If time is totally crunched for weeks on end, I may schedule myself time weeks before the gig to at least get the charts together (I always tape charts as well as use highlighters to mark repeats, codas (form stuff). Then I may schedule another chunk of time, later on, to actually run the tunes.

The key is to look ahead and plan accordingly. This also forces you to get to know your workflow and try to gauge how much preparation time you’ll need for any given tasks.

I keep my calendar color coded and well organized. I have different colors for gigs, rehearsals (I include shed time in my rehearsal calendar), teaching, recording sessions, travel, miscellaneous entries and family (yes, I even schedule time to hang with friends and family. If I don’t, I’m all too likely to fill every given hour in a day!) Be somewhat obsessive about keeping a clear vision of what you have to do today, tomorrow and for the next month.

2. Take notes.

I also make extensive use of my phone’s notepad. I keep track of who owes me money and for what event, notes on any given clinic, a lesson or shed idea, airline mileage numbers, questions received or ideas for columns, books to read… you name it. It’s in there (I password protect or use 1Password for the sensitive stuff). You never know when you’ll think of one more thing you want to remember pertaining to absolutely anything and I always have my phone nearby. You wouldn’t believe how much stuff I remember in the moments before I fall asleep, thereby waking myself up (unfortunately) to make a note on my phone.

3. Don’t allow yourself distractions when performing an important task.

Whether you are shedding, answering emails, making Youtube videos, editing audio and/or video – whatever the task is – if it relates to your career or something you really care about, give the task it’s due attention. One hour of mindful and focused work time, free of distraction, is worth half a day of surfing Facebook with the bass in your lap because you keep getting distracted by comments or messages.

4. If you are too tired to work well, you are better off resting.

I have a habit of compromising my sleep because I’m dinking around on ideas or projects. In truth, I’m learning that I’d be better off getting a solid night of sleep and working at a designated time the next day. When I’m don’t get enough sleep, I make silly mistakes, forget things to include in an email, mark down the wrong date in my calendar… you get the idea. I waste time because I have to spend time at a later date correcting my mistakes. Eat well, sleep well, get exercise, and your brain will work more efficiently (I’m still working on all of those things. I speak from experience there).

5. Schedule down time.

No, seriously. I’ve found that working too hard for too long, week after week, month after month, can really wear me down emotionally and creatively. I require time with my family and friends doing anything but music related things to feel the full force of a life well lived. Without the broader spectrum of experiences, we don’t have as much to draw from creatively. All things relate to art and art relates to all things. You can’t make art without experiencing life outside of art.

There’s no real secret to success beyond dedicated and efficient workflow and the ability to think creatively about what you are doing. Hard work, experimentation, enjoying what you do (having fun!) and drawing influence from others is really what it’s all about. There really are plenty of hours in the day to get an astounding amount of work done if you focus your attention and think ahead about your goals and how to achieve them, whether they be broad 5-year plan type of goals or just, “I need to learn these 14 tunes for that gig next month” type goals.

This is often where the passion comes into play. How badly do you want it and how much are you willing to dial in your life to match that of your dreams? Work hard, work efficiently, work with mindful intention and above all else, have fun and love what you do.

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

Get Ask Damian Erskine in your inbox.

Don’t miss an Ask Damian column. Sign up for email alerts (every Wednesday).

Share your thoughts