Picture of Sheila Chandra

Sheila Chandra

Smart ways for artists to prioritise and stop cherry-picking

Do you find yourself cherry-picking or deciding which tasks to do based on how you feel? Are you finding it hard to stop, even though you know you should be giving priority to the tasks that are going to make the most difference to your career? Here’s the secret to doing just that….

As an artist, are you too busy to prioritise?

Many artists do everything themselves. If you’re a musician then I’m guessing that you’re probably your own promoter, booker, PR person, stylist and tour manager. Wearing these hats is exhausting! So, how do you decide which tasks have priority? Making time to set up a values-based system to help decide will save you time overall.In fact, artists don’t have the time to NOT to prioritise.

“Artists make smarter decisions when they have a system based on their values.”

How to find your artist priorities

Business books are full of ways to figure out the urgency and importance of a task. Unfortunately for us artists, these books usually target the business world. So, we have to adapt the available systems to make them work for us. Stephen Covey’s quadrant is a classic time management system from his 1994 self-help book First Things First. Using this will serve as a blueprint for working out your own individual priorities.

An artist’s values determine their priorities

Knowing your values is essential. Your values are your compass. They’ll guide your decision making and determine your artistic career path. Let’s say you’re a photographer whose values are to produce high-quality nature photographs, receive accolades and critical acclaim. Knowing this, you can make sure that every task you do is aligned with your values. Picking out your priorities is easy because you have a brand focus and know where you want to go in your career. From which people you meet professionally, to which jobs you chase, or reject.

“Your values are your compass.”

Four categories for artists to prioritise

Stephen Covey’ priorities quadrant has four categories of tasks. Number one tasks are those that are both ‘urgent’ and ‘important’. These tasks usually cannot be avoided or prevented. If they can be prevented (e.g. running out of camera batteries, having an unreliable car etc.) then you must take the preventative action. Number two tasks are important but not ‘urgent’ e.g. building up your prices, or building your fan base. They build your power and profile in your field over the longer term. These tasks are what you should be spending most of your time doing. All the tasks in this category should reflect your artist values. And remember, doing these tasks moves you closer to your goals.

Number three tasks are urgent but not important. Be aware that they may seem urgent, but look deeper and you’ll find ways to avoid them or delegate. To begin with, you may place many tasks in this category. As you learn to prioritise you’ll whittle them down. Number four tasks are neither ‘urgent’ nor ‘important’ – and this is where we artists spend most of our time procrastinating. Sadly, some of us become stuck here. Distraction and time-wasting stop us from prioritising and leads us further away from our goals. Here are the four categories with artist examples to help you create your own versions and add your own definitions:


Emergencies (being involved in an accident and having to cancel a recording session)

Urgent messages and calls (taking a call from Beyonce)

Meeting deadlines (ensuring your album is recorded in due time)


Career planning activities and opportunities (e.g. planning a campaign to promote your next tour)

Research and relationship building (e.g. pursuing a collaboration with a well-known artist, finding a mentor, making important contacts, mining peers for useful information, planning your career strategy)

Developing & refining your skills/craft (e.g. updating your studio software & understanding it, putting in some focused practice every day)


Doing work for others that isn’t your responsibility (e.g. unpaid favours for friends or fixing others mistakes)

Being conned/taken for a ride/others wasting your time (e.g. fixing the fallout from working with unprofessional or flaky people)

Doing work which you hate doing and have no talent for (e.g. cold calling, marketing – when you can afford to pay someone to do the basics)


Gossip (e.g. listening to a fellow artist complain about your peers)

Working inefficiently (e.g. recording vocals at home all day with bad results instead of paying for a proper studio and doing it in 2 hours with much better results)

Indulgent escapism (e.g. watching youtube cat videos for two hours, when you should be scheduling blog posts)

Excessive socialising (e.g. often attending aftershow parties under the guise of networking but not building any important contacts)

Are you looking to refine your values and make both time management and decision making easier – day to day? You’ll find lots more tips in my book ‘Organizing Your Creative Career’. A new revised print version – including a whole new chapter – is out on 14th January 2020. Or work with me via Skype to discover and eliminate the things that are holding you back. Contact me for a free 30-minute consultation via Skype to find out how I can help you – or read some of my success stories here…


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