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Productivity Hacks and Time Management Tips For DJs and Producers

Everyone has a unique way of spending their time in the studio. It could be practicing a new technique, tapping out a fresh beat, digging for new music, or reading gear reviews. Most of our time is determined by how we feel at a specific moment. But should you be spending your time mapping effects in a new Ableton template, tweaking a new drum loop, or building a wild effect chain in Traktor? Today’s article by guest contributor Mohamed Kamal offers some solid advice to help DJs and producers make the most of their time.

What’s important in terms of “being productive” for DJs and producers is subjective, but in my world it’s going from point A to B. It could be networking to land a big gig, nailing a remix for a big producer, attracting DJs and venues to my startup, and so on.

Eliminating waste is the fundamental principle of any successful person. As defined by Womak/Jones in their book “Lean Thinking” (a must-read):

“Waste is any human activity which absorbs resources but creates no value”

Of all resources, there is no resource more valuable than time. Time is more valuable than money. While money can fluctuate up or down, time only moves in one direction – down.


Many great and successful DJs — in fact, most people who are highly successful — succeed because they work hard to develop a narrow but important set of skills. It’s often easy to be good at many things, but becoming great at a few key things is often more difficult.

Especially with new DJs and producers, it’s very easy to want to pursue the dream of becoming a globe-trotting, festival-headlining DJ. But when focusing on these more glamorous visions, don’t get caught up working on activities outside or unrelated to your own strengths.

Mediocrity is a silent killer. Not having a clear roadmap to becoming an expert in a particular set of skills doesn’t do ourselves — or our dreams — any good. That’s what many of us fail and refuse to acknowledge.

Find the skills and areas where you want to become exceptional – and dedicate your time towards those. If you’re distracted, you will regret it.


You need to make sure that the majority of your time is spent working on developing your narrow and exceptional skill set. Unfortunately that’s often rare:

Over 22,000 people have taken a distraction survey conducted by Harvard Business Review writer Peter Bergen and 73% agree or strongly agree that they don’t spend enough time on what’s important – their sweet spot, which primarily involves doing work that takes you from point A to B. That’s a massive waste of time.

As a DJ you have many hats to wear, including networking, DJing, marketing, producing and perfecting your skills. All categories contribute heavily to your success, but you can’t be outstanding at all of them. Creating structure to improve your talents requires managing your time and focus.

A simple way to manage your time is to create roles and schedules for different types of work: manager schedule and creator schedule.

  • The Manager role typically organizes the studio time into short 30-45 minute blocks. Spend each block dealing with a different task like promoting an event, marketing, blogging and reviewing new gear. Always start with the hardest task first.
  • The Creator role might need to organize studio time into longer blocks of uninterrupted time. I usually shut off my phone, email and anything with a notification sound. Creator’s activities include music production, practicing a new technique, custom controller maps and so on. Again, start first with the hardest thing that you’ve been putting off.


Trying to find a balance between creative and noncreative time can be more art than science, but there is a fundamental concept that must be present to improve your talent and productivity: flow. Flow is perhaps best defined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in an interview for Wired magazine:

“being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” 

Activities that are likely to flow well typically have the following attributes:

  • Have a clear objective
  • Need your full concentration
  • Lack of interruptions and distractions
  • A sense of challenge

While flow can’t be triggered at will, you can arrange activities so they allow for flow. Below, I’ve put together a list of five hacks I use to create flow during my practice and studio times as a DJ and producer.

#1: Establish uninterrupted time blocks for creativity.

My creativity sessions are typically in the music production realm: programming beats, designing new sounds and chopping vocals. Because these activities need solidly uninterruptible blocks of time, I schedule these very early in the morning (6am-8am). I don’t check email/Facebook, my phone is off, and all potential distractions are eliminated. I find 3-4 hour blocks (with 10-15 min breaks in between) work best for me.

On the DJing side, this time is spent auditioning new tracks, practicing a technique, recording a podcast, or sometimes designing a new flyer for an event.

Photo Credit: ShamenSnC

#2: Knock out creativity goals as early in the day as possible.

I’ve tried both staying up late and waking up early, and prefer the latter as it isn’t interrupted by sleep -allowing studio activities to flow better. I also find that accomplishing something tangible that early in the day sets the tone for my podcasts and other production projects. Everything tends to sit right, and by the end of the day I might have a complete track (it’s happened seven times so far!).

Most of my best recorded DJ sets were during the morning. Even if you’re not a morning person, give a creative start a shot to see how it frames your day.

#3: Schedule manager activities after your creative sessions.

Manager activities, as I mentioned earlier, include less intensively creative tasks like: responding to emails, engaging forums and blogs, checking out new mixes from other DJs, etc. On the production side, it’s organizing the mixer or doing small edits. These types of tasks are easier to accomplish after creativity sessions because they somehow validate what you have created. For example, after programming an 8 bar drum loop for your chorus, it will be much easier to layout it on the mixer, color it in the session and off to mixing.

#4: Don’t take the critic inside seriously

Does this sound familiar? You are recording a podcast or practicing a set, then a little voice says, “Ha, your mix is boring and dull. Just like you. You need new gear to make your mixes awesome. You’ll never make it big time with what you’ve got”. With production it’s, “You don’t know how to produce, who do you think you are? This song is crap!”

This internal critic is always with us. Living with doubt is something you have to deal with and learn to manage. An effective way to overcome this germ is to take a 5 minute break from the task at hand and come back when you’re ready. If you are unable to shake it off then:

#5: Look for outside help

If your internal critic is throwing red flags, reach out to friends who are more experienced. I used to be on an online radio show when I first started DJing and I wasn’t happy with my sets prior to the show. It wasn’t until a close experienced DJ friend had a listen and validated my mix that I felt confident in my abilities to rock the digital airwaves.

With music production, I had an experienced producer friend giving me feedback on my tracks – it’s the same idea. Silencing the critic by checking in with someone better at critiquing work saved me a lot of time and put me back into the flow.


Becoming great in any creative endeavor takes focus and self awareness – and your time to become great is valuable and limited. Defining success and identifying the 2-3 main areas in your DJing career that you need to focus on will help you stay on track. Knowing your shortcomings and reaching out for help will help you achieve the flow that you need to continue to be creative on a regular basis.

As always, we’re curious as to your thoughts – how do you all stay on-task and focused on achieving your goals in the studio, when you’re practicing, or even just in everyday life? Let us know in the article comments!

Read More: Not getting booked? Our tips on getting out of the bedroom.

Mohamed Kamal is an ex-SiriusXM DJ/Producer-turned-entrepreneur from Washington, DC. He is the Founder and CEO of Gigturn, a platform that connects DJs with fans and gigs. 

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  • calkutta


  • Amisha Ekaant

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful post! Thanks for sharing this wonderful post! They are presented in such simple and nice way that readers will definitely give it a try. Better set deadlines for everything and complete the tasks more efficiently.

    Set end dates and time for more stressful activities using some time recording software ( ). Personally, I use Replicon software which is used to set date and time to complete my tasks. This application has more capabilities and I could use it to handle multiple tasks.

  • Sub-urb Swing

    Hasj, not weed ;). Gets me going for like 12 hours a day studio time.

  • I recently read an article on time management and which stated one interesting factor to check emails and save time. Its checking emails when we stand up. I dont think it fits for DJ’s, does it?

  • Aki

    lot’s of thanks Mohamed Kamal!

  • polocorp

    This is a bit like reading about how to make 1 billion bucks in 3 years. The people who actually manage probably don’t have time to read about it 😉

  • Bush

    Why early in the morning? How is staying up late interrupted by sleep, and being up early not? You’re awake both times, there’s no sleep interruption at all unless you’re starting to doze off. I know for a lot of people, the morning is not the most creative hour (there’s studies on this proving that late night might be better for creativity), how about sleeping soundly knowing you just put in about 8-10 hours of creative work while other people have been sleeping and are barely waking up. That makes me feel a lot better than trying to force something to happen while being a morning zombie.

  • Switch your wifi off. I wanted to browse the webz when the “critic” in me tells me this track is boring. This may not apply so much directly to creating music but it does have undertones in being creative in general.

    for me with a lot of things, If I need to do something, a term paper, studying, dishes, whatever. I set a timer for 15 minutes and try and get as much done i can within what im doing in that 15 minutes. after that 15 minutes i can go back to owning n00bs at COD or if im close to being done with said chore/assignment if I can see the light on something I most always just get it done right there and then.The same applys to setting some time away just for creating music 15 minutes at least.

  • eddie

    For me, a lot of it is about the ‘un-fun’ parts of a project. The fun parts are easy, but there are things that must be done that may not be fun to you that are crucial in completing a successful project. Things like organizing your tracks, and knowing your plugins in and out. Not saying that this isn’t always fun, but there are times when you don’t feel like doing them. That’s a good sign you probably do. When I do devote a session to a specific task I know needs done, the results are always positive. My 2 cents 😉

  • coldjim

    I always have that inner critic in me that says my work is rubbish! But what if we have no one to tell us its good??? Who do u speak too then??? Ive sent my tracks off but heard nothing back from record labels etc. How do i get feedback??

    • Record labels should be your last resort for feedback. Upload your tracks to SoundCloud and share it with DJs for free. Make it available for download, ask for feedback and see if they are willing to play it on their sets.

      You want them to say “Yo, that’s a hot track, I want it”. Otherwise go back to your DAW and bang out something better.

      There’s also SoundOut – A music feedback service

    • Best way to gain feedback is through SoundCloud. Here’s what you should do:

      1. Upload your mix and have it available for download.
      2. Engage DJs (DJTT Forums) and ask them to download. If they like it, ask them nicely to play it on their sets and solicit feedback from the crowd. The dance floor is the ultimate validation of a great track, not a record label. Keep doing this until you have 10-15 DJs playing your track in clubs.
      3. If the majority of DJs aren’t feeling our track, I suggest forgetting it about and bang out a better track.
      4. When the track builds enough validation on SoundCloud (2000+ listens and favs) I suggest hunting down record labels. Until then
      5. Repeat steps 1 – 3

  • Rayhook

    Great article! I frequently switch between creator and manager schedules. These tips made me rethink my whole schedule.

    However I strongly believe if you want to be a festival headlining DJ, you need to purely focus on developing your creative skills, without it marketing and networking can only get you so far.

  • puikegast

    a big big timesaver for me, which i did not see in your article is to organize your record-collection/database. In my case, when you spin records almost on a daily basis for more then 12 years, there were some days that i didn’t have inspiration. These are perfect days for labeling your vinyl with the artist’s name, the track name, release date, label, etc. I also used to add stuff like; groovy bassloop, epic breakbeat, sounds great with this and that record etc. Meanwhile, finding the records you was looking for or couldn’t find for a long long time and more then once a AHA-erlebnis/eureka moment. And when i was in a rush i tend to put the wrong record in the wrong sleeve, especially if you have like 15 black sleeves in your flightcase. Set them apart in one place and when you go trough your collection you’ll collect them all and it’s time to put things in place. It sounds like a lot of work and it is. BUT…. if you go trough in steps like 10 records a time it might take you a year but you will get there. Many times when i played at parties, other dj’s wanted to check my records and were amazed by the archived and labeled collection. anyways it takes some effort but will save you a lot of time/frustration and will improve your mixing skills.

  • Quetzacoatl

    great article. if you have not seen it yet, please watch this 40 minute video too:

    It’s also dealing with the psychological approach to productivity and how to reach the state of the “flow”, while also giving another perspective on some of the things mentioned in this article. for me, it was a game changer for my personal work flow and productivity. give it a shot, oh and bear with him the first 10 minutes, he can get on your nerves a bit – but it really pays off in the end. 🙂

  • I don’t fully agree with #4, but that’s a matter of opinion.

    in my book, part of what constitutes an artist is not caring about conventions and just doing what you feel is right – but damn, do some people have low standards. I would say, don’t listen to the critic too much, but always keep him on your shoulder to remind yourself that no matter how good you are, there are people out there who will easily make you look like a noob and you can never stop learning if you want to reach the next level. this is obviously a double-edged sword, but it has always kept me on track.

    • I agree that at times you must follow your instinct as an artist. However doing what “feels right” comes from good judgement, not some epiphany.

      Good judgement is the result of experience. Experience is the result of bad judgement and learning how to correct it.

      I don’t believe people have low standards, just not enough experience.

  • washuma

    between 100 mics to 200 mics of LSD is good for creativity the sounds become clear and acute is better surround by nature.

  • lourma

    Fun that the clock on the picture is made of the record ELO – Time…

  • nice read!

  • If anyone wishes to control that inner voice, I strongly recommend watching Revolver by Guy Ritchie.

  • Sean

    Not one mention of MIDI yet its one of the best articles you guys have released. Nice work!

  • Surreal Thortz

    Very good post!

  • Good tips, just don’t burn yourself out. It’s easy to get so obsessed with being productive that the fun disappears.

    For me #1 never works. I can’t schedule time to be creative. I heard in a line in a movie once ” inspiration is like a baby. It does not choose a nice, seemly hour to enter the world.”

    • Inventor and scientist Elmer Gates created more than 200 useful patents (fire extinguisher) through his creativity. He had what he called his “personal communication room.” It was practically sound proof, and so arranged that all light could be shut out. It was equipped with a small table, on which he kept a pad of writing paper. When Dr. Gates wanted some inspiration for his inventions, he would go into this room, seat himself at the table, shut off the lights, and CONCENTRATE on the KNOWN factors of the invention on which he was working, remaining in that position until ideas began to “flash” into his mind.

      This worked for me.

  • Jayvee

    Awesome article, really helpful 🙂

  • Great Article!!

  • Its on!

  • I am from DC too Cheers Mate

  • Great Article. I could really be implementing more of this to be productive. Thanks guys

  • Why not use just the Pomodoro technique and Agile methodologies. To pps who come from software development it is obviouse

    • Both great concepts! I think productivity and time management are both more of an art than science.

  • Rly nice article! Imma start using some of the tips ASAP! 😀

    I think u also should have mentioned that when waking up and having that first listen of the day usually invokes inspiration and creativity!

    • Absolutely. Checkout Songza! A great platform that streams music based on your mood!

  • Drew

    Oh god, I’m procrastinating, by reading how not to procrastinate…

  • Good ideas. But each of them has to altered to suit specific needs.

    Personally, I will never ever be a morning person. I prefer working at night. And what is funny – because of the same things, as the author. Nobody’s there to call/msg me and all the websites in my timezone are done with updating content 🙂

  • I’ll definitely give these tips a try. I do like the idea of seperating the creative and the manager role and setting time blocks for each. Both roles take so much time, sometimes the manger takes a lot of time espeically when I’m blogging for my dj site, I forget all about honing my dj skills.

  • steve

    cool article. I like the idea of splitting out manager and creator tasks, keeping the creative mind just for when you need it most and letting the office-mind happen after that

    TBH I don’t have enough time in my daily life to dedicate whole days to praccticing, so starting early is out unless I want to wake up at five AM : /

    • Same here when I was starting out. Started squeezing in 45 min everyday and gained momentum from there.