Everybody wants to achieve a balance in life, but is it even possible? Today’s guest doesn’t believe work-life balance is possible, and instead, work-life fit makes more sense because every day is different, and you must make things fit together how you want to live with it. Kami Lewis Levin, the CEO of Kameron Lewis Levin Consulting, explains how to become a fierce working musician and avoid burning out. As a Fierce Working Mom, Kami provides insights on how she manages her time to allow her to become more flexible. She also mentions how being time efficient is valuable as a working mother. Tune in to this episode with Kami Lewis Levin if you want to become a fierce working mom or musician. You can also find her on Facebook at Fierce Working Mom Leadership Circle.
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Time Management For Musicians: Achieving Work-Life Fit And Becoming A Fierce Musician With Kami Lewis Levin
I am here with Kami Lewis Levin. We’re going to talk about something near and dear to my heart. That is “balancing your life.” That dreaded work-life balance. Is it a real thing or not? Is it something we can achieve? Are we looking at it from the wrong angle? We’re going to jump into that, especially for those of us who are women and moms and trying to keep everything together.
Before we do that, I would love to find out, Kami, a little bit about you, about your background. I know that you are also a mom, you have learned how to balance all these things in your life. You’re a professional, a college professor, and you also run a company. I’d love to know how all of that came to be and how it all fits together for you.
I’m a professional balancer. You were talking about work-life balance. That is not a real thing. That’s not something that we can achieve. My friend Cali Yost, who writes for this well-known magazine about these kinds of issues, calls it work-life fit. That makes a lot more sense to me because every week and every month looks different, and you just have to do your best to make things fit together in a way that feels like the life that you want to live.
I know that this is a show for musicians. My life before this was as a dancer. I was a dancer for a long time. I went through performing arts schools. I thought I was going to be a professional dancer and then I got hurt and I had to decide on what I was going to do. The orthopedic surgeon said, “You can have surgery and continue dancing, or you cannot have surgery and stop dancing.” I decided to have surgery and then I stopped dancing.
Consequently, my second life has been in the field of education primarily in K through 12. What I realized was that my passion and my deep love are really about adult learning. I started doing coaching and leadership development work both in the education and outside of the education space. I discovered that my favorite people to work with were working moms who were struggling with their work-life fit, particularly moms in leadership positions, however you want to define that.
The experience that I had as a working mom leader that led me to this point of feeling almost a calling to support women in this arena was that I had been promoted very quickly in a nonprofit where I was working. I was promoted with zero support for leadership development. I had never hired anyone and never supported a team. I had choreographed pieces and worked with others in a collaborative setting, but I had never managed, evaluated, or worked with others in that way. I loved it and it was incredibly stressful.
I developed this alarming cough but because I was so deep into my work and my identity as a leader, I didn’t have time to go to the doctor. I woke up one morning and I thought I was having a heart attack. It turned out that I had pneumonia. Luckily, it wasn’t a heart attack, but because I had put off seeing someone about that cough for so long, it had turned into a pretty serious pneumonia. It left quite a scar on my lung and it made me rethink my priorities, how I was balancing work and life, and what people need in terms of support to live their best lives at work and home. That’s what brought me to this in a nutshell.
Where in the timeline did you have your children?
That event happened in 2013. I had two boys. At the time, they were 5 and 7 and very shortly after that, I had my third child. It was a really interesting time because I got this pneumonia. Almost immediately, I became pregnant with my third child. I was in such a state of amygdala hijack and high alert and high anxiety that the decisions that I was making were retrospectively absurd. The prime example of this was I had a baby and then I went straight into a doctoral program while continuing to be a leader in this job that I had no support around.
To me, looking back in 2013, my kids are now 17, 15, and almost 9 this 2023. It’s a very clear indication that if you are not focused on how you’re fitting together your work and your life as a survival mechanism, your brain doesn’t work properly. The decisions that you make are impulsive and reactionary. Generally, ill-thought-out, even if you think that you’re spending the time, processing, and trying to make good decisions, if that’s the head space that you’re in, it’s not possible.If you don't focus on how you fit together, your brain doesn't work properly, and the decisions may be impulsive and reactionary. Click To Tweet
Your brain is, in a way, trying to protect you. After you had this experience with the cough, pneumonia, and all of that stuff, how and when did you start to make this change to try to figure out how to make a better fit with your work and life?
I was very convinced that I could do it all. That’s how we’re conditioned. That’s how we’re socialized. I could do everything and having 24 hours in a day was like, “I can turn that 24 hours into 48 hours.” I lived in New York City at the time and my husband still makes fun of me because I have this notion that you can get anywhere in the city in 20 minutes, which is not true. This idea is that we can’t see our limitations. I was in this doctoral program and I had a baby, a very high-powered leadership position, and two school-aged boys. I had a marriage that was very rocky at that time.
This is after the pneumonia. I thought that I was going to have a nervous breakdown. I made a couple of really crucial decisions. I wanted to stay in my doctoral program and to do that, I knew that I had to create a different work situation. I stepped down from that position and I took a job with another organization. It was my first foray into remote work.
I found that that worked well for me. It was a lower level of responsibility. I wasn’t in charge of or caring for a large team of people. I was doing program development and facilitation. It was less intense. It provided me with more flexibility. My feeling was, “I’m going to do this until I finish my doctoral program and then my schooling will open up other options for me.” That’s what happened. I realized that I perform better as a mother, as a leader, and as a person when I have more control over my schedule, when I have a more flexible calendar, and when I have a choice.
I don’t think that’s specific to me. That is pretty general. My husband prefers to work in person. He prefers to have 9:00 to 5:00-ish type hours. He thrives in that structure. I know that there are people that prefer to work that way. It took me a long time to be okay with it because it indicated to me that I wasn’t perfect enough, I wasn’t being ambitious in the right ways, and that somehow it was a failure on my part. It took a while for me to own that I’m leading and working differently and it’s working better for me and my family.
I completely get that. There’s this idea that maybe if you do that, then certain jobs are just not open to you. They’re not going to hire you remotely to run a huge team and have to be okay with that.
That’s an important lesson because we tend to operate as if we are like a pawn in this game of life. That’s an example of a choice that we can make. I will never apply for that job again. It doesn’t work for me. It’s not what I want. Knowing that creates freedom for me because it’s my choice. I don’t feel like I have to do that. There are plenty of opportunities that don’t require me to be in an office or to be working 70 or 80 hours a week.
It depends on where you want to get your fulfillment from. A lot of the musicians that are reading this, people in my community have left major corporate jobs, whether it’s to pursue music, to be home with their children, and then try to pursue music that way. That’s what happened to me. To retire so then they can focus on music, but then they get into this freelance world where they don’t have either someone telling them when to come to work, what to do, or the responsibility to do that for others. They feel a little lost. They feel like their calendar is just like this open space that they don’t know what to put where. How did you start doing that, coming from that work world?
That’s a great question and that’s a terrifying place to be. There are a couple of things that I did. I transitioned into remote work and then after several years of that, I transitioned into being a consultant and self-employed. In a lot of ways being a self-employed person is effectively freelance. Since I had the scaffolding of working in person rather than working remotely, having nothing to do with COVID. Moving into this phase, I was able to figure out some things that worked well for me. From a calendar perspective, there’s a very fine line between ritualizing a routine and over-complicating your life.
There are certain schedule markers that I have every week that are consistent every week that I never miss. That’s what I do. For example, three mornings a week, I drop my daughter off at school. I know that between 7:30 and 8:30, I’m going to be otherwise engaged. I put that in my calendar. Similarly, twice a week, I pick my daughter up from school. That’s always on my calendar. Making the decision that I’m prioritizing picking her up and dropping her off on those days creates a container for me to work within. That’s something that works well for me.
If I have the container, then I can determine how I’m going to use my time within the container and when I’m going to stop working, what evenings I’m going to continue working. There are a couple of those. There’s dropping off and picking up my daughter. There is working out. I have identified time on my calendar every week and it’s always the same as that time and it’s sacred time and that’s what happens. It sounds ridiculous, but I have a dog and so I have to walk the dog every day in the middle of the day and that creates a container too.
I have found that if I can put these markers in my calendar and then there’s white space around those markers, I’m much more efficient because I know that I have a 4-hour block here or a 2-hour block here and I can decide and prioritize what the best use of time is for that particular hour block and planning backward from deadlines. If I have, you all have performances, my performances are session facilitation. I’ll know when I have sessions that I’m going to be facilitating and then be able to plan backward and use those blocks to create content, create agendas, practice, meet with whoever I need to meet with, and that sort of thing.
How are you planning that? How far out are you reverse engineering? Say you have this session and it’s next Friday, how early are you going and saying, “I need to get ready for that. Let me block these things in.”
I have a couple of different layers. Usually, my big sessions are booked at least a month in advance. I know that if I am facilitating a full-day session, I’m going to need at least two full days to prep for that session. I do that backward planning. I also want to carve out a full day to reflect on how that session went afterward. I try to, based on what’s coming up, craft my calendar such that it supports whatever preparation has to happen and whatever debrief has to happen. That’s been helpful to me.
Generally, a rule of thumb for me is that it takes twice as long to prep as the actual session. If I’m running an hour-long session, it takes about two hours for me to prep it. If I’m running a 4-hour session, it takes about 8 hours for me to prep it. If I’m running a day-long session, it’s about two days’ worth of time that it takes for me. It’s just a rule of thumb. Sometimes it’s much more if it’s content that I’ve presented before, it takes less time. That’s how I carve out my calendar for the week or the month leading up to the event.
Now that’s a good rule of thumb. I’m thinking with musicians and performances, they can think that way too. Depending on whether it’s new material or you’ve got new musicians that you’re working with versus stuff that you’ve done a lot, then you don’t have as much prep. You still need to set aside that time because you can’t just go into a cold.
I have found that people don’t allow themselves that time. It’s like the first time to go, “I don’t need that time because it’s just my prep time.” I have found that that’s the work. If you’re performing the prep time, the rehearsal, the practice is the work that you need to do to be successful in that space. In my coaching work with people in leadership positions, it’s just fascinating to me how they think they can go into a meeting and shoot from the hip or talk off the cuff or they’ll be fine. They’ve done this a million times and being intentional about how you’re carving. In education, we call it intellectual preparation. If you’re intentional about how you’re planning your intellectual preparation, you are much more confident and the session goes much more smoothly than if you think you’re just going to be doing it off the cuff.If you're intentional about how you're planning, you're in your intellectual preparation. You are much more confident, and the session goes much more smoothly than if you think you will be doing it off the cuff. Click To Tweet
My husband’s an English professor, so there are classes he’s taught many times, but he still has to go over his notes before he goes and teaches a class, even if it’s a class he’s taught every semester.
For sure. It gives you peace of mind. Also, I find that it helps me to think about what my priorities are. The session facilitation is arguably the most important part of my work. If I’m not devoting the prep time to what it requires, what am I saying to myself about that aspect of my work and to the people who are paying me for that work? It’s not fair to me and them. For a long time, this was also going to sound ridiculous, but it felt selfish to me to carve out that prep time because I could do it late at night or while I was driving or I could try to fit it in other places. It was time that I needed to feel okay about the work.
There was a mindset shift there around that’s the work and I don’t need to make this phone call, send this email, or spend 85 years googling something to have the right research to present. I need to build the session and practice it and make sure that the session makes sense and pokes holes in it so that I’m presenting my best self and my best work.
That’s good because for musicians, sometimes practice does feel like either indulgence, unnecessary, or like, “Am I a real musician if I need to practice?”
I’m not into the term self-care, but this idea that if you’re doing something for yourself, it’s selfish. Practicing your craft or preparing for your work is not selfish. It’s how you run your business.
It doesn’t say anything about your aptitude. Some people just feel like, “I should just be able to go in there and do it because I’ve done it 1 million times.”
There’s always something to learn. There’s always something to tweak. The more you do it, the more on autopilot you can become so that you can be attuned to other things. It frees up brain space. It frees up the cognitive load.
That’s very true, especially for singing. The more you practice, the more things can work in the background and you can focus more on communicating with the audience and things like that. The Important things. Let me ask you about rituals around your work. We talked about having those containers. Do you have different rituals and times you block out for specific things that you need to do weekly? I always encourage musicians to block out time for admin and block out time for booking so you do it and it’s on your calendar. Do you have those kinds of things in your calendar weekly or are you just planning your week every week?
It depends on the thing, but there are certain administrative responsibilities that I do carve out time for. For example, I send out email campaigns every week. Every Monday morning, I carve out a couple of hours to make sure that the emails are done, automated, and ready to be sent out for that week. The following Monday, I’ll go back and look at the metrics and see how the emails performed, see how many clicks. I will revise my next week’s emails accordingly. I feel like that saves me time because if you’re manually sending out emails every day, it can be the biggest time suck ever.
Those are specific to my business. Part of my work is individual coaching. I try to have consistent appointments with the people that I’m coaching. Every Thursday morning at 8:00, I’m coaching Brandon, and every Wednesday at 2:00, I’m coaching Fred. I find that helpful both for me and for the people that I’m coaching. It applies to rehearsal or practice as well. If you have a consistent time, if you’re not planning for a particular event but you still need to practice and get your crap together, having a particular time during the week or during the day that is specifically devoted to that is helpful.
I recommend that too. You were talking about the coaching thing, if they’re coaching or teaching, having a consistent schedule around that too, so then you can see where the white space is, and then you can fill it in. I’m curious, do you keep some spots white? Some people just love doing all the planning on their calendar and knowing what they’re doing when, and some people look at their calendar and if there’s not very much white space, they have a panic attack.
I have found that too. Personally, it gives me a great deal of anxiety and agita to have a full back-to-back calendar. I need the white space because, to me, it’s like a mental note that I have the flexibility. If I don’t get to something that was scheduled on my calendar in a not white space, I can move it to the white space. If you get caught up in something or if there’s a family emergency or if you get a phone call that you weren’t expecting, there’s room to move stuff around. I find it very overwhelming to have a fully fleshed-out calendar with no white space. From an emotional standpoint, I find it disturbing
I have talked to people that feel that way and I’m starting to be that way. On Fridays, I usually have my interviews and some training sessions. I look and I’m like, “Interview, training session, coaching client, phone call with a partner, and another phone call with a partner.” Looking at that, that’s a lot. It isn’t. It’s not more than I normally do in a day.
Something about seeing those straight down on my calendar is stressful. You have to figure out what works for you. I’m okay with it for one day of the week, but if every day of the week was like that, I would not be happy. Figuring out what works well for you of maybe having like a day like that and then a day where you have a lot more white space.
There’s also a difference between your calendar and your to-do list. You don’t have to throw everything from your to-do list into your calendar. It’s okay if you don’t drop off the dry cleaning at 1:00 on Friday. You don’t need to pencil that in necessarily. I have found that in my travel time, if I can list some of those errands or things that I have to take care of in travel time, then it’s top of mind and I’m like, “I’m driving by CVS right now anyway. I can get that medication picked up. I’m going to be driving past the grocery store. I can get the milk at that time.” I have found that that ends up saving me time and it also makes it easier to not conflate the to-do list with the calendar.
How do you keep track of your to-dos and do you prioritize them? Do you go through them every week and prioritize them or every day? How do you make sure that the thing doesn’t become this overwhelming, massive list?
I am not compliance-driven and a detail-oriented person. I know those things about myself.
This is good because there are plenty of musicians out there who are more, I like to lovingly call them scattered creatives. They’re very creative and they have 1 million ideas a second, but they aren’t very detail-oriented when it comes to administrivia or things like that.
I find it to be the hardest and the most annoying crappiest aspect of my life. Things have to get done. There are a couple of ways that I deal with it. I don’t know that I would recommend any of these ways, but it seems to work for me. One is bundling stuff. As you were saying, identifying a day and throwing all of the administrivia into that day, and then you move on with your life.
I’ll give you an example. We have two cars and they both needed to be serviced. I identified a week where I was going to deal with both of the cars being serviced and I blocked out a day for each of the cars because when you take your car into the shop, they say it’s going to take an hour and it takes a week. That’s exactly what happened. I was proud of myself because I had already blocked the time. I was able to get both of the cars serviced. Nobody was inconvenienced. My husband, me, and my children weren’t inconvenienced. Now those things are taken care of and I don’t have to think about it again for a year.
I do that with dentist appointments too. I’ll make all five of our dentist appointments on the same day or in the same two-day period. From a cognitive load perspective, I can’t function if the next 5 weeks, I have to remember a dentist appointment for each person or if the dentist appointments are happening over the course of the next 3 months. There are five of us. We all need appointments. We’re all going to get it done now and then I’m not going to think about it again for a year. That bundling tends to work well for me. It drives my husband nuts, but he is not making the appointments, I am.
I know that used to happen naturally for me because I lived up in the mountains and we had to go an hour down to do a lot of things even go to Fresno instead of going to the dentist and all that. We would have like, “It’s a Fresno day. We’re all going down there.” It was annoying but it was also, “I wiped a lot of things off my to-do list in one day.”
I learned about a complimentary thing called temptation bundling. If you can bundle all of the crap that you have to get done, there’s some extrinsic reward at the end. I’m going to run all of my errands and then get myself this thing. I’m obsessed with Australian black licorice. I hate having to go to the drugstore 15 times in 1 week. If I can bundle it all together, my reward to myself will be, “I’m going to buy myself a bag of black licorice,” and I’m going to eat that whole thing and it’s going to make me very happy. That is something that I learned, this idea of temptation bundling.
I love that too. I trick myself sometimes with that thing. I want to listen to an audiobook or a podcast but I can only do it when I’m exercising, walking, or doing the laundry.
It gives your brain this little kick of serotonin because you’re doing something for yourself, but it’s okay to do it because you are getting all of this other stuff done.
For things for your family, I know you’re talking about errands and stuff, but I know as a mom, when my kids were little, I had to help them with homework in the afternoons or the evenings and they have soccer practice and all that. How do you build that into your schedule?
My older son is working on college applications, which involves a ton of administrivia that was not part of my life in 2022. Using that as an example, I need to make sure that I touch base with him every single day and have a face-to-face conversation to make sure that certain things are getting done. As I said, I’m not a detail-oriented person so this is a huge stretch for me. I make sure that I can have face-to-face conversations with him. For me, having the face-to-face is helpful because I don’t have to remember everything. Seeing him triggers a list of things that we have to go through. It also makes it so that I’m not texting him every five seconds and being like, “Did you do this?” It’s less annoying to him and it’s a degree of connection.
In terms of driving around, one of the few best things about living in Florida is that Florida’s a very complicated state. When my son turned sixteen, he got his driver’s license, and being able to drive himself and his brother to things like water polo practice has changed my life, literally and legitimately. Those kinds of things have been taken off my plate, but before that, it was more bundling. They have to be in this place so I’m going to get these errands done while I am waiting for them to finish at this thing and then we’ll come home trying to be as time efficient as possible.Try to be as time-efficient as possible. Click To Tweet
That’s what you have to do when you have people going in so many different directions. It does change your life when your teenager gets their driver’s license.
I can’t even tell you how grateful I am.
I remember that. You work with moms and professionals to balance their lives or best fit as you said earlier. Can you tell people how you work with others?
I have a very flourishing Facebook community. It’s called the Fierce Working Mom Leadership Circle. If you look for it on Facebook, you can sign up and approve it. We share a lot of content. We talk about the fierce working mom life. There’s a lot of humor involved but also a lot of social-emotional stuff like locus of control and those limitations that we were talking about like, “You can’t get everywhere in New York City in twenty minutes. That’s not a thing.” It’s helpful to have a space to have those conversations.
I’m launching a new program on October 1st, 2023. There are only ten spots, so I’m looking for people to recruit. It’s an eight-week program that’s focused on mindset and leadership development for women who are ready to look behind their veil and look at how they deal with boundaries, how they deal with self-awareness, how they get in their way, and things don’t have to be as hard as they feel. I’m excited about that program. I’ve had great success with it in the past.
I have a podcast that is on Spotify and it’s also called Fierce Working Mom Leadership Circle. Every episode is me interviewing a working mom in a leadership position, which is very broadly defined, and what we’ve been talking about over the course of this conversation, how they manage it all, how they see themselves, what makes them happy, how they create space for all of the things that they have to get done.
For me, these interviews have been incredibly illuminating because we feel so alone and isolated so much. There’s this ridiculous standard that as a working mom, you have to meet and sometimes you are not wearing makeup and sometimes you’re running around like a sweaty mess and that’s just the way it is. You may think that mom has her crap together and nobody does. I find these interviews to be validated in that way.
I find that with this show and the working musicians that I’ve had on here. People seeing that it actually can be done, it is so encouraging to them. I love that you’re doing that. That is the Fierce Working Mom Leadership Circle. You guys go check that out. You obviously love podcasts so check that out. Go check out her Facebook group. That will be a great place for you to get some validation and be able to have some conversations with some other badass working mom women. Thanks so much, Kami. This has been great. I always love talking about time management, productivity, and how we can do it all without totally burning out. We can’t do it all. We can manage it all and decide what is prioritizing what’s most important without burning ourselves out.
It’s all about making hard choices. Thank you so much.
- Kami Lewis Levin – LinkedIn
- Fierce Working Mom Leadership Circle – Facebook
- Fierce Working Mom Leadership Circle – Spotify
About Kami Lewis Levin
Learning & Leadership Executive and CEO of Kameron Lewis Levin Consulting. I build and facilitate leadership development programming in for profit and not for profit spaces nationally. I am a professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College and I’m a Fierce Working Mom of three kids, ages 17, 15 & 8.