How to determine the value of an hour of your time.

Let’s say that a regional orchestra—located an hour away— asks you to perform on one of their masterworks series. The pay for three rehearsals and a performance is $500. At face value, this seems great. $500 for ten hours of work is $50 an hour. However, when you account for travel, practice time, meals on the road and gas, the rate quickly goes down.  Here’s a hypothetical break down:

  • Hours in rehearsal and performance: 10
  • Hours on the road: 8
  • Hours practicing the rep: 2
  • TOTAL hours spent on the gig: 20
  • Amount spent on gas: $50
  • Amount spent on food: $40
  • TOTAL amount spent on all expenses: $90

$500 payment – $90 in expenses = $410

$410/20 hours = $20.5 dollars an hour, TOTAL

Instead of blindly taking every opportunity that comes your way, the challenge is to crunch the numbers and set some basic limits to what you will and won’t take. Let’s dig in a little on some strategies you can use as you work to establish the value of an hour of your time. Before we get started, there are three things to consider:

  1. Travel time is a huge factor.
    If you’re traveling over an hour to and from the gig, you need to factor it into your hourly rate as it will both drive down the amount you’re paid and will take a toll on your ability to have a comfortable work/life balance. 
  2. Keep an open mind about work not related to your life as a creative.
    If the work is steady, you like it, and you’re getting paid more than other creative work, consider the value of making this work a larger percentage of your workload.
  3. Make sure you capture everything for the past year.
    It’s important to have a complete picture of your work in order to make decisions about the value of your time.

Here is the step by step process to determine the value of an hour of your time:

  1. Click this link to automatically copy the Google Sheet I have created. (Beta Readers, you might need to right click/control click the link to open the Google Sheet)
  2. Gather all of your pay for the last 12 months to create a side by side comparison of your jobs, including all creative and non-creative work.
  3. After you fill out the spreadsheet answer the following questions in the text box below:
    1. Where do you make the most money? 
    2. Where do you spend the most amount of time working?
    3. Are there jobs that either make you way more than your other jobs, or way less?
    4. Are there jobs in which you make less money but you love? 
    5. Conversely, are there jobs you don’t necessarily like in which you make more money?
    6. What combination of jobs will allow you to maximize your work/life balance?

After you analyze this information, you can start to make decisions about the next steps in your career. It’s important to remember that change doesn’t happen overnight.  If you have a strategy about what you might give up and what you might add more of in the coming months and years, you can start to come up with a plan of attack.

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Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

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