Tips, Tricks, & Techniques for Time & Task Management
“Hack” – hæk – noun – various definitions
- “a usually creatively improvised solution to a computer hardware or programming problem or limitation” (Merriam-Webster)
- “one who works hard at boring tasks” OR “a mediocre and disdained writer” (vocabulary.com)
- “a strategy or technique for managing one’s time or activities more efficiently” (Google)
- “someone who does work that is not important or original” (Britannica Dictionary)
- “an illegal attempt to gain access to a computer network” (Wiktionary)
- “a clever tip or technique for doing or improving something” (Merriam-Webster)
Is “hack” really a bad word? Consider this modern-day etymology in the article “A 125-Year-Old Letter Dives Into the True Meaning Of the Word Hack“ by Robert McMillan posted on SLATE:
If you walk through the heart of Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, you’ll find a rather imposing two-story mural painted by artist Brian Barnecio. It looks like a massive totem pole filled with abstract shapes that resemble lips and eyeballs and boxes of ping-pong balls, and in the middle of it all, there’s a single word: hack.
In the late ’80s and on into the ’90s and early 2000s, hack was a dirty word. It evoked danger and criminal activity. It was all about breaking into computer systems, telephone networks, and other vulnerable technology. People who knew their computer history disagreed, but the negative connotation took hold in the mainstream. But over the past decade, hacker has been rehabilitated. Today, it seems, everyone wants to be a hacker. Facebook has gone a long way towards renovating the word, building its massive successful company around the idea that hacking is a good thing, a way of transforming technologies into something better.
Referring to only positive interpretations of “hack,” we turn to the World Wide Web and our colleagues in collaboration to explore unique ways to streamline and make more efficient our personal organization, day-to-day routines, and management of our office and music teaching “best practices” in time/task management. Peruse through these insights “borrowed” from professionals in the field. Some may resonate within you and solve problems you may have; others may inspire you to create other “hacks” towards success.
If you haven’t done so already, please consult my past blog posts on similar topics at this site:
First, I will revisit and expand on one of my favorite “systems” called Priority Management.
The Four D’s
Ever heard of Priority Management (PM)? Trolling the Internet, there are a lot discussions and resources that extol the virtues of “the four D’s” – DO IT, DELETE IT, DELAY IT, or DELEGATE IT:
- Priority Management International, Inc.
- The Four D’s of Productivity, and How to Use Them by Mike Renahan at HubSpot
- Manage Your Emails More Effectively by Laura Bain
- The Four D’s of Time Management at ProductPlan
- The Four Ds (article) and worksheet by Dulcie Swanston at TopRight Thinking
It may at first seem like a novel way to clean off your desk and desktop. But, in my opinion, it goes to the root of our problem in time management – PRIORITIZE and give rid of the (another “D”) DISTRACTIONS!
PM’s “WorkingSm@rt method” promises to help you “gain control over your day, find balance, prioritize your work, and reach your goals,” giving you time to focus on the tasks that are important to you. The bottom line – every digital or printed post-it-note, piece of mail, receipt, publication, email or other communication – must be “put in its place” on the spot – either completed instantly, deferred to another time, given to someone else to do, or THROWN OUT!
You could reverse the order of the D’s to make the workflow go even faster… “start with the end in mind” as Stephen Covey would say, and DELETE unnecessary “stuff” first. This “habit” is particularly suitable for email: clear out the spam and TRASH duplicate messages and things that do not need your response.
Consider these PM Hacks:
- In advance, set-up file folders labeled by months, weeks, or days, and one each of these: in-basket, out-basket, and (very important) PRO-TIME tray.
- Designate a “PM Period” every day when you go through your in-basket of unsorted (e)mail and delete unnecessary stuff/tasks, date/delay for another time, delegate to others (out-basket), or…
DO THEM NOW!
- As part of your “delay file,” place journals, catalogs, or other professional readings in a professional read tray (PRO-TIME), but regularly schedule daily/weekly time to do “silent and sustained reading.”
- Allow NO unsorted pieces of paper to ever infiltrate the surface of your desk.
How does PRO-TIME look for a music educator? We should intentionally focus on fostering our own creative self-expression, artistry, and professional development:
- Read an article in a professional journal or digital newsletter.
- Write your own article or blog post for a professional e-publication.
- “Keep up your chops” on your instrument or voice. Practice every day!
- Keep up with your “musicianship training” like ear training, sight-reading, and score reading. Pull out a copy of Elementary Training for Musicians by Hindemith and practice exercises that make you sing in syllables, tap a different rhythm independently with your left hand, conduct the beat pattern with your right hand, and beat your foot to the pulse. OR revisit your college solfeggio assignments, and of course, sight-singing or playing-at-sight anything new-to-your-eyes is most beneficial.
- Take time to compose or arrange your own “Mr. Holland’s Opus.”
- Perform or improvise on the piano or guitar, rotating weekly to different musical styles and forms.
- Is it time to learn a new instrument? When was the last time you crossed the break on the clarinet, drilled in paradiddles on the snare drum, OR shifted to third position on the violin? Can you play as well as your beginning students?
- If you’re not a piano wizard or an accomplished accompanist, try your hand at sight reading several different voice parts simultaneously from choral octavos. OR can you transpose and play “at-sight” a musical phrase from a full score? (Those French Horn parts always challenged this violist!)
Besides committing to regular scheduled PRO-TIME, you have to systemize your D-PLANNING by going over your DELAY files during your daily designated “PM Period.” (Yes., this will take discipline!) In addition, once a month (or whatever frequency you choose), you must to review and move things from longer-term goals to short-term or immediate action. Being conscientious and meticulous in the use of your very-limited planning time and scheduling what author of Fewer Things, Better Angela Watson targets for your “non-flexibles” is paramount for “taming the time tiger!” Her “aligning priorities” approach to time management echoes the philosophy of PM and First Things First by Stephen Covey:
- Identify your non-flexibles
- List your top priorities that you want to uncover more time for
- Specify what life would look like if you prioritized these things
- Add top priorities to the unallocated time in your schedule
- Identify/schedule the in-betweens
Setting Priorities – How’s Your Work/Life Balance?
If you have been following this site, you know this blogger has retired from full-time public school music teaching. However, “preaching to the choir,” we all know how busy our schedules have become and how unbalanced things can get – no matter who you are – college music education majors, fully active music educators, even retirees. In fact, we should all be taking the advice of author Ernie Zelinski in his book How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free to set priorities and find equilibrium in our daily, weekly, monthly work/life to-do lists and tasks. How do your pie slices look (above)? Do you spend more time thinking of your school/job than your more pressing personal commitments. Do you commit adequate time for your own self-care?
Angela Watson helps us engineer “a plan” that will foster balance. Or, if you have a few moments, visit the website(s) of the late great Stephen Covey, author of the book and series Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, in many ways one of the most renown experts on time management. I would start with this clever YouTube video excerpt of him hosting a workshop on the merits of “finding the big rocks” in your life: https://youtu.be/zV3gMTOEWt8. He summed it up with the quote: “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”
The next step might be to consume Covey’s First Things First book and corresponding website here.
Before you get started with planning your 2022-23 school year, we recommend taking a “time out,” pulling up a comfortable lawn chair or Lazy-Boy, and diving into these personal tutors – “gems.”
- Fewer Things, Better by Angela Watson (mentioned above)
- Four Thousand Weeks – Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman
- The Weekend Effect by Katrina Onstad
Also, if you want to taste more of the vision and work of Stephen Covey, check out his many books.
Part 2 – More Hacks to Help Music Teachers Organize
In our next blog-post, we will next share more insights – music educator to music educator – hopefully helpful hints thanks to these very inspiring sources:
- Band Directors Talk Shop
- Clever Music Teachers Hacks by Wendy Higdon
- 9 Time-Saving Tools… for Busy Music Teachers by Ashley Danyew
- Band Room Hacks on Pinterest by Julia Arenas
NOTE: This blog-site has a “comment” button at the top. If you would like to “come to the party” and offer up a little wisdom of your own, send in your own “hack” for a future posting.
© 2022 Paul K. Fox