“Top 10” Organizing Tips for 2019

Food for Thought for “Getting Your Stuff Together”

Once in awhile, someone suggests an article that might be suitable for everyone who stumbles upon this website… retired (but very busy) music teachers, active music educators, collegiates, and music students of all ages. Of course, I cannot resist putting together my own list of ways to become a better time manager and efficiency expert… mainly because I was never that organized when I taught classes in three buildings, assisted in marching band, produced plays and musicals, and served as a curriculum leader during my 35+-year career. (“Do as I say, don’t do as I do…” or did!) It’s now easy to recommend… and after trolling the Internet a little, backing up this advice with numerous “expert” protagonists.

 

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1. Throw out the “to-do list” and use a calendar

“Millionaires don’t use to-do lists. If something truly matters to you, put it on your calendar. You’ll be amazed at how much the likelihood of getting it done increases.”

– Srinivas Rao at https://getpocket.com/explore/item/why-calendars-are-more-effective-than-to-do-lists

According to The Muse (https://www.themuse.com/advice/8-expertbacked-secrets-to-making-the-perfect-todo-list), “41% of to-do tasks are never completed.” Janet Choi on LifeHacker (https://lifehacker.com/5967563/master-the-art-of-the-to-do-list-by-understanding-how-they-fail) maintains that for most people, there are four problems for using to-do lists:

  1. We have too many to-do’s.
  2. We’re not good at making to-do lists.
  3. We give ourselves too much time.
  4. “The future is full of unknowns, interruptions, and change.”

paper-3141341_1920_rawpixelSupported by Dan Ariely and his team at Timeful (a company acquired by Google), Srinivas Rao writes at https://getpocket.com/explore/item/why-calendars-are-more-effective-than-to-do-lists that we should throw away the to-do list and use a calendar app like Google Calendar for tasks and reminders, to set goals, and to schedule meetings.

Srinivas adds, “Just the act of putting these things on the calendar for some reason seems to significantly increase the likelihood that I actually do them.”

 

2. But there’s still a good reason for keeping your a note-taking app.

Combine a virtual assistant like Apple “Siri” or Amazon “Alexa” with an application like “Evernote” for “brainstorming” to get your thoughts organized.

Perhaps creating to-do lists may or may not work in your day-to-day environment, but the use of note-taking apps with voice-activated personal assistants may be the ticket to sketch out your short to long-term planning and even respond to email or other forms of writing drafts. Basically, I find I talk faster than I can type!

Jill Duffy offers these assessment criteria for picking the “best for you” digital note-taking tool at the blog-site Zapier (see https://zapier.com/blog/best-note-taking-apps/):

  • EvernoteEasy to set-up
  • East to use
  • Specialized to fit your needs
  • Good value (some require no subscription fees)

She reviews Evernote (my personal favorite), Microsoft OneNote, Paper, Quip, and Simplenote for day-to-day use.

A lot of my blog writing is generated using voice recognition by Siri dropped into the Evernote app. It has worked well for me. However, if you are running errands in the car, or even taking a longer trip on the highway, it is not recommended to dictate your manuscript while driving! Your attention is drawn away from watching the road to check on the status of your “writings,” and Siri does not always hear things right the first time! Even if you do not look at your phone while talking to your device, you will find that your distracted “brainstorming out-loud” may cause you to miss an exit or even sit unresponsive at a green light. Never note-take and drive at the same time!

 

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3. Of course, you have to set priorities!

I was never good at going from brainstorming to finalizing the goals and action plans! It seems easier to “think outside the box” than to construct that multi-leveled box of jobs!

Tatyana Sussex at Liquid Paper (https://www.liquidplanner.com/blog/how-to-prioritize-work-when-everythings-1/) proposes these steps for “How to Prioritize Work When Everything Is Number 1.”

  1. Collect a list of all your tasks.
  2. Identify urgent vs. important.
  3. Assess value.
  4. Ordered tasks by estimated effort.
  5. Be flexible and adaptable.
  6. Know when to cut.

Benjamin Brandall contributes additional insight on systems for prioritizing at https://www.process.st/how-to-prioritize-tasks/, defining “the Four D’s” (see section #5) and my favorite concept, “When you have two frogs to eat, eat the ugliest one first.”

Finally, should you feel you need it, definitely revisit the inspiration of Stephen Covey, especially in his book, First Things First or this website: https://www.franklincovey.com/the-7-habits/habit-3.html.

 

4. Creative things should come first!

cello-521172_1920_enbuscadelosdragones0As musicians and music teachers, this suggestion may hit home: Do something that stimulates your “right brain” with acts of personal self-expression or artistry every day, and schedule it both intentionally and early!

What makes you want to get out of bed in the morning? Playing an instrument or singing? Composing? Writing? Painting or drawing?

I have previously blogged about ways to enhance your daily creativity quotient:

I also like this Inc. article: “32 Easy Exercises to Boost Your Creativity Every Day.”

“Here is what I’ve learned from these creative warm-ups: my thinking continues to be more flexible and multi-dimensional throughout the day. I approach work challenges with less fear and more playfully; I’m more open to see things in new and unexpected ways… And that makes all the difference.”

– Ayse Birsel, author of Design the Life You Love

 

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5. Adhere to the “four D’s” system of productivity.

Have you heard of Priority Manager or other systems of paper and digital notes management? My favorite… the four D’s was previously blogged at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2017/12/01/help-how-does-one-keep-up/.

  • Do it! (Act on it immediately!)
  • Delay or Date it! (Assign it to the future!)
  • Delegate it! (Give it to someone else to do!) or
  • Dump it! (Delete or move it into the trash)

Check out the practical advice unveiled at https://blog.hubspot.com/sales/4-ds-of-productivity. I particularly liked Mike Renahan’s visual which sums up the system:

Four Ds

 

6. Devote at least 30 minutes a day to professional reading.

“Why did the busiest person in the world, former president Barack Obama, read an hour a day while in office?”

“Why has the best investor in history, Warren Buffett, invested 80% of his time in reading and thinking throughout his career?”

“Why has the world’s richest person, Bill Gates, read a book a week during his career? And why has he taken a yearly two-week reading vacation throughout his entire career?”

Answer? “If you’re not spending five hours per week learning, you’re being irresponsible.”

– Michael Simmons at https://qz.com/work/1124490/5-hour-rule-if-youre-not-spending-5-hours-per-week-learning-youre-being-irresponsible/

***

“In the busy teaching day, it can often be the last thing on your mind to dive into some professional reading. So, why should you make it a priority and how can you utilize your time effectively to fit it in?”

– Hazel Brinkworth at https://www.teachertoolkit.co.uk/2018/10/09/time-to-read/

It seems obvious, doesn’t it? Teachers have to “keep up” with their “craft,” explore mobile-791071_1920_kaboompicsdeveloping innovations, trends, and movements in their field, and embrace better instructional techniques and use of media for their students!

“I don’t have time” means you are not a true professional. Doctors and other medical care providers, lawyers, investment counselors, clergy, etc. – you name the “profession” – must continually renew their knowledge-base and “sharpen their saws.” Regular reading and attending conferences help motivate you, “recharge your batteries,” retool for the formation of new goals, review better strategies, and introduce improved teaching methods, materials, literature, and technologies.

The aforementioned Teacher Toolkit website scripts tips on how to get started:

  1. Focus your topic of interest.
  2. Know where to look.
  3. Listen instead of reading!
  4. Set aside a regular time slot in your week.
  5. Find a quiet place.

 

 

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7. Cut back on your “screen time,” especially closer to your bedtime.

“There’s a lot of debate about how much screen time is too much screen time, specifically for children, but also for adults. Likely you’ve heard about how it’s a good idea to stop using our electronics in the evening so you can wind your brain down for bed. But when it comes to screen time, the only thing that seems conclusive is that there’s such a thing as too much and that it may be different for everyone and depend on the circumstances.”

Interesting Engineering blog-site offers these “11 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Screen Time” (https://interestingengineering.com/11-easy-ways-to-reduce-your-screen-time).

  1. Eat your meals without a screen
  2. Limit your non-work screen time
  3. Don’t watch movies or TV in bed
  4. Cut down on computer socializing
  5. Set a timer
  6. Ban phone charging from the bedroom
  7. Take up another hobby for boredom
  8. Schedule a meeting phone call instead of using chat
  9. Think of other ways to access information
  10. Get your news in a condensed feed
  11. Exercise while you watch

 

8. Are you  getting enough sleep?

male-3730041_1920_Engin_AkyurtThe answer is… probably not.

According to a 2013 Gallup Study (the last year Gallup published a sleep study), the average American sleeps only 6.8 hours a day — and that number may be getting worse over the last several years.

Most experts recommend we receive 7 to 9 hours per night, but the quality of sleep is just as important as the quantity. The HelpGuide website (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/sleep/sleep-needs-get-the-sleep-you-need.htm/) posted this chart with data from the National Sleep Foundation:

sleep

Brittney Morgan at https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/how-to-hack-your-sleep-schedule-and-get-your-full-8-hours-242712 suggested these remedies:

  1. Ease into an earlier bedtime.
  2. Rethink how you use alarms.
  3. Create a sleep routine.
  4. Unplug and de-stress before bed.
  5. Write out your thoughts.
  6. Limit alcohol and caffeine

spiral-notebook-381032_1920_kathrin_I remember when I taught full-time and was in the middle of a full-blown musical production, I sometimes laid awake feeling “stirred up” inside trying to think of all the things I needed to do the next day. #5 of Brittney’s list is solved by putting a legal pad and a good pen by your bed stand, and without awakening your spouse, roll over and jot down a few of your “don’t forgets.” Or if you prefer to use the magic of technology, you can do this digitally… take a minute or so and use your tablet or smartphone, but don’t stay up very long and let the screen’s blue-light make your insomnia worse. Revisit title heading #2 above for note-taking apps.

It’s absolutely amazing the number of sources you can find on the web for additional advice for improving your sleep habits:

 

9. Get rid of the stuff you don’t need

“Now and again, everyone faces a big life transition. For me, it was when I lost my father — right around the time I realized my kids were rapidly growing up (funny how that sneaks up on you, huh?). I started to think about how I really wanted to live my day-to-day life. From the clothes on my body to stuff in my home, I wanted to stop perpetuating things that made me feel bad about myself.”

minimalism-241876_1920_bohemienne“Much like Gilligan and his infamous “three hour tour,” what I thought might be a quick clean-out extravaganza turned into an epic, six-month journey through the nether reaches of my closets and my psyche. Along the way, I learned many things from Maeve about organization — and more than a few things about myself that changed my relationship with my stuff.”

“This is tough for anyone, but it’s a crucial step in regaining control over your stuff. I was really honest with myself, and resolved to not beat myself up over getting rid of (or donating) things we didn’t need — even if they were in good shape. When you start to think of your things as part of an ecosystem for your life, it becomes easier to pare down to only the stuff you really love.”

Ask yourself, how often do you “purge the junk” from your home?

Showcased on Beginning Minimalist, Joshua Becker also shares “10 Creative Ways to De-Clutter Your House” at https://www.becomingminimalist.com/creative-ways-to-declutter/. Be sure to read what he refers to the Oprah Winfrey Closet Hanger Experiment, now my “new favorite” way of discarding seldom-worn clothing.

 

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10. Don’t forget to organize your living spaces.

In “7 Smart Organizing Tricks You Probably Have Not Tried” (https://www.realsimple.com/home-organizing/organizing/smart-organizing-tricks), Louisa Kamps recommends these logical time-savers and better spacing engineering techniques:

  1. Expose everything in your dresser drawers
  2. Store like with like.
  3. Be mindful of the pleasure your possessions give you.
  4. Keep your workspace clean and clutter free.
  5. Streamline your files.
  6. Create effective to-do lists (or see #1 above)
  7. Make “mise-en-place” a way of life.

Need more household tips? One Crazy House also provides a wealth of ideas in their blog-post, “17 Clever Organizing Tricks You’ll Wish You’d Known Sooner” by Donella Crigger at https://www.onecrazyhouse.com/organizing-tips-tricks/. And, if seventeen are not enough, what about over a hundred? Go to the Good Housekeeping’s site: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/tips/g2610/best-organizing-tips/.

 

Hopefully these hints help you “tidy up” for the New Year, and bring you more productivity, peace of mind, and joy in your lives!

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

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Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “young” by kaboompics, “checklist” by TeroVesalainen, “paper” by rawpixel, “important” by geralt, “cello” by enbuscadelosdragones0, “board”by rawpixel, “mobile” by kaboompics, “iPhone” by JESHOOTScom, “male” by Engin_Akyurt, “spiral-notebook” by kathrin, “minimalism” by bohemienne, “clutter” by Kasman, and “ring-binders” by AbsolutVision.

The PMEA State Conference Primer

Getting the Most Out of Music Conferences… Suggestions for First-Time Attendees or New Teachers

Music conferences offer students as well as seasoned musicians a wealth of professional opportunities. They are motivating and help recharge your battery. They even help set future goals. Consider music conferences an essential component of your training and career…

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE – The original release of this article is at http://majoringinmusic.com/music-conferences/

Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one. – Malcolm Forbes

The greatest benefits of attending an academic or professional conference are the opportunities to build your network and increase your awareness of new trends happening in your area of interest. – Emad Rahim http://www.coloradotech.edu/resources/blogs/june-2013/professional-conference

Networking with others in the field, getting new and innovative ideas, self-reflection and re-thinking of previous methods, and improving communication skills are just a few of the ways professionals can grow and develop.  – Conferences and Professional Development by the Grand Canyon University Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching https://cirt.gcu.edu/research/developmentresources/research_ready/presentationready/prof_develop

For professional networking, it is your “charge” to create multiple pathways to/from school administrators, HR managers and secretaries, music supervisors and department heads, and music teachers… and you – your skills, accomplishments, unique qualities, experience, education, and personality traits. Paul K. Fox https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/networking-niceties/

pcmea

Welcome to the annual state conference! For Pennsylvania Collegiate Music Education Association (PCMEA) members and soon-to-be-hired music educator prospects, this guide will help you get the most out of attending the 2017 Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) Spring Conference (and future professional development events).

Reasons to “drop everything” and attend an in-service conference:

  1. Conferences “grow” your professional network and opportunities for future collaboration.
  2. Conferences build your knowledge base: to hear about potential job openings, stay current in the field, learn new ideas, music literature, classroom materials, curriculum initiatives, research, technology, and unique approaches to problems, and to see “state-of-the-art” (“model”) performances of student and professional music ensembles.
  3. Conferences expand your resources.
  4. Conference motivate (a.k.a. “recharge batteries”) and help you plan future goals.

People in academics cultivate exceptional resources—and they’re excited to share them with like-minded colleagues. During the conference, I had an opportunity to test out new technology, review upcoming publications, share teaching tools and techniques and obtain samples of textbooks, software and mobile applications. Conferences are full of people promoting new ideas, vendors selling new products, and consultants teaching new methodologies. I always take advantage of this opportunity to fill up my academic tool-shed with new techniques and technology to improve my career. – Emad Rahim

bayfront1_highThe annual PMEA Spring Conference will be held on April 19-22, 2017 at the Erie Bayfront Convention Center. These sessions may be “perfect for PCMEA!”

  • Opening General Session with Tim Lautzenheiser Thursday 8:30 a.m.
  • PCMEA meetings Thursday 10:30 a.m. and Friday 11:15 a.m.
  • Getting the Most Out of Your Student Teaching Experience Thursday 1:30 p.m.
  • Cracking the Graduate School Code: When, Where, Why, How, & How Much Thursday 3 p.m.
  • Starting with the End in Mind – or – You’ve Got Four Years, Use Them Wisely Thursday 4:30 p.m.
  • Music Education & Gaming: Interdisciplinary Connections for the Classroom Friday 8:15 a.m.
  • Ready for Hire! Interview Strategies to Land a Job Friday 9:45 a.m.
  • Planning Strategies to Develop a Responsive Teaching Mindset Friday 2:15 p.m.
  • Final General Session with NAfME Eastern Division President Scott Sheehan Friday 3:45 p.m.

For a complete conference schedule, consult PMEA News or this web-link: http://www.pmea.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/2017-PMEA-Annual-Conference-Schedule-for-Winter-News.pdf.

pmeaFirst things first! Prepare yourself in advance. Grab your winter or spring issue of PMEA News. Review the program of sessions which is usually laid out in chronological order and also by content strands (e.g. advocacy, choral, classroom music, collegiate, curriculum development/assessment, higher education research, instrumental, music technology, World Music, and special interest topics), as well as the list of keynote speakers, guest clinicians, showcase (music industry) demonstrations, association meetings (like PCMEA), and performances. Using an “old-fashioned” 20th century tool, mark up the conference schedule with two different colors of highlighter marking pens, first targeting “high interest” areas in yellow, and then “must attend” events in hot pink or other favorite color.

Next, download the PMEA Conference App (usually from Core-Apps.com). This is the 21st Century technique for setting up your conference schedule (“where to go and what to do”), reading the bios of the presenters, locating the session rooms and exhibit booths, finding out who is attending, taking and storing your notes, and learning about last minute changes. Here is the picture of the 2016 PMEA app:

pmea-app

More DO’s and DON’Ts for effective conference attendance:

  1. DON’T remain in your “comfort zone” by sitting exclusively with your friends or college buddies at every session and concert. DO socialize with your peers at meals, and DO attend meetings of your PCMEA. However, if you are trying to take advantage of networking opportunities, to get to know other professionals, possible job screeners, administrators, etc., DON’T just sit with people you know at every other event.
  2. SONY DSCDON’T focus exclusively on attending sessions or concerts in your specialty or most proficient areas, such as band if you’re a woodwind, brass or percussion major, orchestra if you are a string player, general music/choral if you are a vocalist or pianist. DO go to sessions that are not directly related to your major. You might be surprised at the connections you discover or the new interests that arise. Imagine “they” want to hire you next year as the next middle school jazz coach, HS marching band show designer, choreographer for the elementary musical, conductor of the string orchestra, teacher of AP music theory, etc. Could you select music for an elementary band (or choral) concert, create a bulletin board display for a middle school general music unit, set-up a composition project, or lead folk dancing at the kindergarten level?
  3. DO stay at (or near to) the hotel where the conference is being held… to see and DO more!
  4. Learn and DO the best practices of networking, personal branding, business card creation and distribution, and record-keeping of conference notes, job openings, and contact information. DO read my blog-post on Networking Niceties: The “How to Schmooze Guide” for Prospective Music Teachers at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/networking-niceties/.
  5. playing-harp-1563567DON’T be shy! A conference is no place for being timid or afraid to start up a discussion with a more experienced music teacher. PMEA is all about circulating and introducing yourself, exhibiting your “charming self,” exploring resources and who are the experts/leaders in music education, getting the “lay of the land,” and adding as many names and emails to your professional contact data base as possible. Of course, DO follow-up with anyone who suggests that there may be a future employment posting from their school district!
  6. DO attend both general sessions, one usually scheduled on Thursday morning and the other on Friday afternoon. These will feature the keynote speakers and a special performance or award presentation. Since it is free and another opportunity to network, DO attend the Saturday morning awards breakfast and general membership meeting.
  7. DON’T be the first person to leave a session, and definitely DON’T “hop around” from one clinic or concert to another. Many attendees consider leaving early disruptive and rude, and it does not allow you to get the “whole picture” of the presentation. DON’T run in and grab the handouts… they will not have much meaning unless you attend the entire one-hour workshop. DO interact with the clinicians and conductors. If someone gave a talk, introduce yourspiano-and-laptop-1508835elf and ask a thoughtful question on some issue about which you are curious or found interesting.
  8. DO attend (and participate in) at least one panel discussion, music reading workshop, and technology session. DO search for special sessions held for college students on interviewing and landing a job. DO visit the displays of the PMEA Research Forums and the Exhibits.
  9. DON’T expect to get a lot of sleep at the conference. DON’T miss the interesting concerts to attend at night as well as early morning breakfast meetings and evening receptions. But, whatever you do, DO have FUN at your first music teacher conference!

Actually, PMEA represents only one of a series of outstanding music education conferences offered to school music teachers. In addition, you should look at:nafme

Hopefully, these tips on networking and taking advantage of the many professional benefits for attending an in-service conference will assist your successful pursuit for “landing” a job, discovering your own “calling” in the field of music education, and contributing a lifetime of meaningful work to our profession. See you in Erie!

Suggested Additional Readings:

  • Caffarella, R. S., & Zinn, L. F. (1999). Professional development for faculty: A conceptual framework of barriers and supports. Innovative Higher Education, 23(4), 241-254.
  • Guskey, T. R., & Huberman, M. (1995). Professional development in education: New paradigms and practices. Teachers College Press, 1234 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10027 (paperback: ISBN-0-8077-3425-X; clothbound: ISBN-0-8077-3426-8).
  • Guskey, T. R. (2000). Evaluating professional development. Corwin Press.
  • Snow-Gerono, J. L. (2005). Professional development in a culture of inquiry: PDS teachers identify the benefits of professional learning communities. Teaching and teacher education, 21(3), 241-256.
  • Sunal, D. W., Hodges, J., Sunal, C. S., Whitaker, K. W., Freeman, L. M., Edwards, L., … & Odell, M. (2001). Teaching science in higher education: Faculty professional development and barriers to change. School Science and Mathematics, 101(5), 246-257.

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits: saxophone 24youphotography, harpist Gerrit Prenger, and computer/music keyboard LeslieR at FreeImages.com