“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.

Help! How Does One Keep Up?

Time, Task, & Media Management for Pre-Service/New Music Educators

 

This article is in memory of the late Thomas Labanc (October 1946 – November 2017), my friend, colleague, Upper St. Clair School District social studies teacher, curriculum leader, and assistant to the superintendent, school historian, brilliant visionary and fellow risk-taker, who taught me the basics of Priority Management and collaborated on many of our school district’s communications and public relations projects, including the establishment of the highly successful community publication UPPER ST. CLAIR TODAY magazine. PKF

 

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Imagine there is a bank that credits your account each morning with $86,400.
It carries over no balance from day to day. Every evening the bank deletes whatever part of the balance you failed to use during the day.
What would you do? Draw out every cent, of course!!!
Each of us has such a bank. Its name is TIME.
Every morning, it credits you with 86,400 seconds.
Every night it writes off, as lost, whatever of this you have failed to invest to good purpose.
It carries over no balance. It allows no overdraft.
Each day it opens a new account for you.
Each night it burns the remains of the day.
If you fail to use the day’s deposits, the loss is yours.
There is no going back. There is no drawing against the “tomorrow.”
You must live in the present on today’s deposits.
Invest it so as to get from it the utmost in health, happiness, and success!
The clock is running. Make the most of today.
To realize the value of ONE YEAR, ask a student who failed a grade.
To realize the value of ONE MONTH, ask a mother who gave birth to a premature baby.
To realize the value of ONE WEEK, ask the editor of a weekly newspaper.
To realize the value of ONE HOUR, ask the lovers who are waiting to meet.
To realize the value of ONE MINUTE, ask a person who missed the train.
To realize the value of ONE SECOND, ask a person who just avoided an accident.
Treasure every moment that you have! And reassure it more because you shared it with someone special, special enough to spend your time.
Remember that time waits for no one.
Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is mystery. Today is a gift.
That’s why it’s called the present! – Pratheek Naidu

 

Philosophies of Time Management

stopwatch-2061848_1920-geraltEven though it is from a book on post-employment transitioning (Purposeful Retirement: How to Bring Happiness and Meaning to Your Retirement), the author Hyrum W. Smith suggests several thought-provoking questions on prioritizing time:
  1. Does your management of time reflect your governing values?
  2. Are you giving the most time to that which matters most?
  3. What can you do tomorrow to ensure your time aligns with your priorities?

A similar perspective but providing much more detail, I recommend consuming from cover-to-cover First Things First by Stephen R. Covey, who succinctly defines this conundrum about using time wisely.

“For many of us, there’s a gap between the compass and the clock – between what’s deeply important to us and the way we spend our time. And this gap is not closed by the traditional “time management” approach of doing things faster. In fact, many of us find that increasing our speed only makes things worse.” – Stephen Covey

The four sections of Covey’s book dive into these concepts:

  • The Clock and the Compass
  • The Main Thing is to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing
  • The Synergy of Interdependence
  • The Power of and Peace of Principle-Centered Living

In addition, I found additional insight and inspiration in the philosophy of managing time from these links:

For those of you who have already begun your career in music education or even working as a day-to-day music sub, try these classroom and time management tips (thanks to NAfME):

 

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The 4 D’s

Have you ever heard of a system called Priority Management (PM)? PM proposes methodology and business tools to immediately route every piece of paper and your daily “to-do tasks” that come into your life to one of the four D’s:

  • Do it! (now)
  • Date it! (assign it to the future)
  • Delegate it! (give it to someone else to do) or
  • Dump it! (into the trash)

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!

time-management-2323612_1920-mohamed1982egYours truly, a “late baby boomer,” never enjoyed that prophesied and romanticized revolution of a “paperless society.” Did you? PM recommends the creation of a “future reading” file, a subcategory of “date it.” Experts on Google Mail will extol the merits of creating a folder and categorizing/storing messages such as emailed issues of MEJ, Kappan, SB&O, and other digital editions of professional newsletters. I have found that this doesn’t work very well, even in retirement. The file folder just fills up, and I never seem to get around to reviewing the things I thought were so important to save. Nor did the practice of our grandmothers’ generation clipping articles (and coupons) out of newspapers. You would think you could solve this media overload by just printing a small excerpt of what you want to peruse later and putting it in a letter tray near your desk? Nope. It just piles up! However, probably the ideal solution would be to designate a specific 15 minutes or more every day for something they used to give to the middle school students I taught: “silent and sustained reading.”

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“Pros” Wrestle Control of Their “Free Time!” You Can Do That, Too!

“When you get right down to it, intentional living is about living your best story.”

time-481444_1920-geraltHow many times have you heard it? Make your plans and goals “intentional!” Besides all of the upcoming deadlines and appointments to which you are committed, include in your daily and weekly schedule opportunities for individual reflection and growth.

Plan 30-60 minutes of professional enrichment every day, throughout the year. The list below is based on an hour, but when time is really at a premium, just divide everything in half.

  • Read an article in a professional journal or digital newsletter (15 minutes)
  • “Keep up your chops” in ear training, sight-reading, and score reading. Have you ever used something like Elementary Training for Musicians by Hindenmith and practiced 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? Revisit your college solfeggio assignments, and of course, sight-singing anything is also most beneficial. (10 minutes)
  • Perform on the piano, rotating weekly to different styles and forms of music. If you’re not a piano major or an accomplished choral  accompanist, include playing at sight several different voice parts simultaneously from choral octavos. (10 minutes)
  • Research and add professionals to update your contact file. Did you run into any new music teachers or school administrators this week? Search school district websites for the names of music department chairs and supervisors. (5 minutes)
  • Practice your story-telling skills (organized and “polished” telling of anecdotes about your achievements, teaching experience, “personality pluses,” and problem solving. Role play answering job-screening questions in video-recorded mock interviews, and allow time to assess your “performance.” (10 minutes)
  • Work on personal branding and marketing projects: making, refining, and customizing your e-portfolio, business card, professional website, and resume. (10 minutes)

The last three bullets above are covered extensively within this blog. Try these links:

If you “think” you are ready for the job search process, complete the self-assessment at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2017/04/24/intereviewing-the-situation-and-jobs/.

 

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What about vacations or academic breaks when it seems there’s more time to spare? With some repetition to the above, in the December 2017 issue of Collegiate Communique, a digital publication of the PMEA Council for Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention (in support of the Pennsylvania Collegiate Music Educators Association and Society for Music Teacher Education), these recommendations were offered for college music majors who are leaving school for their winter or summer recesses.

“After you finish your semester finals, juries, concerts, writing assignments, and other projects, you may have several weeks before you have to return to full-time classes at the university. Besides catching up on your sleep and visiting your family and friends, how many of these enrichment activities can you accomplish?”

  1. Share your musical gifts.
  2. Sit in with a church or community choir, orchestra, or band.
  3. Learn something new about music… even outside your specialty.
  4. Spend a lot of time sight-reading.
  5. Improve your score reading and analysis.
  6. Volunteer to coach/conduct music rehearsals at the local public school.
  7. Attend as many concerts as you can.
  8. Compose a short seasonal, folk, jazz, or classical piece.
  9. Record video/audio excerpts of your major instrument/voice in preparation for placement in your e-portfolio.
  10. For upcoming employment prep and practice of mock interviews, review the marketing professionalism articles at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/becoming-a-music-educator/.

– Collegiate Communique #8

Of course, from a 35-year veteran teacher now retired, a snide remarkbusinessman-2929721_1920-Fotomek in response to feeling a little “stressed over the schedule” could be to “get used to the 24/7 nature of the job.” A music teacher works from sun-up (and before) to sun-down (and after), and constantly has to juggle multi-tasking on a wide variety of to-do’s, all landing at the same time: writing lesson plans, arranging music or drills, preparing scores or accompaniments, planning and rehearsing ensembles, managing the grade book and attendance records, attending faculty meetings and parent conferences, writing curriculum, student assessments, and lesson targets, preparing for extra-curricular activities like marching band, chorus, or the musical, finishing your own homework for graduate courses, district inductions, or professional development assignments, ETC.

But, if you “get organized,” you will love it! There is nothing better (albeit hectic) than the “calling” of serving your students and the profession as a music educator, inspiring creative self-expression, artistry, music appreciation, and life-long learning.

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits from Pixabay.com: “hourglass” by annca, “children” by mochilazocultural, “stopwatch” by geralt, “parade” by Marmiche, “time management” by mohamed1982eg, “choir” by intmurr, “time” by geralt, “box” by rawpixel, and “businessman” by Fotomek.