From the InspireChoir Team

Where is the Time?

As choral directors, we have SO MUCH to do.  There’s never enough time in the day!  When we are stressed with administrative tasks of running a successful choral program and meeting the needs of our superiors, we can sometimes take those stresses into the classroom and negatively affect our kids.  It is our time in front of them that has the greatest importance.  That’s where the music is made, the relationships are built, and the passion is developed.  We doubt many of you would disagree with this sentiment, but that doesn’t solve the problem of needing TIME to complete all the stuff you have to do.  Our hope is to provide solutions for re-evaluating your time use to lower stress and allow you to really focus on the time you have with kids.

Determining What’s Important

I am obsessed with time management systems.  I admit it.  I am always trying to find time in the day to get it all done.  I have found successes in using different strategies and have picked and chose from them all to find a system that works for me – and I encourage you to do what works for you.  I offer these suggestions that have worked for me and hope that some, if not many, can work for you.

Teaching choir is a calling, not just a job, but sometimes this approach can lead to burnout.  And I have been there before!  So, it kind of took me falling on my face before I realized that I have to frame my personal life and take care of myself before I could take care of the kids.  My favorite method combines the methods of the Passion Plan with a plain notebook and the traditional to-do list.

Step 1:  Personal—The Big Picture

In the Passion Plan, they ask:  If I could do anything, be anything, have anything…what would it be?  In 3 months?  1 year?  3 years?  Lifetime?  While these don’t relate to choral music directly, maybe some of them do.  But it’s important for you to take care of your own needs so you can better serve the kids.  The next step is to determine which of the 3 month goals that you have is going to be your focus.  One could be “focus on priorities to allow for more time.”  How will you get there?  Perhaps that could be:  create an organizational system, schedule time, and reflect and challenge myself for future growth.  Personally, my priorities (in a VERY specific, particular order) are:  relationships (God, my wife), family & friends, self, and work/career.

Once you determine your priority order, what are your goals for each area? For me, that would be relationships, family and friends, self, and career.  I would encourage you to do this first for the year, and then revisit them each month.

Step 2:  The Month & Weekly Views

At the beginning of the month, reflect on each of your priorities and create your monthly goal for each.  Then, create the task list to get there.  An example for work/career could be:  Balance work needs with re-prioritization.  Specific tasks could be:  set up notification reminders, subscribe to calendars, etc.  Before setting out on your specific journey, look at the calendar for the month.  What tasks are coming up?  I like writing my calendar down in my notebook, but that’s me.  Looking at it on the computer can be overwhelming.  Doing so allows me to think about each task as I write it down, making it easier to swallow.

Once you’ve made your monthly goal, zoom in to the week.  How can you meet your focus goals?  What plans can you put into place for personal, work, friends/family, relationships, etc.?  What are you looking forward to this week?  How can you cultivate your passions?

Step 3:  Attacking Your Day

Here’s where most of the stress occurs.  How do I carve out time to get it all done?  Well, that’s just it.  You don’t.  You have to find a manageable chunk of things to do in a manageable amount of time.  Essentially, don’t expect yourself to be Superman or Wonder Woman, because you’ll fall short.  I start my day each day by arriving before the kids (at least 15 minutes to allow myself for a relaxing start rather than rushing in) and cleaning my desk to declutter.  Then, I begin reflecting on the weekly plan, looking at the daily calendar, and reflecting on the previous day to see if there was anything I left out or didn’t get to the previous day.  Then, I write out 3-5 tasks (that’s it) that I will accomplish for the day, plus my daily focus for the day (example:  I want to start off strong today), and finally one thing for which I am grateful.   I use a bullet system, similar to the Bullet Journal with the following key:

  • Task

X    Task complete

>    Task migrated

<    Task scheduled

–     Note

o    Event

*    Priority

!     Inspiration

?    Explore

This allows me to truly focus on what needs to be done and not on what doesn’t!  When attacking tasks, I like to “eat the frog” first and do the most difficult thing, but others like the snowball effect, essentially doing the easiest first to provide momentum for the difficult tasks.  Personally, my rule is if I can do it in 3 minutes or less, I do it.

If you haven’t checked out the Getting Things Done (GTD) method, you should!  It basically forces you to:  Do It, Defer It, Delegate It, or Drop It.  This method, combined with your strategic tasking and dumping thoughts in to do lists (I will detail this later) can be uber effective!

Warning:  there are many “time suckers” that eat up your day.  The most common ones are e-mail and social media.  Many time management leaders advocate for you to schedule specific times for email.   Did you know that the average American spends 6.4 hours per day checking email?  Wow.  I didn’t know that!  I like to do mine at the end of the day and at times like lunch duty (yes, I’m guilty).  I try not to answer emails at the beginning of the day because that’s my best time to work, but that’s just me.  I am a morning person.  Also be careful of spending too much time during the work day on social media (but sometimes you need a release :)).  Each day, my email box is Inbox Zero.  No matter what.  Some people use their inbox as a to do list (and sometimes I can as well), but I would encourage you to make a folder called @ACTION (the @ symbol allows it to be alphabetized first) to dump those emails you still need to take care of but don’t want to file.

The To-Do List and Long-Term Planning

You might be thinking this is crap, but it works for me.  While I use a paper notebook to really focus, I do it because I’m addicted to technology, which sucks my time up and wastes it.  With that being said, I love these two tools for time management:

To-Do Lists:  Wunderlist – a shared task list.  Free.  I use this with my colleagues at work and with my family.  It allows for delegation, deadlines, and has apps for your computer, iPad, and iPhone.  I use this as my “dump,” i.e. write it all down – don’t let it spin in your head.  You can prioritize later.

Project Management:  Omnifocus – $30.  Good for complex task management activities.  I like using this for creating large task lists that have several sub-steps.

While I have taken your time with this long article, hopefully in the end it gives you more time for you, and thus your kids!  Happy planning.  Time’s ticking!  🙂