I think the no. 1 question I get asked these days is: “How do you get so much done?”
Short Answer: I don’t have kids. 😉
And although I’m sure that has a lot to do with it-especially this year (and just as a quick aside–how the HELL did you people do it? There are not enough spa days in the WORLD to make up for what you parents out there have been through this year) scheduling a ton of things into a small amount of time is an art I have been trying to master since I was in high school, with 4 hours of homework and 4 hours of practicing to do in a 6 hour block of time.
If you read my last post about finding that sweet spot between Boredom and Busy (or Burnout) you might have guessed that this is something that matters to me… a lot.
My natural state is to be working on something, but I can easily work day in and day out without a break, and that makes me very dull. very unhappy, and very unfun to be around (just ask my husband). So the trick for me is to figure out a schedule that allows me to keep moving forward in my work, while also taking care of life things, maintaining my relationships, and having some fun.
It’s a work in progress, but I wanted to share a few things I have learned along the way. Things that have worked well for me.
For me, it’s Sunday mornings before I meet with my Bridge students. I grab my ink & volt planner, my multi-colored pens, my phone, and a coffee, and I curl up in a cozy spot in my sunroom and get to work. It’s a ritual that in and of itself, helps me to feel grounded each week.
The first thing I do is write in my coaching times: Trainings, Q& A’s, 1:1 sessions etc. I pull up my scheduling app on my phone in case someone has booked a last-minute session and get those in too.
Then I write in my teaching for the week. for the most part, it’s the same each week, but by writing the name of each student, I am reminded of anything I might need to remember about that lesson (an etude I want to assign them, if I need to scan something over to them beforehand, etc)
Third is any set appointments. Interviews, podcasts, guest trainings, doctor’s appointments, etc.
Each of these gets its own color, by the way. Coaching times are in blue, teaching is in green, and other appointments are in black. The different colors help me to keep things in balance throughout the day and the week, and also helps me to shift gears more easily between tasks.
Next, I get out the pink pen. Pink is for FUN. A Monday breakfast with the girls, or an afternoon walk with a friend, Friday night with friends, Sunday night pub quiz, etc. There are days when the pink is mostly relegated to the weekends, but I try to sprinkle something in every few days. Even if it’s just a zoom catch-up with a friend.
Then I compile my to-do list. I look at my task list from the previous week, and if there is anything I didn’t get to, that gets transferred to this week. I try to make sure that 80% of the tasks on my list a) have to be done by me, as opposed to someone on my team, or that it’s not something a student or client could find/do for themselves) and b) MUST be done this week.
That said, we all have long-term projects that will never be urgent, nor will they ever be mandatory. Things that we’d like to do, learn, create, etc. and I like to break those down into tiny little tasks, and do a couple each week. I have a running list in the back of my planner of long-term projects (those non-urgent house projects and general life things) I take a look through that list each Sunday and see if there is anything that I want to add to this week’s task list. So 20% of my tasks are more long-term oriented, and honestly, if they don’t get completed this week, it’s not a big deal.
It’s important to differentiate your weekly goals from your weekly tasks. Your goal might be to learn a piece.The task is to practice it, listen to it, record yourself playing it, etc. The goal is to line up 2 new students. The task is to email 5 orchestra or band directors to see if they have any talented kids who need a private teacher. I try to set between 3-5 goals for each week, and then make sure I have actionable tasks written down that will help me meet them.
At this point, I’ll take a look at the next 3-4 months. I have an entire wall of my office that is covered in those big Month-at-a-glance type Calendar pages. I tear them all off and put the entire year up at once. Anything coming up that I need to plan for? Can I get one or two things done this week that will help me be ready later?
Now I take a look at my tasks and fit them in where they make sense. Some are well-established routines. I am writing this blog post at 3 pm on a Sunday, which is when I
always usually write my blog posts. My cleaning lady, Esther comes on Wednesday afternoons, so on Wednesday mornings, I empty the fridge of anything that needs to be tossed, water the houseplants-because she is going to be mopping the sunroom later anyway, and I toss my husband’s work shirts in the wash so that she can iron them.
Likewise, work things have a time and place that make the most sense. I adhere to the Marine’s motto of “plan early, plan often.” so while I have a general plan of action for things early on, I like to make sure I have the very latest, updated information at hand when I create a finished product.
I could write out the trainings and create the pdfs for my profit pivot group before the program even starts, but if I wait until the Monday before each training, I know exactly what my cohorts are working on, struggling with, and I can tweak that week’s training to be as helpful as possible given where they are in that very moment.
Routines get a bad rap in the artistic community. The disheveled genius who works whenever the spirit moves them is glorified in books, films, operas and urban legend. But most of the folks who have made lasting contributions to the world around them, artists included, had fairly consistent routines that they stuck to throughout their lives. By not having to think about when I should do something, I’m free to just do it. e.g. It’s 9am = time to sit down with a cello.
The trick is to figure out when in the day you are at your best for whatever task it is. Some people love to hit the gym at night. Not me. It has to happen early in the morning, or it doesn’t happen at all. I do my best email writing around 6 am, and while my brain is on fire teaching in the afternoon/early evening, I could not write a coherent sentence to save my life at 5pm on a Wednesday.
When I’m finished with the week’s planning (which only takes me about 15-20 minutes). I have a clear idea on what my main focus is going to be that week-what must get done, what should to get done, and what I would like to get done. Tasks have a set day and time, but I’m flexible within that. If I get a text from a friend asking to meet up for a coffee, and I know that what I have laid out to work on over the next hour could be done elsewhere, I’ll go.
As I replied to a friend to asked about making plans this week, which she had prefaced with “I know you’re super busy with projects this week…” The day I am too busy to meet up with a friend is the day I quit.
For me, it’s about mapping everything out clearly, and then allowing myself to be flexible within that.
In an upcoming post, I’ll dive a bit deeper into my morning routine. AKA, what happens between when I wake up at 5:30 and when I start working at 9:00. I’m experimenting with a couple of new tweaks this week, and I’m excited to see how it works.
Have a great one!
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