So, it’s not just selecting repertoire and rehearsing the band?
I’m not going to say that I was ever so naive as to think that being a high school band director was just about the music. However I certainly never imagined the actual amount of non-musical work that is required to do the job right. Being a band director also includes: budgeting, purchase orders, check requests, stacks of (primarily junk) mail daily, permission slips, parent emails, school & district level emails, inventories (uniforms – marching, jazz, concert; instruments; sheet music; recordings), performance applications, booster meetings, fundraisers, returning phone calls, scheduling the air conditioner in my room with the guy who manages it at the district office, etc. All of this busy work would be fairly easily managed if I didn’t have to teach classes and have hundreds of students interrupt my mundane routine with their pesky “educational needs”!
In love with the “System”.
I am an extremely organized person. In my mind, anyway. Some people function well amidst clutter, disorganization, and chaos. I do not. I also rarely find myself in a working environment that is well organized, tidy, or systematic. This has become my primary professional dilemna and one with which I am constantly engaging in battle. I have a problem with time management that leads to frantic “catch up” instead of measured and purposed productivity.
I love systems. I create systems to improve Process X’s functionality all the time. For fun. I find the excitement of the solution to be addictive. What can I say? I’m a geek. I am ever seeking after the one fix that will streamline my administrative chaos thereby creating more time and stability for my actual job – teaching & creating music with my students.
A starting point: The Desk.
Now any of my students could (and probably will) tell you that my desk is rarely clean. Again, this is not by preference but rather by circumstance. It is, however, by choice. We all make choices in how we allocate our time each day. When my desk is cluttered it is because I have chosen to address individual items in that list above instead of spending the time each day to clean it. This is my mistake. This flaw in my logic is that it will take time away from “everything I need to do” if I spend 30 minutes (or often less) properly sorting, filing, or otherwise processing away the stacks of paperwork. (btw, the desk pictured above is NOT mine!)
The truth is that:
- Most of what collects on my desk is destined for the trash. Putting it there quickly will alleviate stress and clarify the remaining items.
- Much of what is on my desk are the very things in the giant list of busy items listed above. They need to get done. In keeping them in stacks from day to day, I am falling behind on important business.
- A messy desk increases frustration, anxiety, and a sense of claustrophobia. A clean desk is a breath of fresh air. It encourages clarity of mind, which allows for real work to get done. Planning, study, listening, writing.
It is worth it to never leave for home without processing everything on your desk. A fresh start in the morning is valuable.
Everything in one place: One Calendar / One Notebook.
I used to carry a Franklin planner everywhere I went. It is a good system. All events are recorded in one calendar for all aspects of your life. Planning is worked out in the planner. Contacts / goals / notes / whatever. But it isn’t digital, and it’s bulky. It’s so 20th century! Web-based software that is accessible from your desktop computer / laptop / iPad / cellphone is the way to go.
I use Gmail. Email archiving is easy, searchable, and unlimited. Built in Google contacts holds all of my contact info for everything. It syncs with my phone and doesn’t require a separate password. Google calendar also syncs with my phone and allows multiple calendars. So I have a personal calendar, family, professional (non-ensemble), and specific Ensemble calendars. The ensemble calendars are public and embedded in my band website so that my students and their parents see the same thing I do.
The keystone of my Web 2.0 productivity tool-set is Evernote. With Evernote, you can capture notes, emails, to-do lists, documents, snippets from websites, photos, sound files, and more. They are kept in one place that is completely and easily searchable by body text and contextual keyword tags. Evernote is free with an optional pay upgrade (which I took). It has a web interface, a desktop download (which works better), and apps for iPad & smart phones.
I put everything into Evernote. I attach important documents such as invoices, instrument usage agreements, etc. I forward any email that I think may be important to have in the future (parent communications, tour contacts, etc.) to a special address that converts it directly into an Evernote note. But the most useful thing I have found is using Evernote as GTD (Getting Things Done) to-do list system. Blogger Ruud Hein (@ruudhein) describes a brilliant method for using the “saved search” feature in a powerful way. I’ve created “context lists” that describe where I am to do something such as @bandroom, @home, @computer, etc. I’ve also modified his system a bit to incorporate a tickler file concept with tags such as #monday, #tuesday, #October, etc. You create your saved search in a way that it looks for all notes with that designation that has an unchecked completion box. Once you check the box in the note as complete, the item falls off your list. I can then click on @bandroom and see all of the to-do items that specifically need to be done there. I can click on #Friday to see all items that need to be completed that day regardless of contextual location. This took me a little while to tweak the set-up to my liking, but now I count it as my single greatest time-saver. The only caveat is it must be used daily to work.
Working toward a clear Vision.
For me, the two greatest challenges to the busy work of being a band director are decluttering my workspace and having easily accessible productivity tools to allow for focused planning and storage of electronic information. With these issues taken care of, stress and anxiety subside. Clarity of thought becomes the norm opening a fountain of creativity that benefits your students. Stephen Davis wrote a great blog post where he desires his class to have “concepts and ideas carefully planned out and presented in a simple, elegant manner that focuses attention on what really matters.” This is the focus that I am chasing; that comes when the busy work is defeated. I recommend every ensemble director have a working Vision of their program. This could be a specific vision statement, a list of expected results, or a general idea of what defines a successful band, orchestra, or choir. In these moments of clarity where everything is in it’s place and the busy work is done, you have time to reflect on where you are and what you need to do to move your teaching and your ensemble forward to embody this expected vision of success.