Archive for January, 2010

How to Stay Productive: Part 3-Stay Focused

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

By Andy Zweibel
Republished with permission from Music Major

Set Goals for Work Time

One reason we tend to lose focus is that we try to work on too many different tasks in a given One way to maintain focus when you have time to work is to create a list of goals (also known as a ‘to-do’ list) just for that specific amount of time you have to work. If you have 45 minutes in between class, sit down in the library and write a list of what you plan to accomplish in that 45-minute block. Prioritize the list, and focus on completing only the tasks on your list, without falling victim to distractions.

Work on One Task At a Time

One of the biggest GTD (getting things done) pitfalls that we tend to have problems with is multitasking. When people have a lot to do, they tend to spread their efforts around, and work on multiple things at once. This causes our brain to not devote all it’s resources to one particular task, which in turn decreases the quality of work on ALL the tasks we are working on. Instead of forcing the brain to split its resources, make an effort to only work on one item on your goals list at a time. Do not move on to the next item on your list until you have completed the previous item, and do not skip ahead in your list. If you took the time to prioritize your list before starting work, you don’t need to spend time deciding what to do next once you started working. Many people have said, “plan your work, then work your plan.” This is an extremely beneficial statement.

Don’t Take On Too Much!

This is a suggestion that many Music Education Majors (including myself) have a difficult time with. There are so many opportunities for extracurricular involvement (band leadership, Greek life, CMENC for example), that we want to be involved in. When the time commitments associated with these activities are combined with those of practicing, classes, and schoolwork, a very busy schedule is developed. Don’t get me wrong, it is extremely important to become involved in your undergraduate years, but be sure that before you take on a responsibility, whatever it be, that you really take the time to consider the time commitment you are considering and whether you will be able to still devote the time and energy necessary to your preexisting obligations.

What About You?

What thoughts do you have for staying focused and productive? Do you have a system for keeping focused during “work time” that works for you? I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic!

How to Stay Productive: Part 2-Keep a Calendar

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

By Andy Zweibel
Republished with permission from Music Major


Electronic Calendar

In the age of technology, there are tons of great electronic ways to maintain a calendar. Here are a few tips for staying organized using an electronic calendar:

* Use Categories – One of the standard features of many electronic calendars is the ability to categorize appointments. These categories can usually be color-coded, and make a great way to visually see the different types of activities that you will be taking place in. As you can see below, my Outlook calendar is like a rainbow. Some of the categories I use include: practice, rehearsal, concert, class, and band events.

* Use Multiple Calendars – Another great feature of electronic calendars is the ability to have multiple calendars overlayed on top of each other. This is another way to separate different types of commitments, but for a more general set of topics. For example, it may be helpful to have separate calendars for work, school, and personal commitments, so it is easy to see only one set of appointments at a time. Google Calendars is great for this, because with one click you can choose which calendars are displayed and which are hidden.

* Take It With You – The one downside to having an electronic calendar is the fact that without preparation, it can be difficult to update this calendar if you commit to an appointment while away from your computer. There are, however, a few ways to solve this problem. If you are fortunate enough to have a “smart phone” (iPhone, Blackberry, etc.) or another type of PDA (iPod Touch, Palm Pilot, etc.), make sure the calendar you keep is in a format that allows you to sync from your computer to this device. Otherwise, print a copy of your calendar out before you leave your computer, so that you can jot down any appointments you make in the proper place and then make the electronic update yourself when you return. For me, printing out my calendar in weekly view worked best; I would print about 6 pages (with one week per page), and keep them in my bag at all times, so I could see a minute-by-minute breakdown, while still having a wide range of dates available to see.

Andy’s Calendar

Here is a list of just a few of the many e-calendar options that are available:

* Outlook Calendar-Lets you sync to a Microsoft Exchange server if your school provides one

* Google Calendar-Web-based application that has both an online and offline mode, provides multi-calendar overlay and email notifications

* iCal-Mac OS application for managing calendars with sync capability

* Yahoo Calendar-If you use My Yahoo as your start page, this can be a great option for managing your calendar

Written Calendar

There are many people for whom pen and paper is still the best way to keep track of things. For those people who prefer to keep their calendar on paper, here are a few tips for keeping a written calendar:

* Get a High-Quality Calendar – The best thing anyone can do to set themselves up for success with a written calendar is have a good starting point-a high-quality day planner or assignment notebook will do wonders for your calendar’s organization. Many schools have their own “branded” assignment book, which includes school events and holidays already. If this isn’t something you need, be sure to get a datebook that leaves enough room for you to not only write school assignments, but also to keep track of personal commitments. Also, make sure the planner has ample space to write on weekend days; just because there is no homework assigned on these days doesn’t mean you won’t have many commitments and appointments to take care of.

* Separate Different Types of Commitments – It can be a helpful strategy to split each day on the planner in half with a vertical line down the middle. Use the left side for school-related assignments, or more “standard” commitments, and the right side for additional commitments that come up, and less formal events (study groups, movie nights, etc.). This way, you will have an easier time locating the information you need.

* Color Code – This strategy can be just as effective on paper as it is on a computer. Use different colored pens (or highlighters) for different types of commitments, so when you sit down to study, your eye is able to catch on quickly to the homework assignments you need to complete as opposed to seeing the date you have planned for later that night.

* Take It With You – The same principle as above applies here, and once again there are different ways to keep track of this. If your planner is portable, as many will be, make it a habit of taking it with you wherever you go, so you always have it as a reference. If you choose to not take it to classes with you, jot down the homework and any other important dates in your lecture notes, and then transfer them to your planner when you get home. This strategy has the advantage of serving two purposes, as it will also give you an opportunity to review the notes you took.

Which Way to Go?

So do I keep an electronic calendar, or get a day planner and keep track of my commitments by hand? The answer to this question is simple: do what works for you! As someone who is almost always glued to some type of electronics (be it laptop, iPod Touch, or phone), the electronic calendar was the logical way to go. If you’re a more tactile person, or don’t generally bring a computer with you when you go somewhere, keep a day planner instead. The only way you’ll know, for sure, however, is to try, so pick a method, and start keeping your life organized today!

What About You?

Do you already have a method for organizing your calendar? What tips have worked well for you to keep track of you appointments and commitments? What is your favorite calendar application? Share your thoughts in a comment, and maybe someone else will gain from it!

How to Stay Productive: Part 1-Set Goals

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

By Andy Zweibel
Republished with permission from Music Major

stay-productive-set-goalsSet Goals
One of the best ways to be sure you are focusing on the right things is to set goals for what you wish to accomplish. This strategy helps you keep yourself in check and avoid distractions, so you complete the tasks you need to in the appropriate time frame. The two types of goals that can most help you in your productivity are short-term and long-term.

Short-Term Goals

Another word for a list of short-term goals is a “to-do list.” These goals should be created on a weekly (or even daily) basis, and should be based on the tasks that need to be immediately accomplished. This could include anything from studying for a Music History exam to spending 45 minutes practicing your lesson assignments. Whatever they are, these goals are best if they are able to be completed in one sitting. Items should not stay on this list for very long (generally no more than a week), and should be considered top priority when you have time to work.

Long-Term Goals

Long-term goals can have a much wider range, including year-long, semester-long, or monthly. I prefer to set semester-long goals for myself, and now is the perfect time to put together a list of semester-long goals. These goals should be based less in school work, and more based in your development. Examples of these goals are diverse and could include performance-based goals (be able to play excerpt X at 120 bpm by November 1 in preparation for my jury), professional development-based (update my resume by September 15 in preparation for a fall conference), or personal (lose X pounds by October 10th). Whatever they are, check up on them often! In fact, it’s a good idea to check up on the status of your long-term goals each week just before you create your short-term goals for the week.

It is also advisable to set short-term goals in advance for long-term projects. For example, if you read on your Music Theory syllabus on the first day of class that there is an analytic paper due on a Beethoven Symphony on the day of the final exam, outline at the beginning of the school year what goals you wish to have completed and when. You might want to make sure you have chosen which symphony you will write about by the second week of school, acquired a copy by the 4th, done an analysis of form on the first movement by the 5th, and so on. This way, you will never be caught writing the entire paper the night before it is due.

Suggestions For Setting Goals

Whether your goals are short-term or long-term, here are some tips for setting goals that will enable you to maximize your productivity:

* Make Your Goals Attainable-Whatever time frame you are setting goals on, they need to be attainable. It is completely unrealistic to set a goal of playing the most difficult piece of repertoire for your instrument perfectly by the 3rd week of school. While ambitious, this is an unattainable goal. Your goals need to be realistic, yet challenging.

* Be Specific-Create very specific goals, which will challenge you to maintain the high standards you have set for yourself. For example, instead of setting a goal of “play half of my jury piece well by midterms,” consider instead something like “play from the beginning to letter L in my jury piece with no technical mistakes by October 15.” This erases the ambiguities left by the first option in the words half, well, and midterms. It will help you keep yourself on track. Also, always set specific dates by which you wish to have your goals completed. Instead of saying “by the end of the semester,” put an actual date to it. This will make the goal seem more real as it approaches, and ensure that you complete it in a timely manner.

* Don’t Procrastinate-While this obviously applies to carrying out your goals, it also applies to setting them. Don’t put off setting your goals until tomorrow–do it today! In fact, go set your goals right now!

* Write Them Down-And not just on a scrap of paper! Have a journal or notebook you jot things down in? Write your goals and dates you want them completed by in there! Use the computer a lot? Save your goals to your desktop. Writing them down isn’t the only step, though; your goals need to be visible, or you will forget about them. Put them on a post-it note on your desk, or if you used the computer, save them as an image, and make it your desktop! This way you are constantly reminded of your goals.

* Prioritize-Once you have your goals written down, put them in order of their priority to you, and when you have time to work, work from the top down. This way, you will complete the most important items first, and if you should fall behind schedule on your goals list as a whole, you know the highest priority goals are already finished.

What Are You Waiting For?

There is no better time than the present to start setting goals! Have 10 minutes to kill? Start writing a set of goals for the coming school year right now! Be sure to keep them close by as the weeks and months pass by!

What goals have you set for yourself? Do you have other suggestions for setting great goals to maximize productivity? Leave a comment and share your experiences regarding this topic; let’s continue the conversation!