|Photo by Andrew Leddy|
An article I read somewhere about a year ago made the point that productivity depends on energy, not time. This was a revelation for me, but it seems so obvious now. If something drains the life out of me, it won't matter that it was a fairly small time commitment because it will require additional time for recovery (or complaining). On the other hand, a heavy time commitment that I enjoy will boost my well-being and make me more productive. So, this year, while the graph paper schedule is inevitable, I'm giving myself permission to think in terms of energy management, as well as time, when I plan how to live.
Here are some strategies.
1. Hire a driver.
Now that my daughter is in 7th grade, the needs have shifted from child care to transportation to and from after-school activities. This past week, I hired a retired neighbor to take over this job. Now, my daughter can continue playing on the tennis team, and she has the opportunity to audition for the school musical without me hoping she doesn't make it! I can relax and teach. In fact, it makes it possible for me to teach 6 more students for the year, making it a very cost-effective decision.
2. Batch Planning.
Batch panning is my term for reducing multiple decisions to one decision. Put another way, make stock choices about mundane things to free up time and energy for creativity about the things that matter. Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein both wore a uniform - the same outfit every day. (Let's hope they had multiples or did daily laundry!) The point was to avoid wasting brain energy on something so mundane. I'm always looking for areas where I can batch plan, but here are two where it's most effective:
Meals: My husband has what I call an "extreme job," so it's rare that he can take over this arena, although he does when he can. I make a menu plan for the week and only one trip to the store. It saves additional shopping trips, additional decision making, and happily, some money. The second part of the strategy is "cook once - eat twice." This halves my menu decisions. I cook enough for two full days, and it's in the refrigerator ready to be thrown on a plate and microwaved whenever anybody wants it (or in the crockpot). A new strategy for me this year will be adopting a meal rotation to reduce the decisions even more.3. Get enough exercise.
Lesson planning: I like to do lots of supplemental activities in lessons, but it's easy to get scattered. I pick a topic for a multi-week unit, such as intervals, so my brain can focus on teaching that one thing. Week One may be recognizing intervals, Week Two more practice, Week Three ear-training with intervals, Week Four improvising using a required interval. I get out all of my related games/resources and use whatever is appropriate for each student's level. For another unit, we may concentrate on rhythm, and everybody will do Wendy Steven's Rhythm Cup Explorations. Of course, sometimes, I discover in a lesson that one needs a little reinforcement to help him remember a scale, so I whip out a game that is "out of theme," but having an overall focus helps me know what I've covered and that I've covered everything I wanted to and reduces my decisions.
Last year, I joined a tennis league. At the time, I thought it was a crazy decision - piano teachers don't have time for tennis! I thought the challenge of scheduling my home schoolers and adults around clinics and matches would create more stress, and I was prepared to have to back out. It turned out to be exactly the opposite. Playing tennis boosts my well-being, gives me physical and mental energy, and makes me more productive. I also haven't lost any teaching time to sickness since I started exercising more. This is a great example of making energy management a bigger priority than time management, and having it benefit my time as well.
4. Limit Commitments
I used to agree to do things based on whether I had a time slot open for it on my schedule. Bad idea. Now, I limit my community service commitments to my local MTA and a couple of faith-related things. Throughout the year, I do a few one-off jobs at my daughter's school, but no committees. There's enough on my plate for just one person, and it's good to remind myself of a saying stolen from one of my friends: "You don't have to set yourself on fire to keep others warm." Recently, I composed some questions to consider when I am asked to take on another responsibility. I call them "Burnout Avoidance Criteria," and I think they are a better alternative than asking "Do I have time?"
A) Does serving in this capacity align with my personality, my life-purpose, and my values? Does serving in this capacity prevent me from doing something else that aligns better?
B) Would serving in this capacity sabotage my mental, physical, and emotional energy for those things that only I can do? (such as parenting or maintaining my own mental and physical health)
C) Will the time and energy I invest in this still matter in 10 years, or is it mostly busywork?
D) Is there any chance that I might be agreeing to this office or position just because it makes me feel important? (The right answer is "no." See A above.)
E) Does agreeing to this job give me an excuse to have no time for something else that is difficult or scary? (If you fill up your time with obligations, you can avoid having to deal with that family problem. Or, if you fill up your time, you'll never have to face any criticism of your creative work because you'll never have time to do any. See below.)
5. Refuse to feel guilty about leisure.
Creativity is hard to cultivate when you are rushing from one thing to the next. When I can't find creative time for myself, then my soul starts to suffer - along with my parenting, my teaching, my friendships, and my productivity. I need leisure time in order to reflect, write, and play something on the piano other than the accompaniments I'm responsible for, and not just once in a blue moon but as a regular part of my routine. That means sticking to my guns about not over-committing, even when people don't understand.
The strategy I still need help with is preventing my leisure time from being sucked up by the computer! There are so many good blogs, so many pinterest boards, so many good friends on facebook! I justify it because I do find lots of good teaching resources and ideas, and it's great to stay in touch with friends, but I need to reclaim some of that time. If you're reading here, I know you spend time on the computer, too. How do you establish limits around computer time? Share your tips about that or any other strategies you use to establish a good work-life balance!