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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Weekend Plan

weekend calendar page
Crazy Weekends!
In previous articles we have delved into the subject of scheduling and time management. We need to revisit this subject every so often because we never get to the bottom of the problem, which is most likely that we are too busy and take on too many things. Before I put the lid on this subject for a bit, I would like to add one final idea to our bucket of ideas to consider.

Weekend Plan

One of my younger students noticed that her practice handbook indicated that she seldom practiced on the weekends. I asked her about that, and she explained that the schedule was different. She did not have to get up early for school and follow the school day plan. Her parents saved major errands for the weekend, and some of these errands involved long drives. Because my student would be able to spend some lengthy time with her parents on these long drives, my young student accompanied her parents on these trips.

We spent some time thinking about how we could structure things so that she could still practice and still enjoy the unusual schedule and the time spent with her family. We came up with the "weekend plan."

We identified the most important things that she should be practicing. This might vary from student to student. For some students, a set of review pieces could be the most important thing. For this young student, I felt that her new scale and the current piece she was working on qualified as the most important things. But, I recognized that sometimes her pieces to be polished were the most important things.

We made up our very short list. These things probably took about 5 minutes at the most if we were to merely run through them. Five minutes? you ask incredulously. Yes, just five minutes. Remember, my goal was to keep her weekly momentum going and not to derail any progress she had made with her daily practices. In the case of this particular student, her lesson is on Fridays, so the weekend plan was designed to help her get the daily momentum started to carry her through the rest of the week.

Practice Preparation

The next step was to devise a set of simple rules to follow to ensure that her practice plan would be a success. Before going to bed the night before my student planned to use the weekend practice plan, my student got her violin ready to go. She opened up the case and got things put together. All she had to do was wind up the bow. She set out the violin right there so that when she
woke up, it was the first thing she saw.

And here was the one thing that made the whole weekend plan work. She practiced first thing upon waking up. Yes, that was the one thing that saved the day. Before she could get too far into her day, when resisting those impulses to skip practice become so much more insistent, she avoided all of that mental and psychological drama by practicing immediately upon arising when her mind was still getting used to the idea of being awake.

What a lot of folks may not realize is that five minutes is quite a long time. I can accomplish quite a bit of my to do list in 5 minutes. I regularly set a timer in my home for the magic 5 minute window to straighten up a room, clean counter tops, or practice a passage in my Etude book or concerto. My university kids on occasion have 5-minute practice days, when we periodically throughout the day challenge each other to 5 minute intense practice tasks.


So here is a summary of the weekend  plan:
  • Plan in advance what the 5-minute practice will consist of
  • Prepare the instrument for practice so that it is ready to go with a minimum of fuss and effort
  • Put up a sign or other reminder if you need it
  • Do it first thing upon waking
  • Repeat for every day of the weekend (or other busy schedule period)
And that is all there is to the weekend practice plan. For my young student, she actually liked the weekend plan, and she regularly asked me to come up with more of them. I was delighted to oblige her because I knew that she was getting better practices the rest of the week because she was starting out her week strongly with the daily practice habit.

Until next time,

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Establish a Bond -- a Teach Suzuki Podcast Episode

Here is the latest Teach Suzuki Podcast Episode about establishing a bond with your child. This episode is part of an ongoing series of Reflections for parents and teachers

Establish a Bond

Until next time,

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Charles Schwab and Mary Kay's Overscheduling Tip

6 Most Important Things to Do
Productivity (Mary Kay's idea)
Over scheduling -- it is a real problem for many of us and not just parents, but teachers as well. Here is another idea that you might try to see if you can handle this issue in a more relaxed way.

In my (much) younger years, I read Mary Kay Ashe's book about her company's success principles. I was deeply affected by Mary Kay's story of her life, as young people often are during such tender periods in life. One thing I walked away with from my reading was a tip that I still use today mmmff decades later, and that is the story of Charles Schwab, once the president of Bethlehem Steel, and Ivy Lee, a business consultant.

Charles Schwab, a rich man who ran a very successful company, consulted with Ivy Lee about how to increase his employees' effectiveness and productivity. Mr. Lee asked to speak to Mr. Schwab's executives for 15 minutes each. Mr. Lee would not quote Mr. Schwab a price tag for his advice to the executives; instead Mr. Lee suggested that Mr. Schwab write a check at the end of three months for whatever value Mr. Schwab ascribed to the exercise. At the end of the three-month period, Mr. Schwab wrote Mr. Lee a check for $25,000, which would be worth several hundred thousands of dollars in today's value. And this expensive advice?

Six Things

At the end of each day, write down the 6 most important things you need to do the next day. Prioritize them. Then the next day, start with number one on the list and keep at it until it is done. Then begin with number 2 on the list and so on until the list has been completed. At the end of the day, repeat the process.

I liked this advice. So did Mary Kay Ashe, who used it to provide her beauty consultants with pink to-do notepads that had room for six items on the list. I know because I used to use them then, and I still use the idea today to keep me from doing too much. Years later I found similar pads, and now I make up my own. I must confess that I sometimes put 8 things on the list (yes, I cheat). I have also found a few other things that help me with the over-scheduling issue.

Add Location as a To Do Item

I used to wonder why I was so tired on some days when I had not really completed all of my six daily items. Then I noticed a pattern, that these particular days were days when I had to be at several different locations and teaching quite a few students at each location. Was it fair for me to limit my list writing to six items when I actually had to teach 15 different students? My list was not long enough for me to fit my day!

My solution was to begin noting the location on the daily list as a "thing to do." For example, I will list "university" and "studio" and "church" on my list because I have to do all 3 of those things. My list became much clearer and easier to manage when I realized how much time I needed to spend in each location. On days that have six locations listed, I do not try to squeeze in personal errands or other "extra" things. A day with several locations listed does not have anything extra of any kind on it.

Throw it Away

One of my other most useful tricks is to throw my list away at the end of the day. I know that Mr. Lee recommended that whatever list items were not completed by the end of the day be put on the next day's list, but I have found that this adds an element of stress that I find unhelpful. Instead, I have a list somewhere in my planner of things that I know I must accomplish in that particular week. If something absolutely must get done in the week, then it will be on that list on my planner. My daily list is my way of organizing and managing my available time for that particular day. Sometimes things go well and I accomplish everything and then some. I still find it less stressful to start out with a clean slate every day rather than allow things to accumulate on my next days' lists.

I do not think that I will ever resolve my over scheduling problem. There is probably a deep-rooted psychological reason for doing so much. My father would probably say I was falling prey to the typist's "end pressure" as they would sense coming to the end of the platen roll, which is my father's metaphor for end-of-life issues. Whatever the reason, I will probably continue to muddle along in my comfortable fashion and continue to explore the various options available to me. Who knows? Maybe I will explore the world of virtual assistants next? Unfortunately, I cannot delegate actual teaching responsibilities to a VA.

If you missed my earlier articles about scheduling issues, go to these links:

Help! I can't Do It All!!! (3/3/16)

Things to Do This Week in the Studio (3/7/16)

Eliminate One Thing (3/10/16)

Scheduling and Priority Shifters (3/16/16)

And if you missed my talk about over scheduling, please be sure to read this one:

Physical Environment and Timing (2/2/4/16)

Until next time,

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird

Sunday, March 20, 2016

New Podcast Episode

This week's podcast episode discusses Dr. Suzuki's suggestion for getting rid of our problems. Have a listen and see if you agree:

2016-03-20 Get Rid of Your Problems

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Rule of Four Game: Building a Good Practicing Habit

4 squares game for practicing perfect
Rule of Four Game
We like to play squares of 8 in my studio, where the student plays a game of moving from square one to square 8 by playing a specific passage or instrumental technique 8 times correctly. I learned about this game from Philip Johnston of (insidemusicteaching.com, formerly known as "The Practice Spot"). I describe the game in a previous article (How to Beat a Speeding Ticket).

For my younger students, I have modified the game into the "Rule of 4." I fold a piece of construction paper into four squares. To negate the phrase that we "practice until we get it right," I reinforce the concept that a student should practice once he or she gets it right. The student needs to play the passage or technique correctly before even being allowed to "enter" the game.

Once the student plays correctly, I place a game piece or other marker on square number 1. Now the student must play once again correctly in order to advance to square 2. If a student misses, then the student moves back a square. Problems typically occur between squares 2 and 3 as the student becomes cockier at that point and does not concentrate or pay attention as well. When the student finally advances to square 4, the game is over for the day.

We added a special rule regarding square 4, because so many students really fell apart at this point due to loss of focus and concentration. If a student misses the attempt at square 4, then they get moved back to square 1! And I do not hesitate to add "pressure" when a student tries for square 4, because adding pressure seems to wake students up again and help them finish the game.

Recently one of my younger piano students made up a really cute game board for me, as pictured above. I would like to share her decorative artwork for each square and the middle between the squares.

Practice once you get it right!
Goal is four correct times!
This little square in the center reminds the student of the purpose of the Rule of Four Game: to practice once you get it right. The student's goal is to play it four times correctly.

Practice once you get it right
Square 1: Yay!

The student has to earn the right to place the marker on the first square by playing correctly. Once the student achieves that, the game really begins. Now that we "have it right," we can practice it to reinforce the new skill.

Pay attention and concentrate when you practice!
Square 2: Just Two More!

Square 2 reminds us that there are just two more squares to go. Sometimes students have trouble moving on to square 3.

Don't lose focus and concentration for the final push
Square 3: Don't Stress! 
Square 3 can be stressful, as the student may struggle to pay attention and concentrate! My artist student reminds us "not to stress"! Students need to be careful at this point because if they misstep, they must start all over!

You played it correctly four times!
Square 4: You Can Do It!

I hope that you and your students and children can enjoy this game as much as we do. My student seemed to have even more fun when she worked on the art project! I bought her sign and another sign from her sister so that I would be able to own the game for my studio.

Until next time,

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird