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Monday, April 4, 2011

Monday Morning Check In: How to Survive a Busy Season

My life has been quite hectic these past few weeks, and it doesn't look like it will be improving this week either. The Austin Symphony just completed a week of rehearsals that culminated in two subscription concerts ("Pictures at an Exhibition"), and the Artisan is gearing up for some major performances at the end of May and early June of different program content. As I contemplated what I would discuss on this Monday Morning Check In, it occurred to me to discuss that topic that I know the best: how to survive a busy season.

As you may recall from earlier posts, I am a master at filling up my schedule. I don't know whether this problem is due to my not saying "no" very well, or because I am a "people pleaser," as my husband likes to say. I just like to be busy. I come from a family that was busy, and I am sure that I learned the productive habit from my home family. I am not complaining about my busy life. I enjoy just about everything I do.  At the end of my life, I want to be able to look back and say that I lived a full life.

The down side to having a busy life is the time pressure and the stress it encourages. I am not a worrier, and if that describes you, I would recommend that you employ strategies to eliminate this personality propensity. Instead, I sometimes pile one too many things onto my plate or cram one too many activities into my schedule. Here are some of my tips for handling these sorts of problems when they happen.

The first thing I do is make sure that I know what I have on my plate. I try to make it a regular habit to check in with myself every Sunday (or at least Monday morning) and review my calendar for the week. I take note of important events or appointments, any unusual activities, places I need to go, and things I need to accomplish on a certain day.

The next thing I do is make a list of the things that I need to get done during the coming week, including any errands that need to be run. I make a list and then I quickly go through and mark the tasks with the letters A-B-C-D. Anything with a D means that I can delegate this task to someone else. I can call in a favor or just assign the task to someone else. Sometimes it is worth it to pay someone else to accomplish the task. I note whether an item is something I absolutely must do (my A list), whether the item is important but not urgent (my B list), or whether the item is something that would be nice to do but that nothing bad will happen to me if I put off finishing the item (my C list). I cross off any item that does not make it on my A-B-C-D list.

It may be possible to fragment a task into a smaller task. The key here is to focus on the question: what is absolutely essential here? What must I actually accomplish? If I'm writing a paper, does it need to be the final draft? Could a quick outline suffice? Could a rough draft fit the bill for now?

Once I am satisfied that I have an accurate and complete picture of what I absolutely must accomplish during the coming week, I then start with the A list items and keep going. That's the key, of course -- perseverance. As musicians and teachers, we know all about this ability. We train it in our students every time we teach them how to master a new skill, or fingering, or bowing, or musical passage. We know how to do this, so here is an opportunity for us to role model this ability in real life.

I start with the A list and I do not do anything except A items until the list is completed. Sometimes a B item gets bumped up to the A list because the passage of time has now made the activity increase in importance. I absolutely do not do any C item until my A and B lists are completed.

I find that my stress outlook actually improves if I remember to schedule in some down time. It could be a short run in the early morning or at night. Others might prefer a bubble bath or some other calming ritual. I have several books going at once. Sometimes I will read for 10 minutes before retiring or as a reward for working hard at completing my tasks.

To summarize my various techniques for handling a busy season:

Delegate or ask for help
Fragment or break down the task into its smallest essential elements

If all else fails, I procrastinate. Sometimes there is a lot to be said for this technique.

Have a blessed week!

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