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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

GTD for the Music Studio Teacher

How do You Get Everything Done?
GTD next action pad folio picture
GTD Next Action List

Some of my readers and podcast listeners have emailed me or made comments to me in person about how much I get done, and I thought I ought to give credit where credit is due. Summer time may be the best time to work on this sort of "project" as we sort out our papers and teaching materials from the past year and think ahead to what we want to accomplish in the coming teaching year.

I use the GTD system. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this system, let me simplify the explanation of what it is, point you in the direction of the book itself, and then I will follow it up with a series of posts over the next month that will explain the system in more depth and provide suggestions as to how it might work for a music teacher's studio.

What is "GTD"?

GTD is a method for "stress-free productivity," as its creator David Allen describes it. Mr. Allen advocates getting to a "mind like water" state, and he points out that our brains are not created to be information storage banks. In fact, our brains do a lousy job at this. For example, I was grocery shopping the other day, and while in the middle of the store, I recalled that I needed to put out a special concert clothes outfit when I got home. When I got home, I remembered that I was also supposed to buy toothpaste at the grocery store, but I had forgotten to do that. If my mind truly had been created for the purpose of information storage and retrieval, then why did my brain fail to remind me of these crucial points at the time when I could have done something about them?

The answer lies in Dr. Allen's methodology: our brains were meant for creativity, not information storage and retrieval. Because so many of us strive to remember things and insist on carrying these reminders in our heads, we actually spend less time and effort being creative, because our brains are tied up with other things. Enter GTD.

Why does GTD Work?

The beauty of following the GTD method is how quickly it points out that we have not made important decisions about things in our lives that need to be done. We have not actually figured out what "done" looks like. We still have what David Allen refers to as an "open loop." And our brain is cluttered with open loops. If you are a clutterer as I am, or you have an email inbox that spills over to another page (or perhaps several pages), then you have most likely fallen victim to the open loop problem. GTD can rescue you, and you will be amazed at how much more you accomplish and how much more free time and space you have in your head for those important creative ideas.

Because I learn by writing about things, I have spent a great deal of time considering the many parts of the GTD methodology. I am going to share with you my thoughts about this important philosophy. Today in this article, I will introduce and briefly summarize the five main points of the GTD methodology. Here are the five basic steps of the GTD methodology:
  1. Capture
  2. Clarify
  3. Organize
  4. Reflect
  5. Engage
Now let us look a little closer at each of these five parts.

Capture: This is the part when I look around my surroundings and also inside my own memory. I look at my various inboxes, piles of "stuff" lying around on counters and tables, review my calendar for the past week or so, and look ahead at my upcoming commitments, and I gather all of it in one place. I will talk later about what that "one place" might be, but for now the general idea is to "capture" all of those loose ends together.

Clarify: In this step, I spend some time thinking about the stuff I have collected. I consider what "done" looks like. The GTD book actually has a lovely flow chart that asks some basic questions, but I had to come up with my own words to steer me in the correct direction. So I made up a form of questions that fill up the size of a smaller sized post-it note. I clip one of those little slips of paper on each item (file folder, piece of paper, mail) and answer the questions. By the time I finish going through my stack, I have figured out what needs to be done. As a side note, when I complete this step, I have also figured out why there was a logjam at this point (I had an open loop that needed me to make a decision about what needed to be done). And my little note also directs me to the next step I need to take, including whether I need to make this into a project (more than 1 step) and where I want to keep the folder or item. I also do any item that takes 2 minutes or less to complete.

Organize: It helps me to put things in the proper folders. Is this information related to work? Home? The studio? The University? Something else? Are these phone calls to make, errands to run, things to read, or material that I need to store for future reference? In this step I decide what category my inbox items should be, and I put things together with other related items. I will explain a bit more about this step when I discuss tools.

Reflect: There is power in this step too. This is the weekly review step, when I take a few minutes of my time (maybe longer depending on the amount of "stuff" I have accumulated in my inboxes and to-do lists). Once a week I quickly scan through everything on my lists. I make sure that everything has a "home" somewhere in my system. I also may consider (or reconsider) my priorities, deadlines, and even whether I want to pursue the matter any further anyway. I often have a lot of creative ideas that with the passage of time do not seem as exciting as when I first imagined them. I sometimes find it hard to do this step, but my current capture tool has made this much easier for me, so I get this review done more likely than not.

Engage: It is not enough to gather, clarify, sort, and reflect. I need to actually engage with my system and do some work. I need to use the system and get the most mileage from it that I can.

Those are the basic steps in the GTD system. There are many tools available for these five steps, both electronically and old-school paper and pencil. Along with a look at these tools, I will outline how a music studio might benefit from using a GTD-based system. If you are interested in reading the book yourself, here is a link.

Until next time,

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

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© 2016 by Paula E. Bird

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