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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

GTD for the Music Studio Teacher, step 1: Gather & Capture

GTD book and David Allen
David Allen & GTD
(my tattered copy)
In my previous article, I introduced the GTD concept. If you have not read that article, click here. From this point forward, I will visit each of the five steps involved in the GTD methodology from the perspective of a music studio teacher, although I think that this perspective is the same as that of any other profession. Today I will discuss the first step -- the “capture” step.

I think after reading my previous article, everyone is really interested, fired up, and motivated to tackle this wonderful methodology. After all, we are all probably in the same boat of having too many things to do and being overloaded with “stuff” lying around in a clutter begging for our attention. And if you have not yet admitted it, let me help you do so now: clutter has a negative impact on psychic energy. Yes, you read that correctly. Clutter has an impact on our psychic energy. What do I mean by that?

We are affected by the things around us. When there are many things surrounding us, the stuff competes for our attention. It interferes with our ability to process information and maintain focus. And this does not apply to physical things only. The amount of digital information that clamors for our attention is astronomical, from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram notifications, to incoming email banners, smart phone alarms, and calendar reminders. We are bombarded by almost never-ending electronic and physical noise. What to do with it all? How do we stay on top of it?

Most of us do not stay on top of it. And that means that this excess “stuff” is causing us stress and distraction. We need to eliminate it, minimize it, or learn how to manage it. This is when the GTD step of capture can come in and teach us a thing or two. Here is how it works.

David Allen, the GTD designer, tells us to do a thorough look around our environment to ferret out those “things” that compete for our attention. Looking around also means taking a look inside our own minds to see what is on our minds. Mr. Allen advocates writing each thing down on a piece of paper and putting it into an inbox. Do not do anything yet with whatever items you capture; this will come in another later step. For now, gather and collect everything that is on your mind or in your way.

Whoa! You probably said as you finally recognized the enormity of this task. Yes, it is a huge task. Mr. Allen says that sometimes folks take an entire day or weekend to complete this task. For some people, gathering up every item in an email inbox would produce a stack about 5 feet high. But are you beginning to see why you feel overwhelmed and stressed in your daily life? With that kind of garbage waving its tentacles at you to get your attention, is it any wonder that we feel pressured and stressed about not getting things done?

So what kinds of things will you be gathering and capturing? Here is a short sample of physical things:
  • All the stuff on your desk, or dining room table, or kitchen counter, or front door hall table, or work table, or ….. you get the idea.
  • All of the files in your inbox, on your desktop, on your chair, on the credenza, on the dining room hutch, on the ….. you get the idea.
  • All of the little sticky notes you have on your mirror, door jamb, kitchen table, desktop .....
  • Every bit of everything you have physically lying around on just about any flat surface in your life.
Here is a small sample of electronic things:
  • Look through your calendar for this week and note things that need to be done this week.
  • Look through your calendar for the next two weeks or maybe even a month and note anything that needs your attention in that time span.
  • Look through your past calendar for a few weeks and see if there is something that you might have forgotten about and that needs doing or remembering in the future.
I cannot stress enough that this is a gathering and capturing exercise only. Do not get sucked into the siren’s call of dealing with any of it. Not yet. That will come in a future article. For now, just gather and collect. Capture thoughts in your head and put them down on paper. I have found that large, empty boxes are particularly useful for this exercise. I also have a tip for a lot of unread or not-dealt-with email that I will share shortly. For now, put it all in a box.

For the music teacher or music studio owner, just gather things in a few boxes. If you want to set up the boxes in a way that you put important need-to-deal-with-this stuff in one box and other less time-sensitive material in another, I say, fine. Gather it in this way, but make sure that whatever method you have set up is designed to go quickly. Do not spend time dwelling or obsessing over things. Just get it gathered and collected, because there is a real benefit to seeing how much stuff you have lying around in your life that is competing for your attention. You need to see what it is that you have been allowing to gather wool (or dust) in your mind and your environment.

In the meantime, while you are doing this, begin to notice the kinds of things you are gathering. Paper? Music that needs to be filed? Things that you have not put away? Things that you have not made decisions about? I promise, we will get to all of that in the future, but first, get to this gathering thing and get it done in as little time as possible.

Now, I am sorry to say that this is a first step, but in the future your gathering/capturing step should not be this difficult. If you begin to consider what types of capturing tools you might find useful, then you can make sure that these sorts of tools are available. For example, here are the basic capture tools:
  • Calendar or agenda or planner
  • Inbox (digital and physical)
    • Could be a basket
    • Could also be a mail sorter/stacker
    • Could be special file box in an email program
    • Could be a digital program such as Things, Evernote, or Omnifocus or some other similar program
    • Could be a bullet journal (I really like this one!)
  • Paper notepads and writing utensils
  • Some people can use digital note-taking systems; I find that analog systems are easier for me.
The basic rules of capturing for the future will be simple:
  • Write everything down. Do not carry a single thing in your head. Ever. Dictate it into your phone, scribble it in a bullet journal, or type it into a digital system, but get it out of your head and somewhere else where you can retrieve it later on a regular or systematic basis.
  • Empty your capture tools and boxes regularly. This is going to be explained in later articles. Stay tuned.
  • Do not put anything back into the inbox once you take it out. More on that later.
So for the music teacher, you will probably find a lot of things lying around the studio, such as teaching materials, group class supplies or music, toys or other teaching aids, notes from parents (or from you as reminders), checks to be deposited, little ideas for craft projects or group class themes or teaching activities, broken pencils, empty pens in need of a refill, displayed artwork that is now out of date, and that beautiful box or china bowl that has been housing broken bits of rosin, plastic toys, pencil eraser tops, and a new packaged E string. Put that all in the box, except put the parent notes and reminders and checks in that other smaller “to-be-dealt-with-soon” box or basket or folder.

I’ll give you a little tip. Most of us are unable to devote a full day, several hours, or even a morning to complete a full “capture” in the GTD sense of the word. I think that is alright. I have a solution that will help most of us who are already in the stranglehold of stuff. It is a little tip that I call “zero.”

Make the commitment today that you will maintain “zero” from this point on. That means that anything that comes in from this point on after you begin the capturing/gathering process will be dealt with. I apologize that I cannot give you all the tools right up front. This will be a process and you will get better at “processing” as you go along and do it. For now, commit to keeping things at “zero” from this point on. If you get another piece of paper from a student from this point forward, handle it. Do not leave it in a pile anywhere. If an email comes in, you are going to deal with it.

Wait! I forgot to give you my great tip about email inbox gathering and capturing. You will love this one!

Go to your email program and set up a new file called “backlog.” I named my file “1backlog” so that it would stay at the top of the email file list. Now select every single email that is currently in your email inbox and move them to the new email file you just created. Ready? Go!

Your inbox is now empty, yes? Take a few moments and sit there and enjoy that incredible feeling. I am sure that you have forgotten what an empty email inbox looks like. Amazing, yes? Oops! Was that a new email that just came in? How dare they clutter up that wonderfully clean inbox! Make short shrift of that email right now!

OK, relax. All that email that once cluttered up your psyche is still there. You moved it to the new file box, remember? No need to start panting from anxiety. Here is the beautiful part, you are going to learn how to handle that “1backlog” folder you created. Go there now.

Look through the first few emails in that file. Chances are you will discover that they have little or no relevance right now or they have diminished in importance. Notice how quickly you can rid yourself of many of the items. If you think something is really important, you can decide to move it back into the real inbox, but I dare you to do that! Remember how beautiful that empty inbox looked? Do you really want to put that nasty old email there?

Remember that “zero” thing I mentioned earlier? Zero email from this point forward. Deal with it. If email gets away from you again (still having trouble dealing with things in the inbox?), you can always put your inbox contents into the 1backlog folder, and I periodically do that on a regular basis. It amazes me to see how many things are completely effortless to delete once they are put in the backlog folder. Try this yourself and see if you agree.

Email will not go away. The same for Twitter notifications, Facebook banners, and the like. We can put together and follow a system that helps us deal with it. Start first with a capture/gather system. What happens next will make more sense after you spend some time thinking about the next GTD step – Clarifying (getting “in” to “empty”). Stay tuned for next week and step two.

If you missed the link to David Allen's book, here it is: Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.

Until next time,

Happy Practicing! (or gathering and capturing)

----- Paula -----

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© 2016 by Paula E. Bird

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