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Monday, July 11, 2016

GTD for the Music Studio Teacher, step 2 -- Clarify

GTD Processing questions to clarify next action and successful outcome
My Clarification Questions
In my previous articles, I introduced the GTD concept and discussed the first step -- capturing and gathering. If you have not read those articles, click here for the introductory article explaining what the GTD Methodology is and how it would benefit a music studio teacher. The article about the first step in GTD -- Capturing and Gathering -- can be found here.

Today I will discuss the second big step of the GTD "Five" and demonstrate how this step can benefit a music studio teacher. This is the "clarify" step.

What is Clarification?

In the clarify step, we look closely at all the stuff we gathered and captured, and we decide what each item means and what we should do about it. If you have a cluster of sticky notes and lists of things to do, as well as reminders strewn about in your planner or bullet journal, then you may be suffering a blockage in this second step of clarifying what it is you have and what you need to do with it.

Many folks mistakenly believe that they have adequately dealt with something once they have written it down somewhere. They write down things like "recital program" or "group class theme" and think that they have done all that is necessary to capture these items on the "to do" list. They may also mistakenly believe that their clutter problem is that they are procrastinating or are just too busy to deal with all the things that clamor for their attention.

Yes, that may all be true, but there may be a more important reason underlying all of this turmoil, and that is that you have not clarified what you have written down. For example, there is an art form to writing things down, and both of the two examples I gave above do not fit the criteria. "Recital program" and "group class theme" seem like good things to write down, but they fall far short of indicating what the final outcome really is and what you need to do next to get there.

Outcome Thinking (Thinking for Success)

I developed my own little system to handle this processing step. I followed David Allen's former GTD flowchart and the newest one, and I found that I could simplify some of the steps to fit my situation as a music studio teacher. First I realized that I had difficulty making myself decide what "done" looked like. I would pick up something and think about it for a few seconds and come up with things to do, but I had not mastered the art of "outcome thinking." That came later after much trial and error, as I contemplated why I gathered and captured well in step one but seemed to have such a big logjam at step 2 and clarifying.

Instead of spending more time dealing with my piles of gathered stuff, I thought about my thinking. As a teacher, I completely understand the need to know what goes on in a student's head during instruction. So, I began talking aloud and figuring out what my thinking was. I discovered that I was doing some sloppy thinking about clarification, and in fact, my type of thinking was not doing very much to clean up or deal with the pile of things I had gathered and collected before me.

My Clarification Questions

I studied David Allen's flow charts and found a way to rephrase the questions to fit the sort of language and questions that I would find understandable in my personal situation. I simplified this clarification step to these questions when I picked up an item, whether it was a file folder, an item in my mail pile, or a receipt I had just removed from my wallet:
  • What is this? [I write an answer]
  • Do I need to do something with this?
    • No, then trash it, defer it (and decide when that would be), or give it to someone else to do.
    • Yes, proceed to the next step.
    • [I actually circle "no" or "yes" so that I actually answer this question.]
  • What is the successful outcome? In other words, what does "done" look like when I have finished with this thing in my hand?
  • What is the very next step?
  • Are there other steps? Make this into a project.
  • Where to put this?
I actually needed to speak aloud each question listed above and give my verbal answer. In fact, I made up a sheet of these questions (as pictured above at the beginning of this article) to help me. I staple or clip one of these little sheets of questions to each item in my gathered pile, and then I write the answers to the questions on the paper. Later I transfer these notes to a different system to help me keep track of the progress on these items, but that is another future article to come. For now, I process and clarify.

If I identify more than one step to be completed in order to reach the state of being "done," then I turn the item into a "project." I set up a projects folder for the item and make sure that a lot of the steps are written down.

If you would like a copy of my processing questions form as pictured above, click here.

Remember when I said that there was an art form to writing something down in order to successfully process or clarify it? There is. It is called associating a verb to the item. When I scribbled "recital program" down on my list of things to do, I did not envision what exactly I needed to do about the recital program. Throw it in the trash? Take it to the printers? Draft it? Figure out what would go into it? And why did I scribble "group class theme" on my list? Because I wanted to send an email to my studio families about it, organize a party or special event, or brainstorm some ideas for group class lesson plans this fall?

Do you begin to understand how important it is to decide what the final successful outcome is -- what "done" will look like when you get there -- and what action you need to take next to make headway? Pick a verb. Describe the action.

For many of us, picking a verb or deciding what action to do next will be a learning process. I know because I have spent much time in that land of clarification limbo. I found the entire experience worthy of the time I spent learning how to do this correctly. It took me a while to think about verbs and actions, but I found in the end that this solved most of my log jam problems just by clarifying what I needed to do when I wrote down the to do item.

Two Minute Rule

There is one other magical rule to follow in the GTD system, and that is the two minute rule. This is the rule that says, if the next step you have identified will take two minutes or less to complete, then go ahead and do it right there and then.

The reason for this rule is that it would most likely take two minutes or longer to actually do anything else with the item, such as make a file folder or log it on a reminder projects or next actions list. Most of my students are surprised to discover just how long a time period of two minutes actually is. I routinely set a two minute timer for myself to remind me of how much I can accomplish in that short time frame: clean an appliance, take out the trash, run through my basic scale routine, briefly answer an email, send a text message, draft an outline for an upcoming article, mind map a creative project, clean up the books that students pulled from the bookshelves, or just file away the music that got stacked up during that day's lessons. There are so many things that could fit within this two minute rule.

Lessons Learned as a Music Studio Teacher

The biggest lesson I learned in this clarification process was that I failed miserably at first in outcome thinking. I procrastinated and dithered about things because I did not have clarity about what the finished project would look like. I also thought that this type of thinking would just take too long, so I avoided doing it.

What I learned from following the GTD methodology is that this type of thinking is crucial to just about everything I do and teach as a musician and teacher. I want my students to learn how to be "outcome" thinkers. I want them to be able to think about what the finished product will look like when they learn that piece to the mastery stage, and I want to guide them into uncovering the steps that my students will need to follow in order to reach that final result. I discovered, much to my surprise, that outcome thinking is exactly what I taught my students! How ironic that I failed so miserably at doing it when I dealt with my personal clutter!

A Learning Process

Many people have tried the GTD method and given up on it. I speculate about that and think that perhaps one reason is that the method does not happen overnight. There is a learning process, and what I mean by that is not that it takes a long time to learn. In fact, quite the opposite. The GTD method is quite simple and can be learned quickly in terms of knowledge.

What trips people up, I believe, is that there is a learning process for each individual. Most of us have taken a long road to get to the land of clutter and confusion, and so for us to expect to instantly or quickly arrive at a different place may not be the most realistic expectation to have. It took me many attempts and a great deal of soul searching and observation for me to realize that I was not actually completing this clarification step with any -- um -- clarity. I stuck with it. I reviewed the book and the materials several times, and finally one day, the light bulb went on over my head, and things have taken a decided turn for the better ever since.

So if you have tried GTD before and had a less than happy result, give it another go. Read the book again, as I did. Think about things. Ask a friend for help or guidance. The lessons you learn about yourself will be valuable. And the final result -- the GTD "mind like water" -- is gold! When I finally "got" how to do GTD, I began having so many creative ideas because I had so much more room in my head. I also found that I had more time to actually engage with my ideas and with others, because I was productive and unstressed about what I had to do.

If you are interested in David Allen's book, here is the link again. This is an affiliate link, which means that there is no additional cost to you. I already own the book and highly recommend it, and if you are also in the market for this book, I ask that you consider using this link. Doing so will give a benefit to the blog and help me continue to podcast and write.

Again, if you are interested in the previous articles about GTD and the Music Studio Teacher, you can find them here:

GTD for the Music Studio Teacher

GTD for the Music Studio Teacher, Part 2 -- Gather and Capture

Until next time,

Happy Practicing! (or clarifying!)

----- Paula -----

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird

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