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Time Management for Percussionists by Dr. James T. Lindroth

May 18, 2022, 08:00 AM by Rhythm Scene Staff

Time management can be a struggle for many people. There is often not enough time to get everything done. Many people feel stress, anxiety, and even burnout due to the overwhelming responsibilities of being a professional musician, teacher, or music student.

This article aims to help percussionists become more productive with their time by recognizing long-term goals for their careers and developing effective time management strategies. It is important to note that this article focuses on work-related activities and not personal or family priorities. However, concepts and techniques in this article can be modified to these additional non-work priorities and responsibilities.

In Stephen Covey's groundbreaking 1994 book, 7 Habits for Highly Effective People, he developed a matrix to help people understand how they use their time, prioritize activities, and use time proactively. It is an easy system to understand and use for educators.

Box 1

Things that require your immediate attention
Meet important commitments / deadlines
Something you have postponed
Most things here cause stress and eventual burnout..

Box 2

Long term goals
Important things that will get you closer to being the educator you want to be in the future.
Focus and plan proactive actions to reduce box one items. 

Box 3
Urgent, but not important

These things are short term focused.
Things that need attention but are not necessary.
Things that appear to be worth doing that will not help you meet your long time goals.
Cut these actions short, delegate them to others, or reject them.
Box 4 
Time Wasters

Activities that distract you from being productive at work.
Social media, social emails, smartphone apps.
Activities that prevent you from being productive at work.

We spend our time at work in four ways, based on two factors that define an activity: urgent and essential. Box 1 is urgent activities or things that require your immediate attention. Most of the things in this box cause stress because they deal with meeting deadlines or commitments, pressing problems, critical issues that arise, or something you have postponed. These actions are urgent, but they may not be essential to your overall career goals or growth as a musician. Many percussionists spend most of their time here. They are constantly reacting rather than planning. Too much time in this box can cause stress and burnout.

Box 2 deals with your vision and long-term goals. What kind of musician, teacher, etc., do you ultimately want to be? Where do you want your percussion studio or career to be in the future? Once you decide on your long-term goals, list activities that bring you closer to that vision. These are the essential things you find most valuable. The issue with Box 2 is that these things tend not to be urgent and can quickly be put on the back burner. The goal is to spend more time in this box, which requires proactive focus and planning to reduce as much time spent in Box 1.

Box 3 items are things that need to be completed but are less or not important. In this box are things that are short-term focused and require you to react rather than be proactive. These things appear worth completing but do not help you achieve your long-term goals. Many of the actions are nothing more than interruptions. Examples of these interruptions for musicians may include emails and text messages, irrelevant meetings, unnecessary performances, etc. Cut short your use of emails and text messages during the day, reduce or say no to unnecessary performances and meetings, and learn to delegate some of these activities to others. People who micro-manage struggle in this box because they feel the need to do everything and not trust others to complete the task.

Box 4 is all the activities that waste precious time. Today, we have more options to divert our time than ever before. Social media, internet browsing, online shopping, and smartphones tempt us to stray from the essential things we should be doing at work. These activities are time wasters. Too much time in Box 1 dealing with urgencies and deadlines can cause high-stress levels such that any free time we have is usually spent in Box 4 to forget about work. The goal is to avoid Box 4 as much as possible.

Time is the most valuable resource. Once it is gone, you cannot get it back. Once you have placed all your activities into the four boxes, you can begin to plan. It is crucial to work from your calendar and not a to-do list when planning. To-do lists only work in Box 1, dealing with things that are urgent. Organize your schedule on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. If you organize daily, you are right back into Box 1. The focus is to eliminate and manage your activities, so most of your planning will include your Box 2 activities that are important to you. Remember, these are the actions that will bring you closer to achieving those long-term goals.

Journals and notebooks can also be a positive resource for identifying and developing long-term goals. Carry a notebook or use an e-notebook app to write down important ideas, performing or teaching tips, or even thoughts to help you reach your long-term goals in Box 2. Then, go back and read through them often. Our minds are best used for processing ideas, not just storing information.

Time management does not have to be a long and tedious effort. Focusing your energies on reaching your goals requires a constant re-evaluation and balancing of priorities and responsibilities. You cannot control the universe or consequences of actions. What you can control are the principles and goals you set for yourself. They are the compass to help guide you to success and happiness.

LindrothDr. James T. Lindroth is Associate Professor of Music Education at Northeastern State University, where he serves as the Percussion Chair and Coordinator of Music Education. Dr. Lindroth earned his Ph.D. in Music Education from the University of South Florida and his Masters of Music degree in Music Performance and Bachelor of Music in Music Education degree from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. He is an active performer and recording artist and is a member of the Central States Judges Association, where he adjudicates music festivals throughout the United States. He is a member of the Vic Firth Education Team and serves on the PAS Health and Wellness Committee. Dr. Lindroth’s scholarly research has been published in regional and national peer-reviewed journals, and he has presented research and workshop sessions at music conferences in the United States and internationally.

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