Time Management Lessons from a 5th Grader

As many of you know, one of the many things I do is teach 5th grade beginning band. If you’ve never had the opportunity to observe a class of band students during the first week they get their instruments, it is the most glorious example of organized chaos ever.

In the midst of the madness last week (sometime in between gluing pads back on a saxophone and telling a trumpet player that valve oil isn’t something you eat), I was reminded of some important time management lessons.

Time Management Lessons my 5th Grade Band Taught Me

Pursue Tasks with Excitement
When those kids take their instruments off the shelf for the first time, they can hardly contain their excitement. By the time their first half hour class is over, they shout, “That was already 30 minutes??” Time flies when you’re having fun. The more we can find and focus on the joy in our workday, the faster it will go.

Try it a Different Way
When I tell the clarinet section how to make a sound, three out four students will get it pretty quickly, but the fourth one won’t. If I just repeat the same directions over and over again, I will be wasting both my and the student’s time. Those directions didn’t work for him! I have to find a different approach. Don’t waste your time trying over and over again to do something that isn’t working. Find a different way of doing it.

Plan for the Unexpected
On the second day of band, one of the students opened his trombone case and a grasshopper jumped out. (Apparently he found it at morning recess and put it in there for safe-keeping.) I had to quickly assign one “grass hopper catcher” and get the rest of the students back in their chairs focused on something else so precious minutes of my class didn’t slip through my fingers. You can’t plan for everything, so plan to think on your feet when unexpected things come up so you don’t waste too much time.

We All Need a “Drink of Water” Once in a While
Sometimes, 5th graders will ask me to get a drink of water because they are actually thirsty. This is rarely the case. Usually when they say, “Can I get a drink?” they are really saying, “I’m frustrated right now and need to stand up and walk over to the other side of the room for a second.” We could all benefit from this approach. When you’re frustrated with your work, sometimes getting away from it for a minute or two is all you need to kick-start your brain again.

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How to Read Fast

As a grad student and a teacher, I have a lot of reading to do in any given week. Part of having great time management skills is learning to do things efficiently, so knowing how to read fast is essential.

I love reading for fun. I love curling up on the couch with a good book and savoring every word as it floats through my mind. Unfortunately, we can’t read like this when we have vast amounts of material to get through before a deadline. We have to alter our approach to get through the most information in the least amount of time.

3 Strategies for Reading Efficiently

1) Not Every Word is Important
I’m not suggesting that you sloppily skim over the pages; you just need to quickly filter out what information you need and what you don’t. Think of yourself as a detective looking for important ideas and phrases. Do not get caught up in words and sentences that don’t matter.

2) Read with a Pen
Reading with a pen is far better than reading with a highlighter. When you mark something with a highlighter, all you can do is mark something as “important” but you aren’t able to write why. A pen enables you to jot quick notes to yourself, which keeps you more engaged in whatever you’re reading.

3) Do not Read Where you Sleep
I’m all for being comfortable when you read, but if you take work home with you, don’t take it to bed. You’re far more likely to nod off, lose your focus and have to end up re-reading it anyway. Besides, you should be able to keep at least one area of your home a work-free-zone.

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How to Get Ahead

A slow workday is a great time to try to get ahead with your time management in hopes of easing the burden of your busy times. “Getting ahead” can mean doing things like organizing, planning, creating new systems and getting a jump on important Meat and Vegetable tasks. Think back to your most stressful weeks at work or school:
What were the tasks that took a majority of that time?
Is there anything you can do now that will make those tasks easier later?

I asked myself those questions this week.

I am a teacher and just finished the first week of school. I know that if I don’t start the year organized, I will never be able to catch up once the semester gets rolling. My husband works in travel and he knows that once the busy travel season hits, he’ll be knee-deep in work. We brainstormed some ways that we can use our slower times to ease the stress of our busy times. This is what we came up with:

Finishing Vegetable Tasks Early

This semester I am teaching an online class. I know that once the class starts, I will be spending a majority of my time grading and answering questions. To help ease that stress, I did as many of the organizational “Vegetable” tasks this class will require in advance so I won’t have to worry about them later. This included setting up all of my contact sheets, grading rubrics and supplemental materials. Now I won’t have to worry about all of that mid-semester!

Delegating to Technology

My husband works in travel. Each account his office processes has numerous deadlines to keep track of- deadlines for air, deadlines for hotels, deadlines for visas, etc…When many groups are traveling at once during the busy season, it can be a lot to keep track of by hand. That’s why this week, in their slower time, they set up a program that automatically calculates all of these deadlines and sets up reminders based on the expected travel date. They wouldn’t have had time to set this up during the busy season, but now their work will be much easier!

Organizing Differently

A large part of my time as a band teacher is taken up with keeping track of which students have their music and instrument on a given day and finding materials for them to use when they forget. There is nothing more frustrating than just beginning a rehearsal only to have to stop when a student walks in without his music. To fix this, I used my slow time to set up a binder for each instrument with a set of music for students to use when they forget. This binder also includes a piece of paper for them to sign their name when they need to use it. Now I don’t have to worry about stopping to mark down who forgot their materials. The students do that for me!

What things can YOU do early that help you in your busy times? Leave your idea as a comment! Maybe it will inspire someone else to do it too.

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Happy Birthday Time Diet!

In lieu of cake on The Time Diet’s 1st Birthday, I present to you five of my favorite “Desserts” that keep my day balanced when I have a ton of work to do. Remember: even those of us with the best time management skills can’t work 24/7 without burning out. That’s why maintaining a balanced diet of: Meats (difficult tasks) Vegetables (easier tasks) and Desserts (enjoyable things) is so important.

My Favorite Time Management Desserts

1) Playing with my dog

When I get home from work, one of the first things I do is spend five or ten minutes playing with my dog Maggie. A dog can’t talk. A dog can’t tell you you’re not working hard enough or doing a good enough job. A dog just gives you unconditional love whenever you need it. If you don’t have a dog (or a cat I suppose…), I recommend getting one. Today.



2) Grabbing a Coffee

When I sense myself coming close to hitting a wall with my work, I head for the nearest Starbucks for a coffee (a tall, non-fat, light whip, Java Chip Frappuccino, add banana to be exact!) I don’t know whether it is the extra jolt of caffeine or the delicious chocolate drizzle on top, but something about sitting for a few minutes and sipping on my Frappuccino tells me that everything is going to be OK. I know you have a treat that makes you feel like that too.

3) Listening to My Favorite Song

When you need a “time out” from work, make sure your favorite song is never far away. Today’s gadget culture makes it easy to have your favorite music in your pocket at all times. Never underestimate the effect it can have on your mood and stress level. For me, my “let’s do this!” song is Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory” and my “escape from the world” song is the second movement of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concert No. 2. Listening to either one on my 10-minute drive between schools instantly improves my day.

4) Yoga Class

I am not a fitness guru. In fact, despite the fact that I am 6 feet tall, I was never really good at basketball or any other sport. However, I joined a gym so I can take a yoga class. I enjoy it, it relaxes me and I feel like I can conquer anything when I’m done. I can’t find time to do it every week, but when I do, I’m happy. Find the physical activity that makes you feel that way and make time for it whenever possible.

5) Watching “The Office”

I’m usually not one to promote watching TV extensively, but everybody needs that one show that guarantees a laugh. For me, it’s “The Office.” My husband and I like to watch it together, because the only thing more fun than laughing is laughing with another person. When I’m stressed about work or school, watching Michael Scott butcher common phrases and social norms makes me forget about the pile of work waiting for me tomorrow.

Do you have a favorite Dessert I didn’t list here? Leave it as a comment! I’d love to know.

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