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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Using Time Buckets

When we’re faced with 24 hours in the day and a long list of things to do, figuring out when to accomplish those tasks can be a bit overwhelming for our time management skills. Breaking your day up into 3 or 4 “mini days” is much easier to manage, helps you organize your time and keeps your Time Diet on track.

I like to call these mini days “Time Buckets.” A Time Bucket is a chunk of time in your day that you have available to complete tasks. In my head, I picture myself picking up a task from my “choose-to” list and actually putting it into whichever bucket it belongs.

When figuring out your Time Buckets, it’s best to look for natural divides in your day. They may vary from day to day or week to week depending on your schedule. For example, let’s look at what tomorrow, Monday, holds for me. I get to work on Mondays at 7:30am and I see my first class at 8:45am. This time is my “morning prep” and I call it “Time Bucket #1.” After my classes start, all of my time is devoted to teaching my students, so that time is already accounted for. I try to keep my lunchtime open and only use it for work if I really need to. I call my husband at lunch and chat for a few minutes. It is the “Dessert” in my day.

After the kids go home, I have until 4:00 before I need to leave to get to class at ASU. This chunk of time is “Time Bucket #2” When I get home from class, it will be 8:00. I then have a chunk of time from 8:00 until I go to bed. That is “Time Bucket #3.” I used to have 24 hours to figure out what to do with, but now I’ve narrowed that time down to 3 distinct Time Buckets that I actually have available to complete work.

Putting Tasks in Your Time Buckets

When deciding which tasks to put in which Time Buckets, you have to consider what your energy level is like during each of those times. You want to avoid completing your most difficult tasks when you have the least energy! I have the most energy in the morning during Time Bucket #1, so that is when I complete all the essential work for my job. During Time Bucket #2, I’m usually pretty exhausted, but I eventually catch my second wind. That is why I start off Time Bucket #2 with easier things, like catching up on the day’s email and/or phone calls. Then I move on to more difficult work for grad school. By the time I get to Time Bucket #3 in the evening, my energy is gone. I spend this time unwinding, eating dinner and doing a few easy household chores.

How are your Time Buckets divided? Yours will probably be very different from mine. Just remember to take into consideration your energy level during each chunk of time. We all have times in our day when we feel more alert. Make sure you are using that time to your advantage!

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