My Journey Into Gray

Time management careerThey say that in order to get high blog traffic, your best bet is to make your blogs short with a catchy title. And don’t write about yourself too much because then the readers won’t be able to see themselves in your words. This blog breaks all those rules. I apologize. I hope you’ll read it anyway and share it with your friends because I believe this message is vital to living the life you want to lead and I wish someone had shared it with me earlier.

Black and White

When deciding how to spend our time, it’s easy to look for the black and white options. I will either pursue this career or that career, this path or that path, this choice or that choice…as though life were always that dichotomous. Sure, our time is limited and we can’t do everything, but our opportunities aren’t as cut-and-dry as we’d like them to be. If we’ve chosen to accept black and reject white, we might miss out on all the potential gray has to offer. Adopting the “gray philosophy” has changed my life and opportunities dramatically and I know it can for you too.

My Journey Into the Gray

I spent the first several years of my professional life with black and white tunnel vision. I have a degree in education, so I became a full time teacher in a public school district with a good reputation. Then I decided to get an advanced degree in education with the hope of teaching college at a small school in a small town and then move up to a large school in a large town. That’s the well-trodden path that others have forged for me. If you do A, B, and C then X, Y, and Z will happen.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that path, but I realized I was on a straight freeway when I was really looking for a curvy backroad – the kind that might lead to a dead-end, or right back to where you started, but could also lead to an amazing scenic overlook you never expected. That’s when I decided to start my own consulting business.

I did not jump in with two feet with the “sink or swim” mentality that some entrepreneurs recommend. I put my toe in the water with a blog and a few workshops here and there while continuing to teach full time. As my business grew and I quit my teaching job to pursue my doctorate, I felt pressured to keep my worlds separate. “Nobody outside of teaching cares about my teaching background,” I thought, “and nobody in education will understand the opportunities I’m trying to explore outside the classroom walls.”

I thought I was on two very separate paths but I’m now starting to see that they aren’t separate at all; I’m just forging my own in the middle.

New Possibilities

Since leaving the classroom, I have continued to grow my consulting business with both students and adults. I use my expertise in education to coach college students on time management and speak to high school and college audiences about how to succeed. I became a consultant with a bank delivering financial literacy seminars to student and adult audiences. I also travel around the country delivering professional development workshops for a non-profit that offers adaptive assessment software to school districts. And I teach music as an adjunct professor at Arizona State University. And I sell my three books on Amazon.com as I’m writing my fourth.

Where in the world is the manual for that career path? Where is the black and white? What do I tell people when they ask, “What do you do?”

I have no idea where this “path” will lead, but I do know that if I had continued to view my life as a series of black and white options, if I had continued to believe that teaching in the K-12 classroom was the only thing I could do with a degree in education, I would have been blind to so many exciting opportunities.

Expand Your Own Tunnel Vision

Your career path probably isn’t as narrow as you think it is. Don’t let your focus on one path blind you to possible detours and side streets that could lead to slightly different and new possibilities. Just because it isn’t “typically” done doesn’t mean it can’t be. Don’t be afraid to waste your time on an activity or opportunity that doesn’t fit the mold. Be creative. Be open to new things. Most importantly, find what you love doing and then find a way to get paid for it, even if it means taking the road less traveled or forging your own path. (See how I waited until the end for the trite Robert Frost poem reference? Go ahead and admire my restraint.)

Thanks for making it all the way to the end! I’d love to hear your comments. Either comment below or email me at Emily@TheTimeDiet.org. Thanks friends! Now go enjoy your week and feel free to tip-toe off the path and see where it takes you.

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Photo credit: Freedigitalphotos.net

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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Beating the February Blues

Well Time Diet readers, we all made it through another February. Is there something intrinsically un-motivating about this month or is it just me? Maybe that’s why it only has 28 days, because making this month any longer would just be cruel and unusual punishment. It’s a weird month. The “magic” of the winter/holiday season has officially worn off. Our excitement about our New Year’s resolutions has faded away and we are just ready for spring to get here and for it to stop being so cold. As a teacher, I really feel it because if there is anything worse than trying to motivate yourself through a slump, it’s trying to motivate a bunch of 10 and 11 year olds who seem to also have a major case of the “February Crankies.”

Finding the Motivation for Time Management

So what are we to do? We can’t reasonably expect ourselves to be 100% motivated all the time, but when we fall into a slump like this, productivity falls off the deep end. We become unfocused and our work seems to take three times longer to complete and that only worsens the situation. Unfocused work can throw your whole Time Diet off!

This is the perfect time to restate your goals. We’ve all heard the quote, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” I believe that a plan without a goal is just as bad. Why are you going to work every day? What are you trying to accomplish? Having a clear-cut goal gives your day direction and keeps you on the right track. It’s not good enough to simply have goals. You have to constantly remind yourself of them. I recommend writing your goals down and posting them in a prominent place so you see them frequently throughout the day.

I revisited my goals this week, wrote them on a piece of paper and posted them on my desk. I wanted to share with you what I wrote on my paper:

Emily’s Goals

1. Be “Dr. Schwartz”

2. Treat each of my students like they are my favorite student

3. Book 20 new Time Diet presentations in the next 12 months.

4. Save enough money to buy our dream home

5. Finish my book

6. Make band the most meaningful part of my students’ education

Writing these all out caused me to reflect on why I do everything that I do. It gave my day purpose and led to the most focused, inspired day of work I’ve had in a long time. A lack of focus is the enemy of time management. Having defined goals is the first step toward regaining that focus.

So what are your goals? Make a public commitment to one of your goals by sharing one either in a comment or on Facebook. I can’t wait to hear what you’re working toward!

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