Getting Back to School Part 3: GTD meets Amy Tan's Fingers
The start of a new school year is much more conducive to new year resolutions than January 1st, at least to me. Despite the fact that i've been working at Curtis now for about 14 years, i'm always looking for new ways to make my job (and life) more effective and efficient. Some years have been better than others - last year was pretty bad, despite my adoption of David Allen's "Getting Things Done
" time and stress management methodology.
Hmmm...perhaps i should rephrase that...
to GTD, i was able to more or less survive what surely would've been one of the most punishing work schedules i think i've experienced to date. i think i had a good handle on mastering some of the 'short term' aspects of the GTD productivity mantra, enabling me to get as close to an empty inbox as possible on a day-to-day basis, but i really dropped the ball when it came to overarching long-term goals and projects in a lot of areas...
And now, with the advent of yet another school year, my mind is wandering to a strange fusion of GTD and...Amy Tan - huh?
I've just started Amy Tan's novel, "The Bonesetter's Daughter", as an audiobook on my iPod (i LOVE audiobooks - getting through "Master and Commander" at the same time on my Garmin Nuvo GPS computer!). The protagonist - Chinese-American Ruth Young - struggles with her mother slipping into dementia and a deteriorating relationship with her Caucasian lover. Near the beginning of the book, Ruth uses an interesting finger-counting system to mark off her daily "to-do" list...and that got me thinking...
i had been starting a Mind Map of my daily life - tasks that needed regular daily attention, juxtaposed with some longer term goals that i wanted to set my sights on. As you can imagine, the map is already pretty packed with an insane amount of stuff - no amount of graphic juggling seems to help me put my head around a routine that will circulate through all these things. Then i started thinking about Amy Tan's character, the way she counted off her fingers and toes, giving her a 20-point daily memorization system...could i employ something like that in tangent with David Allen's excellent GTD task filing/productivity system?
Here's my attempt to map a 10-finger daily to-do list to cover the most important short-term and long-term aspects of my life:
Left Hand - Morning activities
Finger 1: Quiet Time - spending time in prayer and reading God's Word, and helping my kids do the same - Paul and Eric already have this excellent habit ingrained, now i need to help Timmy do likewise
Finger 2: Practice Time - this is a new priority, i must confess with great shame. In recent years, i've been literally flying by the seat of my pants, learning repertoire with breakneck speed. That simply cannot continue, especially with the enormous amount of repertoire i see looming this year, already packed with more recitals and concerts this early in the season than i've ever had before...finger 2 is my new priority to get an hour's worth of good practicing every morning before i do anything else following
Finger 3: Kid's piano - this finger has yet to get up and running, but i really need to get back to giving the kids their micro lessons...hopefully by the end of this week...
Finger 4: Exercise - sigh...another finger that has to awaken from the grave...this week, i promise...
Finger 5: Agenda review - too often i've started the day without a clue what was coming up. This will hopefully be my opportunity to prepare for the day, week, and month, especially to take advantage of down-time in the train or car
Right Hand - Daytime/Work activities
Finger 1: Initial Emails - i'm slowly learning to keep the internet valve shut off until my left hand's activities are done. My regular practice (or addiction) has been to check emails first thing in the morning...then before you know it, i'm swamped with messages, surfing the web for news, trotting from blog to blog...and my whole day is gone! Finger 1 will hopefully keep the initial daytime emails to immediate and emergency responses
Finger 2: Recital Review - my job at Curtis is multi-faceted. A large portion is the scheduling of the 100+ student recitals we have each season. It would be good to have a finger to dedicate to reviewing the recital requests and overall schedule integrity on a daily basis, instead of ad hoc whenever i can squeeze it in between my rehearsals and lessons...
Finger 3: Gig Review - yet another portion of my job involves the hiring of students for outside gigs and recitals. This always eats up an enormous portion of my day, but it would be helpful to keep this in proper perspective so that it doesn't consume everything else in my schedule
Finger 4: Accompaniment Review - just a general-purpose finger here, to make sure i've kept perspective on my own accompaniment duties, as well as the proper assignment of work to my staff pianists and the handling of their various timesheets
Finger 5: Closing emails and task review - um, this is to keep that email flow mitigated somewhat. There really is no end to correspondence, just my attempt to make sure that i'm giving the flow 2 points of attention during any given workday - these might be more of my 'proactive' emails, as opposed to the morning 'responses' and 'reactions'...make sense?
Left Foot - Late Afternoon/Home time
(if i can manage to be home at a reasonable hour...)
Toe 1: Kids' homework review - might have to relegate this to phonecalls or a webcam setup if i can't make it home in time (which will be often, once the recitals begin again...), but this toe is critical to keep in touch with my kids' progress...
Toe 2: Kids' extra studies - these would be extra-study activities to help keep my kids productive, things like yesterday's typing tutor game, or online math/reading activities, book reading, etc.
Toe 3: boy, so many digits! I really have to think of things to fill them with - um, ok - how about, Kids' Exercise? I really should be spending time with the kids, riding bikes with them, taking them to the park, outdoor time, etc.
Toe 4: Mom-in-law time - My mother-in-law and i are very close, but i know i take too much advantage of her. I really should use this toe to focus attention on her needs, even if it's just extra grocery shopping or chore management...
Toe 5: Wife time - no, not the littlest toe, or the last toe because of priority - mostly because of the order of day, she's usually home late. Wife time wouldn't happen until all the other late afternoon toes were used up anyway, given her schedule...
Right Foot - Night Time
(boy, i'm really stretching this system...losing track of digits already...)
Toe 1: Practice - if time permits, and before the boys go to bed, need to try to squeeze in another hour or so of personal practice time
Toe 2: Family Worship - i must confess, this summer made it almost impossible to keep up with this practice. Need to get back on track with our family time of worship, prayer, Bible-reading and study
Toe 3: Personal emails - this can cover both traditional emails, as well as responses to messages via social network sites like MySpace and my own blog comments
Toe 4: Work follow ups - to keep my inbox at a sane level, i still need an evening follow-up to work-related emails and reports that need to be uploaded to the Curtis website. Sometimes, the quiet evening at home is a better place to concentrate than the disturbance-prone office...
Toe 5: Internet work - stuff like articles for this blog, marketing work that i'm doing via MySpace, video podcast/audio podcast production, research - in short, anything related to my personal web-based promotion activities
Well now, what an interesting exercise! To be honest, i didn't really know what this finger/toe-based productivity map would look like, but already i'm seeing the rough outlines of a system that - while not comprehensive and certainly not always do-able, given my wildly fluctuating schedule at times - might still give me a good overview of the activities that i want to give priority to in my daily life, and hopefully in better proportion than the haphazard scattering and stuffing into tiny free-pockets-of-time nooks that i tend to do...
Talking to one of my wife's colleagues the other night, he showed me pictures of a beautiful pedestal desk he was building. This was a project that was already several years in the making - close to completion, but it was his patience and perseverance that really impressed me. The discipline to be able to chip away at something a little at a time each day, or whenever time permitted, instead of cramming it with spasms of unreasonable time blocks really pays off in the long run...a good lesson i hope to learn this year, particularly as it pertains to my own playing and personal life.
This little piggy went to market...this little piggy stayed home...
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My iPod Playlist
Most people probably consider the iPod primarily as a music player, but i've always enjoyed listening to audio books purchased through my membership at Audible.com
. Now with internet technologies like podcasting and RSS (Really Simple Syndication), you can really explore a whole world of new and informative content like never before, and virtually all of them for free!
Here are a few of my favorite podcasts (in alpha order) that have become part of my iPod playlist. All of these can be found in iTunes' Podcast Directory - i'm presenting them as links to their source websites here:
Cacophonous.org - a terrific, ecclectic podcast about contemporary art music, musicians and composers, with performances, interviews, and news. A great way to keep abreast of the contemporary art music scene!
Cello Journey (video podcast) - i noticed that Luke's videos weren't iPod compatible, so i emailed him about it - good news is that he's now reformatted his delightful cello music video series (the compatible episodes are labeled, appropriately, "iPod Edition"). Luke presents small vignettes of cello repertoire in a friendly atmosphere - well played, i should add! - with nice commentary and descriptions of the works he presents.
Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church - my home church's podcast, featuring sermons, Sunday School lessons, and even a set of readings through the Westminster Shorter Catechism (by yours truly, ahem, ahem), available either as one full reading (about 40 minutes in length) or broken up into sets of 10 questions (it's also available as a zipped folder containing all the questions individually that can be imported into your iPod)
HughSung.com via Feed2Podcast.com - some crazy pianist thought it would be fun to hear a computerized voice read his blog for folks who don't have the time to sit by a monitor and read the old fashioned way! Ok, ok, i keep a copy of my own podcast in my iPod...for demonstration purposes, really...yes, really!
Inside Home Recording - just starting to delve into this rich archive of audio recording tips for the amateur home studio. There's a ton of really helpful advice and reviews of affordable equipment, presented in a fun, easy to absorb style (but i'd recommend having a tablet pc and pen handy to take notes, all the same!)
"Just Thinking" and "Let My People Think", two podcast series from Ravi Zacharias, a thought-provoking Christian apologist and intellect. Food for the heart, soul, and mind!
Make Magazine (video podcast) - wow, and i thought my PowerMate cradle was cool - check out the amazing things you can make from everyday (and not-so-everyday) stuff (i love the link to the video iPod hard case/stand that can be made from an old plastice tape cassette cover!) An amazing resource that's sure to get your creative juices flowing!
Naxos does a nice job of presenting samples of their enourmous classical music catalogue in their podcasts, combined with great descriptions of the works and an occasional luminary interview. Good stuff, especially for exploring unfamiliar music.
Renewing Your Mind from Ligonier Ministries with R. C. Sproul - another great resource for the thinking Christian. There's a great episode dealing with some of the contraversial aspects of the novel (and upcoming movie), "The DaVinci Code" that's well worth checking out
Rocket Boom (video podcast) - this is a fun, hip, daily 3 minute tech/geek news video produced in New York City with a consumer-grade video camera, two lights, a laptop, a wallpaper map, and charismatic host Amanda Congdon, and the astounding operating budget of $0! This amazing formula has catapulted RocketBoom to podcast stardom by being one of the most syndicated programs around - either that, or the kvetchy theme song...
Have a favorite podcast? Let me know what you're listening to, and i might try it out myself!
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Idly Running: Getting to Sarasota[Hugh's Note: This was actually written yesterday morning on my Samsung i730 PDA Phone as i was either standing in those interminable airport lines or as i was stuck sitting in the airplane - i'm posting this right now before heading off to the Sarasota airport on the way back to Philly - another concert at Curtis tonight...sigh...]
Philadelphia Airport/USAir 1075
used Samsung i730 to email presenter to let her know that Delta
messed up my tickets and that my flight had been changed to USAir,
arriving in Sarasota one hour later than planned. Downloaded
itinerary into i730 from Gmail to work through details with ticket
Finished other emails to Korea and stateside.
Called Expedia to complain about Delta - Expedia was great, giving me
an immediate $100 coupon in my Expedia account and an assurance that
they would forward my complaint to Delta. Kudos to Expedia!!
Sitting in plane, blogging away in my i730 and reading Psalm 56 and
Joshua 10-13 with Laridian's Pocket Bible (man, I love my Samsung PDA
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