As I’ve grown increasingly more busy, I’ve discovered dozens of tiny tricks that help me be more thoughtful, keep my word, be better prepared, and generally run my life more effectively. Here are 5 of my favorite:
This is one of my favorite times of the year- it's the one time that people universally are setting goals, dreaming big unreasonable dreams, and looking forward with hope to the new year. It's a new year, isn't it? Anything is possible.
The beginning of this year has been one of the most chaotic I can remember- we had a SUV blow out a transmission in northern Minnesota at the end of a tour I was on, and life has been a rush of trying to fix/sell it and get it back to St. Louis, and figure out the money side of that. I had planned on these few weeks after Christmas to be relaxing after a crazy December of non-stop shows. No luck.
So I haven't set my goals yet. Not one single goal. Which has given me some great insights into why I make goal setting such an important part of my routine in the first place. Here's three things that have happened since I haven't had goals set so far this year:
I've watched a lot of late night television. When you don't have something to get up and work toward, it's hard to come up with good reasons to. . . well, get up and work.
I've not made much headway at all in my career. You have to plan to improve your music career, and without goals and steps laid out to help you accomplish what you need to do to improve, you're not going to see yourself accomplish much.
I find myself short of time every day. By not being focused on specific goals I want to accomplish, I've noticed that time-sucking meaningless tasks appear from thin air to occupy every minute of the day. It's crazy how easy it is to be very busy, and get absolutely nothing done.
Needless to say, one week of living this way is enough to motivate me to go get coffee, sit down, and spend some quality time prioritizing.
For the first time for as long as I've had an iPhone, I left it at home today. I couldn't believe how much it affected my day- suddenly, I was without a cellphone, personal planner, calendar, pocket recorder, todo list, GPS system, watch, dictionary, news reader, word processor, camera, MP3 player, radio, e-reader, metronome, and flashlight.
I felt naked. How did I manage before I had a smart phone? How did anything get done?
Over the 3 years I've owned a smartphone, I've become more and more attached to it for everyday living. My entire generation is permanently tethered to a little device we keep in our pocket. A device that didn't even exist when most of us were going into high school.
I personally think it's wonderful that we have the power to do so much good, and accomplish so much more using a smartphone. What did shock me was how much I rely on my iPhone to do everything, and how I've grown almost addicted to being constantly connected, constantly working, constantly on call.
In the past and even today, my best work has always come when I was either bored or had a long period of uninterrupted time to work on a project. A smartphone can can be the death of both of those scenarios. How many of my generation's greatest thoughts and brightest ideas have been shoved to the side in order to respond to a Facebook comment? How many resourceful people have never been given the opportunity to develop an idea because of the constant stream of email piling into their iPhone's inbox?
Today was an accident. Perhaps leaving my iPhone at home for set periods will become a habit- a deliberate statement that my life is not defined by the quantity of things I do in a day, but the lives I affect by developing a deep understanding of the things and people I love.
I missed three performances early on in my career before I realized how important keeping an accurate schedule is. Without a detailed calendar of your activities, days fill with unimportant tasks for lack of plan, and you can never quickly commit to anything without the risk of double-booking yourself. If you're a musician, this can easily become the downfall of your career- booking gigs quickly and accurately is vital to getting call backs.
Even with a great calendar system, it's easy to make simple mistakes that can royally screw up your day. Here's some simple ways I've managed to avoid disaster:
1. Add Drive Time
Your schedule will not be truly accurate until you add your drive time to the beginning of your event. Don't guess on how long your commute is-hop on google maps and plug in your starting and ending address to get an accurate drive time estimate, and then save the URL to your calendar, if you're using an online calendar like Google Calendar, or Apple's calendar app. This way you can simply click the link on your smartphone, and get instant turn-by-turn directions.
2. Add in Buffers
One of the most common issues I see with people who heavily schedule themselves is not having enough extra time built into the schedule. There are always going to be moments where you have to handle something immediately, which can then screw up the rest of your pre-scheduled day.
I generally leave around an hour of times each day free, for all kinds of little things that occur that I can't predict. That way, I don't have to feel guilty about taking a few minutes for an important phone call, or to just relax.
3. Have a Catch-All Day
Since I always use a task list with my schedule, I often find that there are tons of things each day that I can't finish. I used to get stressed out when I felt like I wasn't accomplishing everything I'd planned to do, until I learned a trick that changed everything.
Leave one day, or one time block of 3 to 5 hours each week empty, for all the little things that pileup each week that you need to do, but don't have enough time to finish on any given day. If something isn't urgent, and you get to the end of the day and don't have enough time to finish it, move the task on to the next day.
After repeating this process for an entire week, there will be quite a list of tasks that you haven't finished. Lump them altogether on the final day of the week, and use the extra time to get them off your todo list forever.
Try not to put any task off until the following week- If the task can't be accomplished in one week, you might need to break it into smaller sub tasks, anyway.