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How to do More in Less Time (Yes, Really!)

Sometimes it feels like our lives are filled to the brim with activities, responsibilities, and commitments. We may find ourselves sweating as we run to keep up with all we have to do. We may even feel like work, family, and friends collide as we try to find balance in this journey called life, feeling as if we are spinning plates, and dreading the day everything comes crashing down.

Is this you? Can you picture your own life in the words above?

Don't be discouraged. It's not your fault. I'm going to teach you three principles that just may help you put the balance back into your life.

The 80/20 Rule

Also known as the Pareto principle, the 80/20 rule states that in many areas of life, 80% of your results come from only 20% of your actions. See, Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist who discovered that 20% of the pea pods in his garden produced 80% of the peas. He noticed this principle in various areas of life and science especially in productivity.

What does this mean for you?

It means that 20% of the things you do bring you 80% of the joy and fulfillment you experience. 20% of what you teach in your music classroom produces 80% of the musical results your students get, and 20% of the items on your to do list produce 80% of the results you are after.

How can you use this Principle?

When you create a to do list, identify which 20% of the tasks are creating 80% of the results and which 20% are creating 80% of your stress and headaches. If you can, eliminate anything that does not have a significant effect on your desired outcomes or at very least do the 20% that have the biggest effect first.

This seems like common sense but many times as teachers we may find ourselves stressing over tasks that have little to no effect on student success. A great question to ask yourself is "Is this task getting me closer to my goals as a music teacher?" If the answer is no or even maybe, there is likely something more important you should be doing.

I understand that with constant demands in the school system that are unrelated to student success that this can be difficult, but it will make all the difference in your teaching to prioritize by the 80/20 rule.

Parkinson's Law

Coined by C. Northcote Parkinson, Parkinson's law states that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion". This means that the more time you give a task, the more drawn out it becomes.

A classic example of this is doing a project for college. If your professor gave you three weeks to complete a project, you would more than likely take three weeks (unless you were one of those unicorn, outlier students who magically completed your project early). Even more interesting than that is the fact that the procrastinators (you know who you are) would likely save the bulk of the work for the night before.If you were given a deadline in three weeks you get it done in three weeks.

Now let's imagine that you had to do the same project in two days. You may be upset, and think it's impossible but if you absolutely had to, you would find a way to get it done in two days.

This means that when given impossibly short deadlines, we are forced to focus and produce incredibly swift results.

How can you use this law?

Set short, nearly impossible deadlines for your tasks and use a timer to enforce the deadline. This forces you to focus and concentrate on the elements of the task that are critical to completing it. The best part? The results of the task (like the essay in the above example) would likely be just as good, if not better with a short deadline than with a longer one.

The question to ask yourself with Parkinson's law is "am I being productive or merely just active?"

The Art of Saying "No"

If you are anything like me then you tend to overcommit your time and stretch yourself thin sometimes. You may find that there are many requests for your time and presence that you could commit to that are legitimately good things but in order to free up time for the most important things you must remember one important fact of life.

"Sometimes you have to say no to a good thing to say yes to the best thing."

Saying no can be hard. We don't want to disappoint others and we like to feel needed and liked. The trick is, however, that there are many ways of saying no and protecting your time.

Business Coach Christy Wright shares various subtle and tactful ways to say "no" in her ebook 25 Ways To Protect Your Time. Here are five good examples you can use when someone requests your time and you simply cannot justify giving time.

  • "That Sounds great, but I've been running on empty lately and the thought of adding anything else to my schedule seems overwhelming. Maybe next time."

  • "I would love to help out, but I don't have room for even one more project right now. Maybe next time"

  • "I've heard great things about that. I actually have no plans that night, but I'm trying to keep it that way. I'm working on creating more space in my life to rest and recharge. I hope you have fun."

  • "Thank you for thinking of me. I'm afraid if I take that on, though, it will just take me away from my other responsibilities. Good luck with it."

  • I'd love to help, but that's not really a good day for me. Maybe next time."

Using these tactful "No"s protects your time and leaves you available to complete more of the tasks that are most important to you and your students in the music classroom. This is the beginning of the work/life balance.

These three principles when used separately and together will help you get much more done in less time.

Leave a comment below and tell which principle was the most surprising and how you plan to use it.

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