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Organizing Concert To-Dos from A to Zed

This is the second of two articles on using an online task manager, such as Remember the Milk, and an organization system like Getting Things Done to manage our choral programs. For more information on setting up some of these tasks, please refer to Swatting Flies...
Preparing concerts involves myriad steps over the course of months, very few of which are actually accomplished during the rehearsal time. To help organize these steps, as well as other people involved, I use my online to-do list with a couple of short tweaks. A reminder-- I'm using Remember the Milk, but many task management systems have similar features. Poke around with what you have and see how you can make it work!
The backbone of any good task management system is the ability to make lists around common projects (in our case, concerts). This is different than tagging, which we discussed last time. Where I can tag a task as many times as I like (e.g. name of people involved, location I have to do the task, ensemble or piece it relates to, etc.), a task will only live on one list. For that reason, I like to make my lists about a specific concert or event. During the planning stage of your event, you can add all of the tasks, with dates if necessary, to the appropriate list. Tag them with the people involved, or anything else that you think might help you keep them organized. The more times you go through a process like this, the easier and more personalized your process will be.
By creating the list in the planning stage, your whole to-do checklist for a concert is in one place. By adding dates, you can set up notifications like e-mails (or, in some systems, smartphone notifications), so that your phone call to the newspaper in three months' time will get "bumped" that morning. By adding notes to the tasks, you can give yourself any information, documents, links, or anything else that you're going to need to remind yourself what that task is about in the future.
Smart Lists
The trick to any organization system, and the key to stopping the mental distraction of holding on to your to-dos, is confidence: you must be able to trust that your system is working the way you want, and then you can release the mental stress of "Oh nos!" and "Don't forgets!". To have confidence in the system, you have to be able to monitor it. This is where Smart Lists come in.
Smart Lists are lists that are based on a search, not a static project like our concerts example above (in other products besides RTM, they may be called different things, but searching for tasks is a staple of modern online task management systems). You'll have to learn a little bit of lingo to figure out how to search for what you want, but here are some common ones for me:
  • Today! I search for due:Today AND dueBefore:Today to give me any tasks which are either a) overdue or b) due today in one easy list. It's the first thing that I check in the morning.
  • Ensembles. A smart list for each ensemble searches for anything tagged for that group. I give it a quick look before I run into rehearsal to know if there's anything I have to announce, discuss, ask or distribute.
  • Sibelius. As I mentioned last time, one of the benefits for me is being able to quickly find multiple tasks that involve the same process or tools. If I'm already working in Sibelius (or Photoshop, e-mail, gradebook, course platform, or any other program in which I have a lot of things to do), I'll grab everything tagged with "Sibelius" and do multiple tasks at a sitting. Grouping tasks eliminates transition time, and keeps me more focused and efficient.
Putting it Together
Through using an online task manager, you can keep your tasks organized and categorized, but also group them in multiple ways. You can make sure that all deadlines are brought to your attention, and that you ask Bill everything you need to when you get that precious ten minutes of his time. Finally, you can make better use of your time by focusing on one step in front of you instead of grabbing whatever's in the notebook in whatever order you wrote it down.
The goal is to take all the non-music things that we have in our lives and get them out of our brains. When we can do that, and trust that the systems we have put in place are working, then we can return to mindful, intentional and impassioned music making without the constant distractions of our busy lives. Happy Music Making!
How About You?
How do you organize your to-dos? How do you clear your mind of distractions going into rehearsal (or a performance!)?
on January 7, 2013 7:49am
Getting it all done can be a interesting.  With computers, Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and a plethora of information to be read, digested and disgarded or used, our day can be full of distractions.  I still use the good old calendar in my computer and Blackberry.  
The reminder is set to give me time to write the posts, rehearsal plans, music reviews etc.  I make certain that as soon as a task enters my mind, I put it in the calendar and failing that a piece of paper and stick it on a mirror or computer to be seen.  I find if I write down the thought right away, it doesn't nag me.  
My other "Get It Done" action is to decide on priorities.  That of course is done in the calendar phase too when you give it a time to start and finish but I make very certain that I don't let the little jobs take the major time.  That can be tricky when other people are involved and they have different views.  My solution as always been to say, "That's great.  Thanks so much." when someone is telling me how, when and why to do something.  I smile, nod and show I am truly listening.  Then, I take the information and use what I need and let the rest go.  If someone criticizes again I respond with, "I really appreciate your comments."  AND leave it at that.  
I read a great goal setting suggestion that can be used for any project.  Decide what you can do in the next 10 minutes to move you forward toward your goal and then do it.  Sometimes you can become overwhelmed by the magnitude of the jobs before you.  Accomplish them (after prioritizing etc.) by seeing ahead only 10 minutes at a time.  Then, BREATHE!