This season of my life sees me doing less teaching and performing and a lot more administration.

Doing admin is not my favourite thing. I’m very deadline-driven so I’m great at getting things done. In a way it’s almost easier to be “productive” in a position with a lot of admin, because the deadlines are handed to you. Your job is to get things done on time, and I’m really good at doing that.

The last time I was Chair I completely burned out. I used to think I knew what burnout was, but then I became Chair. I burned out, then I still had two more years to go so I burned out harder and harder. It wasn’t pretty.

The biggest source of distraction for me and my biggest excuse for rotten goal setting was my email inbox. I’ll talk more about this in an upcoming post, but for now, suffice it to say that a lack of email management stood in the way of getting the important things done. I kept getting lost in email because it was easy to do. Things need doing, so I did them to just get them done.

Of course, the need to practice continues even when you have so many other things to do. I’m one of those people who needs to have the busy stuff looked after before I can concentrate on practicing, otherwise, I just waste my practice time in a mental spin. Personally, I don’t do well with lots of balls in the air.

This is a recipe for burn out #2, and definitely not sustainable for my second three-year term as Chair.

Getting My S*** Together

When I get annoyed at myself for behaving in a way that I want to change, I find myself saying things like, “People with their s*** together don’t answer work emails on Saturday at 7pm,” or, “People with their s*** together don’t stay up late the night before every single deadline,” or, “People with their s*** together find time to practice without distraction even when they’re busy.”

I wanted to be someone with my s*** together too. I realize, of course, that people we think have their s*** together likely don’t, really, but things desperately needed to change so I used “people with their s*** together” as my model. Hey, whatever works.

The rest of this post explores a great pen to paper productivity tool I’ve been using that has fundamentally changed the way I manage my work time. Using this tool has allowed me to:

  • avoid deadline urgency
  • free up focus time to do deep work during work hours
  • fiercely protect work/home separation
  • carve out time for non-admin things that are important
  • practice sometimes, and always with a clear mind
  • consistently do my morning routine

Add in a strategy for managing emails and things are looking a lot better. More on this in an upcoming post.

Some days I actually feel like I have my s*** together. It’s an interesting feeling.

Pen to Paper Productivity

I’m a huge fan of Amy Porterfield’s podcast Online Marketing Made Easy. Amy P (as I call her) is one of those people who has her s*** together, so when she highly endorses something I pay attention. (Amy doesn’t know this but we’re really best friends.)

Amy often talks about a paper planner she and her team use called the Full Focus Planner. She claims that it has drastically changed the way she and her team set goals and meet those goals in a reasonable scheduling framework.

I was skeptical of using a paper planner after making the long switch to good old google calendar. We’re a family of two gigging musicians, two kids and two dogs, so an integrated calendar that everyone can access is crucial. Digital calendar systems are more important and robust now than ever. It’s a convenient and reliable place to include all your web links, attachments, notes, etc. We all use them, you know what I mean.

But the allure of a paper calendar caught my attention. I’m an old-school pen-to-paper kind of girl. I love my morning 30-minute journalling sessions, partly because I just love the feeling of a great pen gliding across the page.

The FFP (as we users call it) promised help in the areas where I needed it: setting goals, maintaining boundaries, and getting stuff done. Each planner spans three months (one quarter), and they’re beautifully designed. I decided to try it for one quarter and see whether I would actually use it. If yes, I would try a second quarter. If still using it after that I would get the yearly subscription.

Well, I’m hooked and in the middle of my third volume.

Hybrid Calendar Model

One of my big hesitations in introducing another tool into my “system” (not really a system) was having more things to keep track of. My digital calendar is already very robust, but that’s just because we’re busy people. What I have learned is that’s exactly why the paper calendar works so well.

Where the digital calendar is the place to put in appointments, the FFP is where planning can happen. It’s the place for interpretation of the appointments, and for planning ahead to meet deadlines gracefully and within reasonable personal limits. On the page you can set layers of goals – yearly, quarterly, weekly, daily – and try to get them all coordinated together. It’s all a work in progress and will continue to be, but it’s a huge change from just driving towards deadlines (and other people’s priorities).

You know when your digital calendar is so full of stuff you can’t really see beyond the busy-ness? That’s where the paper calendar comes in. That’s the place to put in your daily tasks, keep track of your short-term task list, and plan out the larger strategy to reach whatever goals you set. Your goals. Not someone else’s.

Great Education

The FFP also comes with stellar education and support. The Focus On This podcast exists to support strategies and optimal use of the planner and general productivity. It’s really well done and I’m a faithful weekly listener.

There are also free training videos on how to set up and use the planner, and there’s a great Facebook community too. I have gotten so much out of the Facebook community alone. There is so much benefit to being around people who do things differently than you. This community and these educational supports have helped me immensely.

No, I’m not an affiliate for the Full Focus Planner and I don’t make any commissions on any sales. I just love it and it has become a staple in my Chairship survival strategy. My daughter has the student one too and also loves it.

You can certainly do all of this in another planner, not specifically the FFP.

Leverage Your Oils

This wouldn’t be an Essential Musician post if I didn’t give you something oily to take away with you.

When I’m sitting down to plan my day in my lovely paper planner I reach for whatever oils I’m most drawn to at that time. Adaptiv works well as it’s great for managing overhwhelm. Lately, I’ve been using the Pursue blend from this year’s Convention because the spicy, peppery aroma seems to propel me into action. Sometimes I’m drawn to something flowery or maybe I feel like something I haven’t used in a while.

What’s important here adding an aroma to the activity helps establish a new mood and intention for the thing you’re about to do. It almost doesn’t even matter what you use to support your pen to paper productivity. A diffuser is a great tool for this. Here are a few blends to get you started:

Fall diffuser blends

Don’t overthink your choice of oils and just see what happens. You can diffuse, or apply oils topically, or both. Your intuition will always lead you to the right choice. Then you can free up your conscious, thinking mind for deep strategy work and getting your day down on paper.

Report back! There are so many ways to manage the endless task lists and communications. I’d love to know what works for you. Leave a comment below so we can learn from each other.