I used to be a hot mess in the time management department. That was until I found this organizing tool for busy musicians.

Time Management: the “Before”

“Time management” for me looked something like this: keep track of deadlines, procrastinate until the last minute, then do nothing else until it’s done. I always made my deadlines, but you can see where this is going. This creates a vicious cycle of push, recover, react, push, repeat. It’s a surefire recipe for personal burnout, the results are usually less than stellar, and it wreaks havoc on your relationships and health.

Well, that was how I worked. I thought I was someone who thrived on deadlines and used them to focus my attention. That’s still true to some extent. But as we get older our lives become more rich, bringing a wider variety of things to keep track of: gigs/performances, private student details, day job vs side hustle, spouse/partner/kid/dog schedules, imposed deadlines, personal goals, etc.

In 2014 I became Chair of a university music department, with my first round lasting four years. I was completely unprepared for this. Professors are not trained to be managers, and I had no idea how to manage all the different kinds of tasks I would face during that time. With my previous reactive approach to hitting deadlines I became, predictably, completely fried.

In Search of New Strategies

During the two years off between Chairship numbers 1 and 2 (second round started July 2020 … oh boy), I started my essential oils business, created a solid customer base, built this website (I know it’s not great but I did it myself), started my blog, and basically dove into all things productivity. I love doing this business, but I knew if I wanted to keep it going I would have to figure out some things.

Some of what I learned I have written about already in previous posts:

All of these approaches work really well, but I still needed a location where I could keep track of the many threads. I found myself wasting time looking for information I knew I had, or thought I had. I needed a place to strategize and keep handy a variety of things, like meeting agenda items, monthly oils order lists, blog post ideas, administrative deadlines, etc. It’s a lot, and I was losing things.

An organizing tool for busy musicians: Trello to the Rescue

Then I discovered my organizing tool for busy musicians – a free app called Trello. It took me some time to figure out how to make it work for me but now it’s one of the most important tools in my managerial toolbox.

I’m not a Trello expert so I’ll just explain how I use it. You could easily use any other app or program that you like. If you want to learn more about Trello from the people who know what they’re doing they have a great tutorial guide.

Think of Trello’s organization in the following hierarchy from biggest to smallest: different boards, each board can contain different lists, each list can contain different cards. It is available for desktop or as an app and it syncs across devices. There is a great search function so if you forget where you put something you can easily find it. And it’s a free organizing tool for busy musicians and non-musicians too!

Real Life Example

Here’s what I have going on right now: I’m Department Chair, professor, private piano teacher, piano examiner, blogger, and essential oils educator. I have a husband, two kids and two dogs. Yes it’s a lot, but I’m not alone. Most musicians I know have multiple streams of income, especially now while most of the gigging has stopped.

My Trello setup mostly follows these categories. I have a board for my university work, one for my essential oils business, one for my blogging and social media planning, and a catch-all one for whatever.

Then within each board there are lists. In my university board I have a list for meeting agendas, administrative deadlines, course planning, private student information, auditions, etc. My catch-all board has things like shopping lists, kid information, recipes, important info I don’t want to lose, and miscellaneous things.

In each list there are individual cards to break things down further and include details. The title of the card appears in the list, then you can open each card and put in more information. There’s enough room in the description to house a lot of notes, there are comment sections, you can add a checklist, URL links, and there is a due date function (more on this in a moment).

Favourite Uses

I love using Trello to manage upcoming meeting agenda items. You can move cards from list to list, so I have a list for upcoming meetings. Let’s say I have a bunch of items on the “Auditions” list. We’re getting into audition season, so I’ll drag those items into the “Meetings” list. That way I’ll remember to include them in the upcoming meeting agenda. The dragging part is really fun too.

Another thing I use it for is keeping track of my private students. I house their repertoire list in the description, then after every lesson I record their action items and my personal reminders in the comments. No more schlepping around a book to do this, now it’s on my phone or computer or whatever.

The Calendar Function

It wasn’t until I figured out how to leverage the due dates and calendar function that Trello really started working for me. With the calendar function in place, when you click the calendar view you’ll see anything that has a due date on it. You find the calendar function in the menu under “power ups”. You’re allowed one free power up on the free plan, and this is the one I use.

If you have missed a deadline and need to move a card to a new date, in the calendar view just drag it over. If it’s done, check it off inside the card and it shows on the calendar as a strikethrough item. As soon as I started adding due dates to things, even arbitrary due dates, it became much easier to keep track of everything.

Now this is the place that holds a crucial organizational point in my new, effective, time management plan. I use Google calendar for personal calendar use, Outlook calendar for work use, Full Focus Planner for daily and weekly agenda management, and Trello to house all the things I don’t want to lose.

Getting used to this new organizing tool for busy musicians

It wasn’t an immediate transition, and it took me a while before deciding this was the system I would stick with. There are so many great tools for organizing out there, and it wasn’t until I started using the due dates and calendars that Trello really clicked. If you’re like me and are looking for a way to fill all the holes in your organization plan, maybe give Trello a spin. It’s free so you have nothing to lose.

Oily Support

‘Tis the season for setting goals, so right now it’s easy to find information about using oils to help your journey into self-improvement. Here’s a little graphic you might find useful. Happy planning!

If you can’t read it, here’s what is says.

To focus and clear the mind: Basil, Douglas Fir, Vetiver, InTune.

If you want to combat occasional stress: Adaptiv, dōTERRA Balance, Cedarwood, Eucalyptus, Frankincense, Sandalwood, Spikenard, Vetiver.

To motivate and uplift spirits: dōTERRA Cheer, Elevation, Citrus Bliss, Lemon, Wild Orange, Grapefruit, Spearmint.

I think leaving out Motivate was just an oversight. Clearly that one should be there too.

If you need more oily support, please reach out to your oily support person and if you don’t have one I’m happy to give you a hand. Just shoot me a message.