So in my last 2 posts, I shared the processes that I have developed for score study, practicing piano, and practicing singing. These are very specific processes that are only applicable to musicians. But developing processes in general is a very important tactic that anyone can utilize to optimize their time.
For example, I have a couple of post-its up in my bathroom. They have been up so long they lost their sticky long ago, but they are attached by a magnet to the bottom right corner of my bathroom mirror. The green one lists all the steps I go through for my morning routine; this one is ESSENTIAL because I am NOT a morning person. There’s no way I would get ready the same way two days in a row without it. The pink one lists all the steps I go through for my nighttime routine. I’m typically wired at night, so this helps me focus so that I don’t skip over a step because I’m involved in reading or social media.
The best benefit of these post-its is that I don’t remember the last time I forgot to take my medicine, even though I have one medication that I take in the morning, a different medication that I take at night, and a 3rd medication that I take both morning and night. I also take Vitamin D once a week, but that one’s easy to remember – I take it on SUNday. Get it? 😀
By setting those processes, I make sure things get done consistently, and by having them written down, I don’t have to worry about the reliability of my memory.
Some more of my processes:
During the school year, each night I look at the next 2 days’ scheduled rehearsals and make sure I have any paper music (as opposed to the scads of digital scores on my iPad) in my bag for the next day. (The next 2 days’ worth in case I get any bonus practice time.) If I am teaching outside of my home that next day, I also make sure that I have any teaching materials I need gathered in my teaching bag. (Yes, I have 2 separate bags that I carry – this keeps me from carrying teaching materials with me to accompany and vice versa which helps me avoid injury from carrying around too many things…that injury post is coming eventually…). Again, this is playing off of my night owl-ness: this way I don’t have to scramble to get things together in the morning when I am not at my sharpest.
And now that the pandemic has altered what life looks like, if all my teaching is in the house that day, then generally around lunchtime, I set up all my teaching materials that I need for the day. This prevents me from scrambling in between each lesson to find the books I need. During the lessons, if it’s an in person lesson, when we finish with a book it goes in a stack on the chair to my right to be referenced when I write my student sheets (basically a log of what we did and how I want to move them forward the next week) at the end of the day; if it’s an online lesson that stack is on the piano bench to my right (because I’m in a rolling chair for online lessons).
I have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch almost every day. And I follow the same exact steps to put it together every time. Get the bread and jelly out of the fridge, put 2 slices of bread in the toaster, close the bread back up and put it back in the fridge, grab a paper towel and the peanut butter, open the peanut butter, take the slices of bread out of the toaster while grabbing utensils out of the drawer, put peanut butter on one slice, put the knife in the sink then peanut butter back in the cabinet, put jelly on the other slice, put the jelly back in the fridge, rinse off the spoon and put it in the sink, put the 2 slices together, take a bite, contemplate where I want to eat the rest of the sandwich that day. That’s 14 steps, but it’s so automated that it probably took me longer to type it all out than it does to actually make a sandwich.
And this, too, is not just for adults. We have an alarm set downstairs that goes off at 8p each night. Our son knows that when that alarm goes off, it’s time to clean up so that we can read together for 15-30 min., before we feed the fish, put his shoes away, get his good behavior rewards for the day (if he’s earned them), brush teeth, (take a bath if it’s a bath night), change into pajamas, meditate together, pray together, snuggle together, and then say good night to each other. Following the same process every night makes it easier for him to comply since he knows the order of the routine, and that makes it easier for him to feel independent since he doesn’t need us to ask or remind him to do any of those things. And now that he’s doing many steps of the routine more independently, I’ve gotten in the habit of adding a few steps for myself into the routine while he is doing other things. Occasionally we skip a step and he reminds us!
I have a process for keeping track of how long I’ve worn my current disposable face mask, a process for dealing with our family’s cloth masks, a process for laundry, a process for other chores, a process for meal planning, a process for organizing scores on my iPad, a process for water changes for the fish tanks, a process for yardwork, the list goes on and on. These processes work together kind of like putting these tasks on automation and IFTTT (If This Then That…it’s probably worth a Google); this allows all these automated processes to stay in the background and allows me to keep my day flexible even though I have all these set processes to choose from. In my first post, I mentioned that most people who know me have no idea how I get everything done that I do; this is one of the keys.
Setting processes goes a long way towards streamlining those everyday activities. As those everyday activities become more streamlined, they move into “background processing,” freeing up more time for you to do other things you want to do and freeing up more mental space for learning new things that require “foreground processing.”