Written by Ryan Kershaw.
While it can be argued that time can’t be managed, you certainly can manage what you choose to do with your time. You may feel locked into a job that you cannot escape, though it is still our choice to decide whether or not you will take the risk and leave to create the chance of something better, or to start making plans towards that better reality. I am in the fortunate position of having worked to achieve this and have gone through a lot of trial and error, to now be free to use my time as I wish.
Here are 6 tips that have helped me to make better use of my time, and if applied, can help you too:
1. My Mornings Are Mine
I wrote this article in my favourite café in the city. The inside of the building reminds me of an old venue I used to play at, and I can hear great music over the sound of people meeting, and tea spoons hitting cups of coffee. It has a warm, slightly nostalgic feel to it, and I love it. I can do this because I have made my mornings ‘mine’. This means to the best of my ability, I create a positive environment for myself at the start of the day. If the morning doesn’t go well, for some it can be harder to feel good during the rest of the day, so do try and get your mornings off to a great start. If you have to wake up early for a job or feel that you don’t have time in the mornings, get up 15 minutes earlier and just listen to a song that you love, or even a personal growth recording to aid in keeping you in a positive state of mind. Listening to positive audio in the morning is one of the techniques that I used to help get through and learn from depression, and recondition myself for strength and positivity.
Exercise #1: Can you replace a ‘not good’ morning habit with a good one? What are your “richuals” as I call them – the little rituals that help you to feel rich in both spirit and mind. Yes I know your bad habits can seem to feel good, but listen to the “I should be” in your mind. Create a morning ritual that is constructive to your well-being in the morning. If you feel that don’t have time, it may be swapping the usual advertising and negative news from the car radio on the way to work, to positive audio or great music. It may be simply sitting and resting your mind for 5 minutes. You decide – but create one today and stick to it this week, and see how you feel much more alive in the mornings.
2. Value Your Time
It is often said that one of the ways to wealth (no wealth does not just mean money) is to recognize your value. If you do not value your time, others may not value your time either, so valuing your time is a good start to using it in a better way. Often we “don’t know where the day went”, and because we give too much of our time to others and none to ourselves, it can feel like we have no time there to start with. Though time was still there, and still is there, it is just that you may have ignored looking after yourself, and as a result your ability to look after others also diminishes.
Saying ‘No’ when you need to can prevent others from walking over you and strengthens the sense of value you have of your time. You can have time for yourself to feel alive again and this will help in all areas of your life.
Exercise #2: Make an appointment for yourself. We keep appointments with others, be it doctors appointments or work meetings, and we are often the last person we keep promises to. Each week write down a time that is just for you, and let others in your living space know that it is your time so you do not get disturbed. Use the time however you wish, and remember that by looking after yourself you can have more energy for others too.
3. Ryan’s 3 Approaches to Practice
There are 3 approaches to practice on an instrument that I teach my students, and just as we practice musically, we also practice in our day-to-day living. It may be that you are expressing the practice of resting, or the practice of reading – you are always practicing something. The 3 approaches I recommend are as follows: Time focused – where you allocate a set time each day to something that is important to you, so that the practice becomes a habit like brushing your teeth; Results focused – where you don’t look at the clock but rather write down small goals to achieve in that days practice; and Schedule Focused – where you lose the feeling of being overwhelmed by creating a schedule to make better use of your time. Depending on your life and work, you will feel that one works better than the other, though it pays to try each approach if possible, and you can mix & match or use all three. In developing the discipline to stick with what works, it really pays off.
For now I will talk about the Schedule approach and give you a basic overview on how to use it. Making a schedule can feel conflicting with your desire to free up time, but having some direction instead of being blown all over the place from one bout of boredom to the next rushed event, can actually free you up more and give you a sense of growth as you experience more quality time. Here is a basic overview of how to make a schedule:
1. Make a grid/table of 8 columns x approx 30 rows. At the top space of each column (starting on the second column) write each day of the week, 1st Column Monday, 2nd column Tuesday etc. The 1st column on the far left is for writing in the time of day, in half hour blocks. In the 3rd row down, 1st column, write the half hour that you get up, or would like to get up each morning (e.g. 7:30am), and in the next row down in that column, write 8:00am, next one down 8:30am etc
2. Shade out any blocks in which you feel that you absolutely have to do something each week e.g. work, school etc
3. Once you have checked that you have written in any work/school hours or club/hobby meetings that you can’t ignore, count the number of free half hour blocks that you have. You will be surprised at just how much free time you have, and looking at how you manage your time from this perspective is a great start to adjusting how you use that time.
4. Next is to color any blocks that need to be devoted to an activity that is in your heart. Piano practice, time with your partner, making an instructional video, etc. Make sure you include what has been niggling at you for a while. Do not ignore it any longer
5. The last step is to look at the schedule you have made, and see if you can take out any activities that have lost their meaning or do not serve you anymore. Time management is not about doing more. Time management is about feeling better.
Exercise #3: Make a schedule in the next day or two using the method above, and put it up on your wall or refrigerator. I also recommend buying a time management diary to help you keep important appointments with yourself and others. Remember that the intensity in which you schedule your day is totally up to you.
4. Have a ‘Time-Management Free’ day
Your personal desires as far as time management goes is going to vary depending on your history or how you want your life to change. For some people they want as much free time as possible after working 50 years in the same job, and for others they might be unemployed and have a lot of free time, but need to feel that they are making progress towards a dream that they have been ignoring or a better way of life. I have been both unemployed and overworked/burnt-out, as well as where I am now which is feeling free and loving what I do with my time, so can really vouch for time management and how learning even a few simple time management skills can improve your quality of life – especially as time goes on.
It is important to understand that as great as scheduling is, it is all too easy to become dependent on that, and feel uneasy when having free time. It is just as easy to be a workaholic as it is an alcoholic, especially if we think work is bringing us results – albeit to the detriment of our health. Having a free day encourages you to get used to truly relaxing. A few years back I had overcome
the habit of regularly drinking too much alcohol and the burden that brought with it, though I had unintentionally replaced that with overworking. I had made a music festival, a national tour, had been leading a band, teaching students and writing a book, but had totally left out any time for myself. In the end I was burnt-out and would just stare blankly at my computer screen with bags under my eyes. My partner took me for a well-needed weekend vacation away from our city. Lying with her for the longest time of being still I’d had in quite a while, I remarked that “I feel strange because I don’t feel like I need to go anywhere or even move”. She replied, “That’s called ‘relaxing’”. I had actually forgotten what it was like to relax. I hadn’t had the physical sensation of relaxing in such a long time, that it felt new to me. It was both a little revealing and a valuable lesson.
Having at least one schedule free day without work or interaction with work related things such as social media, emails or computers will encourage you to be smart enough to rest when you need it, and disciplined enough to get back to your schedule after being schedule free.
Exercise #4: Look over your schedule and adjust it to include a free day, and insert a block of free time on each day if you need to. Commit to staying away from emails on this day even if your work requires you to be at emails a lot. Minimize the amount of back-and-forth to computers each day by limiting the number of blocks you give to emails. It is the anticipation that can be tiring and you need to value your time as much or more than being pushed and pulled by other peoples’ agendas.
5. Keep Learning
Keep learning about time management and using time wisely for conditioning and reminders if nothing else. Whether it’s delegating work to others to take pressure off your shoulders and help them to feel their value by using what they are good at, or simply learning ways to change from your current career to the career that you really want, there is something to learn for everyone.
Just as one who learns a musical instrument can continue to grow and learn throughout their entire life, you can also tweak and enhance your time management skills, both by trial & error and learning from those whom are highly skilled in that area.
The amazing thing about this world is that wisdom is there for you to grab! Books, audio recordings, products and services are all available from experts in your chosen field. When you read a book, even if you only get one great idea as a result of reading it, then your time has not been wasted and that book has provided value for you. Combine this knowledge with learning from what has or hasn’t worked in your life and you can really start to make some positive changes happen, and by utilizing action and discipline they can stay there too.
Exercise #5: Make a list of what has and hasn’t worked with regards to time management in your past, and adjust your schedule as needed. Read over this list each day for a week to really let it sink in.
Read a book this week on time management.
It could be about stopping procrastination (Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy) or Delegating (One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson).
You can also study my online course on Time Management for Musicians, which although directed to musicians, is applicable to your situation no matter what your line of work/study.
6. Be aware, be present
The previous 5 ideas/actions are very effective and will work well, however; please listen to my words of warning: it is possible to get your time management perfect and still not be there. I am not talking about delegation, but rather the absence of appreciating the moment that you are in, when your mind is over- thinking or dwelling on other things.
Being present allows you to turn down the reverb on those bad thoughts. The term ‘mindfulness’ is in danger of being overused but it is a worthwhile subject to be aware of. How often have you been undertaking a task when your mind has been elsewhere? 10 years go past and we feel as if we weren’t really ‘there’ for most of it. Being present gives you more of a feeling of being there. The start to being present is to begin with basic activities. Take eating for example – if you are eating, bring attention to your eating. If a thought of something else comes in, do not fight it, but let it come and then pass. Focus back on what you are eating. There are exercises in mindfulness of thinking about the processes that happened to get the apple to you, but we wont go deep into that for now – the main point is if you are eating – eat. If you are drinking – drink. Be there, where you are.
Let your mind rest from the wandering and enjoy what is here – which is never the past or future but always the ‘now’.
Exercise #6: Develop your ability to ‘be here now’. Being effective at time management is almost pointless if you are worrying about the future the whole time, or fretting about the past. If you do not have the ability to sit for 5 minutes without getting restless this may suggest that you have some room for practice in focus and awareness, as well as time management. Sit comfortably and focus on your breath so that you get closer to a relaxed state. Do not over-think it, or analyse the breath – just be there in the moment. If a thought pops into your mind, do not fight it or criticise yourself for thinking, just let it disappear. Come back to your breath, as this is a central grounding that is always there no matter where you are. Let the mind ease and enjoy your time. This is perhaps the biggest secret to time management! Commit to doing the exercises I have mentioned and I wish you the best of luck. ‘Now’ will tell you what to do from here.
Author bio: Originally from New Zealand, Ryan Kershaw is a musician and music educator, author of “Use Your Buzz To Play The Guitar” and creator of the Musicians Confidence Course. He helped to strengthen the music education community in New Zealand by bringing organisations together including Music Education New Zealand Aotearoa, Smokefree Rockquest, and Independent Music New Zealand. He is the founder of the New Zealand Underground Festival, which provided New Zealand underground musicians with a platform to connect with the industry, and currently writes for The Guitar Association of New Zealand, Audioculture and Muzic.nz. Ryan is now based in Ireland and continues to record, play and teach music.