Follow these 7 tips for an extra 7 hours this week

About 5 years ago, my son was on the wrestling team at the school I teach at. Practice ran until 6:30 every night. Since we lived a half hour away, I thought I could get a lot done and catch up on my to-do list. Even though I was spending an extra four hours a day working, I still didn’t get everything done. It’s not about time spent, but spending the time you do have wisely, and spending it on the right things!

Here are some tips to help you save seven hours each week.

1. Limit Media Time

Many people spend hours upon hours mindlessly researching things on the web or scrolling through their facebook feed. I’m not saying to eliminate those things…just be more deliberate in how and when you do them. Set a time limit on web research. Have a specific goal in mind. Want to watch tv? DVR the show. You’ll save 20 minutes in a one hour show. Set a certain time to look at facebook rather than letting the ding of the notification control you.

2. Touch email messages once

I once had a coworker who had over 1200 email messages in her inbox. They were there to remind her of things she needed to get done. Guess what? She never got any of them done and spent much time scrolling through the emails to find the information she needed.

I read an email one time and strive to keep my inbox empty. I have created many folders in my email program. Some examples are: Save, Admin, Reservations, Kudos, Bookings. When I read an email, if it’s something I can do or answer quickly, I do it and delete it. If it’s some important info I need to keep, I file it in the appropriate folder. If it’s meant for someone else (something I have to delegate), I immediately send it to the person who can do it, or I respond that I am not the one who handles that. Have set times to check email. Many people have notifications on and are checking email 50+ times a day. Some people need to be this accessible, but most of us just need to check it 2-3x a day.

3. Follow the 2-minute rule

If you can complete a task in 2 minutes, do it! I can’t tell you the number of times I have been in charge of a music event and needed info from other directors. All I need to know is how many students someone is bringing because I am responsible for ordering pizza. No response! It takes 3 seconds to respond! Do it and get it over with.

Don’t even add the item to your to do list if it takes less than 2 minutes. At school, the lady in charge of IEPs often needs a feedback form from a student’s teachers reporting on how they are doing. When I see the form in my inbox, I fill it out right away and return it.

4. Control your meetings if possible

Do you need to disseminate some information at a meeting but are otherwise not involved? Ask to be at the beginning of the meeting so you don’t have to wait through it all. I taught at a school where I was responsible for renting the sound system at graduation. I sat through two years of meetings where when it came to be my turn, the headmaster asked “Do you have the sound system rented and details taken care of?” I quickly learned that was the only reason I was at the meeting. I began to contact the headmaster a few days before, let him know I had the details taken care of, including the time and expense. I would then ask “Do you need me to be at the meeting?” He always answered “No.”

5. Schedule time to get work done

I was finding myself continually being interrupted during my plan time as a teacher by students who needed help, or sometimes they were just hanging out because they had a free period. I love my students, but I have a lot to get done if I want to be an effective teacher. I started being more deliberate about that time. That time is for lesson prep. I kindly ask the students to leave (even having them around being quiet is a distraction, and they often ask just a “quick” question, which gets me off task). I get a lot more done this way.

6. Consider your mission

What are your strengths and weaknesses? Focus on your strengths! Know when to say no (I call that my Know No rule). If you are a helping person, you naturally want to help everyone, but you shouldn’t if something isn’t your mission. For me to help the football coach would be a “good” thing, but I would be missing out on the “great.”

7. Look at the big picture

Often our schedule revolves around “Well, I don’t have anything else going on, so sure I’ll do such and such.” This attitude is not deliberate enough. What if we take a look at our calendar for a year and “fill in” things that are important to us before other things crowd the important things out? For example, I’ve already filled in my anniversary weekend, so if someone calls me with a speaking or performing opportunity, I will answer that I already have something scheduled.

I do have some flexibility. If the person calling me were to offer a great honorarium, I would present the opportunity to my wife and say “How about if I take this and we celebrate the following weekend, but instead of a weekend in Denver we get to take a cruise?”

Plan each week, month and year of your life so trivial things don’t fill your schedule. Make sure to include off time too. If you are teaching a 2 week class, block off four days or even a week afterwards so you can relax, hike, visit the grandkids, whatever you like to do.

If each of these tips saved you one hour a week, you would have seven extra hours a week to exercise, cook, hike, read, practice, sew, take karate or whatever you like to do, maybe even sleep!

James is a music educator, musician, speaker and podcaster. He enjoys hiking, biking, and spending time with his wife and family. He also enjoys long walks on the beach, but these are usually either solitary or with his wife. He is the author of “Forgive: One man’s story of being molested” and “40 Ways To Make Money In Music.”

Contact James today if you need a speaker at your next event.

Episode 67: 5 Tips For More Efficient Rehearsals

Have you ever felt like you stunk as a teacher? I have 18 years experience and recently I felt this way. One of my colleagues came for a visit. He gave me some tips afterwards and pointed out some things that I should know better about! I was embarrassed (but glad he pointed these things out).


I took a good look in the mirror and immediately implemented some changes. Rehearsals have been more efficient and productive. These were things I knew – I had even implemented them and taught others to – but I had let things slide gradually.

Hope this reminder helps you as much as it has me. 

Episode 66: The Joy of Teaching in a Rural School 2; interview with Karen Gregg

Where can three degrees in bassoon performance take you? Sometimes to exciting and unexpected places like teaching music in a rural public school. Join me as I have a conversation with Karen Gregg about the joy of teaching in a rural school, where Karen has a ton of community involvement, more flexibility, gets to know her students and has 40-45% of students in band.

Also check out Episode 41: The Joy of Teaching in a Rural School; interview with Kevin Beaber.

Episode 65: How To Properly Use Festival Warm Up Time

When I was a young director, I thought the thirty minutes they gave us to warm up was too long. I just didn’t know what to do. Now I fill those thirty minutes quickly and wish I had more. I share my warm up process for festival and for most days in band.

Link to the Breathing Gym Materials

Link to Function Chorales by Stephen Melillo

How To Book More Gigs

Excerpted from “The Saxophone Diaries.” Release June 2016

You aren’t going to get any gigs if you don’t develop some process and spend some time on it. That is going to vary by what you want to accomplish and what your goals are (see goal-setting/goal-getting chapter). I know many musicians who are MORE GIFTED than me who hardly ever gig, although they will tell you they want to. Do you know that although talent and skill are much needed, there is one trait even more important than these? Persistence! When you get 19 no responses for a yes, you need persistence. When people tell you what they think of your music (negatively) – which is personal to you – you need a tough shell and persistence. When you’re driving 300 miles to a gig, you need persistence.

You also need to treat this as a business. One of my early mistakes was not doing that very thing, but more on that in another chapter.

Here’s a booking process that worked for me for many years and continues to work although it has been updated somewhat. This worked really well from 1996-2001.

  • Compile a list of venues I wanted to perform at that fit my target audience and size. Send an introductory letter to the person responsible for scheduling music. The letter is just a short introduction of who you are and states that you will follow-up in a week or so with a phone call.
  • This is important! Call when you said you would. This is a low-pressure call simply asking if they would like a packet with more information. If they say yes, get it in the mail to them that day (a packet with CD, promo materials, etc.).
  • This is important! Include another letter in the packet saying you will call in a couple of weeks to see if they have any questions. Then call in a couple of weeks. Try to get the decision maker on the phone. Be persistent but not annoying. If he is out, call back once or twice a week until you reach him. Be kind to the secretary/receptionist. Ask if he/she received your materials and if there are any questions and if they’d like to go ahead and schedule a date.
  • At this point, you will receive a lot of nos. That’s ok. If you are an excellent musician and have created some decent materials and have properly focused your marketing niche, you WILL get some positive response, but you need PERSISTENCE.

These were my stats using this process…

  • Send 20 introductory letters to decision makers
  • Follow up with a phone call
  • Ten wanted a complete packet with CD, etc.; mail those out
  • Follow-up with a phone call
  • Out of those ten, one would schedule me right away, 3-4 would say not right now, and the rest would say “no.”
  • With the 3-4 “not right nows”, I would continue to call monthly until I either scheduled a date or received a no. Usually one of those would eventually schedule a date, sometimes a year or two after I sent the packet!

You can see that out of 20 contacts I would get one gig, sometimes two after much persistence. Believe it or not, that’s a decent rate of return, and it was at a time when the quality of my music product was not as high as it is now with 20 extra years of practice.

I made a decision that every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I would make ten new contacts. After about a year of doing this, I had to take a little break from it because I had 125+ gigs lined up. That sounds like a lot, but because of poor marketing, pricing and business strategies, I didn’t make much, even though I was working my butt off. For example, sometimes I drove 500 miles for a gig that I might earn $300 for. That might be ok if I had 5-10 gigs in that area, then came home, but it was usually the only gig I had and was followed by another long drive to another area. Learn from my mistakes and it will mean fewer mistakes for you.

By the way, don’t expect a booking agent early on. They usually will not look at you until you are so busy you can’t handle it on your own.

The booking process has been updated for me. I rarely send out letters anymore. Most of this process is accomplished via email. Warning about email; you will not find much success if you just send out email blasts to a large group of anonymous people. Target and tailor the email to the decision makers. Have a good website with all of your materials. Have documents created that you can link to your website and attach to emails.

PERSISTENCE IS KEY!