Quadrant II Time Management for Musicians: Achieve Your Goals by Focusing on What’s Important

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The life of professional musicians is complicated!  

Professionally, musicians engage in a wide variety of activities both for creative stimulation and financial stability:

  • Rehearsals 
  • Performances
  • Tours
  • Running concert series and festivals
  • Teaching 
  • Collaborations
  • Creating new ensembles and ventures
  • Tending to the business side of being a successful musicians

Thats just on the professional side.  They also have families and friends, invest in their health by exercising and pursue fun-loving, personal development and/or spiritual activities. 

How do they manage their busy lives and still maintain high standards of musical performance?

This was the question that we discussed recently in my class at Yale, as well as in a number of workshops I have done with arts leaders on time management. 

One great strategy comes from Steven Covey, author of the iconic book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989) where he created a model based on what is important and not important and what is urgent or not urgent and divides your time into 4 quadrants:

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According to Dr. Covey, most people spend 90% of their time Quadrant I, the Urgent and Important and the rest of their time in Quadrant IV Not Urgent and Not Important.

Using the Covey model, you change the focus to make sure that you are attending to the activities, projects and areas of your life that are important to you, you reduce the amount of time you spend dealing with other people’s crises and agendas, you minimize doing anything that interrupts you or diverts your attention from the important work and you eliminate pure time wasters.

Easier said than done!  So let’s take a closer look at the model and learn how to use it so that you can focus on what’s important and get you to your goals.

 The 4 Quadrants

1. Quadrant I: Urgent and Important

Quadrant I includes activities that are urgent and important.

These are the deadline-driven, crisis-oriented, pressing meetings like papers, rehearsal, performances and anything else that has an immediate deadline.

These activities tend to take care of themselves. Your goal is to reduce the amount of time that you spend on QI activities.

2. Quadrant II: Not Urgent and Important

Quadrant II represents things that matter in the long-term, from cultivating and nurturing important relationships to planning to personal and professional development that you decide on to working towards your vision and long-term goals to relaxation and creative refreshers.

The interesting thing about QII activities is this:  this is your agenda so no one other than cares if you accomplish these tasks.  There are no external deadlines. It is up to you to plan for these and to make them happen.  This, in fact, is the essence of leadership:  having a vision and making it happen!

Your goal is to make sure that you spend time doing QII activities each week.

3. Quadrant III: Urgent Not Important

Do you sometimes feels that you have spent a lot of time on things but as you look back on your day, you feel that you have not accomplished anything?  Chances are that you have spent too much time on Quadrant 3 activities like:

  • Interruptions, like phone calls and urgent emails.
  • Meetings that dont matter.
  • Other peoples demands on you.
  • Responding to other peoples text messages
  • Joining committees or ensembles that you dont really want to be in
  • Saying yes to social engagements for fear of saying no 

4. Quadrant IV: Not Urgent Not Important

These things we do because we feel like were tired and need a break. Its pleasure in the moment that does not amount to anything important such as:

  • Netflix Binges
  • Endless YouTube
  • Numbing out on the internet.
  • On-line shopping without boundaries.
  • Endless FB/Twitter
  • Mindlessly eating junk food.

How to Implement QII time management

1. Define “Important”

Step one is to define what is important to you.  

  • What is your personal and professional vision for the future?
  • What do you want to accomplish in the long-term?
  • What activities represent your values?
  • Who are the key people in your life?

Here are some activities that came up as QII activities among my students and the arts leaders in my workshops:

  • Write an opera.
  • Lead a major arts organization.
  • Start an ensemble.
  • Go on tour with my band.
  • Start a music school in my home country.
  • Give my first professional solo concert.
  • Find a romantic partner
  • Start a family.
  • Spend time with close friends.
  • Expand one’s professional network.
  • Exercise in order to stay healthy.
  • Do yoga in order to manage stress.
  • Spend time alone to think and plan.
  • Take time out for creative renewal time.

2. Plan

QII activities represent your agenda and therefore, it is up to you to make sure you are attending to these activities. Therefore, each week, create a matrix along the lines of Covey’s model on a blank piece of paper.  

Select a few activities from your QII list and plan these into your schedule so that you are making these activities a priority.

For example, if you are committed to your health and wellness, block out time for exercise or yoga.  If you are committed to creating a successful ensemble, make time to find the people who will be part of your ensemble or if you already have one, consider your rehearsal as a QII activity. 

3. Commit to doing your QII work

Once a QII activity is on your calendar, commit to doing it!  It’s easy to get pulled in by other people’s deadlines but if something is really important to you, honor that commitment to yourself.

Try this for a few weeks. If you steadily implement those QII activities, you will find yourself feeling a lot better about what you do and you will also be working towards making those big goals a reality!

4. Manage QI Activities

Spending your time in QI is stressful because of all the deadlines! 

If you spend time planning (a QII activity), you can reduce the number of deadlines.  Moreover, examine your QI activities and see which ones can be reframed as QII activities so that you feel good about the way you are spending your time.  Finally, see if you can reduce your commitments in this area.

5. Reduce QIII Activities

QIII is where you are responding to the needs of other people and ignoring what is important to you.  The goal is to minimize these unnecessary distractions.  Be aware of what you say yes to and be sure that you are saying yes to yourself and your long-term goals!

Moreover, block out times for your QII work and turn off the phone , your web browsers and your emails.  Then, block off some time to respond to your messages.  

6. Eliminate QIV Activities

We all need a break from the intensity of our work!  In fact, creative renewal is a QII activity. The problem is that often, the breaks stretch out to the point that we mindlessly numb out and waste precious time to the point that we lose the refreshing aspect of our break and start to feel the stress from wasting too much time. Therefore, be aware of the slippery slope between relaxing and wasting time and eliminate anything that represents a pure time waster.  If you find yourself checking out in front of the computer, set a timer to limit your on-line relaxing time. 

By following this model and focusing on QII, you will be amazed at how much better you will feel about your time as you take those steps towards achieving your important goals!