Time Management Hacks

I am often asked how I manage to get done all that I get done in a week. When I was a TD, people regularly asked me how I was able to work full-time at the church and have time to write this blog, produce a weekly podcast, attend trade shows and have a family. The short answer to that question is that I don’t really do much else besides work. And I do that because I enjoy it and because that’s how God made me. I have a very high capacity for getting a lot of things done. 

But with that said, there is always room for improvement. And at some point, I’m going to want to slow down and do something besides work all the time. I came across this slide share quite some time ago, but it’s been sitting in my queue of things to write about. Having looked through it a few times, I thought it would be helpful to share, and of course, comment on. 

Plan for Less Work Each Day

I love the quote from David Heinenmeier of 37 Signals (#2). Too many of us plan to accomplish 8-9 hours of work each day and go home feeling like we failed because we kept getting interrupted. This is especially true in ministry, when interruptions are really opportunities to serve people. But if we have committed ourselves—even mentally—to getting 8 hours of tasks done, we’re going to be frustrated, or working longer. Now, there are times when we really do need to put our heads down and power through, but if we leave ourselves some margin, we actually get more done and are happier in the process.

Multi-Tasking=Bad

#5 Reminds us that multi-tasking kills our focus. Now I know most of you out there are severely ADD and will answer email, order materials for a project, schedule the tech team on PCO and upload the sermon. All at once. I’m guilty of this as well. But I can tell you, when I turn off distractions and focus exclusively on one thing, I get a lot more done. At work, I’m known to put my IEMs in, quit Outlook and Safari and just work on a design. After 2 hours, I’ve usually made incredible progress, and then I have time to check in on email. Give it a try.

Working Longer is Not Better

Study after study is showing us that working 9, 10, 12 or 14 hours a day is just not productive. After about 8, our productivity falls off to the point that we’re really better off going home. I remember a time when I had been at it for about 16 hours and was trying to patch a lighting system. I had the patch list on one computer and the plot on the other. I was so tired that I could look at the patch list, then to the plot and forget what fixture I was dealing with. It was time to go home. 

Again, I get that there are times when we need to push through. But I know I get tired, slow and cranky when I work too long, and I’m not really helping anyone. Knowing that I have to get things done in 40 hours makes me work more efficiently, and I go home feeling a lot better. 

Delegate. Often.

John Maxwell reminds us in #20 that if we can get something done 80% as well by someone else, we should let them do it. Now, I know this goes against the grain of all my fellow perfectionists out there. But I can tell you that your standards are too high. I know mine are. For the vast majority of tasks, if something is done to 80% of our high standards, it’s still darn close to 100% for everyone else. So let it go and focus on the things only you can do (#18).

This may even mean getting a volunteer to do something you are currently doing. At my last church, I enlisted one of our most committed video directors to schedule the video teams. It wasn’t a ton of work each month, but he had a passion for video and the team, and did a great job of making sure we were staffed each weekend. In fact, in the four years he did that while I was there, I rarely even thought about it. Having that task out of my queue freed me up to do other things; like upgrade the system the team worked on. 

What is your favorite time management hack?

Roland

Today's post is brought to you by Pacific Coast Entertainment. Pacific Coast Entertainment is the premier event production company servicing Southern California and the western states. PCE offers a complete line of Lighting, Audio, Video, and Staging equipment for rentals, sales and installs. Where old fashion customer service meets high tech solutions. PCE, your one stop tech resource.

It's Called Mixing...

Photo courtesy of mtneer_man.

Photo courtesy of mtneer_man.

Several years ago, my friend Dave posted a tweet about a few of the things he did during a service. It went something like this: “Push up the snare for the open. Duck the hat down for the verse. Push the guitar for the bridge. Drums up for the breakdown. It’s called mixing.” I’m paraphrasing and don’t remember any of the exact phrases except for the end one, "It’s called mixing." I’m probably going to sound like an old guy here, but I sometimes fear we are losing the art of mixing. I see a lot of younger guys spending a lot of time tweaking all the plugins in the virtual rack instead of building and maintaining a great mix. In my day, I may not have walked uphill both ways to school in the snow, but we did actually have to plug in our plugins. And we were lucky if we had a couple of them. 

More than Effects

Mixing is so much more than stacking up virtual vintage compressors, EQs and tubes on every channel. Sure, those things are nice and I enjoy having a virtual rack full of compressors of many variations available when I mix. But those things are the icing on the cake, not the cake itself. If we don’t get things like gain structure and overall musical blend right from the start, plugins only make a bad situation worse. Expecting our plugins to mix for us is a little bit like expecting FinalCut Pro to edit a video for us. 

More than Set and Forget

I’ve watched more than one sound guy push the faders up, make some minor adjustments to the gain and EQ then stand there with their hands on the wrist rest, watching the service. They totally missed opportunities to add some dimension by pushing up the guitar between vocal phrases, or highlight a cool bass riff, or pop the drums out during a bridge. I’ve heard the lead vocal go from too quiet to too loud because they wouldn’t touch the fader. That’s not mixing; that’s guarding the console. 

More than The Sound Guy

I’ve long said that the guy or gal behind the mixer is every bit a part of the band. We can enhance the arrangement, add dynamics and make a mediocre band sound pretty good. By carefully crafting a mix then staying with it as the song unfolds, we have the opportunity to play our instrument in concert with the band. This is just one reason why sound engineers should know the music. When you know what’s coming up, you can prepare for it and make it better. Even when mixing unfamiliar material, having a working knowledge of music theory is most helpful. 

I got to thinking about this a few weeks ago when I found myself mixing for the Night of Illumination event in Nashville. Brady Toops was the artist, and while I’ve heard his music before, I’m not very familiar. The system was an old JBL club series PA and a Yamaha MG24. Not the best system I’ve worked on. With no compression and nothing but on-board effects, it was a lot of work. But it was fun! And by all accounts, it sounded great. Brady and his guitar player are great musicians, and starting with good source material is always welcome. And while the input count was low, I rarely stopped moving my hands. 

Without compressors, I had to resort to an ancient techniquemanually riding the vocal. I also rode both guitars and pushed the foot actuated tambourine thing up and down as needed. It was honestly some of the most fun I’ve had mixing in a long while. 

It’s easy to get into a mode where we rely on all our fancy digital tools to do most of the work for us. But I challenge you to turn off the plugins and just mix for a few weekends. Or at least pull up some tracks and try it. Getting back to the basics of building and maintaining a solid mix without assists will make you a better engineer. Then the plugins really do become the icing on the cake.

Holy Discontent

I’ve never been that big of a sports fan. I’ll watch the occasional football or basketball game, or maybe some beach volleyball, but I don’t follow it. I enjoy racing, but don’t follow that closely any more either. I’ve never understood the levels of fanaticism that goes along with some sports, especially high school football. Especially in Texas. No offense to any Texans, but I just don’t get it. So I ignored Friday Night Lights when it was on TV. 

But enough people told me I should watch it that I finally relented. Turns out it’s some of the most well-written TV I’ve ever seen. While football is there as a subtext, it’s a lot more about the complex character development in an excellent ensemble cast. I watched the whole series last year, and decided to go through it again this summer. Season 1 is very good, season 2 is a bit of a sophomore slump, but when you get to 3, 4 and 5, it picks up and just keeps getting better all the way to what is perhaps the best series wrap-up ever. 

The second time though I began to more clearly see the story arc the writers devised for the final three seasons. I didn’t catch it the first time, but it was so clear the second time through. From the first episode of season 3 to the final episode of season 5, the writers were building discontent into the lives of the Taylors so that when it was time to move on, they were ready. 

I think God does that for us as well. 

I’ve seen it happen in my life and I’ve seen it in others. We reach a point where we are just discontent with our current situation. We may not be unhappy, and it may not even be a bad situation. But we know there is something more out there calling us on. We most likely don’t know what it is; we simply know what we’re doing is not as fulfilling as it once was. 

Little things that never bothered us before suddenly take on more significance. Going to work is no longer as fun as it once was. The routine we have found ourselves in starts looking more and more like a rut. And a rut is really just a grave with the ends kicked out. We become frustrated with what is happening but feel somewhat powerless to do much about it. 

That is the time to really start paying attention to what God is doing in your life. 

Sometimes we want to run from the awkwardness that is holy discontent. But I would suggest we should bask in it. Sure, it’s uncomfortable, and we may find ourselves losing sleep. But the times of greatest discontent in my life have preceded the times of greatest change; and that change was always for the better. 

I’m just not sure I would have been as willing to change had I not been so discontent, however. You see, we often find ourselves in a really comfortable place. The job is good, the schools are good, the family is good; life is good. But it’s not great. And God is calling us to great. 

There is a lot of inertia in good. Most of us are resistant to change and would rather stay where things are predictable and safe than head out on a great adventure. So God uses holy discontent to prepare us to move out of the comfort zone. Having just come through a period of discontent, I can tell you it’s not easy, but it’s good. I know many people who are struggling with feeling like something is not quite right, and I want to encourage you to hang in there and wait for God to reveal what is next. Lean into this season and trust that God will bring about the change He desires. It will be worth it in the end. 

Oh, and not to give anything away, but if you haven’t watched Friday Night Lights, you really should. When you get all the way to the end, you’ll see one of the best edits in the history of TV. When you see it, you’ll know what I’m talking about. And if you have seen it, no spoilers!

Roland

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