Making the Most of My Time

I finally completed a task I began weeks ago.

For a while I had been feeling like I was running from one end of the week to the other. I started seeing warning signs in my life:

  • Emotionally down
  • Overly tired
  • Taking comments personally
  • Overwhelmed at work and at home

There are more, but you get the gist. Lots of red flags.

I imagine you, like me, have multiple things and people deserving your attention:

  • God
  • Family
  • Work
  • Spouse or Significant Other
  • Personal Time
  • Side Work
  • Household Chores

Because we have so many things and people needing and desiring our attention for perfectly good reasons, we have to be diligent in prioritizing them. No one thing or person can have all of your time, but all of those things and people must have some of your time. If we do not plan out our lives we will end up burnt out; not only that, but no one will get the attention they need and some may get lost in the shuffle.

Here is how I tackled my life. You can begin with your home life or your work life. I began with work.

  1. I took my job description and wrote a shorthand, bullet-point version. I could see the details if I looked at the original job description; I just needed a reminder.
  2. I assigned each grouping a letter so that I can categorize every task and meeting according to the objectives they address. This way I can also show my boss that I am making space for every objective on my job description.
  3. I looked for overlap and for broader categories in order to simplify my focus even more.
  4. I created a 7-day calendar in Excel and marked out the exact number of hours I needed to work on average. I have multiple rehearsals and Sunday services to contend with, so work and home can bleed together very easily. Clear delineation of time spent where is essential.
  5. I blocked out all of my recurring meetings and rehearsals and labelled them with letters according to their focus.
  6. I assigned groups of tasks to particular days.
  7. Next I tackled my home priorities. I have seven, ranging from time with God to time for myself. Some things need more attention, and I am dialing back other areas.
  8. I blocked out my set home appointments in order of my priorities.
  9. I scheduled time in for all of the primary people in my life.
  10. I listed the tasks that I need to accomplish in certain time blocks.
  11. I color-coded my master schedule according to work and home. I created a master work schedule showing only my work hours, tasks, and meetings, and a master home schedule showing only home priorities, tasks, and appointments.

I am just beginning to implement this plan, but I already feel more clear-headed. Granted this all took time – probably 5-6 hours – but the end result is worth it. I feel content knowing I am paying attention to the people and things that most deserve my attention.

Practical Considerations

One of the practical sides of this change is that I will only be posting once a week.  At this point in my life I want to be writing but I cannot keep my relationship and family commitments effectively while trying to write three times a week.  I have been feeling very stressed by my personal goal of writing that much.

Perhaps sometime in the future I will write more again.  For now I hope that you will continue on the ride with me.  I will continue to share thoughts related to Worship, Leadership, and Life, as I have in the past.  I am no sage or Yoda, but I enjoy writing in the hope that you find my experiences instructive.

How are you organizing your life and prioritizing your time?

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How to Change Your Team Culture

One evening I arrived at rehearsal and I was checking in with team members to see if they all had the correct charts. I had recently started working at this church and I was fully engaged in changing the music culture by re-charting every song in the new notated format.

The learning curve was steep, but I firmly believed that because the songs were familiar learning the charts would be easier.  All the musicians needed to do was look at the chart and relate the new symbols with what they heard in their heads from the last time they led the song.  Piece of cake, right?

Change Is Not a Piece of Cake

Change Is Not a Piece of Cake

Wrong.

Here comes Ted (name changed to protect the innocent), his hands empty.  “Hi, Ted.  Did you get the new charts?”  “Hi, Maurice.  You know, I went to download them and when they printed out the font was so small I just threw them away.  I’m just going to wing it tonight.”

Needless to say, I was ticked at his cavalier attitude, but I should not have been surprised.  Change is hard, and I had just learned a lesson the hard way.  I thought that I could take what I learned from my last job, apply it at my new job, and be on my way.  The opposite could not have been more true.

Always assume you know nothing.

I was assuming incorrectly that what I had learned at my previous job applied to my new position.  I was arrogantly overlooking the obvious: the people were new, the mission of the church was new, . . . um, everything was new.  I was rushing ahead completely unaware of how much I was straining the team and my new relationship with them.

I was eventually able to change the music culture, but I had to almost completely begin again.  If you are considering making a change on your worship or ministry team, here are some points to consider.

Honor the status quo.

Ask lots of questions.  Dig through the entire server for every possible related file.  Find out the history of and reasoning behind the current system.  Make certain the team knows you value what has been.  This can be difficult when you really, really dislike the status quo.  Suck it up and be the grown-up in the relationship.

Explain what you are going to change and why.

If possible, do this in a separate meeting.  When I was at Lakeshore Community Church the leadership often made use of 15 minute quick meetings between services to give teams simple updates.  On more weighty issues, like culture change, another venue with no time constraints is better.  Answer questions.  Be kind.  Use “I” statements, and do not ever down the old system.  DO explain where the team is going and how the old system is not able to get you there.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.  This is not a one-time shot.  You have to do this over, and over, and over again.

Take small steps.

Be patient.  It may feel like Chinese water torture, but you will build trust with your team if you work the long plan.  In my case I dropped back to just one new chart per week, which meant that 4 or 5 charts per week were familiar.

My boss, the Creative Arts Pastor, asked me each week if each person on the team had played the newer charts.  This way we knew exactly how much change each team member was experiencing.  I owe him, Frank De Luccio, a lot in learning to consider each person each week.

Communicate.

As you take small steps, continue to ask questions along the way.  In my previous job I had created charts with two staves: vocal over rhythm.  I had also reduced each page to 80% to keep the charts mostly on two pages.

I found at Lakeshore that I needed to create separate, individual rhythm and vocal charts.  I also began reducing the page to only 90%.

I began putting song format in the upper left hand corner of the first page so that musicians could tell at a glance what order the verses, choruses, and bridges came in the song.

Say thank you.  A lot.

Acknowledge the difficulty for the team members.  Listen when they complain and try not to rip their heads off when they buck you.  They are volunteers and life has enough change, thank you very much.

Treat your volunteers with the same respect and grace you want them to give to you.

Keep a humble, grateful attitude, combined with firm forward movement and communication, and you will get there.

What steps do you need to take as you initiate change?

What Leaders Can Learn from NASCAR

Coaches carefully instruct athletes on how to pace themselves.

Long distance runners have to judge exactly how far they can push their bodies while still keeping a reserve for the final sprint.  Bicyclers in the Tour de France have to hold just enough in reserve to explode into the lead at the right moment.

A different sort of pacing is learning to draft.  No, not beer.  Cars.  NASCAR.  Being able to patiently cruise on someone else’s bumper until just the right moment requires skill and finesse.

Leaders can learn how to draft from NASCAR.

Athletes and NASCAR drivers are highly skilled in pacing themselves, but leaders are not.  In fact, many leaders actively fight against you when you try to pace yourself.

“Hey, Jim, thanks for taking the call on your day off.  Look, I really need that document for my meeting in 10 minutes; can you email it to me?  Oh, yeah, and . . . and . . .”  Pastors and, admit it, you and I have all done this at some point.  Some of us still do it.  A lot.  In the name of ministry.  In the name of “winning another soul to Christ.”

The last time I checked Jesus let Martha sit at his feet, and he commended her for it.  The last time I checked Jesus waited in Jerusalem until there was no doubt that Lazarus was dead and gone before leaving to visit Mary and Martha.  He was never in a hurry, even in seemingly life-and-death situations.

You only have one body, one life, and one family; treat them well.  Pace yourself.

If you are having a hard time knowing how to pace yourself, here are a few points to consider.  These four things help me to clear my mind of distractions so that I can recognize when to sprint and when to just draft.  None of these are original with me.

  1. Review your priorities.  Know what is most important: God, you, your family, your job, ministry, in that order.  Set your face towards God, then make certain you are staying healthy.  Your family deserves your attention next, now that you are refreshed and have something to give them.  Your job is critical because it has to do with providing for your family.  Finally you can think about ministry.
  2. Draw firm boundaries.  What days do you have off?  How many hours are you going to work per week?  If you regularly work over 60 hours you need to reconsider your work schedule.  Be clear about those two areas with your leaders and let them know you are not available in your off-work times.  Period.  Communicate immediately when these boundaries are crossed.  If someone consistently pushes you past your boundaries, it is time to communicate more clearly or to ask God for a new job.
  3. Practice patience.  Review my blog from last week, A Leader’s Most Important Trait, to understand the role patience needs to play in our lives.  99% of life is not an emergency, yet we push people as if every project has to be done yesterday.  Remember the cliché, “Just because it is your emergency does not make it my emergency?”  It’s true.
  4. Remember it’s just a job.  At the end of the day your family, your relationship with God and your personal health are more important than your job, even if you have a job in ministry.  As Andy Stanley said so well in the book Choosing to Cheat, it is Jesus’ job to take care of the church, not ours.  Our first ministry is to our family.

Pacing yourself in ministry, much like drafting in NASCAR, is hard work, but it is the only way to guard against burnout.  To dig deeper, listen to Michael Hyatt’s podcast, Is Work-Life Balance Really Possible?

How are you going to pace yourself this week?

6 Ways Notated Charts Can Strengthen Your Church

If there are silver bullets in worship ministry, notated charts may be one of them. Notated charts have been one of my most powerful tools.  

Good notated charts have enabled me to more effectively guide musicians and raise engagement within the congregation.  I have also been able to bring the vision of my senior pastor to life time and time again especially because I employed notated charts with my teams.

Whether I was leading Deathbed by Relient K for an Easter service drama, Who Am I Living For by Katy Perry for a message on purpose in life, or It Was Finished on the Cross by Regi Stone and Kristie Braselton as a response to the message, notated charts have been critical in enabling the church to have truly life changing worship experiences.  

Here is what I mean by notated charts:

  • Notated melodies and harmonies
  • Chord symbols
  • No tab
  • Rhythms notated using actual notes for solos along with a mixture of rhythmic and slash notation
  • Lyrics with the lemony, and only lyric cues for the rhythm part
  • Occasional notated drum patterns as guides
  • Tempo markings (descriptor as well as numerical and note values)

Have you tuned out yet?  Hello . . . McFly?

For those of you who have not studied music, set that aside for a moment and just go with me on this.

For those of you who think I have tuned out the work of the Holy Spirit all together, consider that teaching is a spiritual gift and notated charts are part of teaching your musicians to lead on a higher level.

Here are a few reasons NOT to use notated music with your musicians:

  1. To screen out “lesser” musicians.  You are not running the local philharmonic.  Musicians in church need to use their gifts to honor God and bless others, not live up to your expectations.
  2. To help you achieve your “dream” music team.  It’s not about you.  Period.  Get your musical kicks elsewhere.
  3. To impress professional musicians.  It’s not about them, either.  Oh, and impressing others means you’re still stuck on stroking your own ego, which we just mentioned.
  4. To impress your musical and worship colleagues.  Last time I checked this was not about you.  Again.
  5. To achieve your worldwide mission to restore the arts through the church.
I have been guilty of using every one of these excuses either consciously or subconsciously as a reason to use notated music.  I love to be good at music, and I can be a perfectionist in a moment if I am not careful.

Humans have an amazing tendency to be selfish and arrogant, even in church leadership.  Actually, Andy Stanley has said in a recent podcast Courage in Leadership that leaders are even more susceptible than the average person.  We as leaders have to constantly guard against self-centered-ness.

Christ is all about people, and we should be, too.

Why you should use notated music with your worship team:

  1. Every musician, especially those in the church, should be committed to improving their ability.  In the Parable of the Talents Jesus tells the story of three servants to whom the master entrusts his wealth.  Two servants double his investment, but the third is afraid and hides the master’s money.  The master comes back and is furious with the lazy servant.  Jesus expects us to improve and maximize the investment he has made in us.  We want children to graduate from picture books because they can find a much wider world waiting for them; why do we not want adults to see the wider world waiting for them through notated music?
  2. Notated charts unify worship teams.  One of the reasons I notate the melodies and harmonies of worship songs is to answer questions before they are asked.  Any musician on the team can pull out the chart and know exactly where they are supposed to sing harmony or unison, and exactly what those parts are.  The same goes for the rhythm players.  So much rehearsal time can be wasted arguing over what note someone is supposed to sing.  Good leaders answer questions before they are asked.
  3. Notated charts ensure a reliable experience for your team members.  Musicians love to know what to expect, so when you provide reliable charts that look exactly the same every time you are helping them to learn and feel at ease, and you are also saving tons of prep/rehearsal time for them.
  4. Notated charts help ensure the congregation hears a consistent product.  One of the best ways to annoy your church attendees is to sing a song’s melody slightly different every week.  These are amateur musicians at best, shower singers most often, and they are used to learning songs that are exactly the same every time they hear them.  Do you want to up your engagement in the services?  Sing a melody exactly the same every time.
  5. Notated charts save rehearsal time.  In the long run well written and notated charts can save you tons of time in rehearsal, and who doesn’t love that?  Yes, I said the long run, but it is worth it.  Love your team by giving them more time at home.
  6. Notated charts enable your team to play more difficult music.  Above you see the first page of a chart I made for Paradise by Coldplay.  Lakeshore Community Church in Rochester, NY, used this song yesterday in their Easter services.  This song is too complex to be well adapted from a chord chart.

You may have noticed by now that every one of these reasons have to do with improving the worship experience for either the congregation or the musicians.  Embracing notated charts can open up great possibilities for unifying your musicians, engaging your congregation, and realizing your senior pastor’s vision.

How could your church benefit from notated charts?

How Do I Reach the Next Level of Musicianship?

Every person can learn something new, regardless of their age or years of experience.  The operative question is not “Can I” or “May I,” but “How do I.”  It is a state of mind, an attitude.  Do you want to learn?

The challenge I face, and many of the people I have worked with, has been to acknowledge that we do not know it all and that we might have something to learn.  Choosing this point of view requires vulnerability, or humility.

Humility means primarily “not proud or arrogant, modest,” and comes from the root word humilis, which means “lowly, insignificant, on the ground.”  Humilis comes from the root word humus, which means “the dark organic material in soils . . . essential to the fertility of the earth.”

The resultant meaning of humility is not self-disrespect or self-demeaning or self-deprecating; those are actually reverse forms of pride, where we sabotage our own egos so that no one else can.  Humility is bringing yourself low enough that you make your heart a fertile place for things to grow.

Humility is described this way in Proverbs 25:6-7: “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great, for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.”

Once we acknowledge we do not know it all, then we are in a place to actually take steps forward in our musicianship.  The opera star Cecilia Bartoli takes lessons from her mother to this day, even though she has been on top of the vocal world for years.  The same was true of Beverly Sills.

And the same has been true of the great musicians I have known in church bands; they all find a way to learn and continue to grow.  If you do not have tons of money for lessons with a world class musician, here are some tips I have learned that can help you get a head start.

1.  Memorize.  You can memorize your music, and it will change your musicianship and worship experience.  The congregation will be thrilled to see you without a music stand in front of you.  So many worship bands are populated by music stands with heads.  Let me give you a hint: NOT engaging!

A friend of mine thought that memorization was out of his capability as a worship leader; memorizing all of the lyrics had always been difficult.  When he buckled down and worked at it – listening to the music every day, reviewing the words – he found he could do it, and he realized that he could focus so much more clearly on the congregation as he led.

  • So what’s your excuse?

2.  Take lessons.  OK, so right off the bat let me acknowledge that this can be costly, which is a challenge in this economical climate.  Lessons with a professional is optimal.  A guitarist friend of mine would take jazz guitar lessons for a while, then classical, then trumpet, and on down the line, increasing his overall musicianship.

If you do not have the cash, have you lead guitarists considered getting all of the lead guitarists together and having a show and tell on each person’s foot pedal techniques, equipment, and sounds?  (insert keyboardists, pianists, vocalists, whatever)  Of course, that would require a little humility, which is tough for us ego-heavy musicians.  The up side is . . . it’s FREE.  Everyone bring some nachos and munchies and make it a party (um, party – meaning fun and sober, not party – meaning pasted).  In the end something more important than musicianship happens: community.  When you work together like this, the whole team benefits and the atmosphere on the platform changes.

Another option is using technology to gain the input of other musicians.  Check out my example on point 3.

  • So what’s your excuse?

3.  Practice.  Yep, that’s right, good ol’ sweat and effort.  Nothing beats spending focused time on your instrument.  Note I said focused.  You might want to check out my friend Erica Sipes’ blog, where she is experimenting with practicing only 15 minutes a day as she prepares Beethoven’s third piano concerto for a competition.  Erica is a fabulous musician who is posting video of herself practicing and gaining input from other musicians who watch her blog and comment.  Talk about humility!

Her big push right now is to really focus and not practice for practice’s sake – no “junk” practicing, as her friend called it.  (By the way, she is playing by memory; notice that?)

Oh, and she is only practicing 15 minutes a day . . . for a concerto.  Not 60, 90, . . . . 15.

  • So what’s your excuse?

4.  Emulate.  Whether you are writing songs or learning music, and whether the style is rock or classical, one of the best things you can do is emulate great artists and try to figure out how they got their sounds.  This is one of the biggest reasons I recommend using recordings to guide the band in their preparation.  When you prepare a song and try to get your sounds and playing to be like the recording, you stretch your own musicianship and you grow.

When I was studying piano in my undergraduate degree, one of the first things we would do when we were assigned a new piece was to go listen to half a dozen different versions of it to see what the great artists have done.  Besides being a feast for the ears, you could look at how different artists resolved different issues in the piece and give yourself some options as a starting place.  Then we would go off and make the piece our own.

Emulation requires humility, though.  Enough humility to be willing to be accused of being a cover band when you are actually increasing your band’s musicianship.  Some bands are focused on being cover bands, duplicates.  You might get lumped in with them.  No matter.  You know what you are doing and why; who cares what the critics say.

  • So what’s your excuse?

By now I am starting to feel, as usual, convicted by my own writing.  I think I need to practice some more today!!

How have you encouraged your musicians to remain humble and teachable, and did it work?  How have you helped them to increase their musicianship?

Trello: One of My Favorite Productivity Tools

Trello is a collaboration tool that organizes your projects into boards.  In one glance, Trello tells you what is being worked on, who’s working on what, and where something is in a process.”

My brother, Matthew R. Overholt, recently introduced me to this tool and I have been using it ever since.  He and I are using Trello to manage a software development project. He loads updates of the software to the related card and I download it for testing.  I can upload drafts of my information and record my research for him to work through as he has time.  We find it immensely helpful.   I like Trello so much that I have started migrating some of my To Do lists there as well.

In the past I have tried many things to manage my To Do lists.  First, I did not have one.  OK, that failed miserably.  Somewhere along the way I decided to keep my list on my Palm (remember those things).  Not good.  The Palm platform did not offer enough flexibility and things would sit on there and I would end up ignoring it.  Next I tried an Excel spreadsheet.  At first I thought this would be the solution.  I could create lots of lists on different pages and notate what I was doing or had done or had to be done.  Being a bit of a perfectionist, however, I would get caught up keeping the list up to date and not actually doing anything.

After that I went to using yellow legal pads.  Why yellow?  Beats me.  I just seem to be able to read them better.  This way I could make a new one every week, cross things out as I go, and make notes at meetings.  These legal pads were my most successful method by far.  I still find that writing things down longhand is very good for me, even therapeutic (Check out my blog Ink for more of my thoughts on this.).

After quite a while I began experimenting with Evernote.  Thanks to Michael Hyatt I have really gotten into this flexible platform of keeping notes.  While I am driving on the road I can speak notes to myself, sing a new lyric idea, record a few new lines to a poem, or any number of things, and the information is immediately synced with the web and my computer.  I can do no better than Michael Hyatt in describing the use of this tool, so check out his blogs on Evernote.  For me, however, I like to be able to use bullets and other formatting tools when dealing with To Do lists, and these things do not sync well from computer to iPhone, which frustrated me immensely.

Enter Trello.com.  First of all, the Trello app is spectacular and perfectly mirrors what you do on your computer, which is vital for me.

Here is a brief description: A “Board” has a set of lists on it, defaulting to “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done.”  You can add as many Lists as you want and rename them as well.  On one Board I have added a List called “Resources” where I am keeping information that I access regularly.  On each List you can place as many “Cards” as you wish.  Each Card is a task within the List.  For my church job I have a “Choose March Pianists” Card.  On that Card I have placed a checklist for the four Sundays in the month waiting to be checked off.  A handy progress bar indicates how far I am towards completing the checklist.  On the Card I can add notes on my activity as I go (02/10 – Emailed X pianist about playing on March 4), and I can upload attachments easily to the Card as needed.  I can also label Cards with colors to indicate urgency, and much more.

The only downside I have found up to now is that I cannot go in and add an update to an individual entry on the card, which is probably my perfectionism working overtime!  I imagine this is because the notes on the card are a record of progress, particularly in working with others, since this is primarily a collaboration tool.

I am just beginning to use this tool, but I highly recommend it.  I can easily move cards from list to list, manage the information, and not have 20 lists on my desk.

Do you use Trello.com?  If you do, what are your favorite features? If not, what do you use to manage your projects and To Do lists?