One Thing at a Time

November 21, 2019

It’s a busy time of year. In addition to the normal school schedule, I spent last week with Tromba Mundi, performing and presenting masterclasses in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. This week I’m performing with Boston Brass. I know I’m not the only one that’s busy. If you’ve looked at your daily calendar* and been overwhelmed, so you switch to look at the whole week thinking that will help, only to switch to view the whole month, then abruptly ran away screaming, I’m here for you.

*(I am assuming that all of you are using digital calendars at this point. If you’re still writing your schedule on paper, I’m not sure what to do with you. It’s time. If you’re reading this, you have access to a digital calendar that will likely be available to you anywhere you have any kind of connection. It will also sync across devices so that if you change something on your phone, when you next look on your computer, the change will be there. It’s like magic. Join us in the 21st century.)

If you believe you’re really good at multitasking, I’ve got some news for you. You’re not. If you’re engaging in something important, it deserves your full attention.

As you can probably tell from the title of this post, which is not a subtle reference to the underrated sitcom from the 70s, my advice is quite simple. Do one thing at a time. Looking at a seemingly endless list of things to do can sometimes drive people to get nothing done at all. With so much to do, your brain tells you that you can’t possibly get it all done, so you don’t do any of it. Or, with so much to do, it’s possible to spend time frantically going back and forth between things deemed important, without fully committing to any one of them. The formal term for this kind of approach is “half-assed.”

Remember this:

You can’t do everything every day.

If you’re trying to squeeze 25 hours into a day, I’m betting that you’re tired and frustrated. Here’s what you can do:

    Make a list of everything you want to do.
    Put it in order of importance.
    Set the amount of time you have to give today.
    Start at the top of the list.
    When you’re out of time, stop.
    Start where you left off the next day.

This works for both long-term planning, so that you don’t wait until the night before the paper is due to start working on it, as well as short-term planning, so that your practice time covers everything over the course of a week. Too often lists are made, and every day starts at the top of the same list, ensuring that you can never make it to the bottom, thus giving yourself the feeling that you never get anything done.

Invest in the work and enjoy the results.

If you find yourself overworked and stressed, remember to take the time to enjoy what you’ve done. Musicians can be really bad at this. After a lot of rehearsal time, the concert comes, and instead of enjoying the result of all of the work put into it, we stress about our perception of what others may have thought, then pick it apart ourselves. Then we go right back into rehearsal the next day. If you’ve truly done the work, you deserve to enjoy the results. There is no perfect concert. That doesn’t mean you can’t take some time to enjoy the results of your efforts. When I talk to my students after recitals I will usually end with “Take the rest of the night off.” It may be a cheesy, really teacher-y thing to say, but I’m not kidding.

Since you’re here, there’s one more thing I’d like to discuss. It is absolutely related to my topic today. I think we can now agree that taking one thing at a time is a good idea. I believe this concept can be applied to our culture at large, especially in one particular area. With that in mind, here’s my proposal:


We all know this is a problem. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, it’s clearly part of the American landscape. I’ve already proven beyond any doubt that Thanksgiving is the best holiday (The Case for Thanksgiving), so why can’t we wait until one holiday is over before starting the next? It’s the same as above. When you start investing in Christmas before Thanksgiving…or Halloween…or Labor Day, you’re cheating yourself of the full enjoyment of each holiday. By the way, this applies to music (no Christmas music until the day after Thanksgiving), movies (just avoid the Hallmark channel, they’ve been running “holiday movies” since October), clothing (your ugly sweater will be more effective in December…trust me), and decorations (your lights can stay tangles a little bit longer).

Okay, now that we’re in agreement, I’m going to play a Christmas concert wearing a bright red shirt…in November. Crap- I’m part of the problem.

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