Time Management for Musicians Part 3: The 15-Minute Rule

By Miranda Wilson

This post is the third in a multi-part series on time management for music professionals.

How do you want people to remember you after you die?

I hope my family and friends will talk about the music I made, the lessons I taught, the words I wrote, and the way I made them feel.

Sometimes, when day-to-day stresses distract me from my purpose, I remind myself that no one is going to stand up at my funeral and proclaim “Her house was perfectly clean, and she was perfectly thin.”

And yet, we high-achieving women of a certain age (think grown-up Hermione Grainger) put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfect. It’s not enough to be at the top of our professions, we also have to be perfect mothers, run marathons, and live in houses that look like something out of Better Homes and Gardens. It’s a lot of pressure.

To put things in perspective, we have a finite amount of time on this planet. I hope to spend as much of mine as possible doing the things that matter most to me. Time with family, playing and teaching cello, writing, travel. I want to spend less time on the things that are necessary, but less meaningful to me, such as housework and exercise.

Therefore, I figured out a way to spend the great majority of time doing just that. When I used to get sucked into quotidian things that I didn’t enjoy, like housework, I got angry and resentful. Then I figured out The 15-Minute Rule.

It’s simple. You spend no more than 15 minutes doing boring tasks, and then you get to spend way longer making music and being with your loved ones.

To do this, conditions must be prepared. This part isn’t necessarily easy, but it sets your work and household up in such a way that makes day-to-day life flow easily and enjoyably.

  • The once-a-year course preparation binge. I write all my syllabuses, quizzes, lesson plans, and handouts during the summer months. This takes a few weeks of intense work, but then during the semester, my class prep consists of hitting the “print” button, which actually takes considerably less than 15 minutes. This gives me hours and hours more time for practice and creativity during the semester.
  • Let your technology do your worrying for you. The Google Keep and Google Calendar apps are great at notifying you about deadlines. I set multiple reminders for everything, so deadlines never take me by surprise. Because my ADHD brain is useless with schedules, I let airline apps on my phone send me reminders about check-ins and itineraries. I’m not exaggerating when I say that smartphones have literally saved my career.
  • Suitcase packed, ready to go. I’m always ready for work travel, because I keep a case pre-packed with everything from shampoo to spare strings. The only things I have to pack the night before a trip are clothes and scores. 15 minutes and DONE.
  • A place for everything, everything in its place. At all times. Sounds impossible? Just do everything Marie Kondo says, and all will be well. I decluttered and organized my house using the KonMari method several years ago, and cleaning is quick easy now because my house is tidy and clutter-free. (I know this sounds insufferably smug. Please don’t smack me.)

Once your conditions are in place, creativity and family can take precedence. Everything else can be accomplished using the “little and often” methods I described in Part 1 of this series. I have a rule with myself that I’m not allowed to spend long stretches of time doing things I hate. My top three? Housework, meal preparation, and exercise.


Order and cleanliness are, unfortunately, necessary working conditions for my aforementioned ADHD brain. I need my space to be tidy, otherwise I can’t concentrate enough to be creative. I also detest housework, and for a while I muddled through in, well, a muddle. Then I discovered Marie Kondo, and figured out that if you KonMari the heck out of your house and make sure you take care of your dishes and clutter every day (little and often, little and often), you can fit any other housework into 15 minutes or less. Hooray!

Basically, if you’ve prepared conditions, you only need to do one household task per day. So on Monday, you might dust the furniture. Tuesday, vacuum the floors. Wednesday, scrub the bathroom. Now, the exceptionally houseproud among you might argue that doing a task properly needs a lot more than 15 minutes. I counter with the “something is better than nothing” rule of housework. I do my 15 minutes and call it clean enough.

For this to work, every member of the household has to participate. Children do create unbelievable messes, but once they’re big enough to pick up after themselves, they can do so. I convinced my seven-year-old daughter, who loves chaos as much as I love order, that the KonMari method was delightful and that folding laundry the Kondo way was like doing origami for your clothes. Now she not only folds hers, she folds mine. Her room is tidy. She’s a little angel, I tell you what.

Meal Preparation

I appreciate fine cooking, but I don’t want to do it myself. I solve this problem by eating at restaurants a lot. At home, we eat very simply. I call it the SSS Diet — Soup, Salad, Sandwiches. Pick two, and you have a balanced meal that you can make in 15 minutes or less. If you’re worried about nutrition, the MyFitnessPal app can help you adjust so you get whatever you’re missing. It is absolutely fine to feed your family frozen vegetables and soups that come from cartons. They will not get scurvy. I’m a professor and I say so.


Many people enjoy exercise. I do not. Vanity and a right-on-cue midlife crisis have intervened, however, so I schedule 30 minutes a day for exercising. Things I have learned: it doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you do for your 30 minutes. Yoga, weight-bearing exercise, running, walking, they’re all good. My doctor assures me that as long as you do your 30 minutes, setting a timer if you’re as exercise-resistant as I am, all will be well. I do my exercise when I’m mentally tired, so it doesn’t take away from my creative time. In fact, it energizes me towards another burst of creative time.

What do you do to make best use of your time? Let me know!

Further Reading:

Time Management for Musicians Part 1: The Priority To-Do List

Time Management for Musicians Part 2: Optimal Brain Time


Time Management for Musicians Part 2: Optimal Brain Time

By Miranda Wilson

This post is the second in a multi-part series on time management for music professionals.

Do you ever find yourself getting sucked into a necessary but boring task that takes all the time you wanted to spend doing something that means a lot to you? Did 56 new emails appear in the last five minutes, threatening to eat up your precious creative time? Does your music practice get pushed into last priority by all the other things you have to do? Are you angry and resentful about it?

So was I. Until…

Continue reading “Time Management for Musicians Part 2: Optimal Brain Time”

Time Management for Musicians Part 1: the Priority To-Do List

By Miranda Wilson

This post is the first in a multi-part series on time management for music professionals.

Becoming a music professor was my goal from the first magical minute I stepped on campus as an undergraduate more then 20 years ago. What could be more blissful, I thought, than living the life of the mind and making great music while you’re at it? I imagined myself delivering passionate lectures, fixing bow-holds, writing essays, and travelling all over the world for recitals and festivals.

What I pictured myself doing, in other words, was the fun part of being a music professor.

Continue reading “Time Management for Musicians Part 1: the Priority To-Do List”

The teacher I needed

Be the rhythmic change you want to see in the world

By Miranda Wilson

I saw a great quote the other day: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

I don’t think any of us is single-handedly capable of bringing about world peace, or an end to climate change — we’d need the systematic and institutional support of a huge number of unanimous people for that to happen — but we can all do something within our own particular skill set to improve one or two things, can’t we?

Continue reading “The teacher I needed”

Etudes = Gifts

By Miranda Wilson

Duport 21 Etudes for Cello
Duport’s 21 Etudes

When I was a teenager, I studied with a teacher whose idea of fun was giving me a minimum of three etudes a week, which she expected me to learn and memorize. Sebastian Lee, J. J. F. Dotzauer, Friedrich Gruetzmacher, Louis Feuillard, Bernhard Cossman, Joseph Merk, Adrien Servais… we did them all. Every teacher I had after that was similarly obsessed with etudes.

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A student recently apologized to me for “disappointing” me when he wasn’t able to perform in a recital that I’d asked him to be part of. I felt puzzled for a minute: I have many feelings about students, but disappointment is rarely one of them. So I told him that my approval of him wasn’t conditional upon his performing in the recital.

Then I started thinking about the teacher-student relationship and how approval-based the whole business seems sometimes. So much of my motivation to practise during my student days came from my fear of the teacher’s disappointment or disapproval. I suppose what happens when you don’t have a teacher any more is that you transfer the guilt complex to yourself, so that if you don’t practise, you’re the one who’s disappointed now.

Continue reading “Approval”

My love letter to music

By Miranda Wilson

Some days, when I’m feeling pessimistic, I question every career choice I’ve made. Then I go into a doom spiral where I question the morality of spending so much time encouraging young people to make similar choices. But the thing I keep coming back to, the thing that makes it all worthwhile, is what a privilege it is to make music. Is it difficult, frustrating, annoying, exceptionally badly paid, and overcrowded? Yes. Pointless? No.

When our world seems to be going crazy, I can’t help feeling lucky that I’m in a profession that brings people together.

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My Year of Women Composers

Things I wonder about: did Fanny meekly accept her father’s pronouncement? Or did she seethe with rage at the unfairness of it?

By Miranda Wilson

I made a New Year’s Resolution today. 2019 is going to be the year that I explore, learn, perform, teach, and promote music by women composers.

I’ve always known women could be composers, because my late great-aunt, Dorothy Freed, was one of New Zealand’s first. “The grandmother of us all,” she often said proudly.

This being the case, I find it hard to explain why I haven’t actually played a lot of music by women before. My weak excuse is that I…didn’t think of it.

Continue reading “My Year of Women Composers”
Internet meme "What I Really Do." Title: Cellist. What my friends think I do: image of Yo Yo Ma. What my mom thinks I do: image of Popper's High School of Cello Playing. What the media thinks I do: movie still from August Rush. What my co-workers think I do: image of Man Ray's "Ingre's Violin." What I think I do: image of Augustus John's "Madame Suggia." What I really do: image of cello part from Pachelbel's Canon.

The Joy of Basslines (Or How I Learned to Love Pachelbel’s Canon)

By Miranda Wilson

Internet meme "What I Really Do." Title: Cellist. What my friends think I do: image of Yo Yo Ma. What my mom thinks I do: image of Popper's High School of Cello Playing. What the media thinks I do: movie still from August Rush. What my co-workers think I do: image of Man Ray's "Ingre's Violin." What I think I do: image of Augustus John's "Madame Suggia." What I really do: image of cello part from Pachelbel's Canon.
It’s impossible not to look cool when you’re a cellist 😀 

A pianist friend and I were planning a chamber recital, and had already settled on piano trios by Brahms and a modern composer. “We should have something more Classical, too,” he said. “What about Haydn…oh, wait, no, cellists never want to play Haydn piano trios.”

“What?” I said. “I love Haydn.”

“You do?” said my friend. “Cellists always frown when I say ‘Haydn piano trio.’ Or they start singing do do do do sol sol sol sol, and then they veto it.”

Continue reading “The Joy of Basslines (Or How I Learned to Love Pachelbel’s Canon)”