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Reclaim Time

These small purchases, adjustments and mindsets will help save time and make your job easier.

Things I will never get back: the hours I wasted trying to get 200 names copied from an Excel spreadsheet as First Name, Last Name instead of COMMA, First Name, Last Name. Also, those hours wasted trying to do a mail merge from Word for three labels when I could have just printed them at some point.

Here are some tools and tricks I’ve accumulated over the years that have eliminated some of teaching’s little annoyances. The good news is that they save time every day. The bad news is that if I am missing any of these items or visiting somewhere, I must become “flexible.”

I picked up these tools gradually. If your funds allow it, go ahead and splurge. Otherwise, gather these items one at a time and make some small, but much appreciated, improvements.

group of ink stamps


Ink stamps have saved me time for small items such as return address envelopes to hall passes. I always wanted the automatic time and date stampers that our front office uses for passes, but these can run several hundred dollars. For about $10 to $20, you can get a self-inking stamp and customize it with your name, school, etc. It doesn’t fill the entire pass requirements, but it has cut down on filling out passes dramatically. You can also use these for music scores, stamping original parts, etc.

Time saved per use: 20 seconds, which was used to scroll forums for last year’s marching band placements.

close up of someone holding pen over sheet music

Extra Scores

Every time I purchase a piece of music, I get an additional score. This has come in handy more than I realized. I’m able to have a desk set and a podium set, or even bring one home to mark up during some free time. Additionally, whenever we have a clinician come in, or even an interested student, I can simply hand over the score.

Uses: your own score study, handing scores to other ensemble members or clinicians, mark up scores for comparison; home set for score studying and putting kids or spouses to sleep quickly by reading program notes.

Label Printer

This one is a bit of a luxury item. An individual label printer, such as a Dymo 550, can be an invaluable tool. I have a collection of Avery label pages that have 10, five or even just one label used on them. When I try to reuse them, they either get jammed or I don’t put them in the printer properly.

Uses: individual labels for envelopes, instrument case, return address envelopes (if you don’t have your fancy ink stamp), you name it. I also use these to indicate on purchase orders what my account is and where it is coming from, and the date I submitted the purchase order. Cheaper options exist — just make sure your tech department supports additional devices being connected to your computer.

Time saved: depending on my patience and mail-merge skills, at least 10 minutes. I used this saved time to unnecessarily label items, including office supplies, and yes, even the label maker.

hand holding key organizer

Key Organizer

Maybe you enjoy getting holes in your nice dress pants, right next to the valve oil stains that won’t come out. Maybe you prefer jangle over joy. I don’t. I upgraded to a fold-out key organizer, and I’ll never go back. Most people have heard of KeySmart key organizers, but I use a brand called CarboCage, and I’m going on at least six years with it. I have a clip attached to it that allows me to securely attach it to my lanyard or car keys, and my keys are always conveniently at my disposal.

Time saved: it’s convenient until I have to spend precious minutes listening to drummers say, “You know what would be awesome on that? A drum key!”

mobile phone with QR code on screen

Barcode or QR Scanners

Some districts are moving to scanned attendance. If you hold after-school rehearsals, there are some options for scanning IDs to take attendance quickly. However, using your handy dandy labels, you can also create barcodes or QR codes for student attendance logs or even for instrument inventory. This certainly takes some time up front, but combined with a cheap barcode scanner on Amazon, you can quickly scan kids in for attendance, fundraiser turn-ins, etc. I use a USB-connected barcode scanner and just search online to convert serial numbers or IDs to barcodes.

Time saved: about five minutes per rehearsal. Use this time to entertain yourself by scanning an ID and announcing, “Price check on aisle five!” to 100 silent, judgmental teenagers. At least you entertained yourself.

Flash Fill

This is not a purchase, but I must share this tip with those who don’t know about it. I love spreadsheets, but I easily get frustrated when they don’t work the way I want them to work.

Then, I stumbled upon something that changed my whole day: Flash Fill. Export some data in a table, such as ensemble members names or instruments. Next to these columns, write a few lines as you want to see them. You can use this to change the title case, reorganize words, and even adjust names in alphabetical order. Ctrl-E on Windows and Command-E on Macs. For Google docs, it’s called “Smart Fill” and activated by Ctrl-Y or Command-Y.

Time saved: at least 30 minutes. You’ll save 20 minutes trying to organize the sheet, and 10 minutes wondering if a pivot table is actually a gymnastics routine.

jacket, shirt and matching purse hanging on a hanger

An Extra Set of Clothes

To deal with spills, surprise superintendent meetings or just for a change of pace, an extra set of clothes, preferably nice and presentable, can be helpful. Add some deodorant and a toothbrush in an office drawer as well.

Time saved: the time it takes to drive to a store or drive home is well-worth saving. Just make sure that if you change sizes over the course of your teaching career that your back-up clothes reflect this. Trust me on this one…

Pencil Dispensers

I purchased a pencil dispenser similar to a diner’s straw dispenser for my classroom. It’s refilled weekly, and I don’t have to worry about access to pencils. I place it in the front of the classroom, and we are always able to mark our music accordingly.

Time saved: once I got over the initial joy of dispensing pencils just to put them back in, this has easily saved us several minutes each rehearsal.

Extra Legal Copies of Music in a Drawer

Consider placing extra purchased copies of music in a drawer or file that students or a designated trusted student can access. If a student misplaces or forgets their music, the trusted student can help them out, which saves you the time of having to be at the beck and call of every request.

Time saved: about five to 10 minutes a week of copying. Unless that guy — the guy who loves to talk (a “time burglar“) — is at the copier, and you know that you’re not getting out of the copy room for at least an hour if he sees me.

person holding an open three-ring binder

Multiple Classes? Multiple Folders

If you teach two or more classes, keep a separate folder for each class. Even if some materials are redundant, keeping multiple copies in each folder will save time because you won’t have to shift even a single sheet or two back and forth. Grabbing the folder and going is a lot easier than making adjustments in between each period.

Time saved: depends on how far your office is. However, if you’re stressed from a rough class, you’ll have to create another excuse to leave the room for a bit.

Give Up Some Control!

I heard an interview with an author and entrepreneur who said that once he gave his employees some control, his workload went down considerably, the employees were happier, and the company thrived. I’m not comparing students to employees, but they certainly have requests and they do want to get the job done. Consider the most frequent student requests that start with “Can I” or “May I?” These are things that the kids can do themselves but feel they need to get permission.

Time saved: honestly, not much. You’ll probably hear the question, “What about this one?” over 100 times if you assign some kids to sort music. But they will get the job done, and future requests will go more quickly. It also creates more buy-in for your organization.


And there you have it — a small toolkit that makes a teaching day at least a little less chaotic. Use these tips to reclaim time for what truly matters, like wondering what you’ll do with all the time saved.

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