This blog post about managing your piano studio time was written by Georgia Sears, B.M., M.M. Georgia has been teaching piano for over 30 years. She’s taught at University of Houston, San Jacinto College, Grand Canyon University and Orpheus Academy of Music, and now maintains a full-time studio in person and online. Currently, she lives in Flagstaff, Arizona USA with her husband, two tween boys and dog. When she isn’t teaching piano, you can find Georgia out on the trails hiking, mountain biking or reading. Learn more at pianowithgeorgia.com and watch her on YouTube @pianowithgeorgia.
Time. Poets, songwriters and wise teachers through the ages have written about the essence of the elusive nature of time. It’s a resource we can’t buy or create. We have it, and then we lose it, in an ever-repeating pattern.
Maybe I’m a little bit of a control freak. (Ok, insert denial here.) Let me rephrase.
Hi, my name is Georgia, and I am a control freak – ESPECIALLY when it comes to my time and my schedule.
Since I’m beginning to accept this about myself, I have learnt to manage my roles as a pianist, a teacher, a wife, a mother and an adventurer.
4 Buckets of Time
I feel like most people have four buckets that their time fits into. For me these buckets are filled with:
- Family life
- Commitments to non-family humans
- Work-related tasks
- Self-care activities
It would be really great if all these undertakings fit nicely into their respective buckets, staying balanced on my shoulders like a water yoke. That’s certainly the goal. But so often it seems you have to put extra into one of the buckets, so you end up taking away from another and you find yourself off-kilter.
Here’s what I do to keep all my buckets as balanced as possible so my business is successful and I can give my family the time and attention they deserve, all without burning out.
Time Bucket 1: Family
You probably instinctively know that your family should come first. But it’s so tempting to take time from your family to fulfill other obligations to your business, students, extended relatives etc.
Use the tips below to avoid dipping time out of the family bucket as you seek to keep your life in balance.
Find a consistent time of day when your children and partner are occupied or sleeping that you can use to get work done or fulfill other commitments.
This can be a challenge for me as my husband is a stay at home dad who home-schools our two children. In other words, they’re always at home. My solution for this complication is to get up earlier than they do to exercise, practise, garden or sit and stare at clouds while I have a cup of coffee.
Responsible Screen Time
Screens can be an amazing tool to keep your children occupied while you’re working on other things. But certainly we all want to monitor our kids’ technology use, making sure they use these magical machines for education and connection.
Do some research to learn how to set screen time limits for your children’s respective ages. Then set up a schedule that’s monitored by the device itself. After that, you can bask in the quiet that follows, and enjoy the glorious moment of freedom.
Time Bucket 2: Accountable to (Non-Family) Humans
This bucket includes any time we need to remember to be at a specific place, meeting a specific person – and doing both of those things at a precise time.
This could be doctors, dentists, friends and, of course, students.
This is definitely my most-scheduled kind of time. It’s also the type of time that gets me into big trouble quite quickly if I don’t manage it well. Double-booking or standing a student up, anyone? Sigh, I have sadly done both.
Without simple and effective systems in place, it can be very easy to dip out of, say, the self-care bucket and give way more than I should to the teaching aspect of my life.
When managing my piano studio time, Google Sheets is my go-to tool for keeping my student schedule organised. In my master copy of my yearly schedule, I create a tab which I call “Master Schedule”. Each week, I copy and paste it to a new tab which I title by the month and week.
Thus far, this has been the solution that meets all of my needs including being 100% free. Here’s a sample of my document, which includes:
- Colour coding to indicate info such as student absences, reschedules and/or video makeups.
- A way to add notes to myself for billing purposes, prospective student information etc.
I have a continuous checklist called ‘Piano Stuff’ that goes into the notes app on my phone so I can mark things off as I complete them. Any time I think of random things I need to do (2am thoughts, anyone?), I make a note of it on this list so I can forget about it and (hopefully) get back to whatever the random thought interrupted.
I check this note once a week or when my piano spidey senses start tingling that I have a lingering to-do.
Doctors, dentists, friends, oh my!
I have learnt that when it comes to keeping the “non-family humans” bucket in check, there are two key things I must do:
- Use a calendar that is quickly accessible and almost always with me.
- Never commit my time without having my eyeballs on that calendar
I’ve found the best resource for managing this are the calendar and reminder apps on my phone. That’s it.
As soon as my appointments and schedule are in my phone, I set it to remind me twice: once a couple of days in advance, then again the morning of (set for before I wake up). Make that tech work FOR us!
Nicola has all sorts of time-saving and sanity-keeping organisational tips on her webpage devoted entirely to running your music studio business.
Time Bucket 3: Negotiable-Timing Admin
This is my least favourite part of being a self-employed teacher. It’s not as fun as the music making. However, it MUST get done! Here are a few tips for saving time when it comes to managing the admin time of your piano studio teaching business.
Just as I like to use technology to keep my personal schedule balanced, I use accounting software to keep from having to dip into my family or self-care buckets.
When it comes to finding software, my key requirements are:
- Easy and accessible. It must have an app for my phone for quick data entry.
- Cheap. (Like many of you, my studio budget is tight.)
- Consistent. This software has to have the capability to send out bills the same day/time every month.
After exploring lots of options, I settled on Wave Accounting. The learning curve was a bit high at first but it checked all my boxes:
- It’s FREE!!!
- Simple invoicing (including recurring invoices)
- Automation options
- Nice-looking financial reports
There are some extra features that are pay-to-use, but all additions are optional and at lower percentages than Quickbooks.
Keeping students and families informed is vital to any successful teaching business. Streamlining in this category will go a long way in saving you time, effort and energy that you could be giving to your family (or yourself) instead.
When it comes to emails for multiple students regarding things like recital announcements, festival details and the like, consider the following options:
- Make a template for events that you can tailor-fit to various situations by making minor changes.
- Create select groups in your email contacts so contacting all families or just a subset is quick and easy.
Invariably there will be times when you’ll have to adjust your schedule. These tips can make the inevitable a little less painful:
- Quickly write these texts or emails at the beginning or end of your teaching day, or first thing in the morning.
- When someone is absent, offer times that are convenient for YOU. (Or better yet, don’t offer makeup lessons at all!)
- If the time you offered won’t work for them, film a video lesson during their usual lesson time.
Every so often you’ll have difficult situations to deal with which, like it or not, can tip your carefully-balanced buckets.
Although email does require careful thought – therefore time – I prefer to handle these situations via email, at least at first. That way I can think, read, re-read and create a draft. This keeps me from improvising on the spot and sending an email in a flurry of emotion, while leaving a paper trail of the conversation.
If a parent wants to talk, however, I schedule the phone call and put it on my calendar.
New Student Inquiries
It’s important to consider new student inquiries when managing your piano studio admin time. When I receive a contact from a potential student, I give myself 24 hours to respond through email, text or phone call. My first response is always by text or email, when possible, so that I can attach my studio policies and refer them to my studio website for information about me.
Starting with an email or text is a nice filter as they have to spend their time reading instead of me spending my time explaining all they need to know.
Plus, I’m not very good at tooting my own horn. I’d rather let reviews and my website do it for me. ☺️
Time Bucket 4: Sanity Self-Care
We all recognise this as important, even though it always seems to be the lowest priority. But just as they always tell you in the airline safety demo, put your own mask on before helping others.
You must take care of yourself so you can take care of your family, friends and students. You matter. What you love to do matters. So don’t feel guilty about having some mandatory “me” time.
At least once a week, plan something just for you. (A bubble bath is an amazing thing. 🛁)
If you like to cook, spend some of your self-care time making these wonderful snacks for music studio teachers. The results will spill over into your other buckets, giving you a boost just when you need one.
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Be Prepared to Flex
Kids wake up early, have an illness or simply have moments when they want you there. It’s ok to change your plans when your family needs you.
Everything has a season. Kids grow up. Change is constant. The more flexible you are with your plans, the less frustration you’ll have when your plans change on you.
What 1 thing is most crucial to balancing your work and family time?
Share your ideas in the comments below.