Make Most of Summer Planning

We may take a “break” over the summer, but many teachers & studio owners also use this time to get ahead of the rush of a new semester.  However, if you go, go, go all the time you run the risk of burning out before the rush even starts.  How do you make the most of your summer planning while still taking a much-needed break?

As I write this, I know many teachers are feeling burnt out this year.  While moving online kept studios open, it also was a massive learning curve.  And, even though we’ve had time to adjust … it still takes a lot of energy. Or, is that just me?

If this is you, keep reading.  I promise these 4 tips will be worth it.

Important vs. Busy Work

As with many things, it starts with defining what is important. 

Are the holidays a time for:

  • Relaxed schedule, or dare I say no schedule at all?
  • Time with family & close friends?
  • Getting ready for the next semester?
  • Learning new skills?

Going into the holidays without knowing what is important leads to either working all the time or putting everything off.  Both lead to more stress.

Making the most of your summer planning is not about filling every last moment with work.  It’s about making time for the things that truly matter.

Have a hierarchy

For me, there are elements of all four of the above options.  But, within those options, there is a definite hierarchy.

Time with family is the most important.  I know during the school year my family time is a bit more limited because of my teaching hours.  I do my best, but it is what it is.

So, during the summer I want to make the time for us to:

  • Play games
  • Go for walks
  • Spend a morning or afternoon doing something special
  • Just hang out & talk

We have a relaxed schedule that gives us the freedom to do what we want each day, but enough structure that I don’t hear “I’m bored” a million times a day.

That being said, I can’t just step away from my businesses for 2 months & expect everything to run hunky-dory.  So, the summer is a time for me to also learn new skills & get a leg up on the next semester.

Need vs. Want

Wouldn’t it be great to get prepared before the semester starts?  But, who wants to spend their entire vacation time getting everything ready?

Honestly look at what needs to be done.  And leave the rest.

I’ve learnt over the years that there are certain tasks that pay huge dividends over the course of the year.

  • Choosing a studio theme
  • Planning the studio calendar
  • Create & schedule recurring invoices for clients
  • Set up systems & templates so general tasks take minutes, not hours
  • Ordering & organizing materials so I have easy access to everything while planning & teaching

What does not pay huge dividends is:

  • Planning months of lessons for specific students when I don’t know what their goals are
  • Choosing all the music students will learn for the year (see the previous point)
  • Planning months of materials when I am introducing something new to the studio.

One year, I got “smart” with my summer planning & planned 4 months of music labs.  It was my first time creating labs with a studio theme & I thought I had it right.  It turns out my students needed more time to get used to them than I originally thought & the assignments were much too long to complete during lesson time.  I ended up having to modify all that hard work within the first weeks of lessons so it better met the needs of my students.  It was really discouraging.

As tempting as it can be to plan ahead, when students are involved it is best to spend your summer planning time elsewhere.

Big picture & create systems

With limited time over the summer, you don’t have time to take care of everything.  Nor should you!

There are 2 places you should spend your short summer planning sessions. 

Looking at the big picture & creating systems.

Once the studio is running at full speed, there are tasks that fall through the cracks & keeping the big picture in mind is more difficult.

Big picture

Without an overall plan, it can be easy to fall into a lesson by lesson approach.

You should meet your students where they are each week.  And, you should modify based on what they need & what their goals are.

But, if you only use this approach you run the risk of meandering your way through the year with no answer for parents when they ask, “How is my child progressing?

The big picture provides the framework & guides you, especially when life gets busy.

I can not begin to count the times I’ve looked at the calendar & thought “Where did the time go?  What on earth am I supposed to be doing?”

I’m going to let you in on a bit of an embarrassing secret. 

In the past, I’ve typically remembered to post about Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day & other “days” when I see them on my social media feeds.  With everything else going on, this is the one thing that is almost guaranteed to fall through the cracks because they don’t fall under the “big picture”.

Which leads me to …

Creating systems

Life gets hectic.  Even when things are supposedly “in balance”.  

This is where systems become so important.

I’m the queen of forgetting things.  I kid you not!  The only reason it doesn’t seem like I forget everything is because I have systems in place.

See, I was the nerd in elementary school that enjoyed reading books about how to manage my time effectively.  Even back then I realized that more often than not my head was up in the clouds … or lost in a good book.  And things haven’t really changed.

In fact, when I was re-reading “Lost in a Good Book” by Jasper Fforde one of my kids glanced at the title & said, “That’s the perfect book for you!”

Create systems to take care of the important but not urgent things in your studio.

This frees up your energy to be creative, have time for your priorities & still rock your business.

Make a list of the things that fell through the cracks this last year.  The things you scrambled last minute to get done.

Systems can be anything from:

  • Templates with answers to common questions
  • Newsletters that have the big picture written in & are scheduled to be sent
  • Automated payment systems so you get paid … without running after your income
  • Social media posts that repeat each year

Systems are what keep you on track with the big picture.

Life will happen.  It will be so busy at times that you’ll wonder where the day or even week went.

After one too many nights sitting in front of my computer writing out the studio monthly newsletter hours before it was due to be sent, I decided it needed to change.  So, I wrote out all the newsletters in one go over the summer & scheduled them out.  Now, I know that my clients will have at least a general idea of what to expect in the studio … even if I’m not at my best.

Change the when & where

During the summer holidays, my work schedule completely changes.  Instead of hours of uninterrupted time in my office, I know that I want to spend more time with my family.  And that means the when & where of how I work changes as well.

When you get things done

In the past, I was able to sleep in a bit but still get work done before my kids woke up.  They would sleep in until 9:00 or 9:30 & it was glorious!  These days my kids tend to wake up earlier.  I had been under the impression that teen years meant sleeping in longer, but alas it is not meant to be.  At least not right now.

If you are able to put in a little time before the day gets busy, go for it.  It’s the closest you’ll get to having uninterrupted time!

If your kids, like mine, decide to get up early, I feel your pain.  There is a workaround though!

Make time later in the day when your kids will be doing something independently. 

As I write this article, my kids are having a little screen time.  When they were younger, a couple of episodes of “The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That” did the trick instead. 

Plus, the theme song became part of our morning routine before leaving for school.  Oh, the memories!  “We’re going to go, go, go, go … on an adventure!”  How’s that for starting your day?

You can still create a loose schedule that allows you to make the most of your summer planning.

Be flexible about when you will be productive.   

It may have to be at a different time than the academic year.  

We aren’t robots & are not able to do the same thing day in & day out.  We need breaks from our regular routine.

Change where you get things done

I love having an office to work in.  But, over the summer it isn’t always practical to be in there.

When my kids were really young I didn’t feel comfortable letting them play outside without supervision.  And since they wanted to spend almost all day outside, I would have been out of luck getting anything done over the course of the entire summer.

What I learnt was I could get a lot done using:

  • Pencil & paper
  • Laptop
  • Tablet

By changing where you work, you can take advantage of in-between times. 

And, you may just be inspired by something unexpected!

Look at the big picture while you sit on the deck or porch.

Get a rough schedule planned while the kidlets are watching a show.  You know they’ll want to share the funny parts so keep your planning light as well.

We all need Vitamin D to be healthy.  So, even if there is no one else around, go somewhere outside that brings you peace.  Put in an hour for planning or learning something new then reward yourself with a break.

Make the Most of Your Summer

Being productive does not mean working every moment.  What it does mean is putting the time & energy into the right tasks at the right time.

Instead of working more this summer, look at how you can work less.

At the end of the summer, what will your ideal memories include?

  • Lazy mornings
  • Time with family or friends
  • Freedom from your regular schedule 

This summer, focus on the few things that need to get done & let the rest go.

In the comments below, let me know …

What will be the few important things you take care of in your summer planning?

If you are feeling burnt-out right now, taking time for yourself may very well be one of the most important things you can do!

NOTE: This article was originally published on July 2, 2020. It has since been updated to better reflect how I “handle” my summers.

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