//, Organization and Efficiency/Creative Time Management for the Full-time IMT

by Kristin Yost

Photo by matsuyuki

Have you ever been so busy with parents, students, technology and more students where you wished you just had three minutes to use the restroom or you forgot to pay your phone bill and could use five minutes to log in and pay online?  I think it’s safe to say that we have ALL been there, done that and some of us still continue to commit to ridiculous hours of teaching sans breaks.  But, are these hours so ridiculous or are we the ones that are ridiculous?

The reality is that we do this to ourselves. We have created an unrealistic schedule.  Where in our Piano Teacher Employee Handbook does it state “teacher must not schedule fifteen minute breaks?”  Or, “teacher must dehydrate so as not to ‘waste’ precious lesson time.”  I have said before, and will say it again, I have no shame in starting my Music Flash Class app, walking away while it quizzes my students for three to five minutes while I take care of business.  I also don’t mind starting a lesson five minutes late or ending five minutes late.  Anything past ten and I start to feel bad but when nature calls or when I forget to pay a bill, Armageddon is not going to happen. However, all this could be avoided if I would just schedule a little extra time midway through my six-hour teaching day.  I personally don’t feel bad using the restroom while a student is warming up or practicing – do you?

If we are really doing it right, tuition dollars are going to so much more than our minute-per-minute lessons.  Why do we as piano teachers feel so guilty when our students don’t get all 2,700 seconds of our undivided attention?

Do you have the chatty parent that likes to talk your ear off on a weekly basis?  Sometimes I have time to chat, and enjoy it when I do, but other times I don’t.  A lot of parents enjoy getting to know their music teacher, but if I have a few minutes and have something I need to take care of, I make a point of saying, “I enjoyed our lesson, but I have to take care of something really quick before my next student arrives…looking forward to hearing you next week!”  I get to take care of my business, and everyone leaves happy.

Office Hours are something I also firmly believe in, you know, like college faculty members.  I have tried to train my families to respect my time, and alas, it has (mostly)worked!  My office hours are prior to lessons starting each day (I personally give myself 2-3 hours) so each day is different and I have the hours posted on my door.  I don’t answer/return work phone calls unless it is in that timeframe.

To maximize my efficiency year round, the two programs I absolutely cannot function without are QuickBooks and StudioHelper.  QuickBooks saves TONS of time when tax season rolls around, in addition to giving you a penny-for-penny analysis of your business accounts.  StudioHelper saves a significant amount of my time on all other administrative tasks such as scheduling, invoicing, record keeping and keep up-to-date student rosters.  It exports and prints beautifully.  You might look into MusicTeachersHelper as well.

In addition to all of these things, I do my best to keep my website up to date so parents and students can just visit and get all the information they need at any given time.  It cuts down on my emailing, certainly.  If I do need to send out emails, StudioHelper allows me to select which group(s) of people I need to email, and I can do it relatively quickly.  I read about a “two minute rule” in a wonderful book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity, that recommends if a task can be completed in 2 minutes or less, do it right away.  If not, put it on a “next action” list.  Much better than a to-do because the next-action is for items that need to be completed within a 24 hour turn-around.  I have two separate lists: one for next-action and another with projects that have deadlines.  The challenge for me, is getting in the daily habit of double checking my lists – but when I do, it works beautifully!

Creative Time Management recap:

  • Schedule short breaks
  • Three to five minute measurable-progress activity (e.g. Flash Class app)
  • Schedule Office Hours to accomplish administrative tasks
  • Set and keep Office Hours!
  • Scheduling/Accounting programs
  • Next-Action list


This post is by Kristin Yost, an active performer, author, teacher, and lecturer.  Kristin is widely known for her conference presentations on business issues including “How I Made $100,000 My First Year Teaching Piano.” Kristin is the founder of Centre for Musical Minds in Frisco Texas and will be launching the Piano Teacher School (covering especially business issues related to teaching) in the summer of 2011.  Visit her other articles in the Dollars and Sense category on the ComposeCreate.com blog:



By | 2016-12-31T15:20:16+00:00 April 18th, 2011|Dollars and Sense, Organization and Efficiency|8 Comments

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  1. Dorla Aparicio April 19, 2011 at 11:17 am

    I am loving these posts! Even though I have been running my studio for a few years, it is good to hear the younger teachers about what can be done to efficiently run your studio.
    Keep it up!

  2. Stephanie from LA April 19, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    What are differences between MTH & STudio Helper?

  3. Dan Severino April 19, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    You may take this any way you wish – but I got this note from a mom that touches on the subject of this blog post. NOTE: Lesson time of this student is 2:15.

    MOM SAYS – Can I ask for another accommodation? Can you arrive at the studio a few minutes prior to Em’s lesson in order for you to open doors, hang your coat, check your messages? The first few minutes of all of our lessons are riddled these things that are about Piano Lessons Plus and not about Emily’s lesson in any way. In fact, the answering machine ought not be audible during Emily’s lessons. It’s not very professional, and has been bugging me for a while. I was hesitant to ask, but figured I would before getting angry. For quite some time, you’ve been pulling in on a quarter past the hour…the time lessons ought to be beginning. It’s not a once-in-a-while traffic thing. It’s pretty regular. I hope this can be accommodated as well.END

    My solution was to put this student sandwiched between two students, which btw is where I generally put my BR breaks – I ask the student to warm up on their first piece while I go “take care of business”.

  4. Kristen Taylor April 19, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    Great ideas! I used to work the 6 hour no-breaks-for-anything shifts and I didn’t do my own scheduling at that time so I couldn’t change it. Fortunately my families were very accommodating and I tried to never take minutes from the same family 2 weeks in a row.

    I’m definitely setting office hours – I can see that being hugely beneficial rather than just doing things as I have time.

  5. Kristin April 20, 2011 at 10:02 am

    Stephanie, I believe the primary difference is StudionHelper allows multiples of everything, that is customizable for music schools, versus MTH which is designed wight the independent teacher in mind.

    Dan, the mother has valid points and while I don’t think those are unreasonable expectations, the communication is what makes me slightly uncomfortable. Yes, i agree that you should be “ready” before the lesson time begins.

  6. Kristin April 20, 2011 at 10:03 am

    I apologize for the misspelled words as I am typing on my iPad! Have to slow down a bit 😉

  7. Dan Severino April 20, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    I gave the above example to “be real” and not just keep this topic in the “theoretical”. I agree with you but to add more “reality” with this family I have given oodles of free music and arrangements that I’ve made. Of all my parents this one requests the most by far of my time through eMail correspondence; some of which I’ve given considerable thought and have taken well over 30 minutes to give a thorough professional reply. Also, the mom doesn’t seem to notice when AFTER the lesson I also often give her extra time in consultation when my next student is late. I work better when the clock is there to let me keep on schedule, but not to be thought of as a stop watch. If this mom would be here with a stop watch as her daughter in sandwiched between two other students I highly doubt there is any significant difference between the actual clock time now as before. The time is simply now spent with the student getting her books in order and telling me about her week and some small “chit-chatting” before we begin as it was while I was when I was when the “chit chatting” was going on while I was taking off my coat, glancing at my answering machine, and opening doors. BUT perception is worth more than reality.

  8. Stephanie April 22, 2011 at 11:03 am

    I find giving myself breaks in between to be difficult. My challenge is that I’ll be chatting and then my break is gone, HAHA Sometimes people are hard to get going unless a student is RIGHT behind them, walking in the door.

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