If you are in the Northern Hemisphere then you are definitely eyeballs deep in Back to School. If you are a music teacher, back to school time can be super hectic. In this article I’ll take you four back to school projects you need to tackle. Prepare to make your life a LOT easier!
Wearing Many Hats
I don’t know about you, but I wear a LOT of hats: freelance musician, music teacher, private studio owner, entrepreneur, not to mention mom and wife. That equates to a DELUGE of responsibilities, dates and schedules that I can drop the ball on or drown in at any time. This is why I take my back to school prep very seriously.
This fall is extra wild for my family. After two years of homeschooling, my son is heading back to public school. This means that I will FINALLY have a more reasonable schedule for teaching private lessons, creating content for The Versatile Musician and writing and practicing for gigs. No more waking up at 4am to get my work done before my son gets up!
Once August hits, I try to take a few days to tackle some of what is on the below list. This is an exhaustive list, so don’t feel compelled to do all of it. Instead, see if there are a few ideas that might help you to simplify this crazy time.
Ready? Let’s go!
Back to School Project #1: Get My Schedule in Order
This is always a huge jigsaw puzzle, but I managed to get it done piece by piece. Here is how I do it.
Plan the Serious Stuff
- Get my son’s school schedule for the year and add it in to my master digital calendar
- Add those same dates to my paper planner
- Add those same dates to the calendar on the fridge
- Reach out to all current students and get their availability
- Piece together that schedule and send out contracts (for weekly after school students)
- Add all of those dates to my scheduling and billing app (I use Fons, which is completely amazing)
- Reach out to new students and offer them available slots
- Book all doctor and dentist appointments for the next six months – everything from flu shots to dental cleanings, annual physicals to mammograms. I hate thinking about this stuff!
Plan the Fun Stuff
My husband and I sit down with the calendar and decide which weekends we might want to go away. We look around to what events are happening in the city and try to get tickets for what we love. We peruse our favorite venues and see what we might want to see this fall.
Back to School Project #2: Set Some Goals
I am a very goal oriented person, so this is really important to me. I have gotten a lot better at not going overboard with these goals as I have a tendency to try to build Rome in one day.
Here are some areas where I set my goals:
- YouTube channel – what videos I want to create and when I’ll post them
- Practice goals – what I want to accomplish in my practicing. What do I want to accomplish with my singing and piano playing, my songwriting, technical work and repertoire. I haven’t had much time to do this over the past two years, so I’m especially excited about this!
- Health goals – I need to plan when/how I’m going to exercise, commit to a sleep routine, etc.
- The Versatile Musician – what content needs to be created, how I’m going to improve the platform and connect with the member. I have a lot of great ideas here that I need to flesh out!
- Teaching goals – I am constantly improving my work as a teacher, collecting new repertoire, creating new resources and trying new methods. I set goals with each of my students and constantly check in to make sure we are meeting those goals
- Family goals – What do we want to do as a family? How to I want to show up for my son in his new school situation? How am I going to support my husband’s goals? How are we going to prioritize time together?
- Money goals – What are my revenue goals for my business? What is our budget? How much do we plan to save?
Back to School Project #3: Establish Routines
This is going to be a big one this year, especially since my son is going back to public school after 2.5 years of being at home with me full time. I am a lover of routines and reread James Clear’s Atomic Habits every year.
I try to maintain a morning routine, which ensures that I can get in time to journal, exercise, get my thoughts together and get ready without feeling like a headless chicken. I tend to wake up really early every day, which gives me time to drink a coffee and journal before going to a walk in Central Park or going to the gym. This ensures I am not a total grouch when my son and husband get up.
This summer I started a weekly and monthly routine to tackle tasks that always seemed to be sneaking up on me. Here are a few things that have worked really well.
- On the 1st of the month I handle my business bookkeeping for the month before. Takes me less than an hour and helps me stay organized!
- Every Friday is a catch up day (as per Laura Vanderkam who is my time management guru), where I finish any uncompleted projects (video edits, printables, social media posts, etc), run errands and catch up on any correspondence that needs to be done.
- Plan the next week – I do this on Fridays too! I block schedule out the week ahead to make sure I can actually accomplish what I want to accomplish.
- Mondays are for big projects – I’m not teaching on Mondays anymore, so I save the “hard stuff” for them. I turn everything off and get started on the deep stuff – usually video and course creation, sometimes business stuff.
Back to School Project #4: Declutter All The Things
I have been leaning into the minimalism movement and I tell you it has been a GAME CHANGER. Over the past 6 years, my family has gotten rid of over 50% of our stuff. Here, I chat about simplicity and minimalism in greater detail.
I go through my studio and decide what needs to go. Usually anything that I haven’t used in 6 months or more.
- electronic equipment
- computer accessories
- music books and sheet music
- office supplies I don’t need
- endless scraps of paper with To Do lists on them
- mystery cables
- old pens and highlighters that are dried out
We all have way to much dang clothes, so I’m sure we all need some help in this area. I have gotten really into the idea of a capsule wardrobe and even tried out Project 333 during the pandemic. I managed to get rid of three huge bags of clothes this time around. The good stuff went to Housing Works, the sad stuff went to clothing recycling.
- clothes that don’t fit anymore
- anything with stains or holes
- anything that hasn’t been worn in a year (try the hanger trick for this)
- clothes that make me go meh
- anything I have too much of – how many pairs of black leggings does one person need?
- shoes that hurt my feet
Music Books and Resources Declutter
I have way too many music books and piles of sheet music. Can you relate? I had boxes and boxes and files and files of music that I have collected over the years, including text books and a ton of other resources. There is literally no reason for me to have all of this stuff!
First off, I thought through what career trajectory I’m on right now. I’m focusing my energy on my online membership, building my private studio and getting back into gigs, which doesn’t leave a lot of time or energy for other projects.
At other points in my career I worked as a church organist/music director, classical choral conductor, K-8 general music teacher, early childhood educator and taught a lot of piano lessons to young children. While I enjoyed all of these experiences, I know that I’m not likely
to get back into them again. It was time to let go of the materials I’m not using and pass them on to people that actually need them.
I send offered most of this material up in various Facebook groups for free and people just paid me for shipping. It felt great knowing that all of these great resources would have a new life!
I got rid of:
- a huge pile of classical piano music
- a ton of children’s piano books – I kept only what my son might need for his lessons in the next two years
- an absolute mountain of choral music – SSA, SSAA, SATB, children’s unison material and practice scores
- old rehearsal notes, theory sheets and photocopies of various resources
- a bunch of random stuff
General Family Declutter
I try to do this twice a year just to keep my sanity. I am very distracted by clutter and do much better in a simplified environment. Since we live in a 1000 square foot apartment in New York City, we certainly don’t have as much stuff as people with basements and garages do, but I wanted to take a more deliberate approach to what we own.
My husband and son were very much on board, so we rolled up our sleeves and DUG DEEP. I offered it up on our local Buy Nothing Facebook group and there were over 20 pickups of our old stuff. People were thrilled to get
Here are some of the things we let go of:
- my son gave up a bunch of toys and books he no longer wanted
- clothes that my son had outgrown (all of them LOL)
- clothes that were stained or in terrible condition
- random birthday party junk
- half our library – we got real about what books we would actually read/reread and donated the excess
- housewares we don’t need: two ice cream scoops? 20 placemats?
- I shredded two bags of paper – old bills, etc that we no longer needed
- homeschool resources and materials that we finished or no longer need
The most fun was getting rid of 12 empty storage containers that we no longer need because we got rid of all the stuff!
This project took me about 8 hours total, which I spread out over the course of two days. It was pretty tiring work, but my whole family was THRILLED with the result. Our apartment breathes and it is going to be much easier to clean.
This one I spread out a bit over the summer, whenever I had some free time. Whenever I was bored in the car (as a passenger, obviously), sitting on the patio or hiding in the air conditioning on a hot day, I picked up my iPhone or laptop and got to work.
Here is what I did:
- deleted 5000 emails – I got rid of any emails that were more than three months, keeping a list of contacts or follow ups that I want to do going forward. I saved anything that was relevant for upcoming gigs or speaking engagements and any communication with current students I might want to reference later
- did an app audit – I checked for any subscriptions I no longer wanted, apps I don’t use any more or anything I found distracting. Buh-bye!
- cleaned up my computer desktop – it was REALLY BAD. I cleaned out a ton of old files, backed up a ton of stuff I needed to onto a backup disk and put all of my future ideas into a file called Future Ideas.
- Unsubscribed from newsletters and promotions I was no longer benefiting from. This also helps me to resist every JCrew sale that comes up.
Back to School Doesn’t Have to Be Stressful
Believe me when I tell you that I know this list looks kind of crazy. I TOTALLY GET THAT. The thing is, completing these four save me so much time and stress that it is 100% worth the effort. All in all, I probably got it all done in about 20 hours total, mostly in little fits and starts that I spread over the entire summer.
They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and in this case I wholeheartedly agree. Now that I’ve gotten my home decluttered, my schedule is in order, my goals are set and my routine is being rolled out, then I can rest assured that life will be a lot less stressful.
I hope this article was helpful for you. Make sure to subscribe to my newsletter for more great tips on music and life.
How do you get ready for the new school year?