In a conversation yesterday we were talking about summer schedules versus school year schedules. My client said, it feels like I’m at the mercy of everyone else during the year. I can only teach when the students are available, during their band periods, and the school sets those. Sometimes I have to leave home at 7am, and then I have long annoying breaks during the day that I can’t use effectively. And in the summer I have all this time to sit and think, and practice, and dream, but during the year I don’t have any of that!
We talked about a number of things, one of which was moving her teaching out of the schools and to her home so she could teach on her own terms. And then I said something that seemed to surprise her.
You can choose when you want to work and you can schedule time for yourself just like you schedule time for your students.
In the world of personal finance, people talk about paying yourself first, so the bills and impulse purchases in your life don’t just absorb all of your money. You START by putting your savings and investments in place, you START by putting money toward the things that are important to you, and only THEN do you go to brunch.
In time management, I think the same thing applies. If you don’t consciously pay yourself first – give yourself the time you need in your schedule BEFORE you schedule other people, the other people will expand to fill all of the available space.
I like the concept of a model calendar – and now is exactly the right time to work on one. School hasn’t started (at least where I am), the orchestra season hasn’t started – we may be low on income this month but we are long on time.
Lay out a week grid and imagine how it would look if everything were perfect. You can do this several times, adding layers of reality as you go. But START with the time you need for yourself. For your personal practicing if you are a musician. For your morning routine if that’s a thing. For your health and well-being. Do you have time scheduled in to move your body every day, or to read something uplifting? Do you have time for your meditation practice? Do you have time to be with your partner or with your kids? Do you have time to be alone? Think about what you need to thrive, and make sure it’s there on your calendar.
Let me be clear. This exercise is not about rigidly scheduling your life for the next nine months. You can always make changes, you can make a plan and hold it loosely, you can make exceptions if there’s a gig you really want to take or a student you absolutely must work with. But it IS about building out how you want it to go and then seeing how close you can move your reality to it.
In the case of yesterday’s conversation, we next looked at an ideal teaching schedule. How much teaching do you want? How much can you handle? Do you want one student every day, or just two or three days of teaching per week? How much space between sessions? At home or out?
In your own model calendar, this might look like client slots, or rehearsals or meetings that are within your control to schedule, or reedmaking hours if you’re working on a reed business.
Or this might be the moment where you plug in the things that are already established like your regular work schedule or the classes you have to teach or the times you have to pick up your kids from school. We’re not just dreaming on this model calendar, we are considering how to integrate the reality of life with the choices you need to make to take care of yourself.
Maybe your actual schedule is variable from week to week. If you’re an orchestral freelancer this is a real thing – this week you might have five services an hour away, next week three right in town. It is definitely the case in my life. We are used to being flexible in this way. But having that model calendar enables me to make better choices. If I’m called for work that interferes with my relaxed creative mornings, I can be intentional about changing some lesson times that week to give me more spaciousness, or I can agree to it knowing that I’m making a sacrifice, but insist for myself that I’m holding the next week of mornings sacred.
My own model calendar looks like this. I have all of my mornings free until noon, so I can meditate, work out, write, and practice. I have openings for teaching and coaching clients in the afternoons and evenings Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. My scheduler is set up to give me 30 minutes break between appointments. Tuesdays are mostly free for content creation, and as a rest and catch up day if my weekend was heavy. I make reeds from 8 to 10 most nights, unless I’m performing that week, in which case the reeds slide up and fill in the cracks of the day. Friday through Sunday are free from client work, because very often those days fill in with performances, and I don’t usually have control over those. But I have ENOUGH control to accept no more than three weekends of work in a row.
I share all of this not to tell you how to organize your week – but to offer a model you could tweak for your own purposes. This schedule works for me because I am a morning person. I feel energized and creative in the morning, open and empathic in the afternoons, and dumb by evening. Reeds happen late at night because they don’t require very much from me and I can watch TV while I’m making them. Your ideal week can look very different from mine, and that’s fine. The point is that you get to choose!
If everything on your calendar now is set up for you by others, and if that isn’t working for you, this is an invitation for you to look at that. Where can you take a little more agency than you have now?
I want to see you thrive. Your artistry matters.