Very few of us are just a dancer or just a dance teacher, we are usually trying to juggle many different roles at the same time and it can be challenging. When I owned my studio I was constantly switching between studio owner, teacher, choreographer, office manager, grant writer, artistic director to name a few. It can be draining, confusing and sometimes, less than productive.
Numerous studies have been showing how ineffective multi tasking is and while technology helps us to accomplish more in less times (when it works as it should), it also provides us with multiple distractions that suck away more time than we often realize. While there are great classes available on teaching, running a studio, managing a business, etc - very few deal with bouncing between all of these roles at the same time. The information that follows is a collections of tips, suggestions and tricks that I've been exposed to over the past 30 years in the business. Not all of these have worked for me, but everyone's working styles are different, so I am including them all and you can pick and choose the best ideas for your style.
Map out your time restrictions
Take the time to come up with day by day, weekly, monthly and per season answers since this industry is often very different from one time of the year to the next.
If you have come up with the daily, weekly, monthly, per season answers from above, you will need to create a triage list for each of those.
Plan Your Attack
Look at your larger timeline lists (season and monthly) and see where you have too much on your plate
Make those adjustments to your list and re-evaluate your time needs and the triage order if needed.
Compartmentalize vs Multitask
Think of each role that you are filling as a separate job. If it helps to divide it up, think of each job requiring a separate outfit (or costume change if you will).
Look at Solutions that Already Exist
While our industry is unique in many ways, it's really not in others. One parallel to look at is the college professor. They are required to be in the classroom with students, mentor students outside of the classroom, they have administrative duties and work on fairly seasonal schedules. One of the best suggestions from this arena is the idea of set office hours.
Define your office hours and make them publicly known. Schedule meetings and phone calls with parents, students, vendors, teachers within these hours. They will not be convenient for everyone, just as service professionals you use do not always have hours that are convenient for you, but if something is needed badly enough, people adjust their schedules. You will never make everyone happy, so just stop working like this is a possibility.
Another benefit of office hours is it separates you the teacher / choreographer / AD from you the office manager / administrator / studio owner. When you leave the classroom and enter the office, you've changed your clothes. Don't be afraid to change your mindset, expectations and demeanor (if needed). One of the biggest challenges for me was to go from the teaching mentality of wanting everyone to have every opportunity to be the best dancer they could be to the reality of having collect back tuition. Remember that without the infrastructure that is paid for with tuition, you aren't going to be able to teach anything to anyone because you will be out of business.
Set a specific time to return emails, it might be 2 am on alternating days, but set it and see what kind of time you save by not getting new email notifications interrupting your tasks every 15 minutes. It will take a little bit of an adjustment to realize that the world will not stop spinning if you don't check and answer each email as it comes in, but it does help in the long run. If you feel rude not answering right away, have an auto response that goes out and tells people that thanks them for their contact and informs them that you answer your emails daily between x and y and they can expect a response back by z.
Block chat, messenger, personal social media sites and games during working hours. Just because we aren't in a cubicle, doesn't mean we aren't at work. Treat your teaching, office work, studio ownership, like the career it is, not like the hobby it often pays like. If you don't think, act and project that this path is your career, you cannot fault others for treating it otherwise. Look at other service industries and look for ideas that you would be comfortable applying to your situation. One good place to start is a business page on the social media outlets that you use personally. Remove students and their parents from your personal pages and transition them to the business pages. Use these outlets to save you time by making announcements, promotions, general information more available quickly. Use a service like Hootsuite to manage multiple platforms from one place.
Install a program like RescueTime on your laptop, desktop and mobile devices to see how much time you really spend doing what. If you can't quit the time sucking activities on your own, consider blocking the sites that are the biggest offenders during your "work day" hours.
Sometimes Multi Tasking is Okay
Specifically when one of the tasks being done doesn't really require your attention to be happening.
Prepare and Pre Plan
The more you can prepare things in advance and be clear and concise with information, the better the chance of your success. Sometimes this is hard in the beginning of a business because you aren't really sure where things are going to go, but as you have been in business longer, you will start to see trends that you can plan around.
Publish as much of your schedule for the season as you can at the beginning of year. Create a one page calendar of important dates (I used to make a full sheet sticker of it and put it on the cover of the information folder that went home). List the first day of class, all days off, any known performances, any known special events, recital or concert dates, last day of classes.
Publish your office hours and contact information. Only provide contact information that you want people to use, so if you prefer email contact, don't list a cell number.
Create a student handbook. List all of the rules and policies of your school clearly. List the penalties for not following the rules. Don't include a rule that you are not willing to enforce. If needed, give it the favorite student test….would I extend this penalty to my favorite student for this infraction, if the answer is no - don't include it. Consistency is the only way you will send the message that you are running a business and that this particular rule is important enough to your values etc.
Enforce the policies you put out, be it to staff or students. If you aren't willing to enforce it, there is no point in bringing it up.
Create a staff handbook or policy statement and have it signed when they sign their contracts for the season.
If you have things that you need seasonally, store the extras in a labeled bin for easy access when you need it.
Create templates for your newsletters, emails, announcements, programs etc to make updating and duplicating easier.
Recognize that people have to make choices. We get lots of people who have their dancers involved in many other activities and expect us to schedule around them. This isn't practical or possible. Your schedule was created for practical reasons that take into account - staff availability, students' ages, avoidance of overtraining, studio availability etc. It's a shame, but sometimes Susie's ballet class might conflict with her pre scheduled mani pedi appointments, at that time Susie and parents will have to make a choice about where Susie will be then. Yes it stinks to have to make choices when you want both things, but it is a fact of life and again - you can't please everybody. (Yes, I am one of those people who tried to please everyone for the first 5 years of my studio. Things ran much smoother when it finally sunk in that it will never happen so I just decided to run the best business I could with the resources available to me).
Practice saying No. It's not enough to just get the word out, you have to believe yourself when you say it and have enough conviction that people stop asking for whatever it is that you can't help them with. There are only so many 6 pm slots on a Tuesday night, not everyone who wants their class held at that time is going to get a spot. Be polite, be considerate, let people vent it all out without interrupting them, and then be able to say "That isn't an option, but we have the following options that might work well for Sally, which would you prefer to try"….the letting them vent it all out without jumping in is the hard part - think of cute little bunnies, puppies or kittens and remember to breathe.
In the long run, remember that this is your career. You chose it for a reason - be true to yourself and your reason and make the best choices you can. Reach out for help and support with peers, other business owners and friends / family. No matter which hats you wear, you eventually have to take them off and be happy with the person in the hat.