Do you have boundaries when it comes to using your personal time for teaching related activities? Do you have a hard time saying no? Do you always find people add to your to-do list because you’re just so darn good at everything? Are you struggling with time management? Need a boost to your productivity?
This was us, but we managed to start carving out time by doing a few simple things. We reclaimed our personal lives to spend the time we wanted to spend on our life priorities. You can learn to do this, too.
Reclaiming your personal time will take some work and a shift in your mindset. Think about what you really want to be spending your time doing. Do more of those things by doing less of the things you don’t enjoy.
Of course you aren’t going to be able to get rid of some of the things teachers do-like report cards-because that is just part of the job. That being said, you might be wasting precious moments because you are not using your time in the most efficient and productive way.
Here are some common mistakes we were making and how we fixed them.
You are assessing students too much.
Why do we feel like we need to mark or grade every single thing students do? Observations and conversations are just as valuable as all those pieces of paper. As your students are working, walk around the room and watch over their little shoulders to see if they are getting it or not. Record the names of students who are struggling or have been making mistakes. Mark just those papers. Record the ones in your grade book who already have it and your free time will free up.
You don’t need to “mark” multiple items for the same outcome. Once you know students have got it, don’t assess those students any further. Focus on the ones that still need help mastering a skill and assess those students up until the last moment through observing and watching as they work.
These are the students you spend more time working with. Let the ones who’ve got it move on to new activities.
You are spending all your time giving it to other people.
Social Media: Yes, the irony is clear to us. The ninjas have been spending FAR too much time looking at other people’s classrooms instead of getting stuff done. When it’s time to work, set your devices to “Do Not Disturb.”
If you are working on a school computer, chances are you need the Internet in order to work, but use some self-discipline to stay on task.
If you are addicted to your Instagram account (or if you need to read our latest “Overheard in my Classroom”) then try to do this scrolling during your wait time. That’s the time you spend waiting in line at the grocery store, waiting at a doctor’s office, or any other moment of the day when you find yourself waiting for something).
Use the screen time limits on most phones now to keep you in check. Figure out how much time you want to dedicate to social media and then try to stick to it.
Does anyone remember how much we used to get done before social media?
You’re starting projects too early.
Too Much Time Ahead of Time: If you’re taking four weeks to write your report cards, you’re doing it wrong. We’ve learned that you will always get them done even if you start the night before they are due (which we DO NOT RECOMMEND). So, figure out how much time you actually need by starting closer to the deadlines. You’re a professional and you’ll get it done.
There is actually something called Parkinson’s Law that claims a job will fill up the amount of time you give it. So, if you give yourself four weeks to write report cards, it will take four weeks. If you give yourself five hours over two days, that is how long it will take you (assuming you are staying on task).
So, think realistically about the amount of time you need for your report cards based on your past experiences (or ask others how long they take) and then give yourself a little cushion. That’s how long you’ll take.
This applies to everything you do, so be realistic about how much time you actually need.
Also, when you’re done-you’re done. Don’t keep fiddling with a project if you have time leftover. Use that time toward something else that needs your attention or for one of your priorities in life (like going for a walk or having a mindful moment).
Your perfectionism is causing procrastination.
Perfection is Overrated: No one is going to give you an award for a perfect classroom. Kids just want a happy teacher, so if a perfect classroom makes you happy-go for it. If it stresses you out-let it go. No one is judging you if your classroom isn’t Pinterest perfect or if it is.
Often, we put off doing something because we’re worried about it not being perfect. We’re working on letting that go. In fact, if you’ve been on our email lists since the beginning, you’ve witnessed that imperfection evolving).
Don’t worry about perfect. You are the only one who notices. Be happy with your best. Put it out into the world and then use the experience to learn and move forward.
Wow-that sounded way to philosophical. 🙂
People are slowing you down.
Avoid Staff: It’s sounds crazy, but it’s true. Designate times for you to be social with your coworkers like lunch or after school, but otherwise close that door and get stuff done. Keep your door closed during work times. Hang a “Meeting in Progress” sign on your door before when you want to be left alone. It works like a charm. If that doesn’t work, just explain that you have a deadline and don’t want to take it home because you want to have snuggle time with your (insert your choice of cat, baby, dog, husband, girlfriend, mother-in-law or wine).
Find the people that work the way you do. Those are your people. They are the ones who understand how you want to use your time.
Collaboration is only working if everyone is working. While it’s great to collaborate, if you’re doing all the work, that’s not truly collaborating. Build relationships with staff members that are give and take. Avoid the staff members that poo-poo your ideas (yes, that’s the technical term) or make things so complicated that it just makes more work. Keep things simple.
To be honest, sometimes it’s just easier to share something you made or give them the link you found on the internet.
You’re repeating yourself.
One and done: Stop doing things more than once.
For example, if you open an email and read it-respond right away or delete it. Do not leave it read in your inbox so that you’ll have to come back and read it is again before taking care of it.
If there’s an email that needs your attention at a later date and you use Google Gmail, there is a built-in task manager. Just click on the three dots on the top of the email and select “Add to Tasks.” This will add a task window on the bottom right of your email screen. Return to these tasks once a day or so to clear them out and take care of them-ONCE.
If you are tidying papers, deal with them one time by having a place prepared before you start collecting things. This way those papers don’t pile up and need to be sorted and stacked and moved multiple times.
Have you ever bought a book or resource more than once because you forgot you owned it? This might be a true story, but one of the ninjas owns three copies of the same Alberta history resource-and they’re all the same edition because each fall someone couldn’t find it.
If you have so much stuff you don’t know you have it, you have too much stuff. Organize the paper by making it digital by scanning it or using an app like Scannable from Evernote. Rename all the files clearly with the subject and topic. Create folders and organize everything as you get it.
When your paper files become digital, you gain the ability to search your computer by the name of the topic or file you created. It saves SO much time. You can then print the pages you need from your computer.
Isn’t that faster than finding the book, walking to the copier, standing in line for the copier, filling the paper up in the copier, unjamming the copier, adding toner to the copier, printing your copies and walking back to your classroom?
Looking for some more ways to Clean the Clutter? Check out this blog post.
Instead of grouping children, group tasks.
Batching is beautiful: Batching is the scientific word for doing the same task at once. It saves time because you get all the materials for the task out just once. It saves time because you don’t have to spend valuable minutes getting ready for the task and then putting things away.
It keeps you organized. The materials you need for a specific task are only out and in the way during that task. This speaks to all of us teachers whose desk becomes the dumping ground for the masking tape, math worksheets, books, rulers and everything else you didn’t quite finish so you dumped it on your desk until the next time you can get to it. Batching forces you to have these things placed where they belong before you start.
Batching gets you in the right mindset for the task and therefore get more done during that time. You improve your productivity.
Things that can be batched in the teaching world:
- marking the same assignment or all of your marking at once.
- planning for a subject, week, or month
- prepping school lunches
- picking out your wardrobe for the week
- writing reports
- prepping stations/centers or project materials
- parent communication
- lesson assembly/planning or creation of things like tests
- organizing materials for the next time you’ll need it (like sorting materials and getting ready for the next school year)
Don’t just leave the mess
Before you leave: Take a few moments to tidy your desk. Place the items you want to address first thing in the morning on your desk and put the rest away. Taking a few minutes to do this at the end of your work day means you’ll come into work the next morning not having to start your day dealing with it. You can get right down to the task you’ve left.
Teaching is a job that will take all your time if you let it. To be your best for your students, you have to get the work done at work whenever possible so you can balance out your life. What are your biggest time suckers? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll do some research to help get the most out of your time.