The one essential strategy that will help busy teachers manage their time

15 December 2011


I saw a sign the other day that proudly declared “A good teacher is a busy teacher”  It left me wondering if that statement was written by a teacher…I’m still not sure.  Either way the reality is that a busy teacher is not necessarily an effective teacher.

Busy teachers are not hard to find.  I don’t think there is a teacher on the planet that is wondering what they can do with all their spare time! Between lesson preparation, marking of homework and assignments, discipline follow-up, staff meetings, parent follow-up, playground supervisions, extracurricular activities like school plays and sporting events the one problem that teachers have in common is their struggle to better manage their time.

Despite the:

  • Plethora of strategies on offer (write lists, do what needs to be done before what you want to do, pay now and play later, put the big rocks in then fit in the smaller ones, then the sand then the water etc)
  • Access to technology such as time management programs, to do tasks, iPhone and iPad apps that beep and hold you accountable

We still struggle to maintain a sense of control over our time.

Quite often teachers will ask me what a typical week would be for me.  When I show them my schedule which includes family, teaching, business, training other teachers, the next question always is “How do you manage your time and maintain some sense of a work/life balance?”

It might sound counter intuitive but the answer to a better work-life balance is not to better manage your time but rather better manage your energy.  Let me explain.

When you are feeling energised do you work more efficiently or less? The answer is obviously more. Whist I agree with sorting out your priorities and doing the important before the urgent I have also found that when you are consistently doing the things that must be done (which are usually the things we enjoy least) then your energy and therefore your productivity drops.

I have found personally and working with others busy teachers that the key to a better balance is managing your energy.

I do this in two main ways:

1. Work in 20 minute bursts.

When I have to focus and get a task done that is an energy drainer I work in 20 minute bursts and then take a five minute ‘energy’ break. Rather than spending forty minutes labouring through a task, procrastinating and not giving it my full attention I have found that if I just set myself the task of working for twenty minutes and then reward myself with something fun that I get through tasks much more efficiently.

The fun task can be anything that energises or satisfies you. It could be a walk around the garden, watching YouTube video’s, doing another task that is less important but more enjoyable. After the five minute break I get back to my task for another twenty minutes.

2. Find when and where you work best.

I personally don’t take any work home with me. For me, work is work and home is home. There have been occasions where other teachers have criticised me for not taking work home and questioned my professionalism and work ethic.

For me I work best when I am at work. I would rather come in to school early and leave late; even work through my lunch breaks than take anything home. Of course there are times when I just have to take work with me but I do my best to make this an exception not the rule.  I can get so much more done when I don’t have the distractions of home, so it just makes sense that I would stick to this pattern.

Both of these strategies may or may not work for you; what will work for anyone is the underlying principle that it is better to manage your energy than your time.

What strategies have you found to be helpful in helping you maintain a more balanced schedule?

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