DIY and Organization, Life and Health

Being More Productive By Doing Less At Once

Depending on what job you have, the idea of only having 45 minutes (on average) during the course of your day to prepare everything you need to do for the other 6 may sound outlandish.

However, for those of you who aren’t aware, the teacher workday is broken up into a variety of tasks:

  1. Teaching and working with the students
  2. Prepping the work and materials that you’re going to be doing with the children
  3. Duties (hall, study hall, office, etc..)
  4. Fighting with printers/copiers/technology to make #1 and #2 happen
  5. Grading work that has been turned in
  6. Meetings (post-observation, 504/IEP, professional development….)
  7. Emails/communication with other teachers, counselors, parents, etc…
  8. Writing reports and/or lesson plans (which is a separate task from #2 because often the lesson plans for administrators look wildly different than what you’re giving the students)
  9. Bring pertinent information to administrators, counselors, etc…
  10. Other duties as determined by administrators (really this list could keep going but I’m going to cut it off)
Photo by Sonja Langford on Unsplash

For those of you who don’t realize, number 1 takes up 5+ hours of our day and we have to handle the other 9 during the rest of the day. Sometimes they can overlap with number 1 but more often than not we have to squeeze the rest into the other 2 hours of our work day along with lunch, going to the bathroom and sometimes just taking a breath so you don’t lose your mind.

There was a time when I tried to squeeze as many of the other tasks into a single day’s planning period. Most of the time it was because I thought I had to have it all done immediately. What happens when everything is important? Then nothing really is.

Over the course of the pandemic I’ve learned the way I need to balance my prep time is not by trying to do it all at the same time but by dedicating my prep time to very specific tasks.

I realized that there are three main things I usually do during my prep periods over and over again: developing/preparing new material for future lessons, grading, and communicating with others.

When I realized that these are the same tasks I have to focus on repetitively I realized that if I committed my prep periods to the single task then I could stay on top of the workload easier and was more productive because I wasn’t constantly jumping from one task to the next without finishing the first.

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

I actually started writing on my schedule for the year “planning new stuff” or “grading” and now, because I know that prep for the week is dedicated to that task instead of trying to do everything all the time I get more done in a single period than I did before.

I generally alternate the days so if today was a planning new stuff day, tomorrow will be grading and email (I can usually get them both done unless it’s a particularly heavy grading day) and I’ll go back and forth through the week.

Chunking out my time this way has helped me stay on track (mostly) teaching three different classes, one of which is brand new to me this year, without feeling like I’m overwhelmed and underwater with everything. It’s even given me the opportunity to take my lunch and read for fun while I’m eating instead of working through lunch.

By setting guidelines and structure to my work week I’ve been able to get back to a place of normal with my job and not constantly feel like I’m in fight or flight mode while also still handling my responsibilities and carving out some time to breathe.

Life and Health

The First Step to Helping is Listening

“The first step to helping is listening.”

Photo by saeed karimi on Unsplash

In a rare moment of parenting wisdom, I said this to my daughter on our way to participate in a local Martin Luther King, Jr Day of Service and I realized that this was as profound for me as it was for her.

I am routinely one that jumps into action, many times before I know the whole story or all the details. I am a swift “fixer.” I leap whether you’ve asked for my help and advice or not. I tend to start brainstorming answers and then attempt to implement them when they’re usually half-baked and not ready for consumption yet.

I fear stewing in a problem. I want to tackle it and deal with it ASAP. I know my energy is sometimes unappreciated because I just want to DO SOMETHING.

If I’m taking steps, we will at least make progress, if I’m stewing the problem will just grow in my mind.

I am often someone who would rather throw solutions at the wall and see what sticks instead of sitting around and thinking about a problem; I have very rarely in my life suffered from what I call “analysis paralysis”. I have never sat and thought about something for very long so when this statement came out I almost had to shut my mouth because I don’t model this very well.

It almost sounded like I was reading a fortune cookie of parenting but I realized that I need to practice what I preach. I am working more on being an ally (as a verb) this year and one of the things I need to work on during this journey the most is shutting up and not taking up space.

I like to take up ALLLLLLLL the space, I like to do all the talking, and I am recognizing that this might not always be the most helpful especially because I tend to jump on the “let’s get this done!” bandwagon too fast. I like to start trying anything as opposed to waiting to take the perfect step or make the perfect decision. Some of you may envy my inability to stop and think because maybe you wish you were more reckless or you took more actions, or opened your mouth right then and there instead of having the perfect come back at two am but let me tell you, sometimes it definitely bites me in the ass.

While I generally appreciate my “go get it” attitude there are definitely times when I need to shut up and listen. Not only as a cis, hetero, white woman (and a Karen at that) trying to be an ally but also as someone who has interpersonal relationships that often go awry because I open mouth-insert foot more often than I care to admit.

I tend to believe I have all the answers even if they are undeveloped or harebrained schemes; I dig into my own “rightness” so hard that I will follow one of these underdeveloped plans off a cliff because I just have to keep going with it despite all the signs that tell me to stop and turn back (see all the arguments with my partner when I refuse to give up or back down).

But this statement to my daughter, just randomly as we were driving, made me pause and realize that part of my work this year is definitely going to be practicing active listening in all spaces and areas of my life. I also need to not retreat from those areas or spaces because I’m afraid I’ll overstep my bounds; it is not better that I don’t show up, I need to learn to show up but then sit on my hands and potentially cover my mouth, either figuratively or literally, so I can be an active listener and hear what people need from me not just what I want to give them.

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

The survival of humanity on many levels, from the interpersonal to the global, rely on us being willing to stop and listen to each other. 

As Margaret Wheatly says in the poem, “Turning to One Another”:

Know that creative solutions come from new connections.

Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know.

Real listening always brings people closer together.

Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world.

Rely on human goodness. Stay together

Life and Health

5 Lessons From Life…So Far

I will be turning 42 this year and while I might be the answer to “life, the universe, and everything” this year, I definitely don’t have all the answers but I might have some.

Photo by Angèle Kamp on Unsplash

I honestly don’t know what the definition is of “mid-life” anymore since our life spans have steadily charted in the upwards trajectory for the past few centuries but i have come to a place in my life where I have enough time to look back at the past with some fond reminiscing about “in my day” but still enough to look forward to see the future with wonder and possibility (I hope…it’s getting a little dicey out there).

Photo by Fabio Comparelli on Unsplash

In my almost 42 trips around the sun at this point I have come to a few understandings:

  1. “Be yourself, everyone is already taken” but don’t forget about everyone else. Who knows where this quote actually originated from and I think there is some truth to being yourself. We have to be ourselves — so dance to the music in the grocery store or wear the clothes that you were “TOO” whatever to wear when you were younger but in the journey to become the women who wear red hats with purple dresses (or whatever old ladies that have stopped giving a f*** about other people’s opinions do) don’t forget that other people exist and our survival depends on what we can accomplish as a community. No one exists in a vacuum or on an island. I tried to act as if I did for a great many years and sometimes I still fall into those patterns but as my hair has started to change from brown to gray I’ve realized that I need help from other people and they need help from me. We are, after all, in this together.Spend time wisely but waste time just as wisely. Our society generally does not encourage rest. It’s getting better because we’re at least talking about it but the conversations around rest seem highly performative and privileged. We need to talk about what rest really looks like and FEELS like. For me, sitting and binge watching an entire season of something in a night or two may look like rest but at the end of the day it doesn’t actually feel restful. Rest is not just supposed to be escapism or numbing; it is supposed to be an activity that feels good. After two episodes in a row or mindless doom scrolling I can start to feel the difference in my body and mind when I tip the scales from rest to numbing. Find what that feels like in your body and notice what rest feels fulfilling and rejuvenating and what just feels like wasting time. For me, nourishing rest looks like writing, reading, and walking in nature — after those activities I feel refreshed and ready to go back to the “real world”.Move — your body will thank you for it. Start somewhere no matter how small. Our bodies were designed to move. We survived because we could hunt and run during the heat of the day when other animals were resting. Doesn’t matter if you can only do 5 minutes — start somewhere and keep it up. I am starting to feel my warranty running out and I am cursing my younger self who didn’t find a way to stick with any of my activities. I am starting to feel the aches and pains in some joints from a body that has carried too much weight and not been utilized properly. I’m trying to roll that clock back a little bit and I’m making progress but if I had just developed habits and routines instead of berating myself I would be in a much better place now.Keep exploring and gaining knowledge. In this day and age we have information at our fingertips through the internet, podcasts, books/audiobooks, magazines, apps, etc…. Take some time every day/week/month to step outside your comfort zone and learn something. In this global world our focus can be so small (see number one). By taking some time to read news from another country (I like BBC or Al Jezeera) or listening to podcasts about all the things you didn’t pay attention to in high school (don’t worry, I didn’t either!) this wide, beautiful, wonderful, and oftentimes difficult world is open to us. And we should experience it.And don’t worry about the mess — you’ll always make another one.

As I round out this trip around the sun I still have time to “live deliberately” because I know that, for better or for worse, I am on the other side of the hill at this point. 

I am starting to see the end of this tunnel called life and when I’m done I want to live a life that makes my daughter proud.

Here’s to the next leg of this journey!

DIY and Organization, Tips and Tricks

Six Steps to Better Time Management in 2023

Here we are again in that mythical time of new years resolutions, one word promises, and other ways that we plan to do and be better in the new year. New year’s resolutions are promises we make to ourselves when we can see our potential and we’re hoping to live up to it. The problem with resolutions is we always have the best intentions but the follow through is difficult for most of us.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

I recently discovered an easy way to track your resolutions or goals which can be easily adapted to your professional or personal life. 

I stumbled across a video by creator Matt Ragland about his “ten block” method but realized that I don’t really need to organize or worry about my work life so much. My work life as a teacher is pretty structured already and I’m good about using my time wisely because there’s only so much of it to go around but I have found this method to be incredibly useful in tracking the things I want to do in my personal life instead of the usual habit trackers.

Step 1: I figured out roughly how much available time I have in a week:

Total hours in a week: 168

Total hours spent commuting at at work: 45

Total hours doing errands, meals, kids activities, meetings (high average): 15

Total hours sleeping (I’m a sleep zealot and work really hard on getting my sleep): 63

Hours left over: 168 — (45+15+63) = 45 hours

When I did this calculation, I was shocked to find out that I had 45 hours a week to do what I wanted to do, not just what I needed to do. That was an eye opener to me because, like most people, I’m usually complaining about the fact that there isn’t enough time. 

However, seeing it in black and white, there really IS enough time, I am just squandering it with doom scrolling and TV watching. 

After I processed my feelings of “wasted” time, I decided to get to work on making it not wasted. 

I’ve been on the bullet journal train consistently now for about a year and it’s the only planner style I haven’t given up on yet because it morphs into whatever you need when you need it which I have found incredibly helpful. I will say, I generally stay away from social media or videos about bullet journals unless I use the word “minimalist” because the bujo world is CRAZY and some people get really artistic with them but that is not me — I am a minimalist — give me the basics and the simpler the better.

This is what hit me about Matt’s ten block method — it was a super simple time tracker that let you see how much time you were spending on different activities and if you were using too much time in the wrong areas. You can use this simple method as a way to track how much time you spend doing things you don’t want to (i.e. doom scrolling) or things you do want to be doing (i.e exercise). 

As we enter into 2023 — I wanted to share this with anyone who might find it helpful:

Step 2: Set up a four hour strip — for me in my bullet journal it works out to sixteen dots on the dot grid paper and four for each hour.

Step 3: Draw this four hour strip as many times as you want or need to. Matt originally suggests ten times for a total of forty hours but I generally use six to eight strips (twenty-four to thirty-two hours) depending on what my focus is during that week. And since I’m using this in my personal life I figured I don’t need to be productive for the full 45 hours I have available, because sometimes we need to “waste” time and be restful.

Step 4: Separate the strips into one hour increments. I do this by using four dots for each hour.

Step 5: Then label each strip with what you’re tracking (i.e. meetings, exercise, reading, etc…)

Step 6: Shade time in the strip every time you spend time on that activity:

photo by author

I have found this really helpful in keeping me on track and focusing on my priorities in a gentle and open way as opposed to being so rigid I end up giving up. I have found that I need a nice balance of routine and flexibility and this ten block method helps me with that. As you can see in the picture, I don’t always (very rarely) meet my goals or get even close to them but it at least is a way for me to see how I’m spending my time and where I can improve.

I hope you take whatever you need into 2023 and work towards the life you want to have — no matter what that looks like to anyone else!