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.

DIY and Organization, Things I Like

Productivity Tools that Really Work (for me)

Photo by Matt Ragland on Unsplash

Disclaimer: This is not an ad. I have not received or been paid by anyone to write this, these are all my own thoughts and opinions based on years of trying to hone my own planner style.

I blame my mother, I am an office product addict. When I was a teen my first real job was in an office supply store. Pens, notebooks, highlighters, sticky notes…I am in heaven. But how do these things coalesce into a functioning system that keeps me (mostly) on track and getting my $*** done? It’s been a long, evolving road but currently I’m going to share the top items or techniques that help me use my stash to be an effective planner.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” 
 ― Abraham Lincoln

  1. Bullet Journal Style — if you’ve been involved in the planner world for any time over the past decade you’ve probably run across bullet journaling or BuJo for short. My first experience with it was the insanely beautiful artistic spreads on instagram but I discovered that bujo was a technique that was designed for minimalist functionality and brain dumping. This is what I need, I am not a visual artist but I need a way to record my to dos, my activities, and somehow get it all done. The core of the bullet journal is rapid logging ideas to get them out of your brain and on paper as fast as possible. This really helps me keep tabs on the important information without losing it or fear I’m going to forget it later because it’s already been cataloged somewhere.
  2. Hero’s Journal — Currently my favorite notebook is The Hero’s Journal, pictured below. It’s a 90 day planner that “turns your goal into a quest.” Each page is structured enough to give you focus on the tasks or information for the day but enough free space to do what you need to. Since my days are all pretty similar (and I get up at 5am) I just use the timeline as a running list through out the day of my rapid logs which consist of appointments, to dos, quotes, or good ideas I have. I’m still working on migrating ideas into collections (a bullet journal thing) but at least I know I have those good ideas down somewhere. I also love that the Hero’s Journal is decorated enough without me needing to be an artist and as a bonus you can color the pages yourself if you want to.
  3. Papermate InkJoy 0.7/0.5 mm black click pen — this has become my go to pen, see above comments about not being so artsy and being a minimalist planner. I love this pen for all my general writing needs, I also love that I can secure it to the Hero’s Journal elastic band and ALWAYS have a pen with me. It writes so smoothly but also it’s a nice fine tip which I feel like gives me more space to work with on those days where I fill my planner up with all the things.
  4. Zebra Mildliners — Another explosion on the planner scene in the past few years and there’s a reason for it: these are highlighters that come in a wide variety of colors and opaqueness. This is the one way I “decorate” my journal; I’ll use these highlighters to color code things by priority when I feel like the world is getting away from me or just as a way to call special attention to something for the day. They add a nice pop of color to my generally black and white spreads while also being super functional and helpful.
  5. Setting an alarm — Every night my alarm goes off at 8:30pm and this is the reminder to sit down and review my day: what got done, what still needs to get done but can wait until tomorrow (or later), what’s on my schedule for tomorrow? Even if I don’t look at the planner during the whole day, this time allows me to review, reflect, and plan to do better tomorrow. After all, planners only work if you actually use them, right?
photo by author

Without these tools right now I probably wouldn’t be keeping it together nearly as well as I am. I didn’t think anything could be as exhausting as the 2020–2021 school year but apparently the beginning of the 2021–2022 year said “hold my beer.” Each day feels like a ping pong game where I am the ball being knocked around; some days are better than others but it’s been a rough couple of months. 

I spend a lot of mental energy being the “adult in the room” at work and when I get home, if I’m not careful, I quickly avoid being the adult in the room except here I really have to be: I have a child to take care of and responsibilities to keep the household running. These tools help me prioritize, direct my energy, reflect, and ultimately keep me moving forward during some really difficult times. These tools also help me to carve out ways to refresh my mental energy (filling my cup or putting spoons back in the drawer if you’re familiar with those phrases) so I can continue being the adult in the room both at work and at home.

These tools rein in my inner teenager, help me do the things I need to, while also making space and planning for the things I want to do. Planning in ways to be selfish, take time for myself, do the things I love ultimately helps me be a better wife, mother, teacher, person than if I am constantly focusing on the “have to do” and not any of the “want to do.”

I found that finding the system that helps me balance out the needs and wants is critical to being a happier and healthier person.