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, Tips and Tricks

Doing A Better Job in Just 10 Minutes a Day

Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash

The past 21 months (how has it been 21 months?) has completely changed many of our relationships with work. From the great resignation, having to work from home, or being more stressed out at work than ever before we’ve all experienced stressors these past near two years. People magazine has named teachers as “people of the year” along with Simone Biles, Dolly Parton, and Sandra Oh, pretty good company I think? While you may not feel that every teacher you’ve come in contact with has done a remarkable job (and that’s true during “good” years too) I know that many of my colleagues and friends have been working under extreme stress and trying to navigate the new norms and expectations that this situation has brought us.

I know for myself part of the job I love the most is connecting with and mentoring kids was extremely hard during the 2020–2021 school year. Trying to motivate most students was enormously difficult last year and the beginning of this school year brought in a whole host of issues. This year I think many of us, myself included, erroneously thought that students would be so happy to be back in “normal” school that they would just pick up where we left off in March 2020 and all would be well. Clearly that has not been the case — everyone has been changed by the past 21 months and the desire to return to normalcy clouded our vision and judgment for how to proceed. I know I took many missteps the first couple months of school both because of my own personal issues and a desire to “get back to normal” after what has seemed like such a difficult road for those of us in giving professions especially when the ability to build relationships and connections is so overwhelmed by all the “normal” trauma individuals experience coupled with the collective trauma of the pandemic.

I had to realign my expectations and almost start over with myself in November to turn both my attitude and my routines around to have a better year and really work with my students where they’re at instead of where I thought they were; part of that process was by becoming a calmer, more centered, and balanced person both in school and out.

The first two months of school I was almost constantly coming home with a headache and all I wanted to do was take that precious hour or hour and half before I had to pick my daughter up from daycare to watch some not suitable for children TV (currently “Criminal Minds” on Netflix). I was so burnt out from the day and all the mental and emotional energy I was spending to keep it together and be the adult in the room my levels crashed on the lulling ride home and I basically wanted to spend the evening being a vegetable.

And while that was what I needed in the moment, it was not productive or fulfilling and to a certain extent left me feeling worse at the end of the day. I brainstormed ways to change the narrative because functioning as a wife, mom, and teacher requires me to take care of myself first. I know we’ve all heard the airplane oxygen mask analogy (“put yours on first”) but why is it so damn hard to follow that advice? Why is it so difficult, mostly for women, to really set aside time or ways to take care of ourselves so we are centered, calm, and balanced? Even when you KNOW that it works? Even when you SEE that it works? But I slip into old patterns and try to put everyone (or everything AKA cleaning) first, so I end up irritated, short tempered, and miserable.

Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

As part of my brainstorming session, I created an “end of day” ritual for my workday, and I feel like many could benefit from this idea whether you’re working from home and have to shift gears or whether your work day is stressful and you need to not bring that stress home. Maybe you’re a retail worker during this “wonderful” time of the year and people are not necessarily treating you with holiday cheer, maybe you’re a teacher like myself just trying to do a better job, maybe you’re a mom who’s working from home and somehow has to flip a switch and become mom….who knows? I found that having this simple ritual has really helped me both end the day and be ready for tomorrow while also carving out a little mental space for me to a calmer, better, more balanced person. This ritual has really helped lift the weight that I had felt was dragging me down over the past couple of months.

My ritual has three parts:

1. Make my to do list for tomorrow — This is critical for feeling like I can leave work at work. I write down anything I need to do tomorrow so I can forget about it for the rest of the night. If it’s already written down some where my brain doesn’t have to try to remember it. If I don’t do this first the rest of my ritual is lost.

2. I use an aromatic room spray that gives me the olfactory cue that the day is over and time to mentally draw the boundary between work me and home me.

3. I meditate for usually 3–5 minutes. I really can’t last much longer than that but by taking those minutes to slow down and take a few deep breaths it really helps me end the day and transition.

I was incredibly surprised how instituting this small, ten-minute ritual really helped me be a better, less burnt-out person. It kept the stress from getting too overwhelming and ultimately coming home with me for the night. It is allowing me to use the time before I pick up my daughter from daycare in a more fulfilling way and then is also allowing me to be a better, more present parent once I do pick her up. It’s also giving me the ability to stay on top of my to do list at work so I am (usually) not overwhelmed with all my responsibilities.

I look forward to when the last bell rings, the bus change announcements are made and I can shut down my laptop and complete my ritual because it means that the rest of the afternoon and evening has possibilities again instead of just wanting to lounge on the couch and ignore everything else.