Teachers are overworked. It’s an open secret in our industry, and one that unions are constantly trying to fight against.
I’ve been quite fortunate in that my school has supported me quite well in managing workload. Instead of being drained all the time, I tend to find that my workload ebbs and flows. Some days I am able to leave the building at half three, and on others I might have to dedicate a few extra hours to getting my marking done.
That doesn’t mean that I can’t – or shouldn’t – employ techniques to manage my time even better. I’ve learned a lot over this past year of teaching, but there has been no lesson so valuable as the lessons learned in time management. These are my top tips:
Set a cut-off time
We have such long to-do lists that it can be so tempting to work for 12 hours a day just to get it all done.
That’s not to say that you should.
Tell yourself when you are going to be done by – at the latest – every day. If something doesn’t get done, then it doesn’t get done. Leave it alone and stop working for the day.
Your mental well-being will thank you.
Don’t set a cut-off time
On the other hand, be careful with setting time slots. If you give yourself an hour to plan a lesson, and the amount of work is actually more like a half hour job, you will find that you may work more than you should just to fill the time.
This is called Parkinson’s Law, and it is an incredibly unproductive use of your time. To combat this, write out a to-do list (preferably in a Bullet Journal) and set yourself small goals to accomplish. Use small time goals if you must – such as ‘I will have this resource finished in 10 minutes’. You’ll find that you’ll be a lot more efficient with your working days.
Get there and go at the same time each day
Look, some days it will be impossible to leave at half three. Meetings can throw you off your schedule really easily, and you might want to stay until 6 one day to get that marking pile finished off.
But, as far as you can, if you want to leave at half three, then leave at half three. Or five o’clock. Or four fifteen. Whenever you want to be getting home each day, try your very best to stick to your schedule. Your life shouldn’t all be about work; we need to make time for ourselves, too. By setting an arrival and departure time, you’ll be doing your very best to maintain that ever-important work-life balance.
Work where you’re the most productive
Do you design lessons and mark work better in your teaching room or when working from home? Personally, I love working from home where possible. I can use my productive desk setup and sit in an incredibly comfortable chair – with coffee on tap – to get things done without distractions. It’s great for working on tasks that might require a little deeper thinking.
Other times I do find it really beneficial to do my work while in school. Sometimes it’s useful bouncing ideas off colleagues – or to catch up with them over a hot drink in the staff room.
The point is: you need to decide where you work best. This may be through trial and error, especially if you’re starting out as an ECT (did you read my top tips for ECTs this year?), but try working in a variety of different places to see where you will work best. As much as you can, try to work there. What’s the point in setting up at a desk that won’t be maximising your productivity?
Use Forest to focus
When you are working in a moment of PPA or outside of teaching time, make sure that it’s deep work. One of the more effective ways of getting into a flow state, and focusing, is by removing as many distractions as you can.
To do this, I use the app Forest. It means that I can grow a virtual garden if I don’t use my phone for the entire time allotted to working. I combine this with the pomodoro method – working for 25 minutes and having a five minute break – and find that it’s a really effective way to attain deep focus.
What are your top time management techniques? I’m always looking for more as a teacher!