Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Time Management for Teachers

In Reclaim your time: 20 Great Ways to Find More Free Time, Zen Habits gives this list that I thought was so awesome for my own personal life but I think it really relates to how we can be more effective in our teaching if we find more free time for ourselves too. I have taken the list and put a little education spin to most of the items and hope as the school year is going to begin, that you can use some of these suggestions in order to have a more successful year.

1. “Take a time out.” Sometimes it is so easy to get caught up in our classroom that we forget about real life. We need to make sure we have an outlet for our creativity outside the classroom or we will get burned out.

2. “Find your essentials.” Find out what is really working in your class. Make a list of 4-5 positive things and make sure you focus on them each day.

3. “Find your time-wasters.” Ask yourself if you are wasting too much time giving negative attention to students who don’t deserve the attention. Are you spending too much time gossiping or encouraging negative attitudes when you get with other teachers? Do you spend too much time complaining about things you can not change?

4. “Schedule the time.” It has really helped me if I make a list of all the things that I have to get done that day. Then once I can visualize the tasks, I am able to prioritize them and then mark them off when they are done. Not only do I get more things done this way but I also feel better about myself.

5. “Consolidate.” Sometimes you can see things on your list and notice that someone may have already done something like this already. If so, check with them and ask if you could look at what they have done and adapt it to your needs. Why reinvent the wheel? Sometimes I tell other teachers about a topic or idea I want to introduce in my classroom and usually they are willing to offer suggestions, help, or even some of their own work they have done.

6. “Cut out meetings.” Use email as much as possible. Make a wiki for exchanging ideas. This can be done with colleagues or parents. I contact parents very often so they don’t feel a need to have a face to face meeting which is harder for me to schedule.

7. “Declutter your schedule.” If there are things you are doing that are not essential to what needs to be done, stop doing it. Many times I would make too many unnecessary trips to the library and office instead of consolidating all my errands. This freed up 30 minutes of my time.

8. “Re-think your routine.” Think about when you do things and why you do it. Is this the best time to do them? I used to check my email at the end of the day and found out that it really overwhelmed me. If I checked it at lunch time and at the end of the day, I usually didn’t have so many emails to respond to all at once.

9. “Cut back on email.” I learned to make folders in my email and then make a rule to send emails to different folders. Then I could concentrate on only the important ones first and when I had time, I could check and respond to the others. This rule also sent junk mail to one folder and I didn’t even have to waste time sorting through them.

10. “Learn to say no.” Learn to say no. Sometimes we want to impress others or feel like we can’t say no to our friends. Practice different statements so that you can feel comfortable saying them face to face. Statements that worked for me are: “I would love to help but I’m overextended right now. Maybe next time.” Or “ I have already committed myself to some other projects and I wouldn’t be able to give this my best. I don’t want to let you down so maybe next time.” Or “I’ve already committed to spending my free time with my family and I keep my promises to them so I won’t be able to help you this time. It is really hard to tell your administrator these things but many administrators will respect you more if you stand up for your priorities.

11. “Keep your list to 3.” I have started to make myself write down three goals each day. These are the most important things I want to accomplish this day. By writing them down, I find it easier to keep them in focus and usually accomplish them if at all possible. I would try to find one for each category: what I want my students to do in school today, what I want to do with my teaching today, and what I want to do for myself today.

12. “Do your Biggest Rock first.” If at all possible, pick the task of your “To do” list that you hate the most and get it out of the way. Once you do that, the rest of tasks should be a downhill prospect and be easier to get done. Again, I use my colleagues as a sounding board if necessary so they can support and encourage me if possible. Once I verbalize the task, I feel even more obligated to get it done.

13. “Delegate.” If at all possible, let your students help you. They love to help the teacher, no matter what age they are. Teens feel trusted and worthy if the teacher asks them for help.

14. “Cut out distractions.” Many times I have been deep into work when another teacher has stopped to chat and never want to leave. Even though I want to be a good colleague, I know I have to get this work done and then I begin to feel anxious. I have learned to listen for a few minutes (it won’t hurt to take a few minutes break and it is worth it to keep a good relationship with a colleague) but then explain that you would love to hear more, but can you do it at another time because you have a lot of work to do. They may feel a little embarrassed but it is better than feeling resentful and not getting any work done. I have also learned to lock my door and put a note on the door that you are working on a serious project, please disturb only if absolutely necessary. I don’t use this often so when I do, everyone respects it and lets me get my work done.

15. “Disconnect.” Sometimes you have to physically move yourself away from things that distract you. I have taken my work to a corner of the library where no one expects me to be and I get my work done. I have turned off the overhead lights and moved to a corner of the classroom away from the window on the door so no one can see me.

16. “Make use of your mornings.” Mornings are the best time to plan. Just like going to the doctor’s office, he is usually on schedule early in the day but as things get off schedule, by the end of the day, he is very backed up. Try to plan and prioritize early in the day so that when things get backed up, you won’t feel so anxious.

17. “The Golden Right-after-work Time.” Take time after the school day is over to regroup. A good way to do that is to keep a blog and write your reflections in it while things are still fresh in your mind. Blog about your concerns or your successes during this time.

18. “Your evenings.” Spend evenings doing things for yourself and don’t let your teaching consume your life. This is a good way to get burned out quickly. There is more to life than teaching and after you retire from teaching (yes, it will happen), you will need something in your life to turn to.

19. “Lunch breaks.” Do not work consistently through lunch time. I have a friend who never stops for lunch and uses this time to do class stuff. I think if she used her time more wisely, she would have time for lunch. Not only does your body need nutrition, but your brain needs a break too!

Hope you enjoy your free time! If you have any other suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment with your suggestion!


M-Dawg said...

Great list!

Taking time out for ourselves is somthing we rarely do as educators.

This past school year, I've forced myself to eat my lunch during lunch and not do any school work. It was hard in the beginning since I thought about all the stuff that I could get done in those 30 minutes but my physical and mental health is so much more important.

loonyhiker said...

m-dawg: I actually found that I was more productive when I hadn't eaten lunch then when I worked through it. My thought processes were clearer and I'm in a much better mood.

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Unknown said...

Good that I came across this post. While I was reading, I got some questions and thought I can comment here and get my answers:

1. When you mean "find time wasters" do you suggest any tool for this? I tried a lot of stuffs for myself and for my free lancers, but no tricks helped. Probably, I can try some tools and would be great if you can suggest some.

One tool that my friend suggested is this employee time tracking software(as he had sent me).

2. Do you have any metrics to track or analyze free lancers? I am seriously lacking here.

Hope you would reply...

loonyhiker said...

@Vincent I think there isn't a tool that tells you this. I think it is different for each individual. What might be a time-waster for me might not be one for someone else. As professionals, I think we know which people or things are taking more time than we should spend on them. If you aren't sure, keep a list of all of the things you do each day. Then at the end of the week, evaluate the list and see which things had to be done or if they were just something that used up time but wasn't productive.

Unknown said...

Pat, That sounds like a good idea, but I believe manual tasks list are prone to procrastination. But whether to finish a task or to procrastinate it depends on our mindset too. So, let me try doing this and will let you know the feedback.

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