10 tips for bigger, better productivity
A teacher’s work is never complete: New lessons, students, semesters, years, and subjects continually roll along unphased by how busy you already are. Feeling overwhelmed? Here we share 10 tips to reclaim time and energy by cultivating good time management practices outside the classroom.
1. Hack your to-do list
Guys, “regular” to-do lists just have a tendency to get longer and longer! Instead of keeping a running list, try identifying a daily maximum of five (essential) tasks and ditch others. At the end of the day carry over the most important task. Alternatively, categorize your to-do list into sub-lists such as “planning”, “reach out”, and “don’t forget” and work to keep each below five items. Another technique is the Eisenhower Decision Index, where tasks are categorized as “important and urgent” (do today), “important but not urgent” (schedule), “not important but urgent” (delegate), and “not important or urgent” (don’t do).
2. Identify similar tasks
Get into the habit of completing like tasks together. Photocopy for the week at once so your handouts are pre-prepared, and set time aside to respond to emails, make phone calls, or research for lessons in batches. You’ll be amazed by how much more efficiently you work!
3. Schedule planning time
Look at your week and block off regular time periods to complete tasks; think 90 minutes each afternoon post-class, or a longer period once a week.
Tip: As you do this, push away guilty feelings about your free time. Time for exercise, friends, and family (at the gym, a set coffee date, or a regular family lunch) is important, and therefore “unavailable” for planning.
4. Say “no”
Viewing your week in this way may make you feel that there isn’t enough time. However, a closer look shows where time leaks through the cracks. Certain tasks take up precious time without our noticing it: think extra long meetings, email, browsing the internet for teaching resources, creating involved decorations for your classroom, and volunteer activities in and outside of school. While it might seen uncomfortable at first, learning to say “no” where possible will free up time for other, more important work.
5. Separate high/low involvement tasks
For teachers, high involvement tasks include lesson planning and preparation for parent-teacher conferences, while low involvement work may be photocopying and email. The trick is to tackle difficult or taxing work when you feel most energetic (perhaps first thing in the work day) versus simpler tasks (maybe after lunch or while the staffroom is busy with chatter).
6. Know yourself
A major block to effective productivity is trying to blindly replicate what works for others. An example of this is the tempting world of apps. While there are certainly apps “for everything”, that’s not to say that each of us needs them! If you prefer pen and paper, go for it. Though if you find value in apps and technology, that’s great too.
7. Use offline tools
Several offline tools and techniques are cited by productivity gurus to keep our tasks and energy in check. A Kanban board involves writing individual tasks on sticky notes and showing their current status by moving them through columns labeled (for example) “To do”, “Doing”, and “Done”. The Pomodoro Technique (based on the idea that the brain becomes distracted if we force it to work too long without a break) champions the benefits of working for short bursts of time followed by a mini break. Bullet Journalling is a note-taking technique that helps carry to-do lists over from day to day, with a series of symbols that show each task’s status.
8. OHIO your email
OHIO (Only Handle It Once) banishes the dreaded “I’ll get back to you” email, and challenges you to reply straight away. The idea? Putting off a quick question or request for a document or information dramatically increases the time your spend on that task—and even encourages you to forget about it entirely.
9. Keep yourself on track
Don’t sit down at the computer without a plan, and make sure you stay on track for the time you’re there. Prone to getting lost on social media? Install site blockers and reguarly check back with yourself to see if you’re still on task.
10. Find pockets of time for yourself
It can be hard to remember, but giving back to yourself energizes and motivates. You don’t have to spend a lot of time or money. Even 15 minutes reading (instead of browsing Netflix!), a coffee with a friend, tending to a balcony herb garden, or catching an occasional mid-week movie can recharge your batteries.
Getting on top of your time and to-do list requires a bit of forward-thinking, but reaps plenty of rewards. Here’s to feeling more organized, energized, and motivated during the semester!