Busy teachers know all too well the perils of ineffective time management. For those who think of themselves as characteristically unable to organise and plan, good time management can appear aspirational, like an unscalable mountain whose summit you’ll never reach.
Good time management might seem to be the possession of a select few; an admired and envied quality of teachers who are able to effortlessly keep all their balls in the air while retaining a calm serenity. There are techniques and approaches, however, that even the most reluctant would-be organiser can benefit from, giving you greater organisation, control and calm in your working life.
Let’s start with the essentials. What does effective time management look like in practice? Can anyone acquire these skills? How much effort or skill does good time management take to implement, and what are the real gains to be had?
The art of planning:
Getting started. In order to manage your working day, week or month, you have to invest some time up front into organising your goals and targets. Taking a chunk of time out of your day may seem particularly daunting if you are extremely busy, but it’s an essential part of laying the foundations so you can follow through and meet your objectives.
You have set aside time to plan, the first step is to identify your daily, short and long-term priorities. Next, allocate a fixed amount of time to complete each task. If you are unsure how much time you need for each job, do a trial run where you time yourself over a week and then work out the average, which you can use to schedule tasks going forward.
Be realistic and reasonable in how you organise your time. Factor in time for breaks, tackle one job at a time – attempting to multi-task usually achieves less not more – and pinpoint when you are at your most and least productive, so you can schedule your workload accordingly.
It’s also a good idea to schedule a few minutes of buffer time in your diary around each of your main tasks, so you have time to refocus before moving onto your next job, and to block out time for urgent tasks on a daily basis, so you can deal with the unexpected.
Whether you’re creating a schedule on paper or electronically, you may want to colour code the various tasks into groups, e.g. daily, weekly and so on, so you have a quick visual point of reference.
You have organised your working week, so you know what you have to do and when, the next step is to create an environment that allows you to complete each task as efficiently as possible.
Getting your best work done:
Not many people do their best work surrounded by distractions, so take lengths to minimise as many of these as you can while working. Once at your desk, avoid checking your phone, emails and browsing the web. Keep conversations succinct, and don’t feel embarrassed to tell colleagues you’re busy and you’ll can catch-up with them later.
In the recent article ‘Achieving the illusive work-life balance in teaching’, we drew on ATL’s good advice to stick to the one-hour rule, but regardless of the time you have allocated, the principle is the same. In essence, aim to focus on one task at a time, and stay seated until you’ve completed the task at hand. After completing, take a short break.
The thing about procrastination:
Procrastinating is a wonderful distraction, until you realise you haven’t completed any priority tasks or tackled that pressing deadline head on. What you have instead, perhaps, is a nice pile of organised papers sitting neatly on your desk, a fully stocked stationery drawer or a newly alphabetised filing system.
The ‘Work-life balance in teaching’ article, linked below, explores procrastination in more detail, and suggests ways to overcome the hurdles we create.
Finding your inner organiser
Routine is an essential part of being organised and productive. If you’re used to a more lackadaisical and haphazard approach, you may feel daunted at the prospect of drawing up lists and schedules. If you’re just starting out and questioning whether it’s worth the effort, try to muster every ounce of faux enthusiasm you have to kick start you on the way.
While it may be tempting to simply say that time management isn’t one of your strengths, it’s important to stick with it. To have patience in moments of frustration, and to recognise that in time, the process of organising your working life will become more natural and instinctive, and perhaps one day, you might even consider time management to be a strength.
What are the gains of good time management:
Taking a more proactive approach in organising your time has several benefits. Perhaps the first thing you’ll notice is that being more organised gives you a greater sense of control, which in turn reduces stress levels.
Your productivity will increase, as you work within an improved structure, so you will achieve more of your targets and goals, in short, you will get more done. As you progress with fine tuning your working life, you will also notice that old habits fall by the wayside, such as a propensity towards procrastination.
Finally, when it comes to your life outside of school, relaxing and socialising, you will be free of niggling mind chatter and work preoccupations, making your free time truly relaxing and yours to enjoy.
Useful resources and links
Time management Successfully juggling the demands of teaching:
- Achieving the illusive work-life balance in teaching’ article
- Teacher Support – Top Tips for Time Management
- Time management for teachers – methods and tools designed to help teachers
- Work-life balance toolkit for education professionals – ATL. Includes a work diary sample, procrastination survey, and tips for dealing with stress.
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