Being an educator, whether you’re a teacher, speech therapist, psychologist or paraprofessional is busy work. The fact is that most of the time, you have more work than you, as a human, could complete in a work week, let alone a work day.
So how in the world can you use time management to make this work load balance with some time for yourself?
Here are some tips for using time management techniques and still get the priorities on your to-do list, to-done.
1. Don’t forget that delegate square!
A classic time management technique is the Eisenhower square. It looks like this:
Most of us are very good at sorting things into urgent and not urgent and even deciding what just can’t get done, but in education we often forget the delegate section.
Now, obviously you can’t delegate an important key responsibility of your job to someone else, but there are certainly things you can delegate if you’re creative enough.
Many things that need to be done in your class can be handled by student jobs. Students taking on responsibility and ownership of the classroom is a great way to build leadership skills and foster a sense of community. More on that in this blog.
Are you a club sponsor? Consider finding an interested teacher to work with you as a co-sponsor. You can cut the work in half and the students have the same great time.
Working on a big new curriculum? So long as you’re not the only person teaching that in your school or district, you can find another educator to collaborate with and again do half of the work.
Or, consider buying (or asking your school to purchase) the curriculum. Sometimes time is more precious than money.
Delegation takes trust and it can be hard to come by that when you’ve been working on your own for a while. However, if you can find a community you trust to help you lighten your load, you’ll be delighted to see how much more time you have to pour your best into the things you are working on.
2. Know what is nice-to-have versus need-to-have
In education, it’s easy to get over-committed. There are so many opportunities to contribute.
Often you are contributing because it will make the environment better for you, your colleagues, your students or your community. What you’re doing is extremely valuable and being big-hearted, it’s easy to say yes to good things.
The problem with that is it can lead to you finding yourself spread extremely thin.
That is why you need to always know what is nice to do or have and what you actually need to do or have.
This comes in two flavors: extrinsic and intrinsic.
Your extrinsic things are those dictated to you by outside forces. These include the hours you work, the things that make up your job and the standards or guidelines you work under. Know these things so you can be sure you are working to the letter of your job.
Your intrinsic things are those you need for your own well-being. These may include things you do because they strengthen your bond with your colleagues or those you do because you know they’re super important to your students. These may be hard to pick between but really think about what things you need to do because it feeds your spirit.
Now that you know what you need to do for them and what you need to do for yourself, it will be much easier to jettison those things that fit neither category.
If you find that you feel you HAVE TO do something that doesn’t fit in either category, that may be toxic expectations you have internalized. For help ridding yourself of them, check out this blog.
3. Batch tasks when you can
There’s really no such thing as multitasking. You can’t swing your full attention between two tasks, no matter how much we may want to. However, there are many tasks that pair well together due to their amount of down time.
Doing your laundry while you clean your bathroom is a good example. The laundry doesn’t need 100% of your attention. You put it in and then it does it’s thing for the most part leaving you free to slot in another activity while you wait for it to do it’s thing.
In a school setting these kinds of opportunities also present themselves.
As a club sponsor you may need to be physically present to “supervise” but in reality the kids are handling the show more or less without you. This is a great time to work on some paperwork, grading, tracking or anything else you need to do.
I found that many professional developments included information that was redundant to me, and that time could be used for my own projects.
Got some long, boring hours of watching kids testing coming up? Perfect batching time.
Batching doesn’t only have to apply to when you can pair two dissimilar tasks together. You can also batch like-tasks.
Writing an email? Instead, mark out a part of your day to respond to all of your emails.
Completing some student paperwork? Complete a few of them at once.
The reason for batching like-tasks is you will likely need the same information sources and therefore already have the necessary info and tools open. No need to login twice or open your folders containing your information twice. You can just take care of everything that uses those things all at once.
Batching tasks can really maximize your time.
4. Treat your own time as non-negotiable
Educators often feel that their time is merely time that hasn’t yet been monopolized by their job. This is not true.
Even though this job is often salaried, you are not in fact on call. You are not being paid to work weekends or evenings (unless you’ve made a specific arrangement). Your time should be your own.
You should not be consistently working past the time you are paid for by an outrageous amount. I know this is tough, because of the high levels of work you experience but it’s super important to your longevity in this career and your personal mental health to have clear boundaries.
If you insist upon doing unpaid work outside of your contract hours, make sure you set specific times for it. This may look like “I will work one hour past my hours everyday” or “I will grade on Saturday mornings from 10am- 2pm”.
This will create a stopping place to make your off work hours more predictable. This will leave you time for yourself to do fun activities with friends and loved ones, or even just have some me-time.
When people ask you to do things outside of these times for work reasons, don’t just accept it. Treat your own time as protectively as you would your work time.
Get comfortable saying “I have plans for that time, when else would work?”. Your plans are: not being at work, doing work and those are super important plans indeed.
5. Embrace new techniques and systems
Let’s get back to the elephant in the room: the amount of work. This is usually the stumbling block for any good educator time management practice. What do you do when you have too much to do in too little time?
The answer is to try something new.
You may have a stack of paperwork or a pile of grading or a backlog of feedback to give. Ask yourself, do I have control over this? Is there any other way I could be doing this?
For grading there are so many changes you could make. You could have fewer graded assignments total. This allows your students to practice free of risk longer and for you to have fewer things to go over in general.
You could adopt fewer problems or questions on assignments to get fewer, more meaningful answers. You could break big assignments into many small tasks and look those over in class. You could have students highlight elements you required so you can see and assess them quickly.
There are thousands of ways to grade, and if your way is killing you, consider a new approach.
Maybe you are buried under paperwork. Understandable, there is an alarming amount of paperwork in education.
Even here there are different approaches. You could send forms ahead of time and save them in labeled files for when you need them. You could be keeping running logs on information you’ll use later (like IEP goals) that is ready to be cut and pasted later.
You could even automate that process by having students keep their own files of work and IEP trials. If you have a group or a class you can make things you need for your paperwork like trials and questionnaires part of your lesson.
All of these things can help you have the information you need when the paperwork comes due.
No matter what’s eating up your time, the way you’re doing it now is not the only way there is. Feel free to make changes and embrace new ideas and techniques.
6. Technology can be your friend
It’s easy to get engrossed in something. It’s easy to forget you need to be somewhere and doing something. It can be even harder if you are neurodivergent.
Luckily we live in a time where there are a lot of tools available to help you with your productivity and time management.
This can be as simple as the timer on your phone or computer. You can use it to make sure you’re not going over the time you allocated for an activity. You can also use a timer or stopwatch to determine how long a task you often do actually takes to make sure you’re scheduling enough time to complete that into your plans.
In addition, your phone can be helpful but having different alarms for different tasks. You can assign them different tones to be able to tell one from another.
There are even more exotic tools you can access to help with your time management. There are virtual planners. There are apps that limit your time spent on social media. Your computer or phone can tell you what you have been spending your screen time on and how much time you spent on each thing.
There are endless productivity apps to help you complete tasks or track the tasks that you need to accomplish.
Looking for a low-tech tool? Sometimes nothing beats an old-school egg timer.
7. Keep a planner and evaluate it frequently
Planners are extremely useful tools. They can both keep you on track and give you a glimpse of your current time usage. Make sure you pick a planner you actually like or feel that you would enjoy using.
Planners can also help you sort the urgent but further out from the urgent but almost upon you.
Whether on paper, on your phone or on your desktop, find a calendar to write down all of the firm commitments you have. I suggest using the same planner for personal and professional engagements. This is because it’s important for you to make sure you’re giving your personal life as much love as your professional one.
Pick a time weekly to review your planner. Make lists based on what’s coming up and when. Decide if you can get rid of some things or move something around if you find you need more time than expected for something.
Remember to ask yourself “is this how I want to be spending my time? Is there anything I can change to have my time better reflect my values?” Try this activity to evaluate how you’re using your time.
One thing that I think is important to track in your planner is how you are spending your planning hour (if you have one). It’s easy for this time to get taken up with nice-to-do items. If you have concrete plans for that time, you may be more willing to tell others no and get your priorities attended to first.
8. Schedule in your self-care
Whether it’s your meditation practice or your yoga or some other form of self-care, remember to write it in.
Scheduling out the things that you plan on doing for your own well-being is a good strategy to actually accomplish them.
If there’s any self-care activity you find yourself consistently not making time for, from meal prep to laundry, schedule a time for it. For even more tips on this, read here
Your schedule is not only for other people, but also for yourself. Make sure you’re placing a consistent emphasis on the things you need to keep going and to be a whole person.
Putting it in your schedule sends you the clear message: I am as important as all of the other things in here and I also deserve my time.
Remember it’s a process
Your time management will always be a journey. You may have times you’re very happy with how it’s going and there may be times when you feel you’re failing spectacularly.
You can always make changes. You can always learn from a choice you made and make different choices in the future.
Be patient with yourself and others. Know that everyone is on a different journey and their frustration with you often has little to do with you at all.
Keep at it, and find the things that work for you. You’ve totally got this!
Wondering where your time goes? Try this free time tracker and reflection: