It’s 5:30pm, your students left two and a half hours ago. You still haven’t had time to get to the stack of books that need marking because you have been answering emails, replying to phone calls and fixing something in this week’s timetable that had to be moved. You’re exhausted and you realise you have to make a choice; mark the books and miss out on the gym session you planned or leave the books till tomorrow and try to get some ‘you’ time in…

Let’s talk Time Management. 

On a planning day I had with my team we were being instructed to make an assessment plan which was now going to be made mandatory every term for our area. As I copied all my assessments from my programs and pasted them into this perfectly crafted table for the visiting learning support officer, I questioned the purpose of using my precious planning time making this plan. I wondered why we needed a second document with a list of all my assessments when anyone could access them inside my program? I made eyes at my grade partner and I could tell she was thinking the same thing. We could be doing something purposeful, something that really benefits our students not just the career of the learning officer in the room. 

When I questioned the assessment plan to the learning support officer it was clear she had a well-rehearsed answer about the importance of assessments and documentation. I continued by trying to explain that time is precious, especially uninterrupted time. Then before I could offer suggestions on more efficient ways to record our assessments, the learning support officer turned around and explained to the room that teachers these days just need to work smarter and stop working harder. My mouth dropped. Oh no she didn’t! I was so surprised at her uneducated, unempathetic response that I was lost for words. Knowing, in particular, that this learning support officer hadn’t stepped into a classroom for over 15 years. I turned and stared blankly at my computer seething. She simply had no idea.

Now I’m not totally against the term work smarter not harder. I understand. There are certain routines and strategies that allow a person to accomplish more in a working day. I get that. But what really got under my skin was that this simple throw away statement showed she did not understand a usual working day for a teacher. It is easy to say this statement from behind an office desk but for the teacher, your day is face to face with a group of 30 students for approximately 5 hours or more. That’s five hours of your working day doing nothing on your to do list. Then there are the major time robbers such as unexpected parent emails or phonecalls, behaviour issues that need dealing with at or following lunch time, technology breakdowns and sudden changes in timetable, just to name a few.

Sadly, these time robbers are not going to disappear and the workloads of teachers don’t look like they’re going to get better anytime soon. So I have taken the 6 most effective time management strategies for teachers and listed them here for you. So you can do your best at working smarter not harder.

“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have and the only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you”. Carl Sandburg (1878-1967).

Make a Daily Achievable To Do List

 I know every teacher has a long list of ‘to do’s’ closely following them around but there is nothing more disheartening than never reaching the end of your ‘to do’ list. This is why each day you should take time to write a daily sub ‘to do’ list with only 2 to 3 items on the list. Making a sub-list takes out the overwhelming feeling of never reaching your goals. Then before or after school you can find time to try and tick these goals off. 

Prioritise 

Next to the items on your ‘to do’ list make time to prioritise each item. Use a system that makes the most important jobs stand out. Prioritise them with the number 1 or letter A. This way when you quickly reference back to your list and you don’t waste time doing tasks that are not highly prioritised.

Get started on “Overwhelming Tasks”

We all do it. We have that large task that we seem to put off because it seems unreachable or too large to start. Whether it’s rewriting that policy or starting a new program idea from scratch. The research on time management states that to accomplish these goals it is important we chip away at this task periodically but frequently. Use any small piece of time to make little progress on the task and break the task into small manageable chunks.

Learn to say NO!

I understand saying no isn’t always easy for the graduate teacher who wants to be seen as contributing but it is important to say no to tasks that don’t align with your personal priorities. Practise negotiating if you are lumped with a school task that you believe is outside your responsibilities. 

Deal with Emails and Paperwork Efficiently

Handle each email or piece of paper only once. Make folders in your email like you do on your PC desktop. If you can respond immediately do so, then file the email into your folders. Include a folder named, ‘Must Do’. You can move any email that requires more attention to this folder to deal with at a later time. This routine will prevent you from scrolling through lists of mail to recheck what you might have missed.

Turn your Phone on Silent and leave in your Bag

Now I understand that a lot of teachers use their phones in the classroom to take photos of work and send information about a child’s work to their parents using different apps. Phones are absolutely necessary in these circumstances. I’d be hard pressed to find a teacher who can find any time in the classroom to procrastinate on their phones anyway! This rule comes in play after the students have gone home and it is time to hit the ‘to do’ list! Put the phone on silent and out of sight. It can be tempting but that quick check of your phone loses your train of thought and can easily send you into a spiral of scrolling. Allocate yourself a time to relax with your phone in your hand after, where you can enjoy your quiet time guilt free.

“Peter Drucker once said the number one trait of an effective leader is that they do one thing at a time. Today’s technology tools give you great opportunities to do 73 things at a time or at least delude yourself that you are. I see managers who look like 12-year-olds with attention deficit disorder, running around from one thing to t he next, constantly barraged with information, constantly chasing the next shiny thing.” Tom Peters on leading the 21stcentury organisation, Mckinsey Quarterly, September, 2014.

As a teacher these time management behaviours are something to work on. Each day in the classroom is unlike the last and presents many new unplanned challenges. Make yourself a sign next to your desk to help you ask yourself, “What is the best use of my time now?” This can be a continual reminder to stick to these time management strategies and hopefully help you to work smarter not harder. 

Katrina Edser

Founder of Tip the Teacher