Teachers, your time is precious. In the classroom, you’re trying to spin at least a dozen plates at once and somehow remember to eat lunch. So we’ve compiled a list of ways you can get more time back in your day. And since you probably have papers to grade, let’s get right to it!
1. Avoid multitasking.
Leave it to a teacher to try to make copies of the next activity while she’s filling out her class attendance sheet and brainstorming the best way to help Timmy understand negative numbers. Oh, and all of this is happening while she’s scarfing down her lunch.
Teachers are pros at multitasking. They have to be! And it makes sense that doing 17 tasks at once helps you get more done, right?
Surprisingly, research shows the opposite. When you multitask, your brain is working in overdrive. And that leads to higher stress levels, which actually triggers fear and sadness.1 And if you’re multitasking all day long, these negative emotions will continue, taking a toll on your creativity and productivity.
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As a teacher, you make a million decisions in a day. But multitasking can actually work against you, so try focusing on one activity at a time. We aren’t saying you can’t drink your smoothie while organizing the bookshelf. But when it comes to important tasks, give each one your full attention. Try this three-step process to help you be more productive without multitasking:
At the end of each day, make a list of all the tasks you need to get done the next day. It might be a mile long—and that’s okay! Challenge yourself to pick the top three tasks. If nothing else gets done, at least you’ll be able to check those three off your list.
- Set a timer.
When it comes time to working on one of your top three tasks, set a timer for somewhere between 20 and 40 minutes. Pick one task, get out your supplies, put your head down, start the timer, and get to work! Try not to think about anything else. Give this task your full attention and finish it before you move on to the next.
- Avoid interruptions.
The key to making this productivity tip work is to avoid distractions (more on this later!). This will look different depending on if you’re at home or in the classroom, but it works for both. If you’re at home, turn off notifications from your phone and computer, put in your ear buds, and tell your family this is your time to focus. If you’re in the classroom, ask your students to work silently on one task until the timer beeps, and then see how far you got. Take a five-minute break, and then do it again until you’re finished.
You likely want a classroom climate that’s calm and joyful and also lets you get as much done as you possibly can. It might feel counterproductive to do one thing at a time, but you’ll actually save more time in the end. Try it out!
2. Delegate where you can.
You know what they say—you can’t outsource your push-ups. In other words, it’s true there are things that only you can do. And as the teacher, you have a lot of push-ups in your day. No one else can teach your students, plan lessons, meet with parents, or handle student discipline.
But there are likely tons of small tasks you could delegate to someone else throughout your day. Anything that doesn’t demand your full attention can be outsourced to someone who can help.
Do you have a class mom who can help you cut and glue all 23 class projects? What about a student who loves to file papers in everyone’s class mailboxes? Could you ask your classroom aid to quickly make a copy or grade the spelling tests? Or recruit a high school student to run the attendance sheet down to the front office? At home, are there jobs you could outsource, like mowing your lawn or having your groceries delivered?
Asking for help isn’t always easy. But by delegating your work, you’ll have more time in your day to actually spend with your students (your main goal!), and you’ll bring the best version of yourself to the classroom.
3. Stop context switching.
You’re working on a project when suddenly an email notification pops up on your computer, jolting you out of focus. You respond to the email (and two others that are sitting in your inbox) when your phone dings. Sally just posted a new photo of her baby on social media—aww! You comment on the photo and scroll for a couple more minutes. By the time you put your phone down, you can’t even remember what you were working on before. Ever been there?
Context switching happens when you jump back and forth between various tasks, and it actually does the same thing to your brain as multitasking. When you drop a task and shift your focus to something new, your brain takes time to mentally reload and catch up to what it’s supposed to be doing now.
In fact, every time you switch projects, you lose about 20% of your productivity.2 That means if you’re jumping between one task and three other distractions, you’ve lost 80% of your productivity. Wow. Not worth it!
When you’re ready to move back to your original task, your brain will suffer from attention residue. This basically means that whenever you switch contexts, part of your brain is left behind. It’s still processing what it was previously focusing on and is distracted from the task you’re trying to do now.
Phew, that was a lot of science talk! The point is, a minute here and three minutes there doesn’t seem so harmful, but all your tasks will take a lot longer if you’re constantly distracted. To finish your work quicker, start by turning your phone on airplane mode and silencing your computer notifications. You might be surprised by how much more you can accomplish without distractions!
4. Prep your food ahead of time.
Meet the teacher’s new time-saving secret weapon: meal prepping! If you’re not in the habit of planning your meals and prepping your food ahead of time, you’re in for a treat. Sure, it takes more planning on the front end, but it will save you mental stress and hours of cooking during the week. (We know you don’t have time for that!) Plus, it helps you keep your food budget down. Here are some tips for meal prepping:
Make a plan.
Set aside some time on your weekend to think about your meals for the week. Pick two cheap, healthy plates to alternate between for every meal this week. For example, your breakfast options for Monday through Friday might be oatmeal or eggs. Lunch options might be fajitas or a turkey sandwich. You get the picture.
The key here is to start simple. If you’re used to cooking a different dinner every night or ordering takeout on your way home, this might be challenging at first. But stick with us here and choose just two options for each meal.
Write a shopping list.
Now, write out every ingredient you’ll need for each meal. Again, keep it simple! No need to create an elaborate stuffed pepper recipe. Get some ground beef, rice and peppers, and call it good.
Prep your meals.
Once you’ve brought your groceries home, prep as much as you can ahead of time. Peel and cut the veggies, cook the meat, and put your food into storage containers. Cooked food is good for about four days in your fridge, and that should get you through the busiest days of your week.3
Meal prepping will take a few hours of your weekend, but think about the payoff! Before you head to school Monday morning, just grab your pre-made lunch and snacks and hit the road. When you get home from school, dinner will be a breeze because you did the heavy lifting over the weekend. Spend that extra time reading a book for fun or going to sleep early. (Imagine that!)
5. Create a rock-solid classroom management plan.
A class schedule is often dictated by how well and how quickly students follow the plan. So much class time is spent waiting on students to line up, follow directions, or finish their task. Some days, it might feel like you spend hours repeating yourself or waiting for your students to get with the program.
One way to save time in your day is to have a rock-solid classroom management plan in place from the start. And if you didn’t start the year this way, no worries! It’s not too late to implement great classroom management strategies.
Students need structure! If you can create a plan and stick to it, they’ll respect you as the teacher and find freedom within the boundaries of your rules. Here are some examples of time-saving classroom management techniques:
- Team points. Motivate your students with some healthy competition. Together, create a list of ways students can win points for their team. These might include being the first to line up, cleaning up after themselves, grabbing supplies for others, or following directions the first time they’re given. When a student earns a point, silently walk up to the board and add to the tally under their team name. They’ll see that you’re always watching, and that will motivate them to work harder for their team. The team with the most points by Friday gets to pick a prize, and you get to keep your sanity.
- Classroom jobs. This is a great way to delegate small tasks and avoid picking up after your students at the end of the day. Think beyond the typical jobs like calendar organizer and librarian for students. Incorporate classroom chores like washing the whiteboard or recycling extra papers, depending on the grade level you teach. Not only will students feel a sense of responsibility for the classroom, but it will lighten your workload!
- Class rules. Simple enough, right? The thing with class rules is that they’re often set and then forgotten. Try this: Post the class rules somewhere everyone can see them. Then, when your students come back from lunch, gather around the rules and ask your students, "How are we doing with these today?" Give them a chance to share.
- Give Me Five. An oldie but a goodie—for all ages. Whenever the volume of the noise level in your class cranks up a notch or you simply need your students’ attention, don’t try to compete with them. Raising your voice will only cause more chaos. Instead, calmly say, “Give me five!” and raise your hand high up in the air. Then wait. Patiently. It might take several seconds the first few times, but eventually, every student’s hand will go up and they’ll turn their attention toward you. No more wasting time or energy fighting for their attention, and they’ll learn to keep one eye on you throughout their day. Nobody wants to be the last one to raise their hand!
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