First things first. Writing about time management in no way apologises for the outrageous workloads some teachers find themselves trying to juggle. The clear and urgent solution to time management problems in the education profession has to be a reduction in teacher workload and a political commitment to keeping workload at healthy and manageable levels for the foreseeable future.
That said, it is always useful to revisit some tried and trusted time management techniques as reminders of what might assist us when we are time poor and stressed. Ironically, it’s at these times when many of us are least likely to remember what might help most. For example, I have a tin containing suggestions to myself on how to juggle and manage demands when time conflicts occur, but do I look in it when I most need to? Almost never!
Time management can be explored from many angles and it is worth doing so periodically to discover whether there are ways of freeing up more time for life outside work. Some ideas are provided below, not definitive by any means, but food for thought nonetheless…
It’s no coincidence that there’s a tendency for people to manage workload less effectively when demands are coming at them from all angles. Great habits of personal effectiveness can help to guard against the seeming paralysis that can occur at these times. Get these habits entrenched in your daily routines and you just might be able to resist the slide into negative stress and overload. These habits will naturally be different for each one of us so personal knowledge is essential. What works for you? What will help you to do those things habitually so that they serve you well when time is poor?
When time is a pressure and mounting tasks challenge you, there is no option but to prioritise, not only what needs to be done but how much time is spent on each task. Again, be ruthless! Very early in my teaching career a deputy head told me to stop accepting everything the head sent my way. “You have to learn to say”, he warned, “I can do this, but it will mean something else won’t get done. What is your preference?” I have never forgotten that advice.
Very few people are blessed with natural organisation skills. You’ll often find those colleagues that breeze through life without a worry in the world, very often allocate sufficient time in their day to plan their activities and schedule. “To do” lists are just about the best tool for getting organised and reclaiming time. There are many tools out there to help and it’s essential to use a method that suits you or the habit will never be created. Although you can’t go wrong with a piece of paper and pen, have a go with a “to do” list manager such as todoist.com, any.do or Wunderlist (many others exist too!).
This may sound like adding to your workload but there is no doubt that an uncluttered life has obvious benefits. Clear paperwork as soon as it comes your way and don’t allow “piles” to build up. If they do, devote time to clearing them periodically so that your attention isn’t distracted in any way. Be ruthless at work and at home.
While the notion of work/life balance seems unhealthy at best (we are living while at work – “balance” is a far better term), don’t forget to factor in and prioritise that which relaxes and restores. Without that, eventually nothing else will be possible.
The above advice is by no means an exhaustive list of solutions to overcome the work/life challenges teachers and education professionals experience around the country. Our aim was to provide a few ideas for you to take a step back and reflect on how you can use some simple techniques to help make your busy workloads and private lives more manageable. Whatever steps you take, we certainly hope they help you. Sometimes, the best approach is to try and find a new role with a more realistic level of expectation on the output of your available time.
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.