Making the Most of Your Time: 5 Productivity Tips Top Teachers Live By

An hourglass drawn on a sticky note, stuck to a woman's forehead
Staci, a high-school biology teacher, posted a CLOSED sign on the door of her home office. A self-proclaimed “recovering workaholic” who “graded papers all the time,” she decided that she needed to “be kind” to herself and took off every weekend to pursue her passion for photography. Now she and her husband “hop on our motorcycles and are up and out of here early so I can catch the sun just right.”

John, a junior-school history teacher, mentally says goodbye to his classroom at 4:30 and honors his commitment to be home by 5:00 so that he and his “bride” of 37 years can have a glass of wine together as they watch the evening news.

One of the most-often heard complaints of teachers is, I just don’t have time for myself. It’s not enough to dream of “having a life,” as one teacher explained. It’s not even enough to set goals.

The only way to truly have the time to achieve your dreams and build the life you’re meant to build is to manage yourself consciously and realize that how you use your time shows what you really value.

How you use your time shows what you really value, what you would rather do than not do. Rather spend time on the elliptical or eat a chocolate sundae? Rather spend time with your children or give them an iPad to keep them quiet?

It’s the doing — the choosing what is most important — that trips you up more times than not. And that’s where many teachers … well, fail is a strong word.

You carry over today’s to-do list that becomes your written procrastination list for next week’s past-dues. You drag your feet on the things that are important while attending to things that are mostly “nice to do.” You feel guilty about having the same to-dos on your list, day after day, week after week, but you keep on keeping on.

And sometimes you simply take on too much — even when you know better. True?

Jocelyn was the go-to person at her school. Her colleagues knew that whenever anything new came down the pike, she was the person to go to because she always said yes. As a consequence, she became overwhelmed trying to juggle her responsibilities to her classes with the time-drain of special projects. Her modus operandi was to joyfully take on projects and then become “the crazy lady nobody wants to be around.” She claimed, “I just can’t say no,” but when the stress of saying yes started affecting her health, she decided that she could indeed say no. Now she reminds herself when she is working on her hobbies that she would not be doing so if she had continued saying yes. Saying no gave her back her time.

How do you take charge and make the most of your time?

It’s simple: Embrace these five productivity hacks to get more done in less time.

1. Rituals and Habits: Simply put, a ritual or habit is a consistent way of doing something. You have a morning ritual (wake up, brush your teeth, work out, shower, and head to your school), evening ritual (check your children’s homework, tuck the kids in, grade papers, watch the evening news, and hit the sack), weekend ritual (sleep late, mow the lawn, catch a movie, visit your mom, and get materials ready for next week’s classes), etc., etc.

The trouble is, if you’re not careful with your rituals, they can turn into productivity killers! Is checking Facebook or email a part of your morning ritual? Is turning on Skype a part of your ritual?In 2017, the average person spent 135 minutes per day on social media. For the record, over a lifetime, that’s more than five years! Throw in the more than five hours of live television that the average person watches, and it’s no wonder that you don’t have time to get everything done. Distractions such as these can turn even your best intentions into hours of wasted time. What could you do with two to seven additional hours a day?

According to Microsoft, thanks to the digital world, the human attention span, at nine seconds, is a second less than that of a goldfish. Could that be why you say, “I just don’t have enough hours in the day?”

Take a good look at your rituals. What are you doing that you should not be doing — or that should be moved to another part of your day?

Make your rituals more efficient and you’ll automatically get more done.

2. Calendar Management: Want to know how much time you really have available for getting done all the things on your to-do-list? Try blocking off time in your calendar for all your existing projects. Fill in all your classroom time, calls to parents, your administrative tasks, time for meals and breaks, outside appointments, everything else you’re committed to, and of course, time for yourself. What’s left might just shock you.

Marci posted her and her family’s calendar on their refrigerator. She color-coded the family’s activities — black for work, blue for family, purple for church, etc. She said this method kept her from viewing events as “interruptions,” but rather as “appointments.” She found that blocking time for everything from paying bills to meditating gave her the incentive to complete what was important to her.

Make it a habit to block time in your calendar for every commitment, and you’ll never again over-promise or over-commit. By making appointments with yourself, you can see how much time you have, so that you don’t become overbooked.

One teacher told me, “If it’s not on my calendar, I don’t do it.” He believes that “what gets scheduled gets done.” He sets an alarm on his phone to remind him of his appointments.

3. Learn to Let Go: Here’s a news flash: You do not have to do everything yourself. You can (and should) hand off those low-level tasks to someone else. How much is your time worth?Keep your money in circulation. You receive a paycheck for your work, and you, in turn, use some of that money to help others provide a living for their families.

Remember the admonition of Lin Yutang: “Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.”

What is the worst thing that could happen if you didn’t make your bed or put one more load of clothes into the washer or cook all your meals from scratch? The answer is usually “nothing.”

You do what only you can do, and you hire — or delegate — someone to do the rest. You can leave tasks undone. The time you free up in this way will allow you to work on what’s truly important — and what only you can do.

4. Work Hard, Play Harder: You are not a machine. You cannot work all day, every day and hope to be at your best all the time!

Take a day off. Take care of yourself. Get some rest, or relax on a long, slow hike. Take a friend out to lunch. Go shopping with your kids. See a movie or a play. Get a mani-pedi. Do something — anything — other than work.

Not only will you return to your classroom feeling much more refreshed, but you’ll find yourself more creative and productive than before, as well.

5. Focus: Multi-tasking is impossible. You cannot efficiently create a new educational program while you’re simultaneously surfing Facebook; keeping an eye on the kids; answering the phone every time it rings; and listening for the ding of the microwave, signaling that dinner is done.

Instead, use your calendar to block time out for important tasks, then turn everything else off so you can focus. No phone, no Facebook, no kids or spouse or neighbors or pets demanding “just a minute” of your time. Tune everything out, and you’ll find your work getting done much faster.

Patricia, an elementary teacher working on her master’s degree, created a home office in an extra closet. She placed a board on top of two filing cabinets for a desk and painted a folding chair purple, her favorite color. Her family knew that when “Momma is in her office,” no one was to disturb her. When work was over, Patricia folded the chair and closed the door to the closest. It was time to be wife/mother and leave student/teacher for later.

Janice incorporates the Red and Blue Rule in her home: When the door is closed to her home office, she is working on grading or lesson plans, so don’t bother her unless one of the children is bleeding or not breathing and is turning blue.

Managing your time and turning up your productivity is not something that comes naturally to most people, but when you learn to master this skill, maneuver around distractions, schedule priorities, and stay focused, you’ll find your energy level grows and grows and grows.

smiling emoji with open handsJoin the discussion in the comments section today. There are classroom teachers out there who want the insights that only you have to offer.

Smiling emoji with open handsForward this message to someone who needs to Reclaim the Joy of Teaching!


Lynette Relyea thumbnail photoLYNETTE RELYEA
~ The Teacher’s Mentor
~ Speaker
~ Author, Best Selling Book: Reclaim the Joy of Teaching: The 7-Step Guide for Teachers Who Have Lost that Loving Feeling and Want to Fall in Love All Over Again with Teaching

For additional information on making the most of your time, read the chapter, “Take a Break: You Deserve It,” in Lynette Relyea’s book, Reclaim the Joy of Teaching: The 7-Step Guide for Teachers Who Have Lost That Loving Feeling and Want to Fall in Love All Over Again with Teaching.

Link to book – Need opt-in form