As teachers, our life is busy.
It’s not only the kind of busy when you run from one activity to the next activity. It’s the kind of busy where you can’t sleep because your mind is racing.
Whether you are preparing lesson plans for thirty 3rd graders every day, or developing assessments for three different preps and 140 middle school students, or wondering how to move your high school class students into a position to succeed after they graduate — teachers work extremely hard, often to a fault.
In this chaotic world of teaching and learning, we make sacrifices every single day.
Most often they are sleep, energy drain on time with our own families, and mental space that cannot be freed up because it is tied to the work of engaging the kids in front of us all day long.
There Has to Be A Better (Different) Way
As Benjamin Hardy has said —“If you don’t purposefully carve time out every day to progress and improve — without question, your time will get lost in the vacuum of our increasingly crowded lives. Before you know it, you’ll be old and withered — wondering where all that time went.”
This article is about bringing teachers back to the basics each and every day. It is a reminder (and maybe a little kick in the butt) of doing the important things first, and getting to the non-essential each day only if you have enough time.
As teachers, our time is a precious resource, but too often I’ll see my colleagues working 80–90 hours weeks.
I too, fell into this same trap. Whether it was grading essays until 1am in the morning, going to night event after night event, or developing lessons and projects that would challenge and engage my students — I spent years on the brink of burnout.
This is one of the main reasons 40% of teachers leave the profession. We burnout. We lose focus on the “WHY” by working so hard on the “HOW” each and every day.
When I began to build these seven habits into my daily routine, it transformed my teaching, and gave new life into my career that was slowly fading because I had no time left to give to my family and friends — and my students were not getting the best version of me every day.
Here’s seven things you can do every morning before heading off to work that will jumpstart your day and save you hours of time each and every week in your role as a teacher.
1. Prioritize the Night Before (eliminate morning decisions)
Did you ever notice that President Obama always wore the same black or grey suit? I never noticed until reading a study about decision fatigue. Decision fatigue is lack of productivity caused by a growing amount of choices that we make each and every day.
Obama told Vanity Fair: “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
The act of eliminating decisions and choices does not start in the morning of your day. It starts way beforehand. If you wake up and have to decide what to eat, whether or not you are going to exercise, what you might read, and what tasks you may complete — well, you’ll be well on your way to having an unproductive day as a teacher.
“The president’s day actually starts the night before,” Michael Lewis writes in Vanity Fair. “When he awakens at seven, he already has a jump on things.”
Take a cue from the President (and other successful people) who prioritize their tasks and their choices the night before.
List simply how you are going to spend your time the next morning, and prioritize which tasks are more important and urgent. It will leave you with a sense of calm and order as you turn over for a good night’s sleep.
2. Sleep (better)
Speaking of sleep. It is important.
I know, if you are like me, you probably think you can get by on 5–6 hours of sleep a night.
However, all the research proves me (and you) wrong on this one.
In Hardy’s article he mentions all the benefits of sleep proven in study-after-study:
- Increased memory
- Longer life
- Decreased inflammation
- Increased creativity
- Increased attention and focus
- Decreased fat and increased muscle mass with exercise
- Lower stress
- Decreased dependence on stimulants like caffeine
- Decreased risk of getting into accidents
- Decreased risk of depression
- And tons more… google it.
Prioritizing will help you get a jump on sleep, but honestly most people need 7–9 hours per night. You may think you are missing time to do work the night before, but if you follow these steps, you’ll have much more energy and clarity in the morning to get things done, then the night before (when you are literally fighting decision fatigue).
3. Physical Activity
While this is the hardest thing for me to accomplish in the morning, it is one of the most important pieces to the puzzle.
When we exercise and do physical activity it wakens our body, our immune system, and our minds.
It also allows our brains to process on a deeper level the tasks and problems we’ll soon have to solve during the day.
Doing some kind of physical activity has to be a priority for any teacher. We are on stage all day long, working to with students, with colleagues, with administration, with parents. Our energy is tied to our physical well-being, and putting exercise (even taking a brisk walk) as a morning routine will fuel your body and mind for the rest of the day.
4. The Flinch (do what is hard first)
“Behind every flinch is a fear or an anxiety — sometimes rational, sometimes not. Without the fear, there is no flinch. But wiping out the fear isn’t what’s important — facing it is.”
―Julien Smith in The Flinch
Be honest. We put off tasks that are hard, for tasks that are easy. It is why we are so good at writing emails.
Writing an email is easy (well most emails). We are used to it, it doesn’t take a ton of time, and often it is necessary to do it multiple times a day.
However, when I had to grade a stack of 150 essays — my natural inclination was to procrastinate.
Here are some things I did to procrastinate:
- Read and wrote emails
- Read news stories and watched videos online
- Checked social media sites
- Talked/gossiped with friends or colleagues
- And the list goes on
In fact, by not facing the flinch and completing my most difficult tasks first, I often would put off doing ALL tasks.
I somehow convinced myself that I would start with simple tasks and the “snowball effect” would catapult me into being extremely productive.
As a teacher this is not the case. Tackle your most difficult task first, and watch how much time melts away from your weekly workload. If you do this everyday you also start to take away the fears from these tasks, and accomplish more in 30 minutes than what used to take you three hours.
5. Write or Read to Get Out of the Bubble
After completing your hardest task for the day, take some time to reflect and/or learn.
I write 1000 words every morning. But, it didn’t start that way.
I started writing 100 words every morning, then 250, then 500 and it continues to grow.
Do I miss some days? Yep, especially when completing my hardest task takes a lot of time.
However, I always make time to write and/or read to get out of my bubble. We can get stuck in our ways and our beliefs when we are surrounded by the same people, in the same job, doing the same tasks each and every day. Writing and reading gets you out of the bubble and exposed to new, better, and different perspectives.
6. Take Advantage of Your Commute (listen and learn)
Maybe you don’t have enough time in your morning to write or read after doing the first things on the list. I was in this boat when I had a 50 minute commute to work every day in my last job.
I went into this commute thinking it was a waste of time. And for the first couple of months, I was right. It was a waste of time.
Until, I took advantage of the time every day. I began to download podcast episodes and audiobooks. Now my mornings were spent being inspired, uplifted, and informed by interviews and books.
The choice is yours. Whether you have 15 minutes or 50 minutes, how can you take advantage of your commute to listen and learn while in the car or subway.
7. Plan for the Week; Tweak for Each Day
When you get to school, there are a lot of things to do and a lot of distractions. There are friends and colleagues to talk to. There is getting your classroom ready for the day.
You might be preparing a lot of this last minute. I did for years. I’d be making copies, or putting assignments online, or writing objectives on the board, etc.
Then I started to plan each marking period and each week with a colleague. It transformed my teaching life.
At the end of each week we would look at what was on the schedule for the following week and plan out each day. It was as specific as we needed it (given the subject, material, and type of activities) but it always allowed for some tweaks/changes if need be.
When you have your entire week planned out (much like planning out your morning beforehand) it’s easy to hit the ground running when you get into school.
Now, the only thing you’ll have to worry about at the beginning of the day is tweaking your lesson or activity based on how the students did the previous day, or other factors that pop up.
The point here is simple: Fail to plan, and you plan to fail.
How to Do Fewer Things Better
As teachers we have to be incredibly intentional about what we do each day and each hour with our time. Too often we get caught in the forest, spending time on all kinds of things that don’t have a direct impact on our students and take up all of our mental energy.
There is no one in the world better at helping teachers solve this problem than Angela Watson. She created the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club to help teachers around the world shave hours off their workweek, and become purposeful with their time. Thousands have found success over the past two years and now the club is open for enrollment.
If you want to hear more from Angela, she has a fantastic free video training titled, “How to Do Fewer Things Better: Innovate with Intentionality” that you can sign-up for right here.
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