Where does all the time go? There’s never enough of the stuff.
As teachers, we’re master plate-spinners, but the better we get, the more plates they throw in our direction.
Sometimes it feels that the only way to get everything done is to camp out in school and not go home until the end of term.
But that way burnout lies.
Here are ten tried and tested ways to save time.
1 Don’t waste time with multitasking
Multitasking is a myth. Studies show that you can’t do two things at once. You’re simply losing time switching from one task to another.
Tim Ferriss writes in The 4 Hour Week, “If you prioritize properly, there is no need to multitask. It is a symptom of ‘task creep’ – doing more to feel productive while actually accomplishing less. … Divided attention will result in more frequent interruptions, lapses and concentration, poorer net results, and less gratification.”
2 Tackle email in batches
You don’t have to answer emails straight away.
Manage colleagues’, parents’ and – now! – pupils’ expectations by not being at their beck and call 24/7.
Does an email seem too hot to handle? If someone writes to you in the heat of anger, don’t reply in the same vein. Let the dust settle. Lost property, misunderstood homework, requests for information about something that’s easily findable on the school website, or quick enquiries round the class – many issues solve themselves.
Ringfence time for email and other admin. It takes time to build momentum with such tasks, but once you’ve done so, you can make light of them.
3 The 2-minute rule for emails
If you can reply quickly, then do so. Save headspace. The Zeigarnik effect means we forget and move on from completed tasks.
If it requires more thought, then leave it to your subconscious to mull over.
The same applies to printed matter. Try not to touch the same piece of paper twice. Deal with it and then ditch it: file it safely or put it in recycling
4 Keep emails short and sweet
I’ll always remember one Head of Department telling all new colleagues to dispense with the “hello”, “how are you?” and “how was your summer?”, and save us all some time. He was always happy to chat. He was always really approachable. But he believed that email flannel was unnecessary when we met for coffee during breaks.
Very few will complain if an email is too short.
5 Find a bolthole – “Blindfold and earplugs, anyone?”
Find a place where you can get pesky tasks done without interruption.
Fearful of losing his train of thought, Jonathan Franzen, when writing The Corrections, swore by wearing a blindfold – yes, really! – and earplugs to block out the world. “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction,” he explained.
Reduce disruptions. Magically get more done
6 Find your marking sweet spot
Is marking the best way to finish the school day, especially if you open their books as soon as the class has left the classroom, without allowing yourself a much-needed breather?
Do you mark more efficiently early in the morning, perhaps at the weekend? Experiment with what works best for you.
Mind you, limit time for marking. Don’t let it take over the weekend when you also need to recharge your batteries. The need for downtime has been a subject of recent blogs.
I also wrote recently about Parkinson’s Law, which shows how we allow tasks to fill the time we give them.
7 Refine marking symbols
Train your pupils early on. Explain the rationale. Make the most of mark schemes, assessment criteria and AOs.
Reinforce this with posters. It’s amazing what our pupils pick up when they’re glancing round the room not listening to what we’re telling them for the umpteenth time.
It makes sense to look at what colleagues have done in the past, and therefore what symbols pupils are used to and know well.
And in a similar vein …
8 Share resources rather than reinventing the wheel
Starting a new topic or specification? Ask others. Save hours of time with a quick email enquiry.
We all know to do this, but sometimes, in the general craziness of term time, we forget. And some of us feel a little shy or reluctant to ask favours. But survival in teaching is about teamwork.
Top tip: you’ll find colleagues are more forthcoming if you’ve volunteered your own resources in the past. Never underestimate the persuasive power of reciprocity.
Moreover, our Milk Student Planners app facilitates sharing resources.
And there’s a wealth of resources online. There’s a Facebook group for every subject, level, spec, and topic. And let’s not forget Twitter, YouTube, and a plethora of podcasts.
9 Record where the time goes
For a certain length of time at least.
Time is precious. Why do we spend it so unwisely?
Do you spend too much or too little time chatting in the staff room? As someone wiser than me once said, time spent doing what you enjoy is time well spent. We all need downtime and the time to commune. Then again, it’s also an avoidance strategy.
How much time do you actually spend emailing, doing admin, marking, phoning parents?
10 Make the most of IT, apps and the like
Embrace technology. Delegate. Use apps as your very own teaching assistant.
Many baulked at the introduction of email, but we couldn’t live without it now. The same goes for many time-saving apps.
I came up with the idea of Milk Student Planners in 2015 to take some of the tedium out of admin tasks.
A former Maths teacher myself, I know just how gruelling the day-to-day can be.
We’re proud to be saving teachers as much as 2 hours a week, helping them with homework, messaging and reporting, and a range of other tasks.
Mike Dowling and the team at Milk
“In truth, people can generally make time for what they choose to do; it is not really the time but the will that is lacking.”
Sir John Lubbock