Teaching: a constant balancing act between students’ needs, curricular requirements, greater institutional pressures, parents, career goals, and your own of school life. Whew! Every now and then it’s normal to feel like you’ve got it all wrong—but the great thing about advice for teacher productivity and time management is that you’re free to mix and match the ideas that work for you. To follow on from our article on productivity for teachers, here are 10 more tips to help you feel organized this semester.
1. Establish your routine
There’s a time of life that’s perfect for daily competitions with your snooze button, and races to get out the door on time. A career in teaching is not one of them. Take time to establish a routine each morning that gives you time to do all you need to feel prepared and energized to face the day (this includes drinking coffee!). If you’re someone who functions better after reading the news, or taking time to stretch, work out a routine to accommodate that.
2. Be an organization superhero
It’s not unusual for people to feel calmer when their surroundings are tidy. Live by the old adage “a place for everything and everything in its place”, to get your classroom, bag, and desk looking spotless. This saves all that wasted time looking for wayward items and the famous five minute scramble before class starts to find a specific pen or book.
3. Cut down your to-do lists
Endless lists go nowhere, fast! Divide your week’s tasks into “essential”, “important” and “non-essential”, and work from the essential tasks first. What are they? Anything that will cause a domino effect if they aren’t completed today. Other tasks (scheduling meetings, cutting out resources for next week, even paperwork) may be priorities to tackle at a later date. This will keep your week (and therefore class) flowing more smoothly.
4. Know that what is essential may change
There are clearly dozens of separate tasks that make up a teacher’s week. Consider photocopying, committee meetings, lesson planning, marking, exam preparation, and report cards. Another trick is remembering that each task’s importance level may change. Lesson planning often takes top priority, until report card and parent-teacher conference season approaches and require your time instead. Prepare ahead so you can change focus on seasonal essential tasks when the time calls.
5. Eat the bug
A great piece of advice I once heard was to tackle the most unpleasant task of the day first (think an uncomfortable phone call, conversation, or research for a lesson that just isn’t appealing to you). This is “the bug”. Once it’s been eaten (dealt with) you’ll feel noticeably lighter and more ready to start on other tasks.
6. Five minute rule
Sometimes we leave small tasks aside to focus on more complicated things—only to watch them become complicated monsters in and of themselves. When faced with a small task ask yourself: “Will this take less than five minutes to attend to?” If so, do it right away.
7. Work in “batches” and “blocks”
Humans are funny things. Give us similar tasks and we’re able to work through them super efficiently. Put this into practice by grouping like activities into batches (think photocopying, emailing, essay marking, lesson planning) and tackling them at the same time. Now, to be extra organized, schedule specific moments to work through those batches. Identify 10 or 15 minute “off” times in your day for photocopying, cutting, or laminating, and designate one or two longer blocks of time (in the day or after school), to prepare your lessons in batches.
8. Rehink homework and assignments
Use class time for the students themselves to mark anything that is objective (has a correct/incorrect answer). For everything else, be kind to your future self by assigning homework and project work gradually, and setting aside time to mark in batches, rather than letting it all pile up to an overwhelming height.
9. Be clear about assignment objectives
Another way to limit marking time is to identify a specific focus for writing tasks. Tell students what the focus is before they begin, e.g., “For this essay I’ll be looking at your use of the present and past perfect tenses”. This way you won’t have look through each and every piece of work with a fine-toothed comb, and your feedback will be much more actionable and useful to students.
10. Use social media wisely
Join teachers’ groups on social media and use them to post questions for tips on everything from approaching tasks to dealing with an unmotivated student. (Reciprocate by sharing your own advice—and give yourself extra points for doing so in a block of time you’ve self-assigned to this purpose!)