Despite being on the planet for 30+ years, I still don't seem to have the concept of time worked out. I came to this realization last night as I compared my summer to do list against my calendar. Yikes! Honestly, the number of lesson plans I'd intended to write, TpT products I'd hoped to create, and professional books I planned to read were more than I could probably accomplish in a year much less a summer break.
Here are some tips I try to remind myself when I get into these stressful predicaments.
1. Delegate and negotiate
There are some things that I have to do because no one else can do them for me (e.g., write my blog, research for my doctoral program, etc.), but there are plenty of items on my perpetual to do list that could be delegated or outsourced. For example, my husband and I hate to do yard work -- especially during the hot and humid Georgia summers. We could suck it up and commit the time, or we could pay someone to do it for us. We opt for the latter because the free time we gain is more valuable than the money we spend. When I get going with my doctoral program this fall, we'll likely hire a maid service for the same reason. The trick is to go through the to do list and determine how much of it has to be done by me and how much of the list could be done -- even partially -- by others. Using TpT for lesson plan assistance is another great example of delegating.
I also negotiate for free time on the weekends. I have an amazing daughter who's almost 2. I love hanging out and playing with her, but she's also at an age where she's a lot of work. When I have an overwhelming to do list, I try to negotiate free time with my husband where he'll take Syd for a couple of hours so I can work distraction-free, and then I'll reciprocate later in the day. Often he'll take her out of the house to run errands or get groceries so I can really get a lot done. It's been incredibly helpful to chunk out time like that and know that I'll have it.
2. Consider worst-case scenarios
Often the stress we feel is self-imposed, and it helps to gain a bit of perspective. What's the worst-case scenario if I don't finish making all of the TpT items I want to create this summer? Certainly nothing catastrophic. Often it's the same case with the stack of papers waiting to be graded during the school year. Looking at my to do list through this lens helps me see what's really important. It's not a blank check to delay work indefinitely, but it's helpful when there's a lot going on and too many balls to juggle at once.
3. Prioritize and minimize
Sometimes the sheer sight of my to do list can cause me to tense up and feel overwhelmed. One strategy I use to combat that is to rate the items on my list using a scale that reflects the urgency and the importance. Then I make smaller to do lists with the 3-5 items I want to accomplish in a day. This helps me stay calm and feel productive while avoiding the pressure of my long-term, substantially larger to do list.
Another helpful tip that I picked up somewhere was the two-minute rule. If something comes to me that I can take care of in 2 minutes or less (e.g., an email), I try to do it right then and not put it off. Otherwise, my inbox becomes cluttered and that's one more thing stressing me out. Filing or scanning papers is a similar example.
4. Focus on one thing at a time
One of the biggest time sucks that happens to me is that I try to do too many things at once, and I forget that "multi-tasking" isn't always more efficient. It helps me if I chunk like activities together and really get focused. For example, I try to spend a lot of time working on my blog on Mondays so that I can get posts written and scheduled for the rest of the week. I rarely finish all of my posts, but I'll at least know what I'm going to write about and have a skeleton draft done so that it will take less time the rest of the week. I dedicate another day to all of my cleaning and errand-running, a day to focus on reading/lesson planning, etc. I also try to have a day with nothing scheduled so I can relax and hang out with my family. During the school year, that's usually a Saturday or Sunday, and even if I can't clear out the whole day, I'll set a rule that I'll stop working by noon or only work after my daughter has gone to bed. It helps.
5. Shut down the distractions
This is the hardest thing for me because I often have email, Facebook, and Twitter open while I work, and then there's Feedly and Pinterest which can become huge time sucks, too. Lately, I've found it helpful to close out of those tabs and use a timer app. For example, I'll work on something for an hour, and then as my reward for being productive, I'll allow myself 15 minutes on Pinterest. The timer helps me avoid slipping down the rabbit hole of lost time.
What are some strategies you use to help you when you're feeling overwhelmed or overcommitted? I'd love to hear more ideas in the comments.
And as a side note, have you checked out the Teacher Toolbox Trio lately? The giveaway is over, but I decided to keep the linky going for a while because there were still teachers who wanted to share. And honestly, how I could possibly resist the opportunity to see what other teachers love and add to my own wish list? If you haven't linked up yet, I'd love to have you join the fun!
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