For teachers, summer is usually a hectic time that flies by too fast. It’s a few short weeks crammed with appointments, errands, home projects, professional development, prep for the coming school year, second jobs, and household tasks, with a bit of relaxation or fun travel sprinkled in the mix.
This year, summer feels a bit strange, doesn’t it? My calendar is the emptiest it’s ever been.
And “getting ahead for fall” feels like an elusive, almost impossible idea at this point. Getting ahead for what, exactly? What kind of future are we preparing for?
You DON’T have to start preparing for next school year right now
No U.S. school districts that I’m aware of have released their finalized plans for the upcoming year. (How could they? So much can–and hopefully will–change between now and August.)
So I’m pretty sure it’s not worth spending our precious mental bandwidth, energy, and time trying to predict the future.
There’s no use attempting to solve problems before we even understand what they are.
From a time management perspective, the most useful approach I can recommend is to use the START of your summer to rest, relax, and recover.
Use the month of June to take care of things for yourself, family, and home.
As hard as it may be, dismiss anxious thoughts about the coming school year and resist the urge to prep too much right away.
We just don’t have enough information at this point to envision classrooms in the fall, and you’ll end up creating double work by doing things now and having to redo them when circumstances change.
So, take care of yourself and recuperate after a very taxing spring. Focus on getting home projects taken care of and other things you may not have had time to do during this past school year.
There will be plenty of time to immerse yourself in all things school-related, and that time is coming sooner than most of us would like!
The best way to prepare, particularly when you don’t have all the facts and information needed to prepare—is by shoring yourself up mentally, emotionally, and physically.
Get yourself healthy and in a good headspace so you’re better equipped to handle whatever may come in the future.
Map out an overview of what’s important to you this summer
Do you start off the summer with a list of 500 things you hope to get done? I’ve been there, and I know it’s far too easy to write the whole thing off and go hang out by the pool.
And yet even when you’re relaxing, you can’t fully rest because that long list of stuff that needs to be done is still swirling around your mind. It’s that horrible place of procrastination limbo, where you’re not motivated enough to get things done but you’re also not fully relaxing. At the end of the day, you haven’t really enjoyed yourself AND you also haven’t gotten anything done.
If you feel like it’s hard to rest when there’s so much work coming later, use this system to map out a plan for summer.
In about 30 minutes, you can have a really solid (yet flexible) overview of how you’ll use your break.
You can designate time for all the things that matter most, and pace yourself with projects so you don’t get overwhelmed.
With this system, you choose themes for each week of your break and batch similar tasks, so there’s time set aside for cleaning and organizing at home, staycation/vacation, working on back-to-school stuff, etc.
Having my summer mapped out this way keeps me from feeling like I need to do All The Things right now: I can look at the calendar and see I have time set aside for a project later in the summer, which means I DON’T have to worry about it right now.
This process does more to help me feel productive, rested, focused, and balanced than ANY other planning strategy I’ve tried. It helps me to:
- Ensure my time is aligned with how I want my life to be
- Avoid wondering what I should be doing each day or if I’m on track to meet long-term goals
- Prevent wasting time on things that really aren’t that important to me
- Get motivated to push past procrastination and accomplish things I’ve been avoiding
I promise this system works even if you’re not ordinarily a “planning person!”
Here are the 6 simple steps.
1) Get clear on your end-of-summer vision
What do you want your life to look like when summer’s over?
Use the form provided to brainstorm a vision for your family, home, work, and wellbeing. what you’d like to have in place by.
Be realistic about how much you can put in place in a few short weeks with your current energy levels and commitments.
Remember, it’s always better to underplan and feel good about achieving above and beyond your goal than it is to overplan and feel like you were unsuccessful.
- 3x/week exercise routines in place so you’ll have more energy
- Meal prep routines in place so school night dinners will be less hectic
- Easy-to-maintain organizational systems at home so you have less tidying up to do each day
- First month lesson plans roughly sketched out so your fall workload is lightened
- Lots of great memories with the people you love so you feel more comfortable devoting long hours to school work in August and September
Enter your email below to get the free templates to help you figure out your end-of-summer vision. There are places for you to reflect on your goals for different aspects of your life, from health and wellness to family, work, and household tasks.
Try to be specific with your vision, and make sure it’s do-able. Focus on the things that will make the biggest impact on your stress level and workload.
2) List out your priorities
A mile-long to-do list is overwhelming. Instead, brainstorm the specific actions you’d like to take this summer to make your vision a reality. You can use the form I’m sharing which has sections for high, medium, and low priorities.
The highest priority goals are things which will make your End of Summer Vision a reality. They are things that MUST get done before school starts and that you are committed to doing, no matter what.
Medium priority items are things you WANT to get done before school starts.
Low priority items are things you’d like to get done IF you have time for them.
Jot down anything you can think of now, and continue to add to the list whenever you think of new things throughout the summer.
3) Write non-negotiable dates on your calendar so you can see your busy times at a glance
Any trips, appointments, or other set-in-stone events should be written on your calendar.
This will allow you to plan around those obligations when tackling projects and tasks that are more flexible. It will keep you from scheduling too many time-consuming or stressful tasks too close together.
The calendar will also prevent you from realizing on the last day of summer break that you forgot something that was very important.
And, it will help you ensure you have time for rest and relaxation in between your most demanding, productive days.
As you look over your calendar, you’ll see clear ways to …
4) Choose a theme or focus for each week of the summer, based on your highest summer priorities
If you’re already taking visiting your extended family on July 12-15, why not just take that whole week off and make it a family time? That can be your focus for the week: taking a true break from work and enjoying time with family.
If you have a doctor’s appointment on July 27th and the garage door replacement scheduled for July 28th, maybe you can choose Appointments and Repairs as your focus for the week, and schedule other similar tasks in for that time period.
You can have more than one focus each week if needed: the idea is just to batch similar tasks so you can get yourself in the appropriate mindset and focus on them without feeling pulled in too many different directions.
Use the far lefthand column of the calendar provided to sketch out a loose plan.
This is the LAST step you need to do for right now. You can relax while knowing that the most important things WILL get done this summer, and everything will happen at a manageable pace
5) At the start of each week, look at your focus and create a realistic to-do list
If your focus for an upcoming week is first-week-of-school prep, break that down into actionable steps. Decide what you will do each day so you’re working at a manageable pace.
Let’s say that part of your end-of-summer vision is to feel prepared for back-to-school, and you’ve set aside a week of your summer break to focus on that. Take a look at your items on your high priorities list, and break them down into actionable steps.
For example, one task on your high priority list is organizing your digital files. You don’t want to write “organize files” on your to-do list for Monday. You’ll wake up that morning, look at the list, and want to go back to bed and hide under the covers.
Instead, write down what exactly needs to be done for your files to be organized, and space those tasks out in a realistic time period. Choose just one or two steps to tackle each day, and add them to your daily to-do list. So maybe on Monday, you just get ideas for digital organization and set up some folders for your system, and that’s it. Tuesday, you organize your files just for the first two units you’ll teach, and so on.
Each day, you’ll tackle a couple more steps which will move you toward your goal of having all your files organized. You’ll start to get some momentum, and that will give you more motivation to keep pushing through. At the end of the week, your digital files will be organized, and you’ll be one step closer to your end-of-summer vision of feeling prepared for back-to-school.
6. Allow your Weekly To-Do List to determine the main things you focus on each day
When you wake up in the morning, look at your to-do list and see what you have planned.
Be flexible as your priorities shift and other things come up, but make sure you are doing the high priority items (which you’ve written into your to-do list for the week already.)
Cross out anything that doesn’t get done and move it to the next day’s list. This is no problem with that whatsoever, as long you’re getting through the majority of your tasks and staying on track with your overall pacing.
Remember: it’s okay to just REST. Give yourself time this summer to do exactly what you feel like doing, and to enjoy activities that are rejuvenating and nourishing to your soul.
These kinds of experiences are just as important for your productivity levels as actually getting things done. In the “Great Pause,” we won’t be able to get ahead as much as we’d like…and that can be a very, very good thing.