What do you want your life to look like? When you look back on it all at the end, what do you want to feel like you’ve accomplished? How do you want to have spent your time? What will be your legacy?
Those are deep questions for sure, and most of us just don’t have the time or energy to try to answer them. It’s not because we don’t care. We’re just too tired to take a step back and try to figure out a better way. When you’re drowning in daily responsibilities, it can feel nearly impossible to carve out time and mental bandwidth to think about your life’s purpose.
And yet, getting clear on what matters to you could change everything about the way you use your time and where you focus your energy.
I want to challenge you to look for opportunities to cut out the nonsense in your life: The stuff that you’re doing because you’ve always done it, because everyone else does it that way, because it’s familiar and comfortable, or because you’re worried about letting other people down if you don’t.
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Even though “there’s no tired like teacher tired,” a few changes in your mindset and habits can totally transform that. I created a free challenge called Goodbye, “Teacher Tired” with five of the most important things you can do to stop feeling tired all of the time and maximize your time, and energy and focus.
It’s really just as simple (and as difficult) as this: Do fewer things, so you can do the things that remain even better.
Read on to get a summary of the five steps covered in the challenge, and then enter your email address to participate if you’re interested.
You can do this! I know five days may seem like a short amount of time, but you’ll notice that most of this is simply a mindset shift and a reduction of things you have to do. It’s basically the process of retraining your mind to focus on what really matters and giving yourself permission to let go of the things that don’t. These five days are an opportunity to make small changes to the way you think about and approach your work and your life, and those small changes can add up to big results.
Here’s an overview of each day’s challenge — use the form above to sign up.
1) Get real about how much you can accomplish each day, and eliminate the unnecessary.
If you want to do fewer things better, the first and most important step is to face the facts: You do not have enough time to do everything you want and need to do, and there is no amount of rearranging your schedule which will change that.
In order to stop being tired and overwhelmed, you have to decide that certain things are just not going to get done, and give yourself permission to stop doing them. Take charge of your own schedule. Don’t disempower yourself by making excuses due to all the things that are outside your control.
Release yourself from the guilt that comes from having 500 things written on a list that would take you years to work completely through. It’s just not happening.
You have to accept that fact if you’re going to be ruthless about eliminating. Ask yourself, If I were to look back a year from now at this list of obligations, demands on my time, and things to do, which ones would I say were actually worth doing?”
I’m willing to venture that at least a third of the things for which you’re trying to find time don’t actually need to be done. Or, maybe they don’t need to be done by YOU. Or, they don’t need to be done by you RIGHT NOW. Get rid of things that will feel totally inconsequential by this time next month or next year.
Figure out the tasks you’re doing because you’re convinced you have to, and decide how you can relax the standards you’ve set for yourself to a level no one else will notice but you.
I know it’s hard to figure out what to eliminate when everything seems urgent and important, and when you sign up for the “Goodbye Teacher Tired” Challenge, I’ll give you specific ideas and teach you how to think through your day and find obligations to eliminate.
But for now, just keep in mind that optimal productivity depends on more than just time management. What you don’t do is critically important, and most people are giving very little thought to that. They’re just cramming in as many things as possible and trying to do more.
I’m advising you to do less. Say “no” to the things that are less important so you have more time and energy for things that are your biggest priorities. Eliminate or delay anything unnecessary from your day so that you can release yourself from that weight of feeling like you’re never really done, and there’s always something more you should be doing.
2) Schedule your day to get the most important things done, instead of doing as much as possible.
The idea here is to stop measuring success by whether you finished what you wanted to, and instead have a focused list of priorities which you re-evaluate throughout the day. When you do fewer things, that which remains will be done better.
The key to making this happen is a prioritized to-do list. You don’t want a long list of eleventy billion things that need to get done because then you’ll get overwhelmed and you’ll just avoid the list altogether. When you start your day, you want to be crystal clear on what the most important, impactful tasks are so you can devote your best time and energy to them. If you’re just working through a long list sequentially, those most important tasks may never get done, or they might be relegated to the end of the day when you’re exhausted and have nothing left to give.
So, you’re going to figure out the Main Thing for each day and begin your day by focusing on that. Get the Main Thing done as soon as possible, and then tackle things that are less important or require less concentration and energy.
Now here’s the most important part to understand, and it’s where a lot of people get tripped up. The purpose of a prioritized list is NOT to complete every task perfectly but to make sure you’re focused on what’s most important.
That’s why the goal is NOT to get everything done on your list. You cannot measure a day’s success by whether you did everything you wanted to, because who really gets everything done that they wanted? We all have interruptions and last minute demands on our time that derail us from the plan … and because we know that, we can plan for it.
You don’t have to do everything. You just have to do the most important things. So the goal is to use your list-making system (whatever works for you) to help you constantly re-evaluate priorities for the best and highest use of your time. I’ll provide a prioritized list through the challenge and encourage you to just try it out for one day: Decide just for one day what’s most important, write it down, and check in to that list throughout the day to make sure you’re focused on what matters most.
The challenge will help you change your mindset in this area, so you can give yourself permission to eliminate tasks when unexpected interruptions throw you off. You’ll learn how to move things around and tell yourself: Well, I had an unexpected meeting and then my computer crashed and I lost 20 minutes of grading time. So that means I can’t get everything done I had planned. What’s on this list that could conceivably wait until tomorrow, or later in the week, or even be eliminated altogether?
In this way, you are creating your schedule around the most important things, instead of just trying to do as many things as possible. You’ll have a focused list of priorities which you re-evaluate throughout the day as other things crop up, and on the second day of the challenge, I’ll show you how to do that.
3) Minimize decision-making by automating tasks and creating routines that simplify your life.
One of the reasons that teachers feel so worn out is because of decision fatigue. Research has found that teachers make more minute-by-minute decisions than brain surgeons, and that’s extremely tiring. Every choice you have to make throughout the day taxes your mind and reduces your ability to make good decisions later.
Also, self-control and willpower are limited resources that get depleted as the day goes on.
That’s why we’re often patient, highly disciplined, and accomplished earlier in the day, and by the end, we’re stuffing our faces with junk food and snapping “no” at anyone who dares to ask us a question. We’ve already expended all our self-control!
By evening, the willpower that’s needed to force yourself to clean up the house and prep for the next day has already been used up in the classroom. You are fatigued from having to make so many decisions all day long about how to meet the needs of so many students that you simply can’t do any more until you get rested and recharged. Sometimes it feels like “hitting a wall,” where you literally cannot make one more decision and just say, “I’ll deal with it all tomorrow.”
So, how do you prevent decision fatigue? By automating as many decisions and routines as possible. When you do the same things the same way each time, it requires less brainpower, less willpower, and less energy.
This is why highly productive people like the late Steve Jobs wore basically the same outfit and ate basically the same breakfast every single morning. He didn’t want to waste his brainpower on making decisions about minor things like what to eat or what to wear.
When you get to this third day of the “Goodbye, Teacher Tired” Challenge, I’m going to help you think about ways you can streamline your daily routines and reduce the amount of decisions you have to make. How can you automate your morning routine with students? How can you create habits at dismissal time that require fewer decisions? You’ll have an opportunity to brainstorm some ways you can change routines and habits in this area, and then just pick ONE strategy to implement.
Reducing decision-making through habits is a simple change that really makes a big difference. That’s because your lifestyle is basically just a series of daily habits. The quality of your habits determines the quality of your life. So if you can just take a few minutes to consider some habits to create that will simplify your life, that will reduce your decision fatigue and maximize your time, energy, and focus.
4) Maximize your energy and focus by batching tasks and building in buffer time.
So far we’ve talked about moving things off of your plate by giving yourself permission to say no to what’s less important and making peace with the fact that those things won’t get done. We’ve also covered the importance of re-evaluating priorities throughout the day, and reducing the number of decisions you have to make through more streamlined routines and habits.
All of these strategies will help you feel like you have fewer things to do. The fourth day’s challenge is about looking at those tasks that remain and deciding how to do them better. It’s about completing those top priorities and important or urgent tasks in the most effective, efficient way possible.
Batching your tasks is one of the easiest strategies to implement here, so that’s what I’ll help you plan out on Day 4. You want to group similar tasks together and do them in one larger batch.
For example, instead of answering emails one by one as they pop up on your phone, turn off those notifications and read/answer everything all at once, at a predetermined time of day. Instead of running one errand after school every day, batch them according to what part of town they’re in and combine them into just two days a week which become your errand days.
You can batch meal prep, lesson planning, paper grading, cleaning, and so on. Think about those little nagging tasks that make you feel overwhelmed: How can you combine them so you don’t feel pulled in a million directions simultaneously? The idea is to do focused work in themed blocks of time because it’s faster, easier, and more meaningful when you group similar tasks together.
Now here’s the really amazing payoff you’ll get with batching. When you batch your tasks, you’re able to get a little bit ahead, instead of always feeling like you’re just treading water. So let’s say you need to look up lesson ideas online. Instead of just looking up tomorrow’s lesson, make a list of activities you need for the entire week, and eventually for the entire unit, and explore them in one sitting. That now puts you ahead so you don’t have to look for lesson ideas every evening and plan day-by-day anymore.
That is an energizing feeling. When you feel accomplished and slightly ahead of the game, you’ll be motivated to get more done. You’ll no longer feel like you’re constantly behind the eight ball and just slogging through the daily grind. You’re investing time upfront to batching tasks and getting ahead, knowing the payoff will come later when you don’t have so many little things hanging over your head. Batching just one small set of tasks is incredibly satisfying, and therefore energizing.
Now, check this out. What happens with that block of time that you would ordinarily be spending on lesson planning or running errands or meal prep, but you no longer have to because you’ve batched and gotten a bit ahead? Well, you’ve now created margin in your life by giving yourself buffer time. You’re not constantly running late and getting completely thrown off by a traffic jam or fire drill or other unexpected interruption — you have a few minutes to spare. That’s going to reduce your stress level exponentially because overplanning and over-scheduling create anxiety.
I’ll explain this in more depth on the fourth day of this challenge. By that time, you’ll be slowly practicing how to eliminate some things from your day, focusing on your top priorities, minimizing decisions, and batching tasks to get ahead. These steps create margin in your life. They give you room to breathe.
5) Prioritize rest as the catalyst for productivity, and schedule time for things you love.
The final step of the “Goodbye, Teacher Tired” Challenge is to create time in your schedule for rest, self-care, and your biggest priorities in life. That’s going to be possible as a result of your investment of time in learning the strategies I shared previously. It may seem out of the question for now, but I’m telling you, small changes add up to big results. Each day of the challenge you’ll lay the first simple foundational blocks, you do just ONE thing each day. And if you do that, then by day 5 you will have eliminated a couple tasks from your to-do list, batched some of the things that remain, and streamlined a habit or two so you don’t have to make so many decisions. I promise you will then see small windows of time that can be used for self-care.
The critical piece to remember is this: You can’t wait to make time for rest until you’ve figured out a perfect system for simplifying every aspect of your life. Prioritizing rest isn’t the payoff for your other efforts in prioritizing; it’s actually part of the prioritization work itself. Rest works in a reciprocal way with productivity, and completing this fifth and final step is going to make it easier for you to continue doing the first four.
Here’s why: Rest is not the opposite of getting things done; it’s the catalyst for it. When you make time to recharge, you’re able to get more done the following day.
This is something most of us understand intuitively and yet the choices we make don’t reflect that. We say that we want and need just a few minutes of peace and quiet for ourselves during the day, and yet if we have a few extra minutes, we immediately look for something else that needs to be done so we can fill up that buffer time. If there’s nothing interesting or meaningful to do (for example, if we’re sitting in a doctor’s office waiting for an appointment), we’ll pull out our phones and actively look for work we can do such as checking email or giving ourselves more information to process by scrolling through social media.
This habit of filling every spare moment with mental stimulation and work causes us to wear ourselves out. Any small break in the day becomes an opportunity to do a random bunch of stuff — tasks that were not on our list of priorities for the day — and keeps us in that energy-draining decision mode. We work ourselves until we’re literally collapsing into bed at night from exhaustion and then wonder why we don’t have any energy the next day
What if, instead of trying to fill every moment with more, and constantly trying to stimulate our minds and be productive, we lived as if we truly believe that rest will help us do more? What if we seized those small opportunities for self-care throughout the day? What if we got to the end of our rope in the evenings and said: Enough. I give myself permission to stop here for the day. I don’t want to waste my last remaining bit of energy on things that weren’t even that important to begin with. I need to be refreshed in the morning so I can tackle my biggest priority and I know the only way to do that is with rest.
You see, while time is a very important resource, energy is an equally or even more important resource. Unlike time, energy does not automatically replenish itself. Each day you are alive, you are given more time, another 24 hours to utilize. But you’re not necessarily given more energy. In fact, you don’t wake up with more energy unless you’ve done something the day or night before to replenish it unless you’ve taken care of your body and mind and allowed yourself time to truly recharge.
Rest is the catalyst for productivity, not a break from it. And you can structure your life in a way that reflects that. You don’t have to move to a desert island and quit your job. Like everything else I’ve shared with you, this aspect of conquering teacher tired is about habits. Your habits create your lifestyle. All you have to do is change some of your habits and you can feel more rested. And on the fifth day of the challenge, I will give you specific ideas and suggestions for doing exactly that and making time for self-care.
When you sign up for the free challenge, you’ll get one email from me each day for 5 days. Each email will include:
- A 3 page PDF explaining the mindset and the habit you want to try out
- A 10-minute audio message so you can listen instead of read if you prefer
- A printable template to help you take action on the ideas right away
This is a challenge that I truly believe will be helpful for every single teacher, no matter what or where you teach. Those who are current members of the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club (or have already graduated) will find that it really helps you refocus on the main principles of the club and helps you establish some thinking patterns and habits that you may have let slide over time.
My hope is that “Goodbye, Teacher Tired: 5 Days to Doing Fewer Things, Better” will help you alleviate some of the stress from this crazy busy season we have ahead and prepare you for a more peaceful, meaningful, and restful year in 2018. Be sure to sign up for the challenge using the form above!