This week on Truth for Teachers: I’m helping one teacher make over her daily schedule so she can maximize her time in school and work less at home.
Have you ever wondered how time slips away from you and the entire day is gone?
If so, this is totally normal, and I think you’ll enjoy listening in on this daily routines makeover. It’s based on a coaching call that I conducted with a graduate of the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club.
Her name is Amara, and she teaches grades 3 and 4 French Immersion in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Her teaching context might be very different from yours, but I promise you are going to be able to relate to her challenges because they’re common to almost all teachers:
- How to maximize the time before school starts in the morning
- How to get things done during your planning time when you only have 20 minutes
- How to wrap up the day when you’ve got 30 things that need to get done and you’re completely exhausted
Amara and I are going to walk through each element of her non-instructional time and look for ways that she can streamline and simplify. As you listen in, I encourage you to ask yourself the same questions I’m asking Amara and use her responses as a springboard so you can figure out how to maximize your time, as well.
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Current morning routine at home
6:05: Wake up, force myself out of bed, then spend 20 minutes “waking up” more on my phone.
6:25 – 7:30ish: Get ready for work.
7:30 – 7:40: Drive to work. I would like to get to work earlier but find it really tough to get up and ready early enough. The school opens at 7.
Streamlined morning routine at home
Amara is going to establish a new, more motivating habit when she first wakes up. She plans to read a devotional book rather than just scrolling through social media. And, she’ll physically get out of bed and move to the couch or a chair while she reads, in order to help herself wake up without moving immediately into “go mode.”
She’ll also try setting an additional phone alarm for 10-15 minutes after the first one goes off, to signify that reading time is over, and now it’s really time to get moving.
Current morning routine at school
7:40 – 8:50: Check email/Class Dojo messages, check mailbox for notes for students, take out materials for the morning, etc. I am trying to schedule my mornings so that some mornings are marking, some are dealing with my to-do file and other papers from the paper system, etc. I find that some mornings I am moving much more slowly, and sometimes I get wrapped up in conversations with coworkers. These conversations are work-related and often feel very necessary, but it makes it hard to predict how much working time I will have.
Streamlined morning routine at school
Amara plans to write out a list of everything she has to do once she’s at school. Many of these things are recurring tasks, so they can be automated and she should be able to accomplish them on autopilot. This frees up mental energy she can invest in more important projects.
She is also trying to have a theme for each morning: One day she will grade papers, one day she will catch up on paperwork, etc. I suggested that she stick with this routine, but keep it flexible enough so that if another more urgent task comes up, or she gets sidetracked, she won’t feel frustrated about not getting through that day’s tasks.
Also, it’s important that she use some of her before-school time to make sure she is completely prepped and ready for all of that day’s lessons, since there may not be another chance that day to do so.
Current planning/prep time and lunch routine
8:50 – 11:45: Instructional time with students. I typically have a 35-minute prep in there somewhere. I sometimes make a bathroom stop, then often end up kind of puttering around my class — by the time I get back to class, it feels like if I start on a task I will just barely get into it before I have to go get my students again. Sometimes I am tidying the room, dealing with materials that were left out, etc. I do use the scheduled to-do list and try to schedule short things into the “during the day” slot, but it still feels like I am not using the time terribly well.
11:45 – 12:45: Lunch, though some days I do student supervision from 12:15 – 12:45. I usually spend the first 10 minutes of lunch talking with students, etc. After I make it down to the staff room and eat, I always intend to go back to the classroom and get some stuff done, but I find myself wanting to stay in the staff room and relax, talk with friends, etc. I’m not sure if this is because I am craving a moment of rest or if it is just “inertia.”
12:45 – 3:30: Instructional time with students
Streamlined planning/prep time and lunch routine
For these shorter periods where Amara won’t have time to really get involved in anything major, she will still use the time for miscellaneous tasks that don’t have to be ready when students come back to the room. This could include paperwork, emails, straightening up her desk and materials, etc.
At lunchtime, Amara has felt guilty at times for not going back to her classroom to work after she’s finished eating with colleagues. Since she obviously needs this time to rest and recharge, she will reframe this time period as scheduled downtime. By giving herself permission to relax, she will be less likely to second-guess her decision later or feel pressured to stay in motion throughout the whole day.
Current after-school routine
3:30 – 4:30 (my goal) or 5 or 5:30 (reality): Working in my classroom after students leave. Here’s what I’m hoping will turn into my end-of-day routine: make or go over plan for tomorrow; prepare materials; write up behavior reports (happens daily in my class this year for two students in particular); send “three stars and a wish” email to one family as per the student’s Behaviour Intervention Plan, etc. Right now I am still planning fairly day-by-day. I’m scheduling blocks of planning time over the next few weekends in hopes to have more plans done ahead of time.
4:30 (ideally) – 6:00: I made myself a schedule over the break to help decide which days I would stay later (Wednesday and Friday.)
Streamlined after-school routine
To make sure she leaves school at a reasonable time and doesn’t bring work home every night, Amara will predetermine a certain number of hours as her weekly limit and commit to leaving when that time is up. This is with the understanding that some weeks may not work out that way, such as if report cards are due or parent conferences are scheduled. Flexibility is key.
But, if Amara can practice stopping when her allocation of work hours are up for the day, she may make better use of this time. Knowing that she HAS to stop soon will help her stay focused and productive.
She also plans to bring closure to the workday by using her commute home to reflect on the day and focus on positive events and accomplishments.
Current evening routine
6:00 – 8:30: (My schedule varies) Monday: Work time at home (planning). Tuesday: Yoga. Wednesday: Go home. Eat. Relax. Date night if my husband is home, too. Thursday: Church group. Friday: Time at home.
8:30 – 9:30: Think about how I should clean the kitchen/do some laundry/get to bed early. Feel tired. Don’t want to get up. Inertia (objects at rest tend to stay at rest!) sets in. Get distracted by Netflix or social media or the book I’m reading. Stay sitting down.
9:30 or 10:00 or later: Realize how late it is. Panic. Madly try to do 30 minutes worth of cleaning in 5 minutes. Feel guilty. Get lunch and clothes ready for tomorrow. Walk the dog if my husband is out. Get ready for bed.
10:00 or 11:00: Finally go to bed. Promise myself that I will go to bed earlier tomorrow.
Streamlined evening routine
Amara has a lot going on in the evenings, but she finds it all useful and doesn’t want to eliminate. So to ensure she’s using her time as productively as possible, she will give herself a set amount of time to rest when she gets home if she’s really tired.
At a pre-determined time (often right after dinner), she’ll get up and do the things she’d previously been putting off until late in the evening, such as picking up around the house, doing laundry, and prepping for the next day. Trying to do these tasks late at night meant she wasn’t able to truly relax earlier in the evening because the tasks were hanging over her head, and often they didn’t get done since she was too tired by late night to finish them.
By taking care of end-of-day tasks earlier in the evening, Amara will be able to use that half hour or so before bed to truly relax and watch Netflix or TV, or read a book. And since she got ready for bed before this “me time,” she’ll be more likely to meet her goal of getting more sleep.
Amara’s biggest takeaways
- “I really liked the overall theme of scheduling what my time is going to be used for and setting definite boundaries around that time.”
- Understanding that it’s okay if a task isn’t completely done, and just moving on to the next thing.
- “Being intentional about what my time is for will really make a big difference for me.”
- Allowing myself time to rest and take breaks, because “the more I plan in my rest, the more productive I’ll be later, and the more efficiently I’ll be able to work.”