This week on the Truth for Teachers podcast: Things for teachers to do in the summer to get rejuvenated and ready to tackle the new school year in the fall.
The first few weeks of summer are almost always blissful, and the time seems to stretch ahead endlessly. We have plenty of days off in which we can afford to take it easy and not worry about getting things done.
But in the back of your mind, you always know what’s coming. That first back-to-school ad in July just takes all the wind out of your sails, and you’re hit with that sudden moment of panic that the summer is going by way too fast.
You might be like many teachers, who start off the summer with a list of 500 things they 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. You’ve earned a break, you know you deserve to relax, you need to relax, but you can’t fully because in the back of your mind is this long list of stuff that needs to be done. So you’re stuck in that horrible place of procrastination limbo, where you’re not motivated enough to get things done but you’re also not fully relaxing. And at the end of the day, you haven’t really enjoyed yourself AND you also haven’t gotten anything done.
Here’s the solution, in 5 simple steps.
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Even if you’re not ordinarily a “planning person,” I encourage you to set aside around a half an hour at the beginning of your summer break and think about what you’d like to accomplish and experience during the coming weeks.
I started doing this years ago for my summers, and liked it so much that I regularly plan my year in 90-day (quarterly) blocks now. So this is a process that I use four times a year to decide what I need to get done in the upcoming season. It generally takes me about 30-45 minutes to create a vision, list of priorities, and calendar with themes for each week.
This 30 minutes of reflecting does more to help me feel productive, focused, and balanced than ANY other planning strategy I’ve tried. It helps me:
- Ensure my time is aligned with how I want my life to be and what’s most important.
- 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 do things I don’t feel like doing, because I know the vision that the task is helping me accomplish.
Here are the five steps I follow. These can help you be more intentional about how you use your summer break so you’re not left wondering, “Where did the whole summer go??”
1) Decide what you want your life to look like when summer is over.
Think about what you can invest time in now in order to free up more time once school starts again. What would really give you a deep sense of satisfaction in the fall?
- 3x/week exercise routines in place so you’ll have more energy and be in better shape
- 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
- All family wellness checkups complete so you have fewer appointments after school
- First quarter lesson plans 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 in the form above to get the free template 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.
Use this form to set your vision, but make sure it is a realistic vision. Think about how much you can accomplish in a few short weeks with your current energy levels and commitments.
Remember, it’s always better to under plan and feel good about achieving above and beyond your goal than it is to over plan and feel like you were unsuccessful.
2) List out your priorities.
Let’s say that part of your end-of-summer vision is to feel prepared for back-to-school. Rather than creating a mile-long to-do list of things that need to be done to accomplish that goal, you’re going to create a prioritized to-do list.
Section your list into three columns: 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.
Notice that these items are not written on a daily or weekly to-do list. The priorities list is just a holding place for your ideas and goals. That way, you don’t have to try to hold everything in your head, and you also don’t have to look through dozens of choices each day to try to figure out what you should do. This is just a running list of priorities.
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 help you get an overview of when your busy times are. You’ll be able to see at a glance when the best times are for tackling your priorities without having too many obligations too close together.
Additionally, having non-negotiable dates on your calendar will help you ensure you have time for rest and relaxation in between your most demanding, productive days. You’ll be able to see when you’re likely to need a break, and you can plan for that.
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 a trip to visit 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, why not make your focus for that week on Appointments and Repairs, and schedule other similar tasks in for that time period?
You can have more than one focus each week if needed. The idea is 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.
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.
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, if one of your high priorities is organizing your digital files, you don’t want to put “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, you’re going to write down what exactly needs to be done for your files to be organized, and space those tasks out in a realistic time period. Maybe you want to first do a quick Google search to see how other teachers organize their files, then decide on a system, then organize your materials for each subject area.
Choose just one or two of those 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.
Your end-of-summer vision is what will guide the way: Glance over it at least once every other week and make sure it’s aligned with how you’re spending your time on a daily basis. This will allow you to feel better about those days when you weren’t able to get much done, or you had unexpected interruptions because overall, you’re regularly making progress toward creating the life you want to have when school starts again.