Teachers are true workaholics. We work a lot — during the day, after school, on weekends, during breaks, and over summer vacation. In doing the myriad tasks we tackle each week, we can become seriously overwhelmed, stressed, and constantly trying to catch up. Host of the Hurry Slowly podcast and author of several books, including Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, Jocelyn K. Glei, offers a shift in thinking in her RESET course. She notes a difference between being speed-obsessed and heart-centered with our work. “We’re in the grip of a more, better, faster mentality that drains our energy and makes us feel like we’re never doing enough,” says Glei. Her heart-centered approach to productivity is about being intentional, inspired by our tasks and empowered to be successful with realistic goals and time management — shifting gears from being overwhelmed, exhausted, anxious, and self-critical. Consider the emotions you have about your work habits and productivity. Are you negative? Are you constantly shifting focus and never really giving your full focus to anything? Are you always wishing for more time and feeling a sense of failure for not reaching your goals? It might be time to shift to a heart-centered approach to your workload and to become more mindful about what’s truly on your plate. Here’s how…
Let’s face it. Human beings are creatures of habit. We tend to get ready in the same order in the morning, eat the same things, follow the same daily patterns, and get frustrated when we feel stuck. In his book The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg wrote that “When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision-making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit — unless you find new routines — the pattern will unfold automatically.” Teachers can easily fall into ineffective work habits. We often do things the same way, day after day and year after year, feeling frustrated that we’re overworked and inefficient. “If we learn to create new neurological routines that overpower those behaviors — if we take control of the habit loops — we can force those bad tendencies into the background.” Consider your work habits. Go even further and write them down each day. What repeated tasks, behaviors, and routines do you follow? What isn’t serving you well? What is causing your stress? How can you improve that habit to improve your quality of work, reduce your stress level, and manage your time well? How can you attempt to actively and intentionally redirect that habit?
Each week, teachers have regular and recurring tasks that are often squeezed by daily fires to put out. The grading gets pushed aside by an urgent parent meeting or a unforeseen meeting that eats up your prep period. Have you ever really sat down and examined your recurring tasks? What really must get done each and every week? Make an honest list. Then, look at your calendar and prioritize time for those tasks first. Seriously, pencil them in. Now, take a look. Have your goals been realistic? How often are you rescheduling tasks because of interruptions? Now that you’ve scheduled your do-first tasks in your week, protect that time as best you can. Teachers are givers, but if you set aside a certain time to accomplish your must-do’s, then that time is precious and worth protecting. If you give it away, you’ll have to make it up somewhere else. Sometimes, that’s unavoidable. But being mindful of your true workload and consciously arranging and chunking your time can help you feel more in control of your workload and your schedule — and what you really have time to say “yes” to.
It’s so common for teachers to focus on all that we didn’t get done — the papers to grade, the phone calls to make, the big picture planning we’d love to tackle. In Glei’s RESET course, she advises us all to ditch the failure self-talk and do “A Daily Victory Dance,” celebrating small accomplishments and acknowledging what we were able to do, rather than obsess about what didn’t get done. “Create a feedback loop for momentum by celebrating small victories every day,” says Glei. There are victories in each day. There are successes — however small. Instead of lamenting a stack of quizzes that didn’t get graded, laud yourself for doing that grocery shopping and spending those extra five minutes with the student who needed you. The more we celebrate what we do in a day, the more we’ll recognize and feel good about all that we accomplish. Not only that, we’ll learn to recognize what’s realistic in terms of daily goals and expectations.