In my last blog post I talked about using timers in class to organize activities and manage time effectively for students. As a teacher, there are a variety of tasks that we need to complete outside of the classroom as well. We do have time here and there to do it: during pedagogical days, during a scheduled ‘’work’’ period in our schedule and, let’s be honest, during our lunch hour and our breaks! We also work from home at night and during the weekend!
I often hear how overwhelmed teachers are with everything they need to do and it’s so easy to get sidetracked during those hours dedicated to administrative work. Ever had a pedagogical day where you left and said: ‘’I did nothing today’’? I’m sure you did a lot. You maybe just did not get everything done like you expected to because of distractions. And what about working from home! Between the husband, the kids and the motivational distraction (just one more episode of Stranger Things and I will correct those copies), it’s easy to feel like nothing ever gets done.
One thing that helps me focus is to use timers, yes, again.
Using timers work
I have some blocked time in my schedule here and there. For an hour and 15 minutes I can work on anything that needs to get done… but it rarely happens if I get distracted. Emails come in, colleagues talk to you… and then you realize that your to-do list never got done. So, I like to use a timer. I will decide on 2-3 or more tasks that absolutely need to get done and estimate how much time it will take to do them. Then, I put on my headphones (yes, I’m anti-social like that), turn on my focus playlist on Spotify (here’s one I really like), and then attack the actual task. The timer not only serves as a reminder to focus on the task but makes me work a little faster since I want to finish before it goes off.
Timers can be used for 10 minutes, 30 or even an hour. During pedagogical days, I like to separate my day into sections, look at my list and decide what I would be satisfied being done with at the end of the day. Then, I hide… I find an empty classroom or I use my headphone and attack. I make sure to count some break and socializing time for my day and I make sure to actually take my lunch hour and socialize. I used to work through lunch and I don’t anymore. I find that the actual break makes me more, not less, efficient! I can focus better when the timer is on.
Dealing With Distraction
One thing that distracts me big time when I am online is my email. That is why I always keep a little 10 minutes in my timers for checking my email. I answer what seems urgent and save the rest for later. 10 minutes, that’s it! Then I go back to the tasks at hand and ignore that email. What could one hour of work look like? Here is an idea:
- Timer 1: 10 minutes: Check emails
- Timer 2: 20 minutes: Correct essays for group 32
- Timer 3: 10 minutes: Take a break and read some interesting articles
- Timer 4: 20 minutes: Correct essays for group 32
I may not get all of my correction done, but at least for 40 minutes, I corrected and gave myself a break. I may repeat this same schedule later on and get the correction finish. The important thing is to choose the most urgent tasks and get them done. I will get more done in those 20 minutes than I will if I sit for an hour and procrastinate. Those breaks help me as well. I don’t get distracted during the set correction time because I know I will have time to do other stuff and it helps me not to be stuck in a correction pattern either. I find that if I correct for hours, I start to have similar grades for students, I get frustrated with their mistakes (but we saw that in class 3 times!!!!) and it just does not make me an efficient evaluator.
Using Timers at Home
I also use timers at home. There are so many tasks that I do not like… emptying the dishwasher, cleaning the litter box… Tasks that can easily be pushed to the bottom of the to-do list but actually need to get done. I will divide those tasks and set a timer: 30 minutes to do 3-4 things. I put on my favourite motivating playlist (here is one I really like on Spotify) and just go for it. It’s crazy how much faster things get done when you are working against the clock. This idea is something I have been doing for years and comes from a wonderful system by Flylady, which has nothing to do with teaching but helped me become someone with a clean house and helped me organize my life! When you sign up for the daily emails, you can take over the chaos in your home if that’s something you need.
Scheduling Time for Yourself
With all of the tasks and the endless to do on my list I have added to things to my getting things done philosophy: add some time for yourself and accept that not everything will get done. I schedule time for exercising, meditating, reading and can also not plan at all. One of my favourite vacations of all time was travelling with no reservations, nothing planned and using a quarter to decide of our next destination. It’s good to sometimes not use timers, not use a list, not use anything and just relax.
My other challenge was to accept that not everything on my list will get done and that it is absolutely OK! I prefer to look at my list and be proud of everything I have done rather than look at what is not done, it’s a lot more motivating!
So, what will you first timer be? What task will you give yourself 10 minutes for?