When you as a new teacher arrive at EF, the first month or so you are coasting on training sessions and basically getting to know the city you are in, or your new colleagues and getting your head around all the new information being given to you. Once that period is over you begin to get your teeth into teaching and your teaching hours slowly pile up! It can often be at this point, that a teacher begins to think “Can I do this job?” However, instead of getting stressed and overloaded by this, it could help to have a time management strategy or take a time development course offered by EF. Everyone has their own version of one, but you might start teaching with not one in mind at all, or your current one needs updating. What are the tools you could use to help you?
One of my most important tools for my time management is my trusted diary, it has my to-do list, which often include the lessons that need planning and the dates for my upcoming Parent Teacher Conferences and Open Lessons. However, writing a to-do list is the easy part, in this age of WeChat, email, social media, a to-do list is no good if you are going to be distracted every five minutes.
In his book, Hyper Focus, Chris Bailey encourages you to organise your tasks into the following areas:
Unattractive and Productive
Attractive and unproductive
Checking social media
Checking phone for messages
Watching cat videos
Attractive and purposeful
Unproductive and unattractive
Going to the gym
Playing the guitar
Searching for new activities for your classes
Giving your desk a quick tidy up.
Putting labels on your resources.
The table speaks for itself, often what is unattractive but productive is what we need to prioritise first, and as a teacher that is most likely planning your lessons, or if you are a senior teacher that could be providing training and other tasks essential to your job. You may, like many people, find it difficult not to spend a disproportionate amount of time in the attractive and unproductive tasks; how can you resist that new notification on your phone? Has my funny WeChat message been replied to yet? I wonder what is happening back home, let me take a quick look at the news website. Or you slip into further procrastination by spending more time than you need to in the unproductive and unattractive section of the grid.
However, even if you have become hyper-aware of where you are allowing your brain to be focussed, keeping it focussed is not always easy. You should think about how much time you will spend on each task and prioritise three or four of them.
So, you have ten lessons to plan, work on the ones that you always need to search for extra resources, and seem to take longer to plan, or perhaps there is a grammar point you have teach that you are not confident about, focus on that lesson. Is there an Open Lesson in the pipeline, do I need to start preparing for that?
Who is not distracted these days when they work? Instant messages, emails etc. First off all, you can stop the automatic notifications on your computer or your phone telling you when an email has arrived. Chris Baily recommends have a notebook on your desk where you scribble all the things that suddenly pop into your head while you are trying to get a task done; you are trying to plan your lesson and your mind suddenly says “You didn't tell so and so about that joke you heard.” Or, “I need to remember to ask for holiday time form the Director of Studies.” Write that down in the notebook rather than interrupting your flow to go and do a new task, furthermore, it allows your brain to know that you have noted it down, which lessens your anxiety.
Distractions from essential tasks feel good, supposedly we get a hit of dopamine each time we check out social media or start a mindless conversation with a colleague to distract us from a task.
Well, only you will know how long you need to focus on a task, next to each item on your to do list you can put and estimated time and focus all your attention for that length of time. Another point Chris Bailey makes is that you do not act like a machine and just go mindlessly from one task to another, after each task you can allow your brain to “scatter focus,” this could just mean going for a ten minute walk, listening to music, or just letting your mind wander. It is during this scatter focus period that your brain makes connections, and starts to unconsciously solve problems and come up with creative ideas. This is also the time you could start having that chit chat with your colleague, you should notice your brain feels “refreshed” allowing you to be ready to handle another task.
Even though your time management strategy is often connected to work it is still important that you also make time for what really matters to you, which would go into the attractive and purposeful box. This can often be the part of our time that gets less attention because we are so focussed on work, but it is essential you keep try and protect this time in your life. You may put different tasks into different boxes, that is fine, all that matters is that you become aware of how you are dealing with your time, this should significantly reduce your stress levels, while you are trying to be the best teacher you can be.