Three Ways Teachers Can Recapture a Few Slices of Time

Time

Who wouldn’t want find just a little bit more time in their day? Think of all that you could accomplish if you could locate an extra half hour or hour each day. Oh, and if we could somehow get time to stop for just a bit while we caught up. That would be uh-mazing.

Well, it’s time to snap out of it because we know that time stops for no one. So, I guess we’re going to have to search for ways to carve out more time in our day.

But where? Wake up an hour earlier each morning? Maybe. Become better at multitasking? Possibly. Stay late one day a week to get caught up? Could happen.

Okay, pretend you never read that last paragraph because (1) you need your sleep, (2) multitasking is impossible and (3) staying late sucks.

I’ve got some better ideas to help you make the most of your time. In fact, I think by employing just one or two of these strategies you may actually find that you have a little extra time each week.

Focus the First Time

This is a lesson that I did not learn until I went back to school at 23.  I had attended college once and was unsuccessful. I did graduate with a degree in Philosophy but had not worked very hard and picked up some bad habits along the way. Class was just something to get through. More often than not, I was unfocused and took illegible notes, if any. Not a great plan.

Fast forward 5 years and I was going back to school because I thought I wanted to be a doctor and in order to even apply to medical school I had to take 10 science classes that were quite demanding. I was not going to pass, let alone excel, in Organic Chemistry with the same habits I had when I was 18.

I worked much harder the second time around and along the way discovered a trick that saved me hours. It wasn’t sophisticated but it was difficult—at first. But once I saw how much time it saved, I learned to master it.

When you are receiving information, whether it be at a professional development opportunity, a PLC meeting or a graduate class—focus as well as you possibly can. Additionally, take incredible notes. Right about now you may be wondering how this will save you time. If anything, it sounds more difficult.

It is. On the front end.

But you will save hours on the back end.

How many times have you attended professional development with minimal focus? If you’re like me, probably often. Then sometime during the course of the year you needed to refer back to the pd because of a new skill or content you were  supposed to have learned. But you weren’t paying attention the first time it was presented and your notes were shoddy. Now what?

You now must spend hours looking back through the book, handouts and power-points to relearn what you never learned to begin with. This will often only get you halfway there. Because even after rereading and reviewing the materials, you still have questions that can only be answered by the presenter or someone who is no longer in the room with you.

Employing laser-like focus and taking detailed notes when learning a new skill and content is not easy, but trust me, it will save you hours. So, sit up straight, drink an extra cup of coffee and focus like you never have before. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

Example

You have to attend a 3 hour in-service on how to properly implement your district’s new Standards Based Report Cards. You’re not excited, but you buckle down and focus for the entire 3 hours. You take detailed notes, ask questions of the presenter and even take a few photos of slides that you found helpful. When it comes time to enter your grades at midterm you are prepared and confident.

Use Small Blocks of Time

Current researchers have found the average adult attention span is between 5 and 20 minutes. That’s not very long. But if we really think about it, I am guessing that most of us agree that it sounds about right. I know that when I am writing, I can sometimes go for maybe 20 or 25 minutes before I need a short break.

Why does this matter?

It matters because during the course of a week or a month we often have tasks that take longer than the average adult attention span. And yet, when taking on a project or something that will take more than 20 minutes to complete, we often attempt to do so in one sitting. I am arguing that this is not the best use of our time. Now, I realize that there are situations when we don’t have a choice. But oftentimes we do have some flexibility as to how and when we complete tasks.

For example, let’s say that you have a task to complete that you estimate will take you about 75 minutes. Most of us when deciding how and when to do the work, will look on our calendar for a large block of time that is available. We pencil it in and when the day comes we sit down and get the job done. But, what we thought would take only 75 minutes often ends up taking considerably longer.

The problem, as mentioned previously, is that the average adult attention span is quite short, much less than 75 minutes. Therefore, during the course of working on this 75 minute task, we either take several breaks or our productivity level decreases. As a result, the 75 minute task often takes 90 minutes to two hours.

I have a better way.

Break the task up into small chunks. This will not only take advantage of our short attention spans, it will also allow us to take advantage of smaller windows of available time. Ultimately, the 75 minute task will take just 75 minutes.

Example

It is the first week of the term and you want to set up your grade book to align with the new standards . You know it will take a little more than an hour and you have to pick your daughter up from daycare twenty minutes after your school day ends. Instead of putting it off until the weekend, you work on setting it up for 15 minutes each day. By the time you leave Friday to pick up your daughter, your grade book is set up and ready to go. This is one less thing you will have to do on the weekend.

Learn How to Say No

It is often one of the first words to come out of our mouth when we are learning to speak. Just two letters. Not even hard to pronounce. Then why is it that all of the sudden when we become adults we have such a difficult time saying it? I used to be guilty of saying yes to everything. I would take this workshop, volunteer for that committee; pretty much anything that was offered I would jump right in.

Some of this was because I was young and trying to make a good impression. Some of this was because I was truly interested in the activities for which I volunteered. But many things I signed up for simply because I was asked. And I felt bad saying no. Because I didn’t know how to say no.

I’ve since learned how to say no. At first it feels weird, rude almost, to say no when someone you respect or someone in a position of authority asks you to do something. Then you realize that oftentimes when you say no and decline to add one more thing to your plate, you are actually saying yes to yourself. You reclaim a little bit of your time back. And it feels good.

In his bestselling book, The Power of a Positive No, William Ury outlines how to say in a polite and confident manner that eliminates the guilt. According to Ury;

“A Positive No, in short, is a Yes! No. Yes? The first Yes expresses your interests, the No asserts your power and the second Yes furthers your relationship.”

Example

You are approached by your principal to run a series of after school workshops that help further teachers’ proficiency in implementing the new Standards Based Report Cards. Your principal knows that you are the most skilled teacher in the building when it comes to this topic. You thank your principal for offering you the opportunity but express to her that after school is the time that you work on your grade book and then take your daughter to the park. You tell her that you are not available to run an after school workshop. You let your principal know that you would be willing to run a workshop during the next in-service day as this wouldn’t require you to write sub plans and it really wouldn’t require much prep since you are very comfortable with the new Standards Based Report Cards.

What to Do with Your Extra Time

Now that you have read about a few ways to free up some more time, you have to decide what you’re going to do with it. That is not always easy. But I imagine there are a few things you’ve been wanting to take on that you just couldn’t find the time for.

  • Learn a new language
  • Start or add to your exercise routine
  • Read a book you’ve had you’re eye on
  • Work in the yard
  • Take an online course that is unrelated to education

Or, maybe, just maybe, you might want to take the time that you saved and do absolutely nothing. That’s right. Too often we think that every space has to filled with either noise, work or activity. It doesn’t. Try it sometime. Allow yourself to be bored. Let a moment unfold. You might just be surprised what will happen.

 

 

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