Imagine heading down the road above. You can see a short distance, but that’s it. You have no idea what lies ahead. More of the same or something different?
Most educators are going to begin this school year like they ended last year—remotely. Will we ever get back to the way things were or will this be the new normal? Nobody knows. There are so many unknowns right now which make it difficult to know how to prepare.
And yet, we must.
But how? We are not even sure what we are preparing for.
I have spent much time thinking about this and have concluded there are three things educators can do right now. While I don’t what this school year will look like, I can guarantee you reading this article will leave you better prepared for the unknowns.
Prepare Your Mind
“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.”
Letting go of what we can’t control is easier said than done. It sounds good and it looks nice on paper, but how is it accomplished?
First, we must learn how to narrow our focus. One way to do this is to shorten your to-do list. As Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, says “if you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any.” I have found that when I have a short to-do list, the items on the list are inevitably things within my control. It’s when we get to numbers eleven and twelve on our lists that we begin to venture into dangerous territory.
Next, we must learn to limit our inputs. In other words, less stuff going into our heads. I am often guilty of consuming too much. In his book, Stillness is the Key, Ryan Holiday talks about what is commonly referred to as the “CNN Effect”.
“Breathless, twenty-four-hour media coverage makes it harder for politicians and CEOs (and I would add, educators) to be anything but reactive. There’s too much information, every trivial detail is magnified under the microscope, speculation is rampant and the mind is overwhelmed.”
Finally, I recently stumbled upon something that can help with overwhelm. It’s an amazing little podcast called Axios Today. I say little because the podcast is just ten minutes. Their motto is Axios gets you smarter, faster with news and information that matters. Each day of the workweek, Axios Today leads with what they call their One Big Thing. This is when they cover a major topic for four to five minutes. Recent episodes have included, “The second wave of protests”, “Busting the racial wealth gap myths” and “Parents turn to schooling pods”. They spend the remaining five or six-minutes touching on a couple of other topics that have been in the news. Axios Today has reduced the amount of news I feel the need to watch and like they say, it makes me feel smarter. At least that’s what I am telling myself.
Prepare Your Body
Rarely do people think of education as a physically demanding field. Let me rephrase that. People that do not work in education have no freakin’ clue how physically demanding it can be. I grew up playing competitive soccer and tennis and as demanding as these sports are, they didn’t take as much out of me as education. I think this is something that we often forget because rarely do we see Gatorade or Nike commercials featuring educators.
First off, I think the most underrated and most effective way you can prepare your body for the unknown is by getting a good night’s sleep—between seven and nine hours. In his book, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, sleep expert, Matt Walker points out that an overtired brain and body makes us vulnerable to numerous medical conditions such as depression, anxiety, and obesity. Make sleep a priority and you will find yourself more prepared and ready to take on what comes your way.
Next, spend at least five minutes each day strengthening your body. I realize five minutes doesn’t sound like much. But here is what happens. Because we don’t have 45 minutes to work out, the way we used to when we were younger, we convince ourselves there is no point in working out at all. BS!
You would be amazed at what you can accomplish in five minutes. I have recently begun a short workout that hits many of the major muscle groups and it takes only five minutes. Furthermore, I am using James Clear’s suggestion of gradually increasing reps or time and I am witnessing small daily improvement. Currently, I am doing sit-ups, planks and wall sits each night with my nine-year-old son. As of today, we have worked out fourteen days in a row. The best thing is, no matter how tired or busy I am, I always can always find five minutes.
Finally, never underestimate how powerful something as simple as taking a walk can be. The time we spend venturing down a YouTube rabbit hole would be better spent taking a walk. In his much-needed book, Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang points out that “for many thinkers and doers, a walk is an essential part of their daily routine, a source of exercise and solitude.”
Oftentimes it’s the little stuff that can drive us crazy and drain our batteries. I am referring to things that normally require little to no thought to perform or accomplish. The thing is this school year is going to be different—much different. You are going to need every bit of cognitive desk space you possess. The last thing you want is to be sent over the edge because of something trivial or something you could have planned out or arranged ahead of time.
For starters, when I think of organization I think of David Allen, the founder of GTD, “a personal productivity methodology that redefines how you approach your life and work.” His book Getting Things Done has sold over a million copies and been adopted and implemented by countless businesses worldwide.
Ok Jon, you had me at a million. Seriously though, his system is simple and I’m not going to explain it all right now. For the purposes of this article, I want you to remember one thing David Allen preaches; “Your head is a crappy office, write everything down.” No, I am not trying to add more to your plate. In the book, Allen points out that our brains were not designed to store information. Instead, Allen implores us to write down on paper what we are attempting to store in our heads. You don’t need a fancy organizer and you don’t need to download a new app. Just write stuff down. So you know where it is if you need it in the future. This way your brain is not tasked with having to remember every-single-little-detail of your life. I’ll get down from the pulpit now.
Now that you have given yourself a little additional headspace, it is time to prepare for two areas that often cause much unnecessary stress. What you wear and what you eat. I know. I know. Right now, you’re like Jon I have more important things to worry about than food and clothes. I agree. But, think back to how many times you have almost lost your sh$% over what you were going to wear to work or what you were having for dinner.
I am not suggesting that you go out and buy a new wardrobe or you subscribe to an online food delivery service. All I am saying is come up with a plan now so that once things get rolling this school year, you’ll be prepared. It may be as simple as taking a half-hour on Sunday to plan your outfits and your meals for the week. The less you have to think about it the better.
Finally, what is the one thing that often gets left out when we are at our busiest and frazzled? FUN. Now is the time to plan for fun. These plans don’t have to be grand and you don’t have to, nor do you probably want to, plan any vacations. Maybe you and your significant other plan a date night that involves carry out and watching a movie on Netflix. Maybe you plan a game night with a few of your closest friends. Or maybe, you want to eat a half-pint of ice cream while curled up with a good book. Regardless of what you choose, it is important to plan your FUN. This will help with burn-out, stress, and emotional well-being.
You Got This
Preparing for what lies ahead is difficult, especially when we have no what to expect. We are in uncharted territory and it can be disconcerting. There will be days when you want to throw your hands up and scream!
And then get going again.
Take a look at the resources and suggestions I provided above. You may not know what lies ahead but at least you’ll will have prepared your mind, your body and your organizational habits so when the time comes—when you need to adjust on the fly— you will know that you are prepared.
*If you would like to have my next article and my latest podcast episode delivered to your in box just click HERE. And as an extra bonus, when you sign up for my newsletter you will receive A Teacher’s Blueprint To The Best Week Ever. This is a free, 40 page pdf designed to help you have an awesome week. It’s not what you think, trust me.